by Natasha Tucker, Fearless Photoworks
Now that con season has settled down, I can finally take a moment to talk about my and Erin’s adventure to Canada for the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (Calgary Expo) at the end of April.
Like all good adventures there were highs and lows. The lows unfortunately plagued us near the start of this great endeavor. You see, due to last minute changes and a lack of funds, we were stuck taking the Greyhound from Vancouver to Calgary. The trip from Seattle to Vancouver was a smooth 4 hours listening to John Barrowman CDs and talking excitedly about what the con held for us. I was particularly enthusiastic because not only were we headed to a con but it was also my first time going to Canada! We dropped Erin’s car off with a friend in Vancouver for the weekend and headed to the Greyhound station. We had anticipated the fifteen hour trip might be unpleasant, but we didn’t know it would be quite that treacherous. Since we were taking the bus at night we wrongfully assumed we could sleep through most of the trip. Erin, curse her, seems to have a better ability to sleep anywhere than I do. I would say during the entire hellacious trip I got maybe a total of two or three hours of sleep, none of which was consecutive. It was stealing ten minutes here, another five there. Every time I came close to falling asleep for real we’d end up at another rest stop. Lurking in our mind the whole trip was that we had to take that damn bus all the way back.
By the time we arrived in Calgary Thursday morning, all I wanted was sleep. Unfortunately that seemed to set the tone for the entirety of the Calgary Expo. There was an underlying level of complete exhaustion just below the excitement, undoubtedly the result of attending Sakura Con just days prior to leaving for Canada coupled with the long bus ride. Despite that, we still had a spectacular con experience!
We left Seattle on Wednesday afternoon in order to arrive in Calgary by Thursday morning. Starting this year Calgary had added a fourth day to the convention, so the con started on Thursday with a parade and a few panels. It was more of a half day. There were mixed feelings about this: on one hand another day of con is awesome, but on the other hand it means more expenses and more energy spent. Energy Erin and I did not have after the long and arduous journey of getting there. We opted to skip the parade in favor of a much needed nap and shower.
My first sense upon arrival at Calgary Expo was confusion. We were greeted by a giant inflatable Kermit the Frog, Elmo, and Baby Smurf, along with food trucks. Turns out Calgary Expo is held at Stampede Park, which is usually where fairs and other similar events are hosted. I’ve never been to a convention held on fair grounds! It certainly had its perks and setbacks. The setbacks being that the convention was really spread out and felt a bit disjointed. There were two exhibitor halls on opposite sides of the park, which split up not only the vendors but also the celeb autograph areas, leaving you to figure out which building you needed to be in to see your celeb of choice. But with such a large and spread out venue, the con never felt overwhelmingly crowded or claustrophobic either. This year Calgary had over 97,000 attendees, and I didn’t realize it till after con! Not to mention that having the convention at fair grounds lends itself to a more unique experience, and who doesn’t love fair food?!
This was also my first fan expo, and I absolutely loved how diverse the con was! There was something for everyone; from outside activities like parasol dueling and Viking battles to a plethora of panels indoors for sci-fi/fantasy, steampunk, comic, and anime fans alike. Even the dealer’s hall offered a different lineup of vendors than typically seen at cons we go to. I think I remember seeing a pottery booth. Calgary Expo was also able to provide a fantastically varied media guest lineup, just a few of whom included zombie film legend George Romero, Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, most of the cast of the Aliens trilogy alongside none other than the queen of sci-fi herself, Sigourney Weaver, Harry Potter’s Tom Felton, as well as Sean Astin and Billy Boyd of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The guests didn’t end with on screen actors either; there was an exciting and diverse line up of voice actors as well, including the original TMNT crew, Christian Potenza of Total Drama Island, and everyone’s favorite Pixar cameo all-star John Ratzenberger.
We were also impressed by and ecstatic over the large conglomeration of cosplays. There were costumes from all the spectrums of geekdom. We saw a Hello Kitty samurai, Zuul of Ghostbusters, Swedish Chef, and punk!Sailor Scouts, just to name a few.
Apart from picking up our badges and swag bags, the only thing we did on Thursday was peruse the dealer’s room a bit before heading to the Billy Boyd panel. That man is so delightful, what a perfect way to start the con. He was hilarious, witty and charming. He spoke of his time with the cast and crew of LOTR and the many shenanigans he got into with Dominic Monaghan. He even humored us all by uttering the famous “second breakfast” line to all of our fangirlish delight. When he wasn’t regaling us with LOTR tales, he gave us some insight to his life right now and talked at length about his band, Beecake. We even got to join him in song as we wished one lucky fan a very happy birthday. Rumor is he sang more at the Middle-earth EXPOsed event. Sadly that, along with the Aliens EXPOsed panel were an additional fee to the con that neither Erin nor I afford.
I didn’t make it to any panels on Friday. I focused on taking in the exhibitor halls and getting pictures of the awesome cosplays! We also took a break from the inside activities to catch a steampunk parasol dueling demo hosted by the Steampunk Arts and Science Society (SASS) as well as some epic battling thanks to The Sons of Fenrir, a very talented group of Viking re-enactors. After that, Erin and I parted ways for a while so she could attend the geek speed dating. I continued to wander around with my camera. She said the speed dating went really well and she even had a match! Her very own Captain America.
Saturday was our best and busiest day. We met Tom Felton, which Erin was over the moon about – and looked so cute in her Slytherin gear as she waited in line for his autograph! His panel was very well done too, and you should’ve seen the fangirls swoon when he told the room he loves the Canadian accent. It was lovely hearing about his time on the Harry Potter films, and what it was like essentially growing up in front of an audience.
Hands down, the best part of the con for us was Saturday afternoon when we got to meet voice actors Barry Gordon, Cam Clarke, Rob Paulsen, Townsend Coleman, and Renae Jacobs. For both of us, all the other delights of the con were greatly overshadowed by the pure nostalgic joy we felt at the opportunity to meet the original voice actors of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. I mean, we’re talking about our childhood here! Some of my fondest and most vivid childhood memories are of me dancing around in my Donatello pajamas with the show blasting on in the background. Their panel was everything Erin and I had hoped it would be, and so much more. I gotta say, those guys can be totally raunchy! It may have destroyed my childhood a tiny bit but in all the best ways. When they weren’t cracking some hilarious yet rather racy remarks, they were talking about what it was like to work on such an iconic show. They talked about how the voice acting industry has changed; back in the late 80s and early 90s, the actors still all worked together in one room. It certainly added a more organic sense that is sometimes lacking in the newer cartoons, although it undoubtedly resulted in a lot more outtakes!
After the TMNT panel we headed to the exhibitor hall to get their autographs. Meeting and interacting with the cast was truly a dream come true for both of us. Not only did we get their autographs, but they pulled some strings and were able to set up a makeshift photobooth for anyone willing to pay to get a photo with the cast. Naturally we jumped at the opportunity. You had to use your own camera, which for most meant using a cellphone. I could see the rest of the line looking on with a bit of envy as I quickly unpacked my gear for the photo op. Oh, and did I mention this was the first time the cast was all together outside of Hollywood? That alone made the entire trip worth it for us.
We were both very impressed with how the panels and autograph ops were handled. As Erin put it, it was a “beautiful ballet of organized chaos.” One of her greatest complaints from last year’s Calgary Expo was the hit-and-miss operation of the autographs: apparently she had tried to get Nathan Fillion’s autograph five times last year with no success. This year they implemented a pre-pay ticket system, ensuring you’d get an autograph as long as you showed up for the time frame you purchased. It made everything run a lot more smoothly, and saved many a fan from heartache.
One thing that threw us for a loop about Calgary was definitely the weather. It was almost May and it felt like autumn or even winter. It actually snowed on Saturday. What gives, Canada? That didn’t stop our fun though. Strangely, it was sunny and kind of hot out on Sunday. And I thought Washington weather was unpredictable. Perhaps Calgary just wanted to give us a warm send off?
Sunday was our celeb photo ops day, also known as hurry up and wait in lines day. We didn’t make it to any panels but getting our photo taken with Dean O’Gorman and then Sean Astin and Billy Boyd was well worth it for us. Not to mention John Ratzenberger totally crashed our line to snag a photo with Billy Boyd and Sean Astin, which was absolutely hilarious and entertaining. His poor handler just looked resigned, like his life is following around a John that doesn’t like to stay where he’s supposed to at conventions. He said we should’ve seen him the day before when it was snowing, he was wandering the convention shouting out “Welcome to the Himalayas!”
Despite some hiccups along the way, Calgary Expo was wonderful. We laughed, we fangirled, and we got to relive a small piece of our childhood. I made a ton of new friends that I can’t wait to see again and even saw a few familiar faces unexpectedly. We were already planning our trip up for next Calgary on the bus ride home. We definitely can’t wait to go back. One thing is for certain though, next year we are flying to Calgary.