Fan Expo Chicago creates world of wonder filled with costumed fans and community

“It’s hard to find people with the same hobbies,” said one one woman who was dressed as a comic book character and had a moment Friday that amounted to: “Yes! My people!”

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Matt Bauer takes a selfie with other fans dressed as Los Pollos Hermanos employees from the TV show “Breaking Bad” at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Matt Bauer (center) takes a selfie with other fans dressed as Los Pollos Hermanos employees from the TV show “Breaking Bad” at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Ahhh. Nerd heaven.

And who among us doesn’t like to nerd out?

Fansboys and fangirls dressed as Ghostbusters, Captain America, Harley Quinn, Michael Myers, Bowser, Spiderman, Kylo Ren, Walter White and Japanese anime characters stretched nearly as far as the eye could see Friday at the Fan Expo at Rosemont’s Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. The four-day event features celebrity panels, meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, cosplay, merchandise vendors and more.

Just when the volume of curiosity and amazement seemed too much for the brain to process...

Oh! There’s Randy Quaid signing autographs.

He and other stars from “National Lampoon’s Vacation” including Christie Brinkley, Anthony Michael Hall and Beverly D’Angelo will be on hand for special events celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary. Chevy Chase had to bow out because of pneumonia.

Comic books for sale at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Comic books for sale at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

The crew from “Back to the Future” is here, too.

Lea Thompson, who played Marty McFly’s mother, was in attendance Friday. Michael J. Fox is scheduled to be on hand Saturday and Sunday. Christopher Lloyd is scheduled through Sunday. The John Hancock of most stars were more modestly priced than that of Fox, who commands $225 to sign an 8x10 photo, and $350 to sign a bulky item, like a hoverboard. The film is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year.

“I grew up on ‘Back to the Future.’ I see my whole life in it,” said Joe Frank, 48, a forklift driver from Bridgeview, as he stood in a line for an autograph from Tom Wilson, who played Biff in the beloved film.

Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Lou Diamond Phillips, Barry Bostwick, Mira Sorvino, Michelle Hurd, Henry Winkler and Susan Sarandon are just a few of the many stars also slated to attend the event, which runs through Sunday.

A fan holds their autographed photo of actor Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon from “The Mandalorian” at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday. Esposito is among the dozens of actors appearing at this year’s convention through the weekend.

A fan holds their autographed photo of actor Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon from “The Mandalorian” at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday. Esposito is among the dozens of actors appearing at this year’s convention through the weekend.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Tiffany Danford walked sideways and very carefully through the crowd, trying not to knock into people or pricy lightsabers, which were among a seemingly endless inventory of oddities on the tables of the 600 venders and artists selling their wares.

A series of swords she can summon at will to do her bidding stretched like wings about three feet on either side of Danford, 28, an IT specialist from Monticello, Ind. The costume, made of foam and modeled after a character from the Japanese animated show “FairyTales,” took six months to create.

Her boyfriend’s giant magical staff could summon wind. “It’s technically not my most powerful staff,” said Kahner Hunt, also 28 and a farmer.

Matt King, 41, a probation officer, who stands well over six feet, said he went with a Kylo Ren costume because it’s comfortable, and he’s a “Star Wars” nut.

“I’m a bigger guy. I need something that’s not armored so much,” he said.

Kahner Hunt and Tiffany Danford dressed as characters from the Japanese animated TV show FairyTales at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont

Kahner Hunt and Tiffany Danford dressed as characters from the Japanese animated TV show “FairyTales” for Fan Expo Chicago 2023.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Ruby Rose, 24, a hair stylist from the Southwest Side who dressed as an assassin from the animated web series “Helluva Boss,’” was thankful her red contact lenses didn’t act up on her. Her friend, Nina Campedelli, 23, of St. Louis, was dressed as the assassin’s receptionist.

The two connected over social media, and for Campedelli, who just beat cancer and was taking time off from her schooling at the London School of Economics, the expo was just what she needed to be away from chemo and around people.

“It’s about friends and community and escapism,” she said. “The culture can be a lot, but once you’re in it, your whole world blooms wide open.”

Ruby Rose (left) and Nina Campedelli pose for a portrait while dressed as characters from “Helluva Boss” at Fan Expo Chicago on Friday afternoon.

Ruby Rose (left) and Nina Campedelli pose for a portrait while dressed as characters from “Helluva Boss” at Fan Expo Chicago on Friday afternoon.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Matt Bauer, dressed as an employee of Pollos Hermanos — fast food company that plays a prominent role in “Breaking Bad” — stood in line for an autograph from one of the show’s stars, Giancarlo Esposito.

A series of voiceover actors, writers, animators — all industry heavyweights — are also in attendance this weekend to meet fans.

Aaric Barlow, who dressed as Star-Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy” and works for the Cook County’s mosquito abatement program, attended with her girlfriend, Liyah Graham, who wore a Harley Quinn costume.

Aaric Barlow, Liyah Graham and Graham’s son AJ at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Aaric Barlow, Liyah Graham and Graham’s son AJ attend Fan Expo Chicago 2023 on Friday at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

“It’s hard to find people with the same hobbies,” she said, noting that she had a moment Friday where she felt like “Yes! My people!”

Barlow was most excited to see Shameik Moore, who voices Spider-man in the latest animated movies.

The convention, one of the nation’s longest running, began in 1972 under the name Chicago Comic Con. It was renamed Wizard World in 1998 and renamed again as Fan Expo in 2021, but event didn’t take place that year because of the pandemic.

Caleb Leonard of The Pink Yoda tends to a Baby Yoda doll at his merchandise booth at Fan Expo Chicago on Friday afternoon.

Caleb Leonard of The Pink Yoda tends to a Baby Yoda doll at his merchandise booth at Fan Expo Chicago on Friday afternoon.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Andrew Moyes, vice president of Fan Expo, the company that runs the convention, said the Hollywood writers and actors strike meant that the specific movie titles the stars in attendance were famous for were not supposed to be brought up during interaction with fans.

“It will create new opportunity for different conversations,” said Moyes, who noted that he was happy with the crowded floor space Friday and expected total attendance of the four-day convention to reach into the tens of thousands.

“It’s about community. You can’t replicate this in the digital world,” he said.

Fan Expo Chicago runs through Aug. 13 at Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont. Tickets: $27+. Visit fanexpohq.com/fanexpochicago/.

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