C2E2 2021: A Weekend In Review
As I’ve stated before, C2E2 holds a special place among conventions for me. Not only was it my first con outside of Saint Louis, but it’s where I met so many of my wonderfully nerdy friends. Since I started this journey back in 2017, I’ve only missed C2E2 once and it gave me massive regrets. So when it came time to jump back into the convention circuit in Covid-times, I had to take the risk.
Of course, there was hesitation. ReedPop instituted many precautions to keep the attendees and guests safe over the weekend, which exceeded the DragonCon precautions we saw back in September. It actually dissuaded some people from bringing certain costumes, as we were told that no helmets or costume masks would be allowed. This didn’t stop the Spidermen, Mandalorians, and Stormtroopers though. From what I could tell, the majority of them wore approved masks under their helmets.
This year’s C2E2 was also unique for many attendees because it was held in December. It’s the first convention I’ve been to during the holiday season. We were delighted to see all of the holiday-themed costumes on display. The weather didn’t quite cooperate though. I’m sure plenty of people were hoping to get photos in snowy conditions, but we were stuck with a rainy Chicago weekend.
Unlike previous years, we arrived early to experience a full Friday at the convention. The C2E2 2021 Calamity Crew included James and Vix (@vampyrvixen). After the rocky experience at DragonCon, we were definitely looking for a chill weekend in Chicago. I wouldn’t call it relaxing, but damn it was fun. Once again, C2E2 reminded me why I go to conventions.
Arriving on Thursday night gave us plenty of time to take it easy Friday morning. In previous years, we’ve arrived at various times on Friday. This year, I wanted to get as much time as possible in my newest costume. James left our hotel room early to hunt for trade paperback books while Vix and I got into our duo costumes for the weekend: Korra and Tenzin from the Legend of Korra.
In an effort to make things safer, the entrance procedures were a bit different this year. Badge pickup and security checks were split up to avoid line backup. Things were a bit more crowded on Saturday (as per usual at any con), but things were nicely spread out Friday morning. Just before badge pickup, each attendee had to stop at a table to show proof of vaccination or a negative test. Lime green wristbands cleared us through the security checkpoints each day.
We weren’t even to the floor yet when I spotted the first familiar face, Alan (@luke_hangover) as The Last Jedi version of Luke Skywalker. It was the first of many instances where I recognized someone’s costume and shouted their name hoping I was right about their identity. Luckily I was correct this time. He was a solid twenty yards away on the other side of the security lane, so we caught up later in Cosplay Central.
While the lobby was relatively quiet Friday morning, Vix and I were still stopped a number of times for photos. This would be a recurring thing throughout the day, as it appeared many fans of Avatar and Korra were in attendance. Seems like a whole lot of people took the opportunity to watch both shows once they hit Netflix last year. Plenty of people mixed up my character (mistaking Tenzin for Aang), but I was just happy to bring smiles to so many faces.
Since it was Vix’s first time at C2E2, I walked them through the general layout of the floor. A few things had changed, but it was mostly the same as previous years. The booths were spread out to cover more of the available space, making much larger lanes to walk through. They also removed the iconic red carpet from the floor. There were mixed feelings about this, but I certainly appreciated it. That carpet made color-correcting my photos in past years an absolute nightmare.
After stopping for plenty of photos, Vix and I made it to our home base on the floor, Cosplay Central. Our first stop was the HDC booth for a quick cosplay repair. Tim (@hdcfabrication) leads a team of extremely talented builders, offering their expertise to the many cosplayers experiencing wardrobe malfunctions over the course of the weekend. Vix got a quick spot repair while I got to catch up with Alan to discuss his costume plans for the weekend. We had many stops at the HDC booth over the weekend, mostly just to chat with Tim and Diana (@dianaquake) about the differences this year and how Covid has affected the convention scene.
One aisle over, there were a trio of backdrops for photos and a few more friendly faces gathered around the JediManda booth. We got a few brief moments with Alex (@aleestudios) and April (@_aprilgloria), and I was able to steal April away for a few shots of her epic Bastila Shan cosplay. Seeing that cosplay in person makes me ridiculously excited to build my Darth Malak costume for DragonCon next year. We chatted with Brittani Ginoza (@ginozacostuming) about the thrill of being back at C2E2 while I took photos of her incredibly detailed Lydia red wedding dress from Beetlejuice. Amanda (@jedimanda) was swarmed by fans and friends in her new Scarlet Witch costume, so we caught up with her later in the day to chat and take some photos.
None of our meals over the weekend were particularly exciting. Considering we were in Chicago in December, we figured it would be too cold to want to go out for meals. This actually worked in our favor, because we got time to regroup in the hotel room with some simple foods that didn’t make us sleepy (unlike all the fried food we had at DragonCon). I will mention this particular lunch because it’s when the weather started to get weird. By the time we were done eating, we couldn’t see anything out our window on the 23rd floor. Fog had completely covered our view. Not until we returned to the ground floor did we realize that fog was actually a storm that covered most of the city. It was only late afternoon, but it looked like the middle of a rainy night outside. This is why I greatly value having a room in a host hotel.
On the way back into the McCormick Place, we ran into Wulfgar (@wulfgarweapons) and Lady Dragon (@ladydragon_creations) in massive Space Marine armor, stomping through the lobby. These costumes are a legendary part of Wulfgar’s repertoire, and I’m super happy to have finally seen them in person. This time through the lobby, there were plenty more epic cosplays on display. Same went for the floor as we experienced the rest of what C2E2 had to offer. We did a little window shopping in Artist Alley, sampled some decadent fudge at Chocolate Fusion, and met some more friendly and talented cosplayers. We closed out the day on the floor with some holiday beers from Revolution Brewing in the Yard.
As the floor closed, the Calamity Crew retreated to the Marriott for dinner and drinks. While eating and discussing plans for the evening, I properly introduced James and Vix to one of my favorite sitcoms, The IT Crowd. The hilarious antics on that show kept us excited for some nighttime shenanigans. After Vix donned another cosplay, we walked down to the evening party center of C2E2, the Hyatt lobby.
Friday night is usually pretty slow, which was just fine for us… at least at first. Wulfgar was the first person we spotted, handing us each a beer as he went to return the case to his room. From there, I led the crew around the lobby to meet up with friends like Alan, Freddie Ironbear (@ironbear_armory), Joe (@musclesuitnotneeded), and Ginoza. Soon enough, we settled into a spot near a whole bunch of fake money provided by a bank-robbing Harley Quinn. I got my hands on a few of these fake twenties and turned them into paper airplanes.
Once the first plane was thrown onto a table of friendly and slightly intoxicated cosplayers, the battle had begun. Many planes were built and launched that night, but only mine flew true. The small size of the dollars made them so light that they couldn’t keep steady. I put an extra fold into mine to make them more like darts. I am super happy no one got poked in the eye, but I’m oddly proud of how much fun everyone had with my planes. I’m sure a few were found by some very disappointed staff members later that night.
After being pelted with dollar darts and watching each of the bars close, we called it a night and returned to the room to rest up for Saturday.
Like many of my most recent conventions, Saturday morning starts with Critical Role. This time around though, I did a human version of Pumat Sol, or as Ky (@kyola_cosplay) labeled it later that night, Humat Sol. The new coat I have for him is extra fancy and luxurious, but damn it’s warm. I can’t wear it for more than a few minutes without sweating through my body paint. I also wanted to do the Vault Dweller that day, so I decided to just skip the body paint altogether.
The day got off to a pretty slow start, so I had plenty of time to get down to the lobby and take some pictures before the Critical Role shoot. I went over to the escalators early to meet up with Eddie (@eddiebphotos) and grab a few photos of the huge Marvel shoot. I hadn’t planned to partake in that shoot, but I’m glad I did because there were some seriously epic cosplays.
As the afternoon progressed, the Marvel characters were replaced by my people, the Critters. Cosplayers represented every campaign and almost every voice actor of Critical Role, including April as Keyleth and Joe as Yasha. Unfortunately, no one brought any Travis Willingham characters to the shoot. The enthusiasm was still intense, and everyone had tons of nerdy fun. There was even a hilarious shot of everyone throwing dice at a Matt Mercer cosplayer. The joy and camaraderie was very apparent in this group. Every one of these Critical Role shoots reminds me of how wonderful and accepting this fanbase is. It’s truly one of the best.
I have to comment on how photogenic the McCormick Place lobby is. After the Critical Role shoot, I meant to go back to the hotel room for lunch and to change. Instead, I got sidetracked in the lobby for a solid half-hour taking photos. It takes so little effort to get a great shot in there. A whole lot of cosplayers and photographers gather to meet up outside of the crowded floor. A photographer could spend the whole convention in the lobby and walk away with an amazing album. When I finally got back on track, I met up with the crew back in the room for lunch and a costume swap.
With a couple of hours of rest and a whole bunch of wound effects makeup, the Vault Dwellers were ready to hit the C2E2 floor. Vix and I represented Fallout 3 and 4 as the Lone Wanderer and Sole Survivor. I tried a few new things with my makeup this time, flicking dark red onto my face to look like a blood spatter. Back on the floor, things were in full swing. I’m used to sliding by mostly unnoticed now that I’ve done the vault dweller so many times, but Vix and I got stopped quite a bit for photos that afternoon. It must have been a combination of my height and Vix’s impressive cosplay skills that drew all the attention.
This time on the floor, I had a mission. On Friday, the Revolution Brewing stands closed up before I could try the strongest beer on the menu. The Deth’s Tar was an acquired taste, but I loved it. It tasted almost like a beer from the Fallout wasteland itself, and was strong enough that it had to be served in cups half the size of any other beer. Revolution is known for their IPAs and hoppy beers, so this was a nice deviation. Our visit to the Yard took most of the afternoon, but we still made time to walk the floor once again before Vix had to start getting into their evening costume.
After wandering the floor in a failed attempt to find more friends, James and I cleared out shortly before everyone was forced out. We went back to the hotel room to find Vix almost ready as Kylo Ren. One quick dinner later, we were on our way to the Cosplay Celebration. This event took the place of the usual Crown Championship of Cosplay. Despite the lack of international cosplayers, the competition was still incredible. Unfortunately the main hall filled up before we arrived, but there were plenty of TVs set up outside for people to sit on the floor and watch.
Within moments of the competition starting, the floor outside the main hall was crowded with viewers. We could hear and feel the excitement from just beyond the doors as each cosplayer was brought on stage to show off their impressive work. Everyone sat in awe of the talent on display, cheering for their friends and favorite characters. Toward the end of the showcase, I noticed a few people leaving the hall. We waited for an opportunity to get into the room, which came during the intermission.
The doors opened and the lights turned on for intermission. Plenty of people left the room for drinks and bathroom breaks, which is when we took the opportunity to get inside. There weren’t many available seats, but we were more than happy to post up along the wall in the back corner of the room. The crowd was lit up with laughter and cheering as we watched a cosplay dance-off during the intermission. Everyone showed off some slick moves, but the audience absolutely melted with joy as a little girl won the competition. The intermission soon came to a close and the lights came down again.
The cosplay judges JediManda, Thranduart (@thranduart.cosplay), and Trisrex (@trisrex) had a seriously difficult time picking out the winners for this one. They came back out onto stage, followed by all the competitors. Roars from the audience shook the room as the winners were announced. Third place went to Valerie Meachum (@vmeachum) as the stunningly beautiful Marion Lavorre the Ruby of the Sea from Critical Role. Second place was Say it Ain’t Sew as the terrifying goddess The Raven Queen from Dungeons & Dragons. First place went to a larger-than-life cosplay so big it couldn’t get up on stage. BMB Cosplay (@bmbids) debuted a seven-foot-tall Soundwave from Transformers. I was lucky enough to get a close look at these costumes near the end of the show. They were seriously incredible. It felt like the characters were actually there. It was also pretty awesome to see two D&D characters win cosplay awards in the same show.
As the cosplay competition came to a close, the cosplay party started to pick up. On the way out of the panel hall, we met up with our good friends and talented cosplay crew Muddy Waters Cosplay (@muddywaterscosplay). They opted to go low-key for the weekend, which makes me super excited to see what epic cosplay they’ll be bringing out to play next year. Elea has been helping me with fixes for Tenzin, and I’ll be commissioning her for a Darth Malak bodysuit for DragonCon 2022. I cannot state enough just how excited I am for that.
We weaved through the cosplay party just outside the panel room, trying to catch photos of the judges and competitors. On the way out, we realized that the drink lines at the party were getting ridiculously long. After a few photos and chats with other cosplayers, we decided to skip the party altogether and get a head start on dinner and other evening plans. Plenty of other people had the same plans. We ran into Natalie (@shiieldmaidencosplay) and Tiffany (@okenshieldcosplay) as gloriously beautiful Disney princesses Belle and Anna. They and plenty of others were returning to hotel rooms to prepare for the night ahead.
Considering this would be our last sober opportunity to clean up the room, we each took a moment to gather our things and pack what we could. The IT Crowd played on the TV as we tried to kill off all the food we’d brought. Having food in the room for the whole weekend made everything so much easier. We never had to leave the hotel room for breakfast, and could always end the day with some snacks. We dealt with the remaining alcohol the best way we could… by stuffing it into my Vault Tec bag and walking it down to the Hyatt lobby!
My camera didn’t make it with me down to the lobby either night. I realized at DragonCon that it’s become a bit of a social crutch for me. I’ve used it as a way to avoid interacting via conversation, opting to capture the experience through a lens instead of living in the moment. That’s never a problem for me at C2E2, especially in the Hyatt lobby where there’s no shortage of friends. We threw some more paper airplanes with Ginoza and Muddy Waters, heard Wulfgar recount the tales of security problems, and gushed over Critical Role with Eddie B and Joe. We had a great time chatting with nearly the whole crew of GutPunchRP (@gutpunchrp). Amber (@bodoni_italic) and Natalie welcomed me in to meet Ky and DrPsychOwl (@drpsychowl) dressed as Beau and Yasha. I’ve been following these awesome cosplay gamers for a while now. Their Twitch channel shows are ridiculously entertaining.
All the wonderful weirdos I’ve met in the past few years never fail to make me feel welcome at this convention. They are my favorite part of C2E2.
While the lobby closed up around midnight, we were up into the wee hours of the morning. When we got back to the room, we still had to wash off all the makeup. That’s another thing to remember about doing cosplay with body paint or heavy makeup. Plan for late-night showers or you might stain the sheets. Since it was a cold December night, we also had to have some hot chocolate. I believe we finally went to sleep around 3am.
After a quick pack-up and early checkout, we got back down to the floor mid-morning. We knew we wouldn’t be around for long, so our only focuses were saying goodbyes and Christmas shopping. I was riding both a high from the incredible weekend and a sinus headache from the ridiculous pressure shifts outside, so my camera went mostly untouched. We stopped by Cosplay Central to say goodbye to Tim and Diana at the HDC booth. I’ll be in contact with Tim over the next year for some help with Darth Malak’s iconic jaw piece.
Christmas shopping was pretty quick. We had seen everything the floor had to offer already, so we knew exactly where we wanted to go. After a few stops in artist alley and one to a very funny candle booth, we were all quite hungry and ready to find some food. This would be our first meal outside the hotel room all weekend.
Our original plan was to pack up the car and find somewhere nearby to visit. As we exited the lobby to head toward the Hyatt, we were stopped by opportunity. Sixes and Eights is a ramen shop that’s full for nearly the entire weekend. We’ve never been able to get food there before. There was only a single person in line to get noodles, so we joined in and had the best meal of the weekend. I know the bar wasn’t set too high with room meals, but still. Good soup.
Literally the only negative things I can think of for this entire weekend were the bad weather on Friday and the headache on Sunday. Everything else about C2E2 2021 was absolutely fantastic. The staff and security were friendly and professional in handling the covid safety precautions. The cosplayers brought so many beloved characters to life and filled the entire McCormick Place with delight. I’m a huge fan of the way they spread out the booths to create more space for the aisles, as well as removing the red carpet. I know it’s iconic for C2E2 and they may bring it back, but it certainly made the photos less red. All of my friends, these extremely fun and talented nerds, inspire me to no end. Just like the early C2E2 was my favorite con of 2020, I think I’ll have to say it was my favorite con of 2021 as well. It truly captures the essence of what makes them great.