Where else can you see a storm trooper dressed up in a White Sox uniform, infamous former pro wrestler Virgil give someone the finger and the Travel Channel's Toy Hunter all under one roof while enjoying a delicious local craft beer? The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, better known as C2E2, is that unique place...
Since 2010, the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo has celebrated comic book culture annually at McCormick Place. In the last three years, C2E2 has continued to grow, encompassing not only comics but the worlds of movies, television, toys, anime, manga, music, wrestling and video games too. It touches just about every corner of popular culture and with a reported 2012 attendance of 41,000, it continues to grow.
As I boarded the #3 King Drive CTA bus Friday afternoon, I figured that following the pair seated in front of me (one dressed in a Batman t-shirt, the other wearing a hat bearing the likeness of Super Mario Brothers character and Nintendo mainstay Toad) was a pretty safe way to find McCormick Place with minimal effort or attention paid. They didn't let me down.
As I departed my bus and entered the convention center, the first thing I saw heading up the escalator was a gentleman who chose to cross classic Star Wars chic (Storm Trooper mask) with a full Chicago White Sox uniform. It doesn't happen often but I couldn't even get to my phone quick enough to snap a photo.
2013 actually marked my first trip to C2E2. A common misconception of the expo is that it's for comic book "nerds," a myth that couldn't be further from the truth. That point was hammered home fast as those around me made reference to everything from the Ghostbusters (I watched as a man dressed from head to toe as Egon Spangler took at least five minutes to dismantle his costume and faux proton pack before finally entering the bathroom) to Batman (Heath Ledger's take on The Joker remains a surprisingly popular costume choice). Like so many of the topics covered at the expo, the people watching at C2E2 is out of this world.
As I casually perused vintage toys (the Travel Channel's Toy Hunter featured an original G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier in it's original box with a four digit price tag), I noticed off in the distance a figure who's become ubiquitous on the pop culture expo circuit: former WWE/WCW wrestler, and one-time storyline bodyguard of "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, Mike Jones (better known in wrestling circles as Virgil... or Vincent... and even Curly Bill).
Known for taking virtually any measure necessary to chat up those careless enough to get too close in a seemingly neverending effort to sell his own 8x10 photos, "The Lonely Virgil" Tumblr page features the infamous former grappler in a stunning series of sad photos depicting a dejected loner largely ignored by the convention masses. Deadspin took the notion a step further encouraging readers to send in their own pathetic "run-ins" with Virgil in a recurring mailbag feature they came to dub "Virgilbag." Subsequent follow up stories have featured everything from Virgil's supposed Twitter account to his use of the New York public transportation system... but the stories always seemed to feature some variaton of his used car salesman routine and the 8x10's.
Clearly, I needed to experience Virgil firsthand... and do my best to supply Deadspin with more fodder in the process.
As per the legend, Virgil sat quiet and expressionless behind a table covered in glossy 8x10's and what I later found to be burned DVD copies of a long lost appearance he once made with DiBiase on the Arsenio Hall Show (a clip I can't even find on YouTube which I suppose renders his DVD-R's, dare I say, rare. In retrospect, I wish I would've looked into what monetary value he placed on such a "collectible").
I approached the table cautiously and yet, immediately, Virgil (clad in a Joe Palooka hoodie) tried to sell me a replica of the WWE spinner title belt.
"Come on, man. You NEED that" he implored.
I passed... though I did inquire as to what it would run me for a photo op with him.
"Twenty bucks, man" asserted Virgil confidently.
I offered five.
"Come on, man. Ten bucks" came the retort.
Virgil drives a hard bargain.
I figured that, if nothing else, the ten dollars I was about to waste would purchase me a good story. So we lined up behind the table for the photo in front of a banner promoting one Ted DiBiase who, as always, was nowhere to be seen (save for the image on Virgil's banner). On "The Lonely Virgil" Tumblr page, previous banners referenced "Ted DiBaise"... so Virgil's new banner, what with its proper spelling and all, was certainly an upgrade. The photo business must be brisk.
"This right here is not the original. The original weighs eighty-five pounds and Ted has that. That one is worth sixty-five million dollars," boasted Virgil as he handed me his replica of DiBiase's patented million dollar belt to wear in the photo. He actually said this. It's impossible to make up.
So a friend took the photo for me, Virgil and I shook hands and I continued on my way through C2E2, pleased to potentially have my very own "Virgilbag" submission. I posted the photo to Facebook, texted it to friends... and that's when we noticed Virgil's right hand.
It would seem that Virgil didn't fancy my low rent haggling skills... because clearly he's giving me the finger in our photo. I thought our experience was cordial. But how dare I undermine Virgil's efforts at capitalism.
My friend asked if I we should retake the photo... but the fitting one finger salute from Mr. Jones just makes the photo that much better.
From there, my submission made it to Deadspin where it has been viewed in excess of 35,000 times... and, deservedly so, I've been mocked in their historically merciless comments section ever since.
Touche, Virgil. 'Till next time...
- Jim Ryan
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