Films, Comics, Games, and Celebs at FAN EXPO 2023

Welcome to FAN EXPO where it's empty on Thursday but crowded on Saturday

It’s another year and another Comicon event. What used to be called Wizard World, FAN EXPO is an event filled to the brim with nostalgia. FAN EXPO is a haven for nerd culture, from comics to toys to costumes. It’s a place where you can dress as your favorite comic book, movie, or video game character without having to worry if you look odd. When attending FAN EXPO, it’s noticeable that contrary to the stereotype about gamers or comic book fans being social hermits, you can see that that’s not true. Or at least admittedly partially true. There are stereotypical neckbeards, but they don’t outnumber ordinary people. 

FAN EXPO has all different types of people who aren’t societal recluses. There are couples, people with families, and groups of friends who wouldn’t recognizably be labeled a nerd. I’m not a fan of labeling, as it unfairly defines others. Events like FAN EXPO and C2E2 are so special because they excel beyond labels. If one can open their eyes long enough, one can see that everyone has a little bit of geek in them. From a jock to a nerd, people can share the same things. There’s a reason superheroes repeatedly dominate the box office. The numbers for Avengers Endgame don’t lie. It’s not just nerds who purchased tickets to see that movie or films like it. It’s everyone. FAN EXPO is an event meant for all. 

Getting To The Center

The long voyage from the garage to the Donald E Stephenson Center is complete.

Starting my trip to FAN EXPO, I was glad I had gone before. For anyone entering the convention for the first time, I wish you Godspeed. Trying to decipher where you parked from the garage entrance to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center is a dizzying chore. Finding your way back to the car is a challenge as well. The last time I was at FAN EXPO (which was Wizard World at the time), I dragged heavy camera equipment through the incredibly long sky bridge tunnels and vast hallways to the showroom floor. 

Constantly I got lost while growing physically exhausted. When I finally reached the venue, I had to return some of my gear as there wasn’t a designated room to drop everything off. Lugging everything back for what seemed to stretch for miles was torture. This may sound like a complaint, but it’s not, as the Donald E. Stephens Center is a massive place that must accommodate thousands of people. The venue is connected to the Hilton Hotel, which provides the panels’ rooms. To give advice, if you’re covering the convention as a videographer or photographer, you best pack light or bring a camera cart. If you strap a steady cam to yourself, you’ll break your back.

The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center is larger than I last remembered. It could be because, at the time, COVID was still a prominent threat that was slowly fading thanks to the power and immediacy of the vaccine distribution. Because of venues being set to half capacity, the entire showroom floor may not have been available. It certainly felt that way. This year the venue was stretched to full stage capacity. One could circle the entire showroom floor in about ten minutes. But it can take hours when browsing through everything that the vendors are selling. 

A Nostalgia Rush

From toys, to DVDs.
Pick from one of your favorite blasts from the past.

The showroom floor is dense, with almost anything and everything you’d like to find from your childhood put on display for sale. Do you want a copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special? How about a DVD of Fox Kids’ The Tick? The most obscure forgotten shows can be found at a discount price, next to the DVDs and toys galore. You can find countless selections of your favorite plastic figures from your youth. I found my Star Wars Powers of the Force line action figures but didn’t want to fork out the money to buy one. There are even toys made from classic horror cinema. On display were dolls of Bella Lugosi’s Dracula to Boris Karloff’s Mummy. In short, FAN EXPO is a toy lover’s dream. 


Gaming haven
Gaming from competitions to retro consoles and emulators.

If video games are your thing, there are casual and competitive games from Street Fighter to Super Smash Bros for anyone to participate in. The building has a fair share of classic game consoles to emulators. One gentleman who I spoke to was selling Raspberry Pi consoles. Don’t know what that is? A Raspberry Pi is a piece of computing hardware you can use to emulate whatever video game you want and build it into a mini console. However, you have to do it yourself. This man was selling preinstalled consoles running thousands of emulated games with all the work already done. I asked the gentleman how many hours it took him to make his consoles. He told me it was four hundred. That effort can be found throughout the event, especially in the cosplay department.


Mr Stormtrooper Fan
Getting creative with costumes.

Cosplay is like Halloween in the summer. Except these people take their costumes extremely seriously. The amount of detail put into each uniform is incredible. So good that many cosplayers have gone on to be hired by Hollywood as costume designers and prop masters. Cosplay isn’t just a hobby but a passion for many of the attendees. To show off their costumes, the Cosplayers are invited to share their costumes in a competition to rate the best cosplayers. It doesn’t matter who wins, as it’s not a real competition. It’s just a way to celebrate the same thing together. 

The Celebrity What?

Zachary Levi
Zachary Levi gives an interview

There are two main draws to conventions, nostalgia and celebrities. Comic Book conventions are supposed to be about comics, but much of the event’s enthusiasm lies in celebrity appearances. And this show certainly has many stars, with some currently big and others on the mid-level of stardom. When covering FAN EXPO years ago, the popular YouTube channel Red Letter Media coined it “the celebrity zoo.” By that, they mean multiple lines are made for autographs and pictures to be taken with the stars who sit in little booths along the wall with their name printed in big letters behind them, putting them on display like a pet. It’s forced social interaction where celebrities are only interested in taking your money.

In FAN EXPO’s defense, these conventions must make money somehow. Or else the show can’t go on. Does all the money go to the convention? Are the profits split with the talent? It goes on a case-to-case basis. If the actors are happy to show up, then I’m fine with the celebrity zoo since it’s an opportunity for fans to interact with their childhood idols. Is it exploitative? Aren’t talk shows and Entertainment News manipulative? The idea of celebrities walking on the red carpet is partially exploitative.   

Yes, you’d have to fork out a lot of money to speak with a star, but that’s how these cons work. Nothing comes for free. Especially the overpriced beverages where it’s $5.00 just for a bottle of water. You can get a pictured autograph from Susan Sarandon to Kiefer Sutherland, Giancarlo Esposito, Zachary Levi, Jason Patrick, and Robocop himself, Peter Weller. If gaming is your thing, you can snag a picture and autograph from the man who voices Super Mario, Charles Martinet, or Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter

When not on the showroom floor, panels are set in the interconnecting Hilton Hotel to the Donald E. Stephenson Center. The panels included Mario Kart racing competitions, family events, and celebrity spotlights. I chose to attend two of the spotlights. The first one was for Charles Martinet and Kenny James. The panel was very light. Kenny James, who voices Bowser, told the audience that he didn’t get into acting until he was forty, which I find inspirational. If someone can start at forty and succeed, there’s hope for everyone.

Extending the theme of hope was Danny Trejo’s spotlight panel. Trejo is a once prisoner turned rehabilitation counselor who played an extra in movies until he got cast in prominent speaking and title roles. Most notably, everyone knows Trejo as Machete. At the panel, I asked Trejo how he enjoyed life every day when he went from prisoner to actor. To keep his reply short, he said, “I enjoy what I’m doing, and I love what I’m doing, and I think that’s one of the keys. Do what you love and find a way to get paid for it.” Words to live by. I also discovered that Danny Trejo has his own Taco Restaurant chain, Trejo’s Tacos. There used to be a location in Chicago, but it closed down. Something Trejo didn’t reveal to the crowd when someone in the back yelled, “Open one in Chicago.” 

More Comics Please

Cheap comics
Comics going on sale!

For a comic book convention (or what used to be one), FAN EXPO doesn’t place much emphasis on comic books. There is the Artist Alley, where many comic book artists to comic book fans sell their art. But it doesn’t get much attention as many people frequently pass by them. Although thousands of comics are on sale from multiple vendors, the comics weren’t a prominent part of the show. Even so, there’s enough nerdy variety in everything at the convention to hold your interest and then some.

Events like this allow comic, video game, movie, and anime fans to come out of their geek closet and express themselves freely. From the cosplay to the guests, FAN EXPO is an enjoyable escape into fantasy land where one can let go of their problems for a little while to feel like a kid again.

FAN EXPO was held from August 10-13 at the Donald E. Stephenson Center in Rosemont, IL. 

Written by Mike Crowley

Mike Crowley is a full member of the Chicago Indie Critics. He periodically produces video content for and writes weekly film reviews for his publication You'll Probably Agree. He also writes content for Film Obsessive from time to time. You can follow him on Twitter, Tik Tok, and Instagram @ypareviews

Leave a Reply

Film Obsessive welcomes your comments. All submissions are moderated. Replies including personal attacks, spam, and other offensive remarks will not be published. Email addresses will not be visible on published comments.

Pasolini's Medea explores subterranean content.

Myth and Meaning in Pasolini’s Medea

A man with long hair and sunglasses walks down the street.

Ten More Fave Rock Films, Part 2 of 4: Documentary