Fan Expo Vancouver builds on a strong and geeky scene

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With Vancouver’s geek credentials firmly in place, it was just a matter of time before the city got its own oversized nerdfest.

This weekend at the Vancouver Convention Centre, Fan Expo Vancouver brings together devotees and industry professionals for two days of panels, celebrity guests, autograph sessions, costumes, parties, and networking.

“It’s really overdue,” says Camilla D’Errico, a Vancouver-based artist whose fantasy illustrations of doe-eyed waifs have spawned a mini-industry of graphic novels, video games, stationery, and toys. Along with numerous other local and international participants from various media, she’ll be a guest at the fan expo.

“It’s kind of shocking that Vancouver hasn’t rallied and put together a larger convention, considering what we have here,” notes the artist, who is a veteran of conventions of this type.

The city has a strong comics scene, a healthy video-game presence, and a growing animation industry, and just about every TV show and movie with a supernatural or science-fiction element is filmed here.

To be fair, the Lower Mainland does host some niche-oriented events that fill the gap for fans of various media. Leonard Wong puts on the semimonthly Vancouver Comicons at Heritage Hall, and VCON—the Pacific Northwest’s oldest-running science-fiction/fantasy gathering—is going into its 37th year this September. In addition, this summer (August 17 to 19 at the convention centre) will see the first Anime Revolution, a gathering for fans of Japanese animation. Meanwhile, the similarly named Anime Evolution, around since 2003, is planning an event called J-Fest at Douglas College on July 14.

But the two-day Fan Expo Vancouver is the first event in the city to attempt to lure together fans of all sorts of media and genres. It has something for everyone, from anime-loving teens to boomers who might just want a glimpse of the original Batmobile from the ’60s Batman TV series. Appearances by actors from TV series such as Battlestar Galactica, True Blood, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have wide appeal, while artists, writers, and voice actors from anime, comics, and video games will bring in a smaller but ardent following.

Fan Expo Vancouver also boasts all the other hallmarks of big cons, including an awards ceremony (the Canadian Videogame Awards), photo sessions with celebs (have your picture taken with Lou Ferrigno!), workshops, and an artist’s alley (artists drawing and signing). Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are just a few of the actors appearing over the weekend. On the comics front, veteran Marvel writer Len Wein will be on hand to answer questions about why his character the Wolverine is always in a bad mood, while top artists like Esad Ribic, Stuart Immonen, and Tim Bradstreet might doodle in your sketchbook if you ask politely. The local comics scene is also well-represented, with Pia Guerra, Brandon Graham, Rebecca Dart, and many more. Of course there’s merchandise, merchandise, merchandise.

But will the promise of nerdy good times translate into gate receipts? It’s impossible to say how many fans, long-suffering partners, and con-curious will turn out. The organizers at Hobby Star Marketing Inc. seem to be looking at the inaugural event as a loss leader.

“To gain massive attention and attendance is not really what we’re after for the first-time show,” says Hobby Star senior events coordinator James Armstrong. “We’re going to give everyone the best experience we can, and we’re going to measure everything we can which can direct us to the next one, which will lead to some substantial expansion.”

Hobby Star’s involvement with fan conventions began with Fan Expo Canada, which started in Toronto as the Canadian National Comic Book Exposition and drew about 1,400 people for its inaugural event in 1995; last year it drew 80,000.

“Somebody comes to the event, they see all the Star Wars stuff and they get their picture taken with some Stormtroopers or whatever it is, and they immediately think, ‘My buddy would love this, I gotta get him down here next time,’ ” says Armstrong. “Word of mouth—it’s still a powerful thing.”

D’Errico, who will be selling copies of a new hardcover edition of her graphic novel Tanpopo, is excited about attending a big con in her hometown. She went to Seattle’s three-day Emerald City Comicon last month and says that a lot of people were talking about coming up to Vancouver for the fan expo. “I really hope it’s successful,” says D’Errico. “It could be really great for the city, and for the fans.”

Fan Expo Vancouver runs Saturday and Sunday (April 21 and 22) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Comments (3) Add New Comment
Anthony Nadeau
actually I remember something of this happening in the mid '90's at BC Place I was there as were a few 100 people it was really groundbreaking and at the same time very laking in terms of celebrities they had a few things happening a play I remember taking place at a 50's diner and while I was watching it I turned and glanced at the person beside me and it was Maury Chaykin and I said hello and he was very kind. I just think this is long overdue for Vancouver to do something of this size and needs to be done more often
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Kandrix Foong
Hello Shawn, you've got some incorrect information in your article. Hobby Star has not expanded to Calgary, the Calgary Expo is a completely different organization (the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo). Please correct your article.
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Jason Shruter
Hmm.. last I remember, the Local Anime Cons had some really good guests, panels, workshops, dances, performances, contests, Artist halls, and gaming as well. Such a shame that our local groups never get the limelight like corporate suits like Hobbystar... Heck, this new Anime Revolution group is 3 days compared to 2 and Anime Evolution in this past was 3 days as well and included much more interactive content than FanExpo's lineup. I'm sure FanExpo is going to be great anyways but its a shame that our local con died and no one really even knew about it.
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