The Wizard World Chicago Comic Con is coming back to town, and once again it's bringing a variety of pop-culture icons and events with it.
Comic-book creators, film and television stars, toy and memorabilia dealers -- all of these and more will share space Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 21-24, inside the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
Wizard World Chicago Comic ConWhat: A pop-culture convention featuring dozens of comic-book creators, film/TV stars and comics dealers
Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont
When: 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21; noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 22; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24
Tickets: One-day tickets start at $40
The event offers something for just about every type of fan. If movies are your thing, you'll be able to meet stars from recent blockbusters like "X-Men: Days of Future Past" or classics like the "Evil Dead" films. If you're a genre-TV enthusiast, cast members from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Doctor Who" and "The Walking Dead" will be on hand. And for comic-book fans, dozens of creators and vendors from all over the Midwest will be there to sign autographs or fill key holes in your comics collection.
There will also be numerous panel discussions throughout the weekend about animation, podcasting, video games, costumes and more.
To celebrate the arrival of this year's con, the Daily Herald is spotlighting two of its guests -- one a popular television actor with roots in the Chicago suburbs and the other an acclaimed comic-book writer.
Actor John Barrowman takes his appearances at conventions just about as seriously as he does his film and TV roles.
"When the audience is there to see you, you've got to turn on the juice," Barrowman, who's known for his warm, lively and funny interactions with fans, said during a phone interview. "The fans want to know a bit about you as a person, about the fun you have doing your job. I want to give them that."
Barrowman arrives at the Chicago Comic Con this weekend toting a resume heavy with geek cred. He made a splash a few years back playing Captain Jack Harkness, a recurring character on the latest revival of the beloved British sci-fi program "Doctor Who." Harkness was such a hit with fans that he got his own spinoff series, "Torchwood," which aired from 2006 to 2011.
Now, Barrowman plays Malcolm Merlyn, a villain on the popular show "Arrow," which airs on The CW. The program presents an updated take on the classic DC Comics superhero Green Arrow.
"I feel so lucky to be part of these fictional worlds that have had such a long heritage," he said.
A native of Scotland, Barrowman immigrated with his family to the U.S. when he was a child. He grew up in Aurora and Joliet, then left the Midwest to study musical theater in California.
It was during his time in the suburbs that he fell in love with science fiction, he said.
"I used to watch 'Doctor Who' on Sunday nights on WTTW in Chicago," he said. "I'd always fail in school on Monday mornings because I was so tired. And 'Star Wars' was big for me, too. Before talking to you I was just on eBay, looking for an old Darth Vader carrying case for the action figures."
Barrowman, who's also enjoyed success as a singer and writer, said he hopes he never gets tired of appearing at events like the Chicago Comic Con.
"It sounds corny, but I look at it as a way to give back, to thank the people who've made you successful, who've literally changed your life," he said.
Writing about people
In a career that spans four decades, Marv Wolfman has written scores of comic-book stories that featured alien worlds and larger-than-life super-beings.
But no matter how fantastic his stories became, Wolfman always tried to make them about people, first and foremost.
"Readers want to read about people," Wolfman said during a recent interview conducted via email. "They want to read about the ups and downs of their lives. They forget who punches whom, but they don't forget the trials and tribulations of the characters.
"And, one hopes, that's why they keep coming back."
Wolfman first rose to prominence in the comics world as part of a wave of young talent that flooded the offices of Marvel Comics in the 1970s.
He worked on many of Marvel's biggest characters -- Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine -- before moving to rival publisher DC Comics in the 1980s. At DC he continued to put his stamp on iconic characters, writing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Some of his most celebrated work, though, came on titles that featured unusual or less-popular characters. His run on Marvel's "Tomb of Dracula," part of the publisher's flirtation with horror comics in the 1970s, earned raves for its strong characterization and intricate plotting. At DC, Wolfman helped launch "The New Teen Titans," an overhaul of a superhero team that had long struggled to find an audience. It became one of DC's biggest hits.
Wolfman said that in both cases, the artists he worked with were key to the books' success.
"When you're working with artists like Gene Colan ('Tomb of Dracula') and George Pérez ('The New Teen Titans'), you're working with the very best," he said. "I've often said working with Gene is what helped create my style in writing. His art made me care about writing people. And George's strength was to take the power of comics, the sense of grandeur, and play to that while deceptively centering on the characters as well."
Wolfman remains active in the comic-book business, just as many of the characters he's created find continued success in comics, on television and on the big screen. (The characters played by John C. Reilly and Glenn Close in the current superhero blockbuster "Guardians of the Galaxy," for example, were created by Wolfman.)
Wolfman said he hopes to carve out some time this weekend to see Chicago, a city he hasn't visited in awhile. But his main focus, he said, will be the fans.
"I go to these because I like meeting the readers," he said. "That's it."
Celebrities & attractions
Here is a list of some of the celebrities and attractions at this year's Wizard World Chicago Comic Con. For times and availability, go to wizardworld.com.
John Carpenter: The master filmmaker who directed genre classics like "Halloween," "Christine" and "They Live" -- and composed many of his films' scores as well.
Bruce Campbell: A convention regular, Campbell is the witty, self-deprecating star of the "Evil Dead" films and the recently completed TV show "Burn Notice."
Cheryl Tiegs: One of the iconic supermodels of the 1970s and 1980s.
William Shatner: Captain Kirk himself! Other folks from the extended "Star Trek" universe will appear as well, and Comic Con will host a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" cast reunion with Patrick Stewart and the rest of the regulars.
Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar: Better known as Howard and Raj on CBS' top-rated "The Big Bang Theory."
Scott Wilson: A renowned character actor who played a central role on the wildly popular AMC TV show "The Walking Dead." (Other "Dead" folks appearing: Norman Reedus and Sarah Wayne Callies.)
Stan Lee: One of the key architects of Marvel Comics and co-creator of many of the characters making zillions on the big screen today.
Comics: That's right, plain ol' comics. Thousands upon thousands of comic books, old and new, will be on sale by vendors from all over the Midwest.