Despite concerns about attendance, Reed Exhibition's newly launched comics and pop culture convention, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2, attracted nearly 28,000 fans to the Lakeside Center exhibition hall at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center complex. And despite being situated away from McCormick Place's main convention space, the vast sunlit exhibition hall received rave reviews from fans and exhibitors for the its abundant natural light and eye-popping panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

However, while exhibitors gave Reed Exhibitions

high marks of the organization and management of the show, many had expressed concerns that attendance would fall below the projections of the show organizers. While Saturday's foot traffic was much improved over Friday, Sunday's attendance was also perceived as "low key" according to one exhibitor. Indeed several exhibitors suggested that the show lacked "buzz and energy." Nevertheless, preliminary attendance figures released by Reed Exhibitions come very close their pre-show projections and the C2E2 launch can be compared to the 2006 launch of New York Comic-con, which attracted about 33,000 fans to the Javits Center in New York. Indeed, the preliminary figure of 27,500 makes C2E2 the fourth largest comics show in the U.S. behind Comic-Con International: San Diego (126,00), New York Comic-con (77,000) and WonderCon (39,000).

Nevertheless by Sunday many publishers complained that sales fell short of expectations. But they were also quick to acknowledge that this is a first-year show and everyone emphasized their overall support for C2E2. There seemed to be a general consensus among the publishers PWCW contacted that they will return next year.

Asked about exhibitors concerns about attendance and foot traffic during the show, Reed Exhibition v-p and C2E2 show manager Lance Fensterman said the attendance figures were preliminary and that the official attendance could very likely "go up" by as much as 1,000 after they are done examining the data. While the Lakeside Hall was a hit, some exhibitors asked why Reed didn't use Chicago's Navy Pier and Fensterman said, "we looked at it; it's a great place but its too small. Even if we had jammed everything in there it would only have worked for one year."

Fensterman emphasized that the Lakeside hall gave the show over a 1 million square

feet of space and he said that the excess space and wide aisles may have fooled exhibitors about the numbers of people in the hall. "I think concerns about the traffic on Friday are a little bit fact and a little bit perception." He said, "we had ambitious projections for attendance and we did not want a repeat of the overcrowding problems we had launching New York Comic-con." Reed has announced that next year's C2E2 will be held April 8-10 in the same Lakeside hall, but Fensterman said, "we'll do some surveys and if there are problems we can move the date. We do not want to conflict with other shows; we want to be respectful of other shows and we can move around 2 weeks before or after those dates if we have too. Chicago is eager to accommodate us."

Virtually everyone seemed to praise the layout of the hall which featured spacious aisles, a huge space adjoining the exhibition floor that was used for food concessions and a performance stage; and a sprawling Artists Alley at the rear of the hall that was well-attended by fans throughout the show. While publishers and dealers complained about sales, most of the artists we talked with in Artists Alley said their sales were good.

Major large and independent small preess comics publishers were all in attendance, among them DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image Comics, Archie Comics and Top Cow. Boom! Studios, Archaia, Oni Press and Top Shelf all had booths and superstar authors like Bone creator Jeff Smith and fantasy novelist turned graphic novelist Sherrilyn Kenyon each had their own sizable booths.

Manga houses such as Viz, Del Rey Manga did not attend and there really was no manga presence (and not much cosplay) at all except for the nonfiction/educational manga publisher Japanime Ltd and a few anime distributors. It was much the same for traditional book publishers, although Quirk Books and Random House Children's Publishing exhibited. Random House and Abrams had representatives on panels and AbramsComicsArts executive editor Charles Kochman was on hand walking the floor. Yen Press's Kurt Hassler also dropped in on the floor and some panels and Del Rey Manga marketing managerAli Kokmen gave a presentation on forthcoming Del Rey titles.

Pantheon designer/editor/author Chip Kidd, ostensibly moderating a panel on the Pantheon graphic novel list with cartoonists Dash Shaw and Chris Ware, actually used the occasion to show off his own book, a giant collection documenting Captain Marvel memorabilia that will be published by Abrams. Meanwhile cartoonists Shaw and Ware, who gave short presentations on their own works, provided the audience with a rare and quirky glimpse into their working processes when the two drifted off into a memerizing, informative and sporadically comical exchange about art methods and strategies and their genuine admiration for each others works.

While there wasn't a lot of major comics news released over the weekend, some bulletinsstill emerged. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund launched a new and redesigned website. Oni Press announced a deal to make comic books based on the wildly popular Nick Jr. Kids show Yo Gabba Gabba; Boom! Studios showed off its kids and Disney properties. The show floor was full of families with kids (especially on Sunday, kids day). Archie's Mike Pellerito showcased the just released Archie Marries hardcover collection published with Abrams and discussed the release of digital readers for Archie comics during the Taking Comics into the Digital World panel held on Saturday. [See Brigid Alverson's roundup on the kids comics news from C2E2).

Vertigo Executive editor Karen Berger presided over a panel that included Scott Snyder (American Vampire), actor/writer Michael Easton and novelist Peter Straub (collaborators on The Green Woman), Fables creator Bill Willingham, Matt Kindt and Cliff Chiang, artist on the June GN adaptation of Neil Young's concept album Greendale. Berger also highlighted the forthcoming graphic memoirs, Cuba, My Revolution by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel (Sept.) and Sarah Glidden's How To Understand Israel In 60 Days or Less (Nov.).

Archaia Entertainment debuted plans for Black Label, a new line of licensed work-for-hire book properties. Archaia will work with rightsholders to put together creative teams that will produce the books published under the Black Label line. Archaia CEO P.J. Bickett also announced that the house will team with iVerse, an iPhone/iPodTouch app developer, to offer its comics on iPhone/iPad, Playstation 3, Sony and other digital platforms and mobile devices.

Some of the best panels this reporter attended were the aforementioned Dash Shaw and Chris Ware discussion and a particularly lively panel on independent African American comics creators moderated by John Jennings and Damian Duffy that promoted their own upcoming book, Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture, and highlighted a panel of veteran and emerging local Chicago indie cartoonists. PWCW's Heidi MacDonald, also editor-in-chief of the comics news blog, The Beat, moderated a equally lively panel called Old Media, New Media, Comics Media that featured a lineup of bloggers from Comics Alliance, Comics Worth Reading, IFanboy and other sites.

While the programming seemed well organized and substantive, many panels were often woefully under attended. A DC Nation fan panel with Geoff Johns and DC copublishers Jim Lee and Dan Didio, that would typically have been jammed with thousands of fans was held in a huge hall that was more than half empty. Panels held on the Friday Professionals Day (Professionals and the trade only were admitted from 10 am to 1 pm) sometimes attracted just a handful of attendees to rooms that could hold hundreds. Some publishers suggested that panels were too far from the show floor. Fensterman said that, based on typical local comics shows, he may have miscalcuated and fans may not have expected a show with so much programming and he suggested that they would likely shorten the length of the professional day at next year's C2E2.

But Fensterman was clearly happy with the attendance and overall reception of the show and told PWCW, "its been an amazing launch. For the last year this has been just theory and people have wanted to know what it will look like. Now they've had a chance to see it and the feedback from everyone tells us that they support the show; that they believe in the show and that they want it to work. What more could you want?"