I finally took Bob and Doug McKenzie’s advice after all these years*. I took off. To the Great White North. And it was a beauty way to go. And I didn’t stop until I got to Calgary Expo 2017!
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’m California-based and I go to more than my share of conventions up and down the west coast, including big and small shows that celebrate every nook and cranny of geek culture. At best, I travel as far as Las Vegas, San Diego, or San Francisco. Maybe even Phoenix. Well, I did go to Star Wars Celebration Orlando in the far off galaxy called Florida a few weeks ago, but that’s Star Wars. How could I NOT go?
So when I received the call to expand my convention adventures internationally, I couldn’t say no. I had never been to Canada before. I was in Florida geeking out over the 40th anniversary of Star Wars when the email came from Tourism Calgary, inviting me to visit their fair city to explore what geeky treats they had to offer (it’s more than just maple syrup and hockey). Of course, it was no accident that the invite was timed to coincide with their annual Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, held in the iconic Stampede Park and surrounding grounds. Yes, where hundreds of steer are wrangled and bulls are ridden each summer, Calgary Expo planned to fill its massive halls with geeks of every kind for the 12th year in a row.
While the doors opened on Thursday for the eager die-hards wanting their first shots at collectibles and photo ops with their favorite stars, it was the Parade of Wonder on Friday morning that truly kicked off the event in style. Stretched along a few downtown streets, just a few blocks from the convention center, stars from Game of Thrones, Star Trek, and Supernatural, among others, sat in cars and waved to the crowds as hundreds of cosplayers marched along with them, posing for pictures and feeling like celebrities themselves, especially to the wide-eyed kids who got to see their favorite heroes up close. It was easy to see that this was a big deal not just for the convention-goers like us, but also for the local community who enjoyed a fun diversion from business-as-usual, even if only for a half hour or so.
Our amazing hostesses at Tourism Calgary kept us busy throughout the four day trip, taking us out for some tasty treats and pointing us toward some iconic spots throughout the city (those stories coming soon), even before we arrived at the convention center to bask in the geeky goodness of Calgary Expo. But once we stepped inside, badges swinging from around our necks, I knew I was home, even in this faraway land (okay, it was just a 3 hour flight from LAX, but still). I soaked in the familiar sights and sounds of every convention I’ve ever been to. The biggest differences were that the money was colorful, shiny, and see-through all at once, a lot of the extremely helpful and friendly convention center staff wore white cowboy hats, and the whole place smelled of freshly made mini donuts around every corner (take a hint, San Diego!).
The other big difference for me was what I discovered in Artist Alley. I recognized almost nobody beyond a few big names. And to me, that’s a good thing! I’m always looking around for new artists and creators of every type. When you go to the amount of shows I do in a year at the same shows that I love, you see a lot of familiar faces, of which many have become good friends over the years. I love all of them and I love to support them. But I reveled in being able to discover aisle after aisle of new creators and their art that I probably never would have discovered if I hadn’t visited Canada. Yes, I spent way too much money.
HOT TIP: Speaking of money, even before I arrived, I was told that as an American visiting Canada, I was in a very fortunate position. The American dollar is strong against Canada’s “loonie”. So when I was using my card to buy a $42 item, I was really paying $30 and change for it, proven immediately with a quick glance at my bank account. So if you have the urge to do some traveling and maybe stock up on a few collectibles, your money will go far in Canada. Just beware of those customs limits. But if that’s not a reason to visit Calgary Expo and Canada in general, I don’t know what is! (and now back to the show…)
I was lucky to catch up with the very busy and very real human being behind the Calgary Expo logo, “Emily Expo”, who shared with me how she got involved with the biggest geek event in Calgary and what she thinks makes their event so special among the hundreds of conventions all over North America.
This year she got to play hostess to dozens of stars from comics, movies, and television, including Stan Lee, Todd McFarlane, Jeremy Renner, John Cusack, Danielle Panabaker, Nathan Fillion, Patrick Warburton, Peter Capaldi, Colm Meaney, Mara Wilson, and Billy Dee Williams. The fine folks at Calgary Expo even set our small media crew up with tickets to the James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) live concert and the live podcast recording of Jay and Silent Bob Get Old, starring none other than Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, putting on the most unsettlingly hilarious show I’ve ever seen from two men sitting behind a table (well, Kevin stayed seated; I can’t politely describe what Jason did on that stage).
In all, it was one of my all-time favorite con experiences, mostly due to the people with whom I got to interact. To be honest, I never expected that I’d be visiting Calgary Expo, even up to a month ago, but I’m happy for unexpected surprises that transform into something better than I could ever hope. As I’ve said, I’ve been to lots of conventions over the years, and it takes a lot to get me excited. It was fun to see how our neighbors to the north put on a con and I hope I can return to the great white north again soon for more experiences like this. Thanks to Emily Expo and all of the generous Calgary Expo staff who bent over backwards to accommodate myself and my amazing colleagues. And a HUGE thank you to the kind and wonderful Tourism Calgary crew for setting up the whole trip and for bringing me to Canada for the first time to do something I truly love.
For now, I’ve barely scratched the surface of my geeky Calgary experience, which you’ll see more of in the near future. Expect decadent milkshakes, deadly elevator rides, a surprisingly bloodless autopsy video, and a trip to Mr Spock’s home world… in Canada.
Prepare yourself for Calgary Expo 2018 and look back at past Expos at www.calgaryexpo.com.
And to learn more about Calgary from the professionals who showed us a great time, check out www.visitcalgary.com
*Hopefully I haven’t offended Canadians or anyone under 40 with this really dated 80s reference. If I have, I’m “soory”.