This weekend heralds the annual Fan Expo – the combination of the Canadian National Comic Book Expo, the Science Fiction Expo, the Festival of Fear, the Anime Expo and the Gaming Expo. It routinely drags in thousands upon thousands of nerds, geeks, fanboys, fangirls, people dressed up in Sailor Moon costumes, wannabe professionals, enthusiastic amateurs, real professionals, and bargain hunters.
If you fall into one of these categories (and I fall into at least four of them myself, although I don’t wear Sailor Moon costumes as a rule. Although I think, if necessary, I could pull off Tuxedo Mask), then no doubt you’ve at least considered whether or not you want to go to the Fan Expo. Here are five reasons to go to the Fan Expo, and five reasons to give it a pass.
REASONS TO GO
1.) Nimoy and the Shat. This year’s guests of honor are Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. If you like Star Trek at all, you owe yourself the opportunity to see Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner at a convention at least once; they’re friendly, respectful, and tell more hilarious stories about the good old days of Trek and their various other misadventures in Hollywood than just about anybody else. These two are the grand old men of Hollywood sci-fi now (they’re both 75), and you’re not going to get many more chances to see them live like this.
2.) Mike Mignola. There’s a ton of major comics professionals attending the show, as always, and famous artist Jim Lee is probably the biggest draw. But I don’t like Jim Lee’s art even slightly, so for me the real star of the show is Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. If you only saw the movie, you have maybe one-tenth of an idea of how cool Hellboy is, and by extension, how cool Mike Mignola is.
3.) “Video Games Live.” So it’s an orchestral performance of popular video game musical themes? Come on. That is ridiculously awesome. And, according to the press kit, the first time there has been a “video game concert” in Ontario.
4.) Carrie Fisher! Admit it – Princess Leia in the gold bikini was likely a defining moment for you when you were growing up, be that sexual attraction or hero worship when she choked Jabba the Hutt to death with her slave-chain. (Unless you’re too young for it to be a defining moment, in which case you have my pity.) That having been said, if it was the sexual attraction thing, I probably wouldn’t tell Ms. Fisher that. That would be kind of creepy. Instead, tell her how much you liked “Postcards From The Edge.”
5.) Screenings, screenings, screenings! Indie horror movies – the type that normally go straight to video – screen all weekend at the Expo. “New Voyages”, the indie TV series that retells the final two years of the original “Star Trek” after it was cancelled, screens at the Expo. Star Wars fan films – which steadily grow more and more elaborate, and often surpass the weaker official entries like The Phantom Menace in terms of quality – screen at the Expo. If you want to watch nerd culture until your eyes bleed, this is the place to do it.
5a.) “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. If I need to explain to you why getting to meet “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is a bucketful of cool, you have no soul.
REASONS NOT TO GO
1.) Hobbystar is a bad corporate citizen. Hobbystar, the company that runs the Fan Expo, has been extremely ruthless in its behavior towards Toronto’s other major conventions like Toronto Trek, Anime North, Ad Astra and the Toronto Comicon. Hobbystar has put parasitic “Fan Appreciation Days” right before Toronto’s other major cons, the only possible reason for which is to hurt their competitor’s attendance and thus profit margin; they’ve done their best to snipe guests from competing cons; and worst of all, this year it appears they’ve attempted to officially discourage comic book stores from attending other conventions. For more details on this, go to The Stop Hobbystar Blog.
2.) Money money money money money. You remember how awesome I said it would be to see Nimoy and Shatner? Well, it would be awesome. But seeing Nimoy and Shatner costs you one hundred and thirty dollars, minimum (and depending on what you’re willing to pay for extra perks, it can go as high as four hundred). That’s on top of the forty dollar deluxe weekend pass. The Video Games Live! concert costs forty or sixty dollars, again on top of the deluxe weekend pass. If you want to get an autograph from Alice Cooper, it’s twenty-five bucks a shot. Admittedly this year isn’t as gouge-a-riffic as last year, where James Marsters was charging something like two hundred bucks for a panel session (five hundred if you wanted to go to the super-exclusive private room and hear him sing while playing his guitar). But these side events cost some serious dosh.
3.) Shopping = not so great after you consider the entry fee. I like shopping, and last year I picked up some decent bargains, but the reason they were bargains is because I’d already factored in the cost of attending the convention for another event. Yes, there is a lot of cool stuff to buy at the Fan Expo. Yes, the prices are usually quite good. But when you’re paying twenty to forty bucks just to get in the door, that cancels a lot of the value. I can’t recommend attending this thing for the shopping alone, and you can usually do that for other conventions.
4.) Officious staff. I’ve never seen such self-important staffers as I have at the Fan Expo. Other cons have a sense of fun that communicates itself to the staff, who tend to be generous and polite. In two years of attending the Fan Expo, I’ve yet to have a good experience with the staff there; I’ve been snapped at, sneered at, dismissed and ignored. This is part of what happens when cons go corporate.
5.) The food sucks. I’m just saying. They’ve got no independent vendors inside, so there’s the Metro Convention Centre catering staff, which delivers extremely overpriced and very lousy food and does so quite slowly. There are chip wagons outside, sure, but to go get yourself some decent grub you get to go through the staff twice (on your way in and out), who treat a simple handstamp as if it’s the writ of God himself.
So there are the points in favour and opposing. Me, I’m probably giving this year a miss; I can’t afford Nimoy and Shatner or the concert, more’s the pity, and I don’t need more nerd stuff on my shelves right now (and if I go, I will inevitably buy more nerd stuff).