2 years ago, Jon and I were headed to the Arcade Fire concert at the Molson Amphitheatre. As we walked past the Metro Toronto Convention Centre we noticed that there were an awful lot of people dressed up as though it was Hallowe’en. What in the world is going on here? We really had no idea.
The next day we walked past again on our way to the Toronto Blue Jays game. And still, costumes everywhere. (I managed to photo bomb a storm trooper that day.)
By now the curiosity was killing me. Did Toronto have a Comic-Con or something like a Comic-Con? How was I (self proclaimed Toronto expert) so out of the Toronto loop that I didn’t even know we had a Comic-Con? I asked the oracle (Google) and sure enough, we had an event running that very weekend at the Convention Centre. It wasn’t Comic-Con, but it was a Comic Convention and it was called Fan Expo.
Apparently Fan Expo had been happening since 1995! I have no idea how I had completely missed this for almost 10 years! 2014, the year we had walked by twice in one weekend, it had record attendance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Fan Expo encapsulated both the entire north and south buildings and 127,000 people walked thru those doors on that Labour Day weekend.
Although Fan Expo had beginnings in Comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy, it has expanded greatly. Comics, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Animation, Anime, Manga, Videogames, collectibles, toys, TV, Movies. Everything… well… pop culture.
This is our first summer back in Toronto full time and I knew I wanted to experience this “Fan Expo” thing and find out what it was all about. It took a long time for me to decide which day to go with 4 different days to choose from. We couldn’t afford to buy tickets for multiple days, so choosing just.one.day was difficult. I had no idea what the differences were between days or what to expect at all. In the end I judged it based on the most exciting draw for me - celebrities who would be there. Were they there in the flesh? Could you see them? Did you meet them? I didn’t know, but I was going to find out. And I chose Saturday.
At this point I really wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this. I’m not a 'Trekkie' (or 'Trekker' I hear is the correct term), I am not a Star Wars fan (although Jon is a HUGE fan) and I’m generally not into video games or collectibles or toys. My knowledge of comics is limited to: Stan Lee is super cool and I do prefer Marvel over DC blockbuster movies. But I do love celebrity, I LOVE people watching and I knew there would be a lot of dress up going on. (Since then I’ve learned it’s called Cosplay… And it’s serious business.)
Let me take you through our day, in photos:
The first of many Spidermen of the day was Canadian Spiderman. Oh Canada!
He was very sweet to pose with one of the smallest Strom Troopers in the squadron (is it a squadron? I’m still learning lingo)
We were going to have to get used to asking a lot of permission for photos with people, so we practiced on these two non-human statues. We asked, they didn’t mind, so we posed.
We immediately stumbled upon the 'Celebrity Autograph' area. I would like to point out that this photo is of the crowds already forming for autographs, time stamped at 10:12am. Fan Expo opened at 10am.
Oh yeah, longest line up of the day. And the most expensive autograph - Mark Hamill. (He's LUKE SKYWALKER, even I fangirled a little!) Side note: Each celebrity charges for their autograph. Those charges were anywhere from $40 - $100. Stan Lee was $100, as was William Shatner. Mark Hamill though, his autograph cost $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! Luke Skywalker, shame on you! But the people still waited the longest and still paid the most.
As I was taking photos of all of the celebrity’s names, I hear someone yell, “CHERYL!” It was my oldest friend, Chris Hynes who I'd known since I was 3 (and hadn’t seen or spoken to in 5 years!) We met while we were young and attended junior and senior kindergarten together. We ran into him 3 different times that day (I have no idea how – 2 buildings, 6 floors, 100,000+ people.) We learned that he had indeed paid for the Mark Hamill autograph. He told us he had planned this great thing to say to him and when he was finally in front of Mr. Hamill all he could muster was, “Luke Skywalker.” Childhood excitement hits you in the gut when you least expect it (and takes away your ability to speak too).
All day I continued to take random photos of the crowd. Once in awhile I would learn, after I took the photo, that someone was seeming to stare into my camera lens. (See one example here --->)
More fan line ups for cast members of The Walking Dead.
Jon’s inner fan boy came out with every Star Wars costumed person we saw. I could have made an album called, "Jon and his Star Wars heroes."
There is a story to go with Lando Calrissian (photo below). We were chatting with this young man and he told us that he is normally a very shy guy but when he gets dressed up for these events, everything changes. Dressing up helps him to come out of his shell and be able to speak easily to people. Jon and I had discussed this earlier in the day and after speaking to “Lando” we continued to feel proud of/happy for these young fans who felt empowered from and getting so much out of this experience.
There was a zombie corner where you could get yourself Zombified. And there was even the guy who won the Rick Grimes look-a-like contest who was hanging out posing for photos. (For those of you who don’t know, Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) is one of the main characters in TV’s The Walking Dead.)
Many many many kiosks of stores selling every collectible, trinket, toy, game, clothing items, costumes that you can imagine. This would be the perfect place to get all of your Christmas and birthday shopping done for any superfan of... almost anything. If they are a superfan of taxidermy rats and mice, they have that covered too. Or for the fan of lawn gnomes. Or prosthetic masks. (Can you tell we are still in the Horror area?)
Jesus yelled at me. He only let people take photos of him for donations. Which I was quickly learning wasn’t the norm and only a small percentage of cosplayers were asking for donations. I had asked him (Jesus) what the money was going toward? He opened his mouth to show me two missing molars in the very back of his mouth and he said, I need new teeth! (I didn’t give him any money, and I live with this blurry photo and the memory of our conversation.)
Snow White was there. Although I will say Elsa from Frozen seemed to be the most popular Disney costume. I missed out and I wish I had taken a photo of my two favourites of the day. One of my favourites was a grown woman dressed as Ursula (from The Little Mermaid). She had full purple body makeup and all! Another was Fiona (from Shrek) and she also had the full green body makeup. My eyes were overwhelmed with so many dazzling costumes walking by in every moment of the day.
Oh that’s Denis O’Hare (photo below). He’s in all of the American Horror Story seasons. And Dallas Buyer’s Club, Milk, The Proposal, Law & Order, True Blood… just to name a few. I’m a fan. We were allowed to take photos of the celebrities as they signed autographs, but we had to stand behind a certain line if that was what we wanted to do. My zoom didn’t allow for better photos than this. Damn you zoom lens!
One of my favourite photos of the day was Abraham from The Walking Dead (Michael Cudlitz) taking a selfie for a group of fans. He was the only celebrity that was walking around on the other side of the autograph table speaking to his fans. I heart Abraham. I hope in The Walking Dead season premiere in October, he isn’t the one to meet his end by way of Lucille. (Maybe I know more about Fan Expo, fan girling and nerd fest than I thought.)
For any vampires who need to be able to walk in the sunlight, Damon Salvatore’s ring was on sale here (The Vampire Diaries). Oh wait, just a replica. Won’t really work guys!
Do you see it? DO YOU? I had a small tear in my eye. It's DOC BROWN FROM BACK TO THE FUTURE! (The amazing Christopher Lloyd). At this point I’m starting to realize I’m in full on fan girl mode now.
Kate Mulgrew, but more on her later.
This man was a Star Wars fan, I could tell.
Kylo Ren getting himself put together.
Did anyone else know that the Ontario Ghostbusters existed?
Spock. This guy. This photo just happned to capture Spock while I was taking crowd photos above my head. Later on I was looking at him with my camera pointed in his direction. He wagged his finger at me and shook his head. I said, “No?” He said, 'You must first donate'. Okay cool, Jon was reaching into his pocket to find money to donate to Spock's cause. Up until this point, only a few of the organized groups with costumed characters had a donation "bucket". All had said donate what you can but not one had said you can’t take a photo without giving (except 'Jesus'). Spock began lecturing us about exactly that. I was so taken aback by the lecture while we were already getting money to give to him that we changed our mind and walked away. When I was home later I realized I had accidentally taken a photo of him already. HA! Joke’s on you Spock!
So much controversy around Coplay for this event. Whether it be donations made or groping of the many scantily clad females that walked around. This sign was in place to remind us all that COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT.
This kid was THE BEST. He literally pushed past us to reach his friends who were in line for an autograph. He had just reached the front of the line for Mark Hamill. He was SO excited and was screeching to his friends that he had just met Luke Skywalker, guys! It was the most real moment I experienced all day and my heart grew two sizes bigger hearing his innocent excitement about meeting his movie hero.
I’m pretty sure this ghetto blaster-ed person was there for John Cusack.
I don’t know what to say about this photo. That kid looks terrified. Or maybe we should be terrified of that kid.
Crossing over into the South Building we saw this. We later learned that every floor of both the north and south building looked like this.
Beauty and the Beast 2: Belle and the Bunny Rabbit
Does anyone else see Pokemon and Pikachu going at it in the corner (I don’t know… is that Pokemon and Pikachu?)
I found myself wondering all day long if this was practice for Hallowe’en. People didn’t do half-assed dressing up, it was full on give it all, best costumes ever. All day long.
There was Sci-Fi speed dating.
This was the line up for what ended up being my favourite parts of the day – the celebrity Q&As. This particular line up was for John and Joan Cusack (see video below for sound bites.) This particular Q&A was hosted by Donnie from Orphan Black (Kristian Bruun), this was a double score for me. There was also a lady in this line who we had spoken to. She had John Cusack sign a new hairdryer. We asked, why? Her response: It was a Conair hairdryer and he was in the movie... Con Air.
No explanation needed. Except possibly to say, they were awesome! Joan was a bit quieter than expected and I had no idea John was a screenwriter (High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank are his!) I was thoroughly entertained and they were incredibly gracious to their fans.
The lineup that we went to immediately following the Cusacks was for Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall, Hannibal etc...)
She was so much funnier than expected. I loved her already. This made me love her more. Many of her questions from the audience were from young ladies who spoke of how her characters have taught them and empowered them as females. At the end of her Q&A, she auctioned her T-shirt for charity and started it at $200. Two young ladies bid it up to $2200! In the end Gillian didn’t want to allow them to spend all their money (knowing they were both so young) and had them both come backstage to meet her. Awesome.
We had a break after that and I think it managed to get even busier in the buildings. We had time to kill before going to Kate Mulgrew’s Q&A (Red from Orange is the New Black or Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager). She was so incredibly kind, gracious, intelligent. I didn’t take photos of her, but we do have video below.
Oh did I forget to mention that Batman and Robin were there? Burt Ward and Adam West (yes, the same Adam West from Family Guy). And Ben Mackenzie and Morena Baccarin from Gotham. I don’t watch Gotham so I like to think of it as Ben Mackenzie from The OC and Morena Baccarin from Homeland and Deadpool. And yes, Morena is very pretty in person!
Oh who might that be below? Yes, yes. It’s Luke Skywalker! Although we were told we COULD take photos all day, they began telling us no photos at this time. No big deal, I’m a rebel - I got the shot.
Michelle Nichols from the original Star Trek (Uhura). 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, people! This called for Michelle Nichols, William Shatner, George Takei, Kate Mulgrew and Brett Spiner.
Below are Jon’s iPhone photos of Game of Throne’s Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and William Shatner. And there’s also Sasha from Walking Dead! She was SOOO pretty in person. A smile that lit up her face and probably a room. Maybe not this room, it was rather gigantic.
If money had been no object we may have stood in line for autographs, but this time around we watched how it worked and drank the experience in.
If celebrity isn’t your thing, or shopping for weird and wonderful things - they also had areas for Lego, Hasbro, Ubisoft, Sony, Playstation, Nintendo, Space channel and even more. They also had an "Artist Alley" where there were so many cartoon and comic artists, street/graffiti artists, painters, sculptors, you name it, they had it. Oh and a room with a live game of Clash of the Clans happening. Anything and everything to make anyone happy.
I think this was a costume competition. Groot only said Groot. Lego Batman couldn’t speak. Little Rae from Star Wars, well her dad made the costume (see as she points to her dad in the below photo).
So much going on in the below photo. Awesome costume of purple lady in the middle. Then you have little kid who looks to be stand sleeping on the left. And John Lennon picking his nose on the right.
He collects pins. An impressive amount of pins.
I know many think this type of event is for 'nerds'. It is for nerds, but what I learned on this day is: we are all at least a little bit of nerd!
I felt overwhelmed by the excitement that surrounded us all day, I loved watching the people and getting so many good ideas for Hallowe'en, I fan-girled out with tears during my celebrity Q&A experience. Side note - when I am at concerts, I sometimes cry. I cry because I’m excited, but also because I always think how unreal/overwhelming/surreal it must be for those artist up on the stage, looking down at tens of thousands of fans singing their songs back to them. I was teary at the Q&A’s, listening to the fans, so many of them young fans, get emotional and telling their favourite celebrity how they and their characters have changed that person’s life. --It also reiterated that celebrities have a difficult job in being this type of role model to so many unknown, young, impressionable fans. That’s probably something to be saved for a more serious blog post.
We missed seeing Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes) as well as Stan Lee in his last Fan Expo appearance. These both made me sad. But we were able to see so much and had such a great day, it was only a tiny bit of sad. We now know exactly what we are going to be for Halloween (HINT: it won’t be Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo again) and we know that we may be going to Fan Expo again next year.
Oh and a tip if you attend in the future: you are allowed re-entry. Go outside to the hot dog carts in front of the Convention Centre for lunch. $8 slice of pizza inside or $2.50 jumbo dog outside. You do the math.
All in all, what a great day! Thanks, Fan Expo. Thanks, Toronto!