By Matt Arado
Daily Herald, March 1, 2015
New Wizard World Fan Fest draws TV stars, comics artists to Rosemont this weekend
If you're the kind of person who gets misty-eyed with nostalgia when you hear sitcom titles like "Growing Pains," "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "Married With Children," then you won't want to miss Wizard World Fan Fest next weekend in Rosemont.
The weekend-long pop-culture extravaganza will feature appearances by a slew of TV stars from the 1980s and 1990s, including Tracey Gold, who played brainy teenager Carol Seaver on "Growing Pains," and Dave Faustino, who played the irascible Bud Bundy on "Married With Children." Stars from more recent shows will be on hand, too, as will numerous comic-book artists and dealers.
The event, which is being held for the first time, is a smaller (and much less expensive) version of the big Chicago Comic Con that Wizard World brings to Rosemont every summer. Organizers describe Fan Fest as a "thank you" for local fans.
"It's a great market for us, and this Fan Fest seemed like a nice bonus for our fans there," said Jerry Milani of Wizard Entertainment.
Fan Fest came to be when Bruce Campbell, the cult-favorite TV and movie actor, had to cancel his appearance at the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest because of a television commitment. The horror fest was scheduled to take place next weekend at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
"We knew we couldn't continue to hold the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest without Bruce Campbell!" Milani said. "But it also seemed a shame to let the weekend go to waste, since we already had the date and the venue."
And so, the idea of Fan Fest was born. Organizers quickly secured a lineup of actors, many of whom will be making their first appearances at a Wizard World show, along with celebrities from the comic-book and pro-wrestling worlds. (The Bruce Campbell event has been rescheduled to take place in August with Wizard's Chicago Comic Con.)
TV stars from the Reagan and Clinton eras are prominently featured in the Fan Fest lineup, but so are current favorites like Norman Reedus from "The Walking Dead," Karen Gillan from "Dr. Who" and Taryn Manning from "Orange Is the New Black." All of the featured celebrities will sign autographs and chat with fans.
"I'm so thrilled, and a little amazed, at the number of guests we were able to get," Milani said. "There will be TV stars there from the '80s, '90s and up through today, which is pretty neat."
Comic-book creators scheduled to attend include Neal Adams, an influential artist known for his gritty Batman work in the '60s and '70s, and popular Marvel Comics artist Greg Horn.
Fan Fest will be smaller than Wizard's summer Comic Con, which is also held at the Stephens Convention Center. And Fan Fest will last just two days, instead of Comic Con's four.
The difference will be reflected in the price tag. Admission to Fan Fest is $15 per day, while one-day tickets to Comic Con range from $40 to $60. People who have already purchased four-day passes to the Comic Con can attend Fan Fest for free.
"It's a great way for people who haven't been to one of our shows to see what they're like," Milani said. "It's also a great way for our loyal attendees to get an early and inexpensive fix."
Fan Fest will serve as an unofficial kickoff to the pop-convention season in the Chicago area. The Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, also known as C2E2, will take over McCormick Place in April, and as mentioned, Wizard's Comic Con arrives in August. The massive Comic Con International in San Diego, which draws fans from all over the country, takes place in July.
Does Milani ever worry that fans will one day burn out on conventions?
"Interest is still growing," he said. "Today's conventions aren't just for comic fans, but for people who like science fiction, movies, video games. There's so much to do and see for a variety of fan groups. So I think we haven't even seen how large the convention audience can be."
See event details.