Rosemont Comic Con brings together stars from past, present

It's fitting that a reunion of the stars of beloved time-travel flick “Back to the Future” is one of the headline attractions at this year's Wizard World Comic Con Chicago.

The appearances of actors Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd at the four-day event in Rosemont represent just one opportunity for fans to go back in time and reconnect with the pop culture of their youth. Also appearing at the show: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson from '90s favorite “The X-Files,” Carrie Fisher from the original “Star Wars” trilogy (and last year's “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), Ralph Macchio from the “Karate Kid” movies and Lou Ferrigno, star of “The Incredible Hulk,” the iconic television series that debuted in 1978.

It won't all be about pop nostalgia, though. Stars from current TV favorites such as “Daredevil,” “Arrow” and “The Walking Dead” will attend, as will a number of today's popular comic-book writers and artists. And cosplay, the increasingly popular activity in which fans dress as their favorite costumed characters, will continue to be a big part of the show.

Wizard Entertainment, organizer of the event, has for years mixed pop culture's past and present at its conventions, an approach designed to appeal to multiple generations of fans.

“It offers a little something for everyone,” said Jerry Milani, spokesman for Wizard Entertainment. “Parents can have as much fun as their kids.”

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the annual Chicago Comic Con, which opens Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. The Daily Herald spoke to two of the show's guests, one each from the movie and comic-book worlds, about their careers and what they like about the convention experience.

Actress and filmmaker Lea Thompson, one of the stars of "Back to the Future," will appear at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago along with her co-stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Photo courtesy of Wizard Entertainment

'Future' star

Lea Thompson is attending Wizard World Comic Con Chicago primarily because of the role she played in “Back to the Future,” but she wouldn't be surprised to hear questions about some of her other films, too.

After all, Thompson starred in a slew of essential 1980s movies, including “All the Right Moves” with Tom Cruise; “Red Dawn” with Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell; the John Hughes-written “Some Kind of Wonderful;” and “Howard the Duck,” a comic book movie (before they were cool!) that was a spectacular flop when released but has since developed a devoted cult following.

Still, “Back to the Future” is a special case. The 1985 film was a huge critical and commercial hit, spawning two sequels, receiving a slew of award nominations and landing on several “best of all time” lists, including the American Film Institute's 10 best science-fiction films.

“It's definitely amazing, because interest in the movie actually seems to be on the rise,” Thompson said. “The people who saw it when it came out are showing it to their kids. It keeps building new fans. And that's a sign of just how good that movie is, and what a great job (director) Bob Zemeckis did with it.”

"Back to the Future" stars Christopher Lloyd, left, and Michael J. Fox will join Lea Thompson for a reunion this weekend at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago. The 1985 hit spawned two sequels and is still a favorite for families. Courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the movie, Thompson plays Lorraine, the mother of teenager Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox. After a mishap with a time-traveling DeLorean, Marty finds himself trapped in his hometown in the year 1955, where he meets high-school versions of his mother and father. Lorraine, not knowing who Marty really is, develops a crush on him.

The story required Thompson to play Lorraine in three ways - as a boozing and depressed middle-aged mom, as a cute and boy-crazy teenager and as a fit and smiling mom at the very end of the film.

“It really was a great part,” she said. “It was sexy, funny, subversive, and I got to do so many different kinds of things with the character. It's subtle, but there's some commentary in there about the way women were expected to be at that time.”

Thompson has worked steadily as an actor in movies and television since the 1980s. (She currently appears in the show “Switched at Birth” on ABC Family.) She has also started to work behind the camera. She just finished directing a film that was written by her daughter, Madelyn Deutch, and stars both Madelyn and Zoey Deutch, Thompson's other daughter.

“I'm a little scared, because I'm about to 'picture lock' it, which means it's actually done,” Thompson said. “But I'm also really happy for my daughters. Doing this movie was a great experience.”

Thompson will appear at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago on Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, who plays Doc Brown in “Back to the Future,” also will appear on Saturday, Aug. 20. (Lloyd will attend the whole weekend, from Friday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, Aug. 21.)

“Both Michael and Christopher are so funny,” Thompson said. “I'm so glad they'll be at the show, too. We love talking about 'Back to the Future.' And I really do love meeting fans of any part of my work. It's a powerful experience, to hear from people who were affected by my work in some way.”

Suburban comic-book artist Gene Ha will appear at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago with his new comic book, "Mae." Photo courtesy of Gene Ha

Local drawing power

Mainstream American comics have undergone some change recently, and suburban comic-book artist Gene Ha couldn't be happier about it.

After decades in which virtually all comic-book superheroes were white men, companies like Marvel and DC have made a concerted effort in recent years to introduce new female and nonwhite characters to their books. They've also overhauled existing female characters to make them stronger and more contemporary.

Ha, a native of Indiana who now lives in Berwyn, says all of that will make the industry a healthier one going forward.

“When I started attending conventions in the early '90s, if you saw a woman in the crowd it was usually a wife or girlfriend who'd been dragged there and was totally bored,” Ha said. “It's not like that anymore. You see lots of female fans at conventions now - it's a much more diverse crowd in general. That's because there's more material out there for them. I hope that trend continues.”

Ha is doing his part. After roughly 20 years of drawing company-owned superhero stories for other writers, Ha recently launched his first creator-owned project, “Mae,” which he both writes and draws. Published by Dark Horse Comics, “Mae” is a contemporary all-ages fantasy story revolving around two Midwestern sisters.

Gene Ha's richly detailed art is on full display in his new creator-owned comic book, "Mae." Image courtesy of Gene Ha

“I didn't want to create just another square-jawed male hero,” Ha said. “I like that these characters are female, and also that they're unabashedly nerdy.

“I also wanted to do something that was all mine. I've been in the industry quite a while, and everything I've done until now has been owned by a corporation. And that kind of work can be really fun and rewarding, but it was time to try something that I controlled completely.”

Ha broke into the industry in the early 1990s, after spending his childhood devouring all the comics he could find. He quickly won accolades and awards for his art, which combines the energy and lightness of great cartooning with the intricate linework of fine illustration.

Ha has worked on the industry's biggest characters - X-Men, Superman, the Justice League - and with some of its best writers. He points to his work on “Top 10,” an offbeat superhero comedy written by the legendary Alan Moore (“Watchmen”) as a career highlight. Ha won three Eisner Awards, the comics industry version of the Oscar, for “Top 10.”

“Alan Moore was one of the creators I grew up adoring,” he said. “To actually get a chance to work with him was surreal.”

As has been his custom for years, Ha will provide free sketches for children at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago, which he will attend on Friday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, Aug. 21. Getting children excited about comics and art has long been a priority for Ha. Many of his Chicago-area appearances take place at libraries in the city and suburbs, where he knows he's likely to meet families.

“Kids just dropped out of comics for a while there,” he said. “You're starting to see them come back. We need them, if we're going to grow as an industry.”

Other attractions

Here are some of the bigger names scheduled to appear at Wizard World Comic Con Chicago. For a full list with times and availability, go to

Carrie Fisher, beloved by fans as Princess Leia in "Star Wars," heads to Wizard World Comic Con Chicago in Rosemont. Courtesy of Wizard Entertainment

<b>Carrie Fisher:</b> Known throughout the world as Princess Leia from the “Star Wars” movies, Fisher has had a varied career that includes film, novels and a one-woman show on Broadway.

<b>“The Walking Dead” stars:</b> Several cast members from the wildly popular zombie-apocalypse show will be on hand, including Norman Reedus (who plays Darryl Dixon), Danai Gurira (Michonne) and Tom Payne (Jesus).

<b>Ralph Macchio:</b> The actor who brought to life Daniel LaRusso, aka “the Karate Kid,” will meet with fans all weekend.

<b>Bruce Campbell:</b> The funny and self-deprecating star of the “Evil Dead” films and the current “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” television series once again shares stories with fans. Also attending are his television co-stars, Dana DeLorenzo and Ray Santiago.

John Barrowman, whose resume includes starring as Malcolm Merlyn on The CW's "Arrow," grew up in Joliet and Aurora. He appears at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con Chicago in Rosemont. Courtesy of The CW

<b>John Barrowman:</b> The former Aurora resident and star of “Arrow” and “Doctor Who” has become a convention favorite because of his charm and wit.

<b>“Daredevil”:</b> Multiple cast members from the popular Netflix series about the Marvel Comics superhero will attend - Rosario Dawson, Charlie Cox, Jon Bernthal, Elden Henson, Deborah Ann Woll and Elodie Yung.

David Duchovny, left, and Gillian Anderson reteamed this year for a new version of "The X-Files." They will appear this weekend at Wizard World Comic Con in Rosemont. Courtesy of Fox

<b>“The X-Files”:</b> Actors David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, William B. Davis and Mitch Pileggi will meet with fans to talk about the influential television series.

Wizard World Comic Con Chicago

What: A four-day celebration of pop culture, including movie and television stars, costumes, comic-book creators and dealers from all over the Midwest

When: 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18; noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21

Where: Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. Mannheim Road, Rosemont,

Tickets: $50 to $70 for single-day tickets ($40 to $60 in advance); autographs and some events may cost extra.

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