By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — It’s no secret. The whole universe loves a parade. And when you’re the fastest growing pop culture convention in North America, commanding an audience of over 100,000 participants, you not only get to take over the Stampede Grounds, but you get to throw your own freakin’ parade through the heart of the city. Reflecting on the evolution of The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, from a gathering of 3,000 people in the first year to a massive media mecca that rings up numbers that equal a daily gate-count for The Calgary Stampede, official spokeswoman Emily Expo is impressed, but not entirely surprised, by the four-day event’s enduring popularity.
“Last year was simply amazing,” says Emily Expo a.k.a. Lindsay Thomas. “It was really exciting to witness just how much the Expo has grown and to be able to celebrate that avid fan base all together with so many people. We always do our very best to listen to the fans, and always be friendly and personable. Because we do approach this from the standpoint that this is a community. You could label the Expo as many other things—a business, a corporation—but number one more than anything, we’re a community and we feel very passionate about maintaining that.”
A colourful snapshot of what the Expo has on tap, the annual POW, or Parade of Wonders, is the perfect excuse to step outside your downtown office building and take in the supernatural personalities who infuse the entire weekend with fun and fantasy. Set for 10 a.m. on April 29th, the POW will find a virtual legion of Imperial Stormtroopers, heroes, villains, minions, cosplay warrior princesses, and assorted luminaries marching, gliding and riding from Eau Claire Market Outdoor Square to Olympic Plaza at the doorstep of City Hall.
“We are looking forward to the Friday morning POW, Parade of Wonders, which Downtown Calgary presents with us. Last year over 1,800 cosplayers showed up. And, it’s still getting bigger! It is tremendously popular and a great spectacle to watch and a good activity for families.” Accommodating a galaxy of different tastes and interests has always been a mandate and a challenge for the Expo. As they strive to include as many genres and art forms as possible they have learned to go with the flow and expect the unexpected. Social media has been an essential tool for Expo organizers, who are constantly updating schedules and posting announcements to keep attendees up to speed with ongoing adjustments to the Expo’s many moving parts.
“It’s definitely a trend every organization is experiencing as social media snowballs,” she acknowledges. “There are so many great guests on the lineup. Personally, I’m really excited about Lea DeLaria (Big Boo) and Jackie Cruz (Flaca) from Orange is the New Black. Not only is that a favourite of mine, I love that show, but also it’s different. It’s something you don’t see at a lot of conventions. I’m thrilled to welcome these ladies to Calgary. I’m also really happy about hosting Jason Isaac [a.k.a. Lucius Malfoy.] I’m a big fan of his across the board. He does amazing work; particularly within the world of Harry Potter for the ‘HP’ people in our crowd. There are a couple of guests that we’ve not announced yet. Our team is always working right up until the last minute to make additions. So, you never know what’s going to happen. For example, a big highlight for me in 2015 was Neil Patrick Harris dropping by. I think we announced him the Thursday before last year’s show. It’s something I will be talking about for a very long time.”
While even the most coveted of merchandise can be found on the Expo’s sprawling show floor, and connecting with fellow fans a big draw, in-person appearances are the height of the Expo experience for many event-goers. Indeed, as the loquacious Emily Expo is quick to point out that the opportunity to explore new worlds (and civilizations) is its own reward.
“Absolutely, this is what it’s all about. You can engage with like-minded people, but who also have different interests, and you get to learn about things you’ve never discovered or tried before. And, that’s always really fun too.” Speaking of collecting memories, elder statesman of the comic book industry, the venerable Stan Lee is undoubtedly going to be a huge draw for fans of graphic art and all things Marvel. A superhuman in his own right, the 93-year-old comic creator will share his “Excelsior!” catchphrase, industry insights and winning grin with yet another generation of acolytes.
“This is Stan Lee’s final foray into the Canadian convention scene,” confirms Emily Expo. “For those who have not yet had a chance to meet him, or see what he has to say at a panel, I would highly recommend that they take advantage of this opportunity. Because I don’t think he’ll becoming up here in the future. And, he’s a peach. He’s a really great guy.” “Apart from Stan, obviously. We’re proud to be welcoming back the amazing artist Ray Fawkes [Constantine.] It’s always a pleasure to see him at shows,” she continues. “We’ve also got Mike Sass [BioWare] coming, Katie Cook [MLP: Friendship is Magic] is coming, Dean Yeagle [Playboy’s Mandy,] Jim Zub [Samurai Jack] who writes a comic called ‘Wayward,’ which I love and that’s a comic I follow closely. For those who are into Archie comics we have a lot of Archie stuff coming this year. It’s the 75th anniversary, so people should definitely check out the Riverdale Lane that we’re having with some of the Archie artists and whatnot. Lots of really great stuff going on that we’re excited about. It’s great on a lot of levels, even for people who aren’t super into comic books, if they want a place to start. Archie’s a pretty good way to go.”
Morphing the skyline of Stampede Park into Gotham for a long weekend may seem like a dream come true to some and a nerdish nightmare to others. But that’s the beauty of the thing. As the Vulcan philosophers tell us, enlightenment lies in embracing “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” LLAP, my friends.
The Calgary Comic Expo takes place from April 28 to May 1 at Stampede Park. For more information about this year’s extravaganza go to calgaryexpo.com.AB, Alberta, Archie, Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo, comic expo, Emily Expo, Marvel, Parade of Wonders, Stampede Park, Stan Lee