After trying to explain the whole Fan Expo thing to a colleague, I thought it might be fun to try and do a blog about the experience for those who’ve never been. This blog may wander around a bit, but welcome to how it feels to be at a convention!!
I’ve attended Fan Expo almost every year since 2004 (I missed last year for grownup reasons). The lead up to the expo builds over six months as guests are announced and plans are made. By the time I head out for the first day, I can hardly contain myself. This year I decided I would stay at the hotel attached to the convention centre – so I packed my bags and headed out the door filled with dreams, wishes and most of all energy!
The Expo runs Thursday evening to Sunday evening and takes over both halls of the downtown convention centre. The south hall is where you will find Artist’s Alley (more on that later) and other vendors. There’s still a flavor of the old Comic Con, but to be fair the majority of vendors are now there selling everything else. My routine is to wander the south hall on Thursday and Friday when it is still “quiet”. Once the crowds descend on a Saturday, I literally hide in the basement watching panels for the rest of the weekend.
I’m not interested in most of the items being sold, but other folks appear to promote upcoming events. I still have a Hunger Games mockingjay pin attached to my jean jacket they were handing out before the first movie was released. In this case, the folks promoting IT, were offering a VR tour of the Derry sewers that had you hunting for the monster. I decided to stay above ground and moved on.
They had a fantastic display of costumes from the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok movie. I have a particular interest in costumes, and it was great to see these up close.
This almost life size Jabba the Hutt was incredible. I got the chance to talk to one of the folks involved in its creation. The amount of artistry that is on display at the Expo is amazing. From sculptures like these guys to the cosplays you see everyday, its really incredible.
The horror vendor area is mostly in the north hall. This mask vendor has been coming for a number of years, and I continue to be amazed at the quality of the work they have on display.
For those considering attending a full weekend Fan Expo event, you need to treat it as an endurance event (or at least I do at the age of 48). It’s long hours, filled with many people and for an introvert like myself, it can be incredibly draining. As I mentioned above, I was able to stay at the hotel this year and I took full advantage of that. I started each day with a massive breakfast, as I knew I would not be eating real food for another 10 hours or so. I also tucked myself into bed as soon as I could. I think I had a 9 pm bedtime the whole weekend:)
The photo below also demonstrates something I call the Fan Expo ripple effect. One of the reason I like attending panels is to be convinced to check out a movie or TV series I’ve not watched before. In this case, Matt Smith during his Thursday panel spoke about how much he enjoyed playing Prince Philip in the Netflix series The Crown. I spent the rest of my weekend downtime working my way through the show:) [Sidebar: John Lithgow is AMAZING as Winston Churchill]
The final secret to any convention is managing your food and fluid intake through the day. Water is your friend (even for someone like me who thinks camels have the right idea). You also need to find portable food that can fit on your person. I’m a fan of almonds and breakfast bars but miles may vary. Luckily, because this is a convention centre, most of the larger rooms have water dispensers at the back so you can refill your containers. There are food courts on the main floor but: they are expensive and on the main floor (where crowding makes it impossible to move on the weekend).
The crowds are certainly an issue, and something you need to learn to cope with. Fan Expo is the one time of year I purposely send myself into large crowds. I managed to take the two photos below of the north hall on Thursday and Friday. By Saturday, you would not have be able to see any floor space at all. The area on the left with the red carpet is for celebrity autographs. The horror vendors and others are on the right, and the photo op area is at the far back.
The other convention reality is lines, lines and more lines. Fan Expo started offering a VIP pass a few years ago that let’s you skip all this for premium pricing. If you are not VIP, your weekend is made up of lining up for autographs, photo ops, or in the case of the pic below for a celebrity Q&A panel. You can see the line goes way back and around the black escalators.
While there are a few smaller rooms in the south and north hall, most of the celebrity panels take place in 106 which is a massive 3 ballroom wide meeting room or in 102 which is a smaller auditorium sized room. The picture below is the right half of 106 just prior the the panel being done by 3 of the kids from Stranger Things. To get the full effect, you have to imaging the same number of people sitting behind me. The room holds about 3000 people. Celebrities sit on chairs in the middle where I am, and they have large screens on either side so the people on either end can see what’s happening.
This is the smaller room of 102. Here they simply project up on a screen the interview that is taking place. In both rooms, audience members can line up to ask questions of the celebrities on stage. I’ve never done this as I can never think of a good question!!
If all of this sounds crazy and exhausting, you’re not wrong. So you may be asking, what keeps me coming back year after year? It’s the memories that I take away every time. It’s being surrounded by THOUSANDS of other people who are into this weirdness just like me. It’s the fact that you can start up random conversations with strangers about almost any sci fi/ horror/ anime / comic topic. I once spent 20 mins talking about the Critters movies with a fellow while we were waiting in a line. There is also the fact that you get to interact with celebrities, artists and others and share a moment with them. So let me list the things I love.
THING I LOVE #1: The Fans – I can’t overstate how much I love the fans that attend this convention. One of the highlights this year occurred during a Q&A panel held by Meatloaf. After an audience member asked him a question about something they had read on the internet, he cautioned folks to be careful about what they read. He specifically mentioned Wikipedia and how anyone can add to that site, and said that people could post he had told people he was an alligator. 20 minutes later, just before the panel ended, an audience member shouted out that Wikipedia now stated exactly that.
THING I LOVE #2: Photo Ops – I happen to love the photo opportunities with celebrities (the Photo Op). While it’s a blink and you’ll miss it event (you walk up, say hi, they take the picture and you’re gone), it’s a chance to physically be in the same space. This year it was John Barrowman. I’m a big fan of his, and I also suspected he might give a good hug… I was not wrong. Lately, I’ve tended to not worry about autographs so much, I like the brief moment here.
THING I LOVE #3: Artist Alley. Artist alley is rows and rows of new and established artists selling their creations. The items can include artwork, comics, jewellery, sculptures, clothing etc. This was the first year I really took my time and wandered the rows. I got the chance to chat with a few of the artists and let them know how much I enjoyed their work. One fellow and I geeked out about a poster he had created for The Thing. I’ve include below a couple of the prints I picked up this year.
THING I LOVE #4: The Shared Moment For folks who don’t do the fan thing, it’s hard to describe the feeling you get from meeting an artist or celebrity that you’re a huge fan of. Most of the time it’s just a few seconds to a minute, but the moment is huge. It’s an opportunity to let them know how much their work means to you, and for the most part I’ve seen that feedback appreciated.
This year I got the chance to meet Drew Struzan. He’s as an artist, and even if you don’t know his name – you know his work. He drew many of the big movie posters in the 80s and since (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to The Future, Blade Runner, Harry Potter etc, etc, etc). I had a few minutes to talk with him about how much I enjoyed his work. He also did the poster for one of my top two movies of all time, so I did get an autograph after all:)
THING I LOVE #5: The Fans in Costume Okay, so I cheated and had two of these. I love folks who come in costume. The work and love that goes into it is incredible. Plus, I’m not brave enough to give it a go (I have themed t shirts and that’s as far as I’ll go).
That sums up the Fan Expo experience for me. I hope for those of you who’ve never attended a Fan Expo that I’ve given you a little taste of what the weekend is like.
After spending the weekend rubbing shoulders with tens of thousands of strangers, and coming home tired, exhausted, malnourished, dehydrated and borderline crazy – will I be doing this again next year? The answer to that unsurprisingly is YES 🙂 Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog where I write up the various celebrity panels I attended.