Acceptance and community rule at Fan Expo Vancouver

Friday 18th, November 2016 / 15:53
By Yasmine Shemesh
Kevin Smith and Silent Bob. Photo: Courtesy of @Lunabearzues81 via Twitter

Kevin Smith and Silent Bob.
Photo: Courtesy of @Lunabearzues81 via Twitter

November 11-13, 2016

VANCOUVER — “He got them!”

The audience gasps and breaks out into cheers. I turn in my seat to see a man plowing through the doors of the Vancouver Convention Centre, jogging towards the stage where filmmaker Kevin Smith is administering a Q&A. On his arms hang four plastic bags, stuffed with Tim Hortons boxes.

The crowd applauds loudly. “He got them! He got 1,000 Timbits!”

This delicious expedition was embarked upon after Smith jovially recounted his recent experience in Vancouver directing The Flash, after which, to thank the cast and crew, he brought 1,000 Timbits to the set. After hearing this story, the aforementioned man stood on his chair and proclaimed that he, too, was going to do the same for us all, right now.

As he passes the overflowing boxes of donuts down the aisles, the man refuses to take any money. People look at each other in delight and slight disbelief at this simple gesture, indeed a random act of kindness, and murmurs of “wow,” and “how nice,” titter throughout the room. A warmth fills the air, sweet as the frosting coating the little donuts.

Tom Felton Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

Tom Felton
Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

My main interest in attending Fan Expo this year is Smith. I’m a big admirer of his work — Clerks is obviously brilliant and so are Mall Rats, Dogma, and Chasing Amy. I even appreciate the absolute lunacy that is Yoga Hosers. I just love how his warped sense of humour (at once filthy, weird, and heartwarming) pairs with his ability to tell a good fucking story. I’ve never been to Expo before, or any kind of Comic-Con, for that matter — I don’t particularly like fantasy, be it in film or novels, and while I appreciate comics (as a kid, I read Garfield, collected issues of Mad Magazine, and watched Beavis and Butt-Head religiously) I ‘ve never been a superhero fiction fan. I don’t know what to expect from Expo, really, other than Marvel costumes.

As I wait to get my media pass on November 11th, the first day of Expo weekend, I can’t help but notice the woman standing in line next to me. She’s not really dressed up — just wearing a knitted hat that has bear ears at the top of it — but she is beaming; completely radiating in excitement. I say hello and, after we exchange a few pleasantries, tell her that this is my first time here. “Oh my God,” she exclaims, her eyes opening wide. “You’re gonna have so much fun.”

Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

The woman’s name is Red. She’s a webcomic — she interviews people, she tells me, then illustrates their conversations for a YouTube series that she’s launching called This One Time… At Expo, she’s hoping to speak with Tom Kenny, the comedian known for voicing the title character on SpongeBob SquarePants and, more recently, for his work on Rick & Morty, who is set to make an appearance. She never misses a year of Expo, she says. What’s so special about it, I ask, that keeps her coming back?

“You can totally be yourself here,” she smiles. “I’m someone who wears silly hats every day of my life. Sometimes I get weird looks, but at conventions, everyone embraces it, even want pictures with you. They want to know about you. It’s great — the whole environment. People are accepting.”

As I walk down the corridor, I see it, too — passersby praising each other’s costumes (some elaborate, others just little touches of character), grinning at one other from afar, taking photographs together.

Entering the main room is sensory overload. There are hundreds of vendors literally touting anything imaginable, from artists and writers selling their own graphic novels to artisans showing handmade Viking drinking horns. On my right, Fernando Ruiz, a longtime illustrator for Archie Comics, is doodling on a sketchpad from behind his booth. He looks up at me and grins. Up ahead, there’s a Star Wars Lego station, where people are taking selfies with a life-size Yoda. At the back, tables where Christopher Lloyd and Tom Felton will later be signing autographs and taking photographs with their fans.

Lego Yoda. Photo: Yasmine Shemesh

Lego Yoda.
Photo: Yasmine Shemesh

There is a huge range in both age and dress, from toddlers dressed as Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown and being pushed in a stroller transformed into a DeLorean to 20-somethings in full Harry Potter regalia to un-costumed older fans just here for the fun of it all. There isn’t really a singled-out demographic — here, there are people from all walks of life.

Three little girls dressed up as Harley Quinn cross my path, bubbling with glee. I ask if I can ask them a couple of questions and they giggle in delight, posing with their hands on their hips, as if I’m going to take their photograph.

“I’m, like, obsessed with Harley Quinn,” Delilah gushes. “And I have been waiting for this, ‘cause I watched a show that talked about Comic-Con and then I got so excited and I wanted to go.”

“She told me about it,” Rose adds.

“Yeah!” Delilah nods enthusiastically. “And then, she came and she came last minute,” she points, first to Rose and, after, to Martha, who smiles bashfully.

They are adorable — so happy to be immersed in the world of their favourite character, from their favourite movie. After talking with them, I can’t wipe the smile off my face for 10 minutes.

Photo: Yasmine Shemesh

Photo: Yasmine Shemesh

I venture over to the comics area. Amongst vintage issues of Little Lulu and Tarzan is a comprehensive Mad section. I begin leafing through and Nels, the vendor, speaks passionately as he shows me the oldest issues he has in his collection, dating back to the early 1950s when the magazine was still published as a comic book. I end up purchasing two perfectly preserved magazines, one from 1969, the other from 1987.

As I wander through a sea of smiling faces, I think of what Red had said to me earlier that day. Fan Expo is, unequivocally, about inclusivity — it’s a place where people can unapologetically be themselves or share a part of their personality without being judged. A place where one can walk around wearing a cape and not have to care about what other people think about it, because everyone else is in on it, too. A place where one can be — and, in some cases, even meet — their heroes for a day. It is a celebration of community and, considering the divisive nature of the current political atmosphere, it is a refreshing experience.

A masked man — dressed as a Silent from Dr. Who — agrees it’s the inclusive environment that draws him. “Honestly, [it’s] just being with all the people, seeing all the things that I like, and similar interests,” he says.

Christopher Lloyd Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

Christopher Lloyd
Photo: Courtesy of Fan Expo Vancouver

Smith’s talk is on November 12th. The filmmaker is hilarious, entertaining, and gracious. He recounts how on his first night in Vancouver, when he arrived from New Jersey in the early nineties to attend Vancouver Film School, he slept in his car in the Convention Centre parking lot. He says “bless you” every single time someone sneezes. He gives inspiring advice when asked what wisdom he might give to someone making their first movie, encouraging them to create for the principle of making themselves happy, because that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.

Perhaps the defining moment, though, comes next. A young man shakily climbs out of his wheelchair to approach the microphone. He is so anxious to ask Smith his question, he keeps stumbling over his words.

“I’m sorry,” the boy apologizes. “I’m really nervous.”

“Let me make this easier for you, man,” Smith says, walking off the stage and towards the boy.

The young man finishes his question, and he and Smith stand face-to-face, smiling.

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