A Comic Book Lover’s Guide to Chicago

Chicago Comics has the largest collection of comic books in the Midwest
Chicago Comics has the largest collection of comic books in the Midwest | © Sam Howzit / Flickr
In the past decade, comic books have seen a huge boost in popularity. You can definitely thank the Internet, which made comics more accessible to readers in the early 2000s. It doesn’t stop there, though.

Consumers have been buying more hard copy books in recent years too. This might be because big movie studios have put out hoards of comic book-based blockbusters in quick succession, sparking interest in viewers who might never have given Captain America’s backstory a second thought. Whatever the reason, Chicago is a great place to be for comic book lovers who’ve been loyal since the beginning and those who only recently caught up with the most popular heroes and villains.


Every year, Chicago hosts an enormous convention for all things comics, cosplay, and pop culture. Called C2E2, which stands for Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, the event features fan favorites from every corner of the entertainment world, including comics, manga, anime, TV shows, movies, and more. The self-proclaimed “biggest geek party in the Midwest” offers up screenings of films, panel discussions from the biggest names in comic books, autograph signings, and cosplay costume contests (plus a ton more awesome events for fans, such as photo ops and meet-n-greets). This is the comic event of the year in Chicago, so definitely get tickets in advance. C2E2 2019 is slated for March 29–31, so book your hotels, polish your lightsabers, and gear up for a non-stop weekend of stimuli.

A cosplay group at C2E2 in Chicago, 2015. © GabboT / WikiCommons

CAKE: Chicago Alternative Comics Expo

For anyone who thinks the current comic climate has gone too mainstream, CAKE, the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, offers a welcome antidote. Chicago has a storied history when it comes to underground operations, and not just in the world of gangsters and moonshine. Comic book authors, illustrators, and publishers have been working independently for many years, creating universes and stories unknown to fair-weather fans or readers only well-versed in popular comic books that have been turned into blockbuster films. Comic devotees can purchase comic books, attend panel discussions, take workshops, and check out tons of original artwork during the long weekend CAKE puts on each year. The ultimate perk? Admission is free both days (June 2–3, 2018).

Zine Fest

This festival is for readers who admire up-and-coming comic book artists—and those interested in creating their own books. To be considered a true zine, publications at this fest have to have a circulation of 5,000 or less. Zines are typically passion projects, run by writers, illustrators, and designers who don’t make a living off the zine but show up to produce the art they love. In fact, most only have a circulation of about 50 readers or so. This year, 2018, will be the ninth year of Zine Fest. It will feature workshops on bookbinding your own comics and comic framing techniques, the latter hosted by CAKE illustrator Jackie Roche. This festival is perfect for comic book lovers ready to take the next step from fandom to production.

Zine Fest is the best place to discover underground comics and up-and-coming artists. © Peteashton / WikiCommons

Wizard World Chicago Comic Con

This exhibition is the place to be to meet real stars from current comic TV series and movies. As one of the largest conventions of its kind in the country, the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con does not disappoint. Guests consistently include top names from TV shows and movies. Several stars from Outlander and Guardians of the Galaxy were added to the most recent roster, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Again, authors and illustrators are available for panel discussions and autographs. Arts and crafts booths featuring work paying homage to your favorite comic book stories, characters, phrases, and designs are strewn throughout the enormous convention center, not to mention the countless bookstores and jewelry vendors present with awesome memorabilia. The best part? Many cities around the country host this event. If you’re in or around Chicago from August 23–26, 2018, make a point to get to the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.

Heroes and Villains Fan Fest

The Heroes and Villains Fan Fest offers attendees more hands-on opportunities—with a stronger focus on horror and sci-fi than other fests in the Chicagoland area. Aside from meeting celebrities from hit shows, movies, and comics (a given at these events), participants can try their hands at archery (for real) or bungee jumping (also for real) to get a taste of what their favorite heroes and villains get to do on a daily basis. This year the festival celebrates its 6th anniversary and occurs in conjunction with Walker Stalker Con, an event that revolves entirely around The Walking Dead (aka, get your zombie make-up ready).

Heroes and Villains Fest gives attendees a chance to indulge their inner villain. © istolethetv / WikiCommons

Challengers Comics + Conversation

Voted Best Comics Store in Chicago by the Chicago Reader in 2010, Challengers Comics + Conversation prides itself on its collection and its community. Though the Bucktown shop doesn’t buy personal collections, they do offer an amazing subscription service to readers with specific selections they know they’ll buy every month. Basically, Challengers Comics will pre-order your faves so that they’re ready for you each month. Plus, you get a 10% discount. It’s free to join and a great way to support local bookstores and meet other people just as passionate about comics as you are. Have no fear if you don’t live in Chicago—the shop hosts events around the year to celebrate cosplay, new releases, and the comics community in general.

Chicago Comics

The best store for buying and selling comic books in Chicago is Chicago Comics. Boasting the vastest selection of comic books in the Midwest, this Lakeview shop has just about everything from manga to anime, zines to mainstream publications, and local to international books. Better yet, if you don’t see what you’re looking for, Chicago Comics will special order it for you (that is if it’s not hiding in one of their many filing cabinets in the back, which it very well may be). If you create your own comic books, you can apply to sell your work here too. Since getting its start in 1991, Chicago Comics has become a major player in the city when it comes to comics, indie publications, and all things superhero.

Chicago Comics has the largest collection of comic books in the Midwest © Sam Howzit / Flickr

The Dark Knight filming locations

It’s safe to say that every comic book fan has seen The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman film for which Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar after his portrayal of the Joker riveted millions. There are many locations around Chicago that fans of the movie (and Batman in general) should check out. Filming took place in tons of nooks and crannies throughout the Windy City, both inside and outdoors. Part of a Batpod chase sequence was filmed inside the Millennium Park Metra Station; a parking garage on Randolph Street is the location where the Scarecrow, among other ne’er do-wells, is captured. One of the best spots is the Twin Anchors bar in Old Town. During filming, Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart) lost his temper and slammed his fist down onto the bar. You can see the scuff marks and indentations from Eckhart’s strength on the bar for yourself—they’re still there.