Report on Fan Expo 2012

Fan Expo Canada 2012 (August 23rd to 26th) was colossal, huge, massive, even bigger than itself. Canada’s answer to the San Diego Comic-Con was initially five separate conventions (dedicated to Comics, Horror, Anime, Sci-Fi, and Gaming) which fused into a single monstrosity of a weekend event, and since then the available space has been filled by any company with something to market to the interested masses. During the con, all nerds are invited to the familiar Metro Toronto Convention Centre (a couple minutes walk from Union Station).

Drawing fans to the festivities were a truckload of events and guests. Headlining the convention was Stan Lee, a living god of Marvel comics who has held together better than most of the issues which made him famous. Unfortunately, actor/icon Patrick Stewart and actor/writer David Hayter both cancelled. Appealing to no a specific fandom, but roughly everybody there, was voice actor Billy West, who’s known for providing the prose of the title character of “Doug” and the stars of the series Futurama. Good luck getting his autograph, since the line was capped an hour before the signings even began. Luckily he’s cool enough to be worth the wait.

Finally, editors from Marvel and DC Editorial made an appearance, giving fans a chance to be the first to hear about new projects from the big two. The biggest revelation might be the new Justice League title from Geoff Johns. The two titans of the comic industry provided the convention comic books with exclusive covers, for DC an issue of Batman: The Dark Knight showing the hero making a brief appearance in Toronto (drawn by guest David Finch). Marvel had a recent issue of The Amazing Spider-man (written by guest Dan Slott) which celebrates the arachnid’s 50th anniversary.

Between panels and events attendees were free to roam the massive dealer’s room, a colossal hallway filled with aspiring and professional artists, vendors, and lots of marketing. The artist’s alley was packed so thickly that some numbers on the convention program were unreadable to the human eye; only with manual exploration could you find hidden gems like Mike Rooth. Across the room, on the other side of a thousand used comic books and action figure dealers and past Stylin Online’s fortress of T-shirts (right), an exhibit by LG attempted to endear customers with an extravagant electronic set-up demonstrating how much floor space they could afford.

Also in the room were exhibitors like Marvel, DC, and CTV herding a crowd of fans with Big Bang Theory T-shirts, but the bros all knew where the party was: the booth operated by Archie Comics. The biggest news from Archie Comics artist Dan Parent? There’s an upcoming sequel to the awesome Archie Meets KISS series. Videogame developer Ubisoft also showed off their new applications of motion technology with Just Dance and a demo of the Avengers: Battle For The Earth game. If you want a closer look at the latter, Tdotcomic’s contributor Ryan C Burgess has done a deeper examination.

There was a rather large display set up for the upcoming film Frankenweenie, but most people were already more interested in the upcoming Disney picture Wreck-It Ralph. Rather than any huge display, Ralph only had some modest ad placement in the convention program and an arcade cabinet that continually drew lines. The featured game was cute and felt like authentic retro-gaming despite not being especially addictive.

The general mood inside the convention seemed to be eagerness. Everybody had somewhere to go or some corner of the convention space they hadn’t looked through. Comic junkies searched through longboxes for a chance to pick up back issues they were missing or comics to get signed. Some people were exhausted, a lot of people had to dig deep into their personal reserves to endure all four days of the convention, and some poor cosplayers were stuck posing for photographs when their outfits prevented them from moving into a state of repose. This was the convention big leagues.

For some of the convention’s best cosplayers, Tdotcomics is hosting an article by Chris D’Alessandro. But we also have a gallery on Facebook which you can search through to tag yourself and friends. This year’s favourite character was clearly and unsurprisingly Loki, the sly antagonist from the Marvel’s Avengers movie released last spring. There was a distinct lack of Scott Pilgrim cosplay this year as that brand is no longer the hip thing. While love of the character inspires most cosplayers, many just enjoyed the chance to dress far more provocatively than they could ever get away with in class or at the office. The only problem was the awkward looks your I-No cosplay might get on the subway.

   

  

While the general atmosphere inside the convention was positive, not everybody had such a great time. Like last year, crowds were massive and on Saturday, the south building of the convention centre hit fire code capacity. Then, in a repeat of the utter debacle and publicity nightmare of 2010, the ticket booth continued to sell tickets. By 2011 the convention organizers proved they had learned their lesson, but by 2012 they forgot it again.

These problems aside, there were still long lines for talent who had limited signing and photo windows (although it should be noted that typically comic book talents didn’t charge for signatures). Reports of rude convention officials left many Facebook and Twitter accounts brimming with outspoken claims against Fan Expo and the Hobbystar Organization which operates it, some more warranted than others. While I don’t think Hobbystar hates their customers, I’ll concede that there are lot of people working there who need a primer in customer service. Online reports from volunteers verify that they were expected to work without training or guidance.

Apart from the dealer’s room and more typical events, a few particularly interesting activities were held in conjunction with Fan Expo. Like they have before, G33kpron arranged a dance party at the Tattoo Rock Parlour for hundreds of clubbers and cosplayers. Seeing cosplayers take advantage of the poles erected on stage for scandalous and sexy dancing made it worth the cover charge.

To spare themselves the ticket price but still enjoy the company, many fans chose to inhabit the areas outside the convention centre. There, they met up with friends leaving the MTCC for supply runs, enjoyed cosplay groups with a bit more fresh air, and avoided being hassled by marketing. They also cut down on the number of Homestuck fans congesting the area inside the convention.

Toronto’s Fan Expo is now over, and for the most part it signals a close to this year’s convention season. Now, everybody returns home for much needed showers and many register for their fall classes. Being in this year’s titanic dealer’s room gave me more appreciation for the smaller, more personal conventions like Con-G, and relief that the convention season is over and the next party season can begin. It also left me with a huge hole in my bank account. Fan Expo is a terrific experience on the whole, but going with specific goals in mind isn’t a good idea since the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. It’s usually best to just show up and start hunting for a  good time and new friends. For the anime fans, it’s no Anime North, but for the comic book fans it’s an unparalleled, overwhelming, and taxing experience.

Was the Toronto Fan Expo worth it for you? Will you return next year? Please feel free to concisely voice your opinion in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out TdotComic’s calendar for other conventions and cultural events in the GTA.

-Michael Ryan. August 28th, 2012

Michael Ryan is a long time writer for TdotComics who regularly covers conventions and festivals and occasionally composes articles on particular comic series. He had studied at the School Of Visual Arts in New York City.

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