Monday, August 30, 2010

To Your Scattered Panels Go: Fan Expo Canada 2010

In all honesty, I've never been much of a comic-book fan. The childhood years that appear to be when the habit settles in for most people were, in my case, spent watching the complete VHS set of the original Star Trek and reading Star Trek tie-in fiction. I suppose it was for reasons like these that I have never before attended a "comic book" convention - but then, Fan Expo is not just a comic book convention. Now in its fifteenth year, it's a massive melange of comics, anime, sci-fi, horror and gaming - an electromagnet of geekery and nerddom that's totally unlike anything I've ever experienced before.

Looking back, that's probably one of the biggest obstacles I had in front of me. I went to Fan Expo with my memories of Anticipation and Ad Astra 2010 to inform my expectations. Sure, I knew that Fan Expo is a far larger and grander endeavour, something far more along the lines of the San Diego Comic-Con. I had vague ideas of scale, but I didn't know what to expect.

I had to stand in line for an hour just to get inside, a line that spanned a city block outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and was as easy for the two security guards to control and corral as it would be for you to steer a motorcycle with nothing but your tongue. This was the line for those who had bought their tickets online - and it was the initial ticket-buying process where Fan Expo distinguished itself from the other conventions I'd attended. It's just as simple as that - tickets. At Worldcon and the smaller conventions I've attended or researched, attendance is based on membership; you pay your fees and you're a member of the convention or, in the case of Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Society. At Anticipation and at Ad Astra, the registration staff had a big paper list that they crossed your name off when you showed up. For me, it had a real personal feeling.

Fan Expo, on the other hand, defined impersonal. Things didn't get much better when I entered the convention proper. The way it was set up, there weren't many neutral areas that I could find - for the most part, what I encountered was one massive, sprawling dealers' room, like I'd stumbled into the biggest and most crowded comic book store in the universe.

A handful of Fan Expo attendes maneuver on the main convention floor.

I've never had the chance before to discover how I fare in a massive, massive crowd. Fan Expo gave me that opportunity, and with the scale of the crowd forcing me to jounce and jostle for position whenever I wanted to make two steps, after fifteen minutes I felt like I was having trouble breathing. The press of bodies moving this way and that in a Brownian chaos, the warmth from so many human bodies leaving the air conditioning system a huge challenge to overcome, and the incredible sensory overload left me floundering. Every booth at Fan Expo, it seems, wants to get your attention, and they're all bedecked with STUFF!! for sale of the kind that you've never seen before and may never see anywhere else - Initech T-shirts, Japanese Zelda soundtrack CDs, and $600 ED-209 models - and you can easily lose yourself trying to keep track of it all. I certainly did.

Not that my opportunities for recovery were much. While the lower floor of the convention center was fairly open so early in the day, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre evidently does not pass up an opportunity for profit when it sees it: thus, the bottled water for sale cost the princely sum of $2.71. Locally sourced from Simcoe County. I paid three bucks for what is practically Barrie tap water.

As the day went on, the lower level became increasingly clogged. Two twinned escalators were the main access between levels, but by the time we were ready to head outside for open air and lunch, there was absolutely no clearance reserved around them. The end result was, of course, standing-room-only escalators depositing a steady flow of people into a space where there's barely any room for them. Had the people on the lower floor not moved, I felt as if I could have been stampeded down there. God forbid what would have happened had there been a fire in the building; with that kind of attendance, there's no such thing as an "orderly" evacuation. What was worse was that once people left, they had to line up again for re-admittance, which I hear took place only once an hour. Whatever the situation, the conrunners didn't do very well in communicating it to the people.

Nor was there really very much in terms of events that interested me - for a con that pulled in fifty-nine thousand people in 2009, it seemed like there wasn't even as much variety of programming as there was at Ad Astra 2010. From my look over the event list, what panels there were seemed universally to be Q&A sessions with celebrities or showrunners. The autograph area occupied a massive swath of the east side of the convention center, and I can only imagine how absolutely breath-catchingly crammed it would have been when there were people actively signing there.

Shredder and Bebop take a break from menacing New York circa 1987 to make an appearance at Fan Expo. As far as I could see, no mutant ninja turtles were in attendance - teenage or otherwise.

That's not to say that I didn't find anything to like about Fan Expo, though. The cosplayers really made it - one of the great things about conventions like this is the opportunity to identify the costumes, and there are a lot of costumes. From the usual suspects like Spider-man and the Flash, cosplayers ran the gamut from Ghostbusters to a Batman costume made entirely out of duct tape to Leeloo from The Fifth Element and Dr. McNinja. Some of them require a hell of a lot of dedication, considering the number of character outfits that Man Was Not Meant To Wear.

I was, thankfully, spared an encounter with an overly hairy, three-hundred-pound man in an ill-fitting Sailor Moon costume. They're always there, somewhere. Such a man was one of the first people I saw at Anime North in 2003, but in that case he was something like seven feet tall and with a lush beard.

Ultimately, the most important thing I took away from Fan Expo - aside, that is, from Initech and Blue Sun T-shirts - is that I'm really not the kind of person that conventions like these are marketed towards. Fan Expo is, first and foremost, a profit-making venture. You see it in the different grades of tickets, where some events are restricted to those who have a "Deluxe" pass and above. You see it in the corporate sponsorship - this year it was "presented by Rogers," and the dealers' room included an HMV outlet, a Rogers display area, and a demonstration of the Kinect for the Xbox 360. There didn't seem to be any sense of camaraderie or welcoming there except from the groups that came together - just a sense that you were meant to spend money, and a lot of it.

As for me, I left with bills untouched in my wallet. Thus, I suppose, I win.

Previous Convention Reports

1 comment:

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