Is Calgary's biggest comic expo finally coming into its own on the international convention scene?
I'm sure this question was on more people's minds than just my own as they wandered the Expo grounds June 17th-19th.
The 6th annual Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo was held at the BMO Centre, right next to the city's downtown core. It featured some of the largest celebrity guests to ever converge on an event in the Canadian Prairies, and an impressive sampling of some of the best comic writers and artists out there today.
No doubt the draw of such seminal names to geek culture as William Shatner, Jonathan Frakes, and Felicia Day (plus the entire cast of the Guild) had a hand in making the event Calgary's most successful yet.
This year's Expo once again boasted record attendance, pulling in a total of over 30,000 visitors over the three days of the con. To put that in perspective, Toronto's Fan Expo Canada, one of the largest of its kind in the world, pulled in numbers in excess of 60,000 last year. San Diego Comic-Con International, perhaps the most well known con in the world, pulled in 130,000. The larger cons, which also include Wizard World Chicago and New York Comic Con, tend to average between 50 to 90 thousand visitors.
When you consider that Calgary has only a fraction of the population in any of those other cities, to be pulling in even half as many attendees as any of the big expos is a feat in itself. Especially for a Convention so young. It's hard to fathom that the Calgary Comic Expo, now the largest in Western Canada, didn't even exist before 2006.
But to get the measure of a good Con, you have to look at more than just attendance. I mentioned the impressive guest line-up before. In addition to boasting such comic book legends as Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween, Superman: Blue), and Neal Adams (X-Men, Batman, Green Lantern/Green Arrow – among others), Calgary's Expo featured a solid sampling of hip, contemporary artists from all spectrums of the comic book scene.
Take Jeff Lemire, Stuart Immonen, Francis Manapul and Calgary's own Fiona Staples, to name a few. I'll even throw down a few more and name-drop Cameron Stewart, Ray Fawkes, Rick Remender and Leonard Kirk. Careful not to let your quivering fanthusiasm get the best of you.
Though this year's Calgary Comic Expo featured an unprecedentedly large presence by DC Comics and it won the distinction of hosting the first Joe Shuster Awards for Canadian Comic Creators held outside of Toronto, I was most impressed by the massive chunk of booths allotted to webcomics.
The respective creative-types behind Dinosaur Comics, A Softer World, Questionable Content, Looking for Group, and Hark! A Vagrant were present and accounted for. Meanwhile, the team at Halfpixel (responsible for PVP, Starslip, Sheldon and Evil Inc.) and the dudes behind Sam And Fuzzy and Axe Cop also made a solid showing. Well, half of the dudes behind Axe Cop. The other half is age 5, and was sadly not present.
I could go on about creators and cosplay and all of the people watching opportunities, but really what set this Expo apart from previous years was the overall tone. Being there feels like being a part of something big, and that's only growing bigger each year. The trick that the folks behind the Expo are now faced with is living up to the expectations they've set for themselves.
I mean, how do you top William Shatner?
On that note, I feel compelled to add how truly privileged you are if you ever have the chance to see the theatrically senile Captain James Tiberius Kirk rant in person. Arbitrarily, really, about anything that comes to mind. The audience can ask him questions, sure, but the likelihood of his answering them rather than waxing tangential on say, whale poetry or 'what Canadiana really means', is slim to none.
Do not miss watching this man perform live. I say perform because that's what he delivers – not an insightful Q & A laced with a few stray witticisms, but a full blown work of theatricality. This is something the show organizers were clearly not prepared for, as was evidenced by the awkwardly chastised expressions on the faces of hosts Ajay Fry and Teddy Wilson (of innerSpace fame) just moments after Shatner walked on stage. When they made the misstep of attempting to reign the show in with some sense of direction, Shatner made it very clear that he would be doing things his way, and not theirs.
This was accomplished by first loudly questioning the purpose of their presence on stage, and subsequently talking to the crowd for ten or so minutes about the expression on Wayne Gretzky's face when the last pillar failed to rise at the Vancouver Olympics.
Speaking of tangents, I may have just Shatnered, myself.
Also, Picard. The only way to top Kirk is to bring in Picard.
Whether or not the 2012 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo brings in another famous Captain, you can be sure that this Con is going to continue its trend of breaking attendance records year after year.
It may not be Toronto Fan Expo or New York Comic Con yet, but Western Canadians can now certainly say more than simply 'at least it's something'. It's something significant, and it will be one of the big Expos to watch for in the next few years.