Befitting a city that has hosted Batman, Superman and Optimus Prime, Chicago is a place where you can geek out year-round. If trips to your local comic book store aren’t fulfilling your need to meet like-minded fans of superheroes, anime, zines and horror movies, you need to stop by a convention. Each year, gigantic events in the South Loop and Rosemont gather thousands of attendees under one roof, where they can cosplay, shop for merchandise or meet their favorite creators. Find your people at some of the best comic book and fandom conventions in Chicago.
Best Chicago comic book conventions
Each year, C2E2 brings a ton of comic book creators and some notable TV and movie stars to McCormick Place for a bona fide pop-culture bonanza. If you hit the floor, you’ll find costumed attendees mingling in a sea of comics, toys and assorted memorabilia. Head for the panel halls (or autograph lines) to catch a glimpse of celebrities like Superman Returns star Brandon Routh, SpongeBob SquarePants voice actor Tom Kenny and Goosebumps author R.L. Stine.
It might sound like a Harry Potter convention, but Wizard World is an event that celebrates every facet of pop culture, including comic books, film and television. A convention center in Rosemont hosts the annual gathering, where attendees can line up for autographs or shop for merchandise amid a sea of vendors. Special guests at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con include Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes in the Captain America films), Dave Bautista (Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy) and Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura).
For readers of independent comics and small press publications, there’s no event sweeter than CAKE (short for the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo). Each year, the convention brings underground creators and fans to the Center on Halsted for two days of panels, workshops and shopping. If you’ve ever wanted to see what’s possible with a pen, some paper, a stapler and a little imagination, this is one of the city’s finest showcases of DIY ingenuity.
AMC’s television adaptation of The Walking Dead continues to shamble on, as does this annual convention devoted to the franchise’s undead universe. This year, the festivities move to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, where attendees will also have access to the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest. Actors Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Jeffery Dean Morgan (Negan) will be in attendance, alongside a long list of cast members, past and present.
For fans of Japanese pop-culture (namely anime, video games, musicians and strange snack foods), there’s no larger Midwest celebration of the island nation than Anime Central. The annual convention allows like-minded otaku to mingle, admire the gravity-defying hairstyles sported by cosplayers and meet voice-over talent from imported cartoons. When the convention floor closes, the party continues at the popular Soap Bubble dance and late-night anime screenings.
Let out a few blood-curdling screams during Flashback Weekend, an annual convention that celebrates gory slasher flicks, cinematic monsters and horror films. Confirmed guests at this year’s event include Brad Dourif—better known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play film series. Of course, you’ll also be able to dig through a terrifying amount of classic movie memorabilia or show off your creepiest outfit at a horror-themed costume contest.
If you don’t see the magazines and comics you want to read in the world, why not make ’em yourself? At Chicago Zine Fest, makers of DIY publications gather for two days of sharing knowledge, stories and enthusiasm for handmade art. On Friday, zinesters amass for an evening of panels and talks, then on Saturday participants show off their wares in a giant marketplace, allowing members of the public to purchase self-published material.
If you’re attending Walker Stalker Con, your ticket also gives you access to this superhero-focused event that takes place in the very same convention center. Heroes & Villains Fan Fest brings together talent from TV shows like Arrow, The Gifted and Gotham, giving you a chance to interact with some of the folks who bring your favorite stories to life on the small screen. The convention also lets attendees feel like a hero, with activities like archery, obstacle courses and more.
Organized by a group of passionate anime fans, Anime Midwest is a destination for anyone who is obsessed with Japanese animation, culture, music and fashion. The three-day event brings thousands of attendees to Rosemont, where they can meet anime voice actors, visit a maid cafe and enjoy unlimited ramen, rice and soda. At night, the convention organizes raves, costume balls, karaoke competitions and anime screenings.
Find more places to get nerdy in Chicago
If you're on a quest for geek stuff, you won't have to search for long—Chicago is a nerd paradise. Love to drink beer and waste quarters at arcade bars? The city boasts plenty of them. Prefer to gain knowledge at some of Chicago's best museums? Just pick an institution and check out an exhibition or a special event. Whether you want to browse comic book stores or play video games, we've tracked down the best places to nerd out in Chicago.