I promised a recap of my first ever convention / Fan Expo experience and here it is. I spent the blog’s downtime in downtown Toronto attending the 2013 edition of Fan Expo in downtown Toronto along with over 100,000 of my closest friends. I was just completely overwhelmed by the number of people there and I’ve been to a NASCAR race with 110,000 people and thought this place was packed.
So let’s look back at Fan Expo with a little bit of Best and Worst.
On Saturday, I very nearly got run down by a group of stormtroopers walking through the North Building. There were about four of them leading Darth Vader, two more troopers and who came next but Ian McDiarmid. The Emperor had an honour guard of stormtroopers escorting him to his table with the Imperial March playing in the background. It was awesomeballs.
Worst: Where’s Carrie Fisher?
I assume that she was at her panel but I never once saw Carrie Fisher signing autographs during the four days of the convention. There were lines waiting for her but no actual Carrie. Folks like George Takai and Ian were seldom away from their autograph table. Can I get an eyewitness report confirming that Princess Leia was on the premises at some point during the weekend?
Best: The Walking Dead Cast and Silly String
Unlike Carrie Fisher, The Walking Dead cast spent a lot of time signing autographs and chatting with fans. In attendance were Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus and I didn’t hear a bad word about them all weekend.
They also had quite a bit of fun over the course of the weekend. Norman Reedus may not have photobombed anyone this weekend but he did spray his castmates with silly string. At one point, I saw Steven Yeun running for his life after some folks were trying to prank him. I want to say he was being chased by guys with water but I could be remembering it wrong. They definitely livened up things at Fan Expo. It just a shame that their panel filled up about five minutes after the floor opened on Sunday.
Worst: Who’s Chumlee and Why is He Here?
Chumlee is just an example but between him and some of the folks over at the sports exhibit, I wonder if Fan Expo is trying too hard to reach out to the mainstream crowd rather than celebrate geek culture. I can understand letting sports collectables onto the floor along with other vendors. I just can’t understand parachuting in a few sports celebrities to sign autographs for an hour or two over the course of the weekend.
And while I’m questioning the special area for sports, why do Hulk Hogan and Bobby Orr get to charge extra for their panels? The Hulkster doesn’t need the money but charged a $30 minimum to get into his Q&A. And Orr’s panel was a $300 minimum. You’re already paying to get in the door. It seems a bit excessive to give them a pile of cash to see them talk on top of that.
Worst: Fan Expo Staff
Fan Expo staff could be divided into two types. The first are the people in hockey jerseys (appropriate for a Canadian convention) who, near as I could tell, were responsible for the panels. Then there are the staff in the purple shirts who are the subject of this Worst.
The only time that the purple shirts would take notice of you is if you were trying to take a picture of a celebrity. I tried taking a picture of Colin Baker but was shouted away by a short person with a staff badge. The army of people who wanted to take Nathan Fillion’s picture got plenty of great pictures of purple shirts jumping into frame. They also wheeled a curtain to protect Captain Mal from errant photography. At least they gave up the battle to keep people from taking pictures of Norman Reedus who had a couple dozen people taking pictures at any given time.
I say that’s the only time that they would take notice of you because they sure weren’t helpful if you had a question. They would often be talking/laughing amongst themselves and you’d have to interrupt to get help. That’s assuming that they knew the answer which few did. Excuse me staffer standing in front of Karl Urban’s autograph table who doesn’t look like he wants to talk to me, do you know when Karl will be here today to sign autographs? Oh, you want me off the red carpet and don’t know when. Thanks… Asshole.
Also, a collective worst to the whole organization for the schmozzes that Thursday and Saturday were. I bought the premium pass so I could get priority entrance and early access on Thursday. Well, Thursday at 2:00 PM was supposed to be for VIPs and Premium ticket holders but Fan Expo staff let anyone in who showed up for 2:00 PM. Well, it was about 2:15 when they opened the doors.
Saturday was a mess because they oversold tickets. The North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre had limited access so they didn’t overcrowd it. It took me over a half-hour to get from the South Building to the North for a photo op. I also heard stories about how re-entry was basically impossible if you left the building. Saturday tickets were oversold so there was a rumoured two to three-hour wait for re-entry regardless of what ticket package you had. And I thought that these guys would know what they’re doing having run Fan Expo for 19 years.
Best: Contracted Security
Unlike the folks running around in purple Fan Expo shirts, the hired security company in their yellow and blue shirts were very easy to deal with. They were never rude to convention goers. They were always very helpful. I have nothing but nice things to say about them. It’s just a shame that I can’t remember which company they work for but they were also doing security at the Air Canada Centre for a concert that weekend so they’re a pretty popular security company.
I’ll tell you a story about them too. One of our group accidentally clipped her wristband together but not on her wrist. Well, they won’t let you in without a wrist band. So we tried getting a new one for her on Thursday and got bounced around between about seven different people. The Fan Expo purple shirts weren’t much help until the very end. It was the contracted security people who went out of their way to make sure she got her wrist band. There’s some good folk employed by that security company.
Worst: Toronto Traffic
Driving into Toronto on Wednesday evening was an adventure. Between gridlock and roads being closed for construction left, right and centre, it was hard to actually get to my hotel. That doesn’t mention the fact that I spent over an hour driving from downtown to the 427 off-ramp on Monday. How to people live or drive in downtown Toronto without going completely mental?
Best: Geek Culture
As they said at the State of the Tabletop Gaming Industry panel, geek culture / nerd culture is now a part of mainstream culture. More people than ever are into sci-fi and comics. The renaissance of classic nerd culture franchises, such as the reboots of Star Trek and Doctor Who and the Marvel and DC movie franchises, have made nerd culture a key part of modern culture, even if that means we have to put up with The Big Bang Theory and celebrities trying to sell their stuff by calling themselves nerds.
Sure, the geek may not have inherited the earth just yet but we’re a powerful community now. It’s not just people who go to the conventions who are fans of Doctor Who or Star Wars or Superman. And with Fan Expo topping 100,000 attendees and more likely to come next year, geek culture is stronger than ever. Yeah, it’s cool to be a geek.
Cross-posted from et geekera.