Cosplayers and celebrities converge at Fan Expo Canada
Years ago, when William Shatner was in Toronto to make an appearance at a science fiction convention, someone stole his underwear from his hotel room.
“I didn’t change my underwear,” recalls the actor, best known for playing Captain James T. Kirk in the 1960s “Star Trek” television series. “And then the phone rang. It was a fan in the lobby saying, “I’ve got your underwear.” I said, ‘I want my underwear back.’ She said, ‘I’ll come up to your room and bring it to you.’
Hearing a knock at the door, he opened it. “‘Here’s your underwear, but I won’t give it to you unless you sign my left breast,'” he recalled of her.
“So I signed her left breast.”
This unique fan interaction didn’t deter the 91-year-old sci-fi icon and Order of Canada recipient from attending the agreements. In his last appearance, Shatner – with Finn Wolfhard and Joseph Quinn from “Stranger Things”, Charlie Hunnam from “Sons of Anarchy”, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes from “Clerks” and the films “Jay and Silent Bob”, Katee Sackhoff from “The Mandalorian” and a group of hobbits from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films – will headline next weekend’s Fan Expo Canada, the largest in the country pop culture convention.
For its first large-scale event since the start of the pandemic, more than 130,000 people are expected to flock to the Metro Toronto Convention Center from August 24-28.
pop culture club
Currently, horror, science fiction and superheroes dominate pop culture. But only a few decades ago, they were on the fringes of the entertainment industry. After celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, Fan Expo was there at that time – albeit on a smaller scale – providing what Andrew Moyes, vice president of show runner Fan Expo HQ, calls “a safe space where people can hang out. come together and feel accepted. Their passions weren’t necessarily mainstream, so comic books or fan shows were a place they could go and be themselves and celebrate the community.
From its humble beginnings as a comic book exchange – one of its first locations was the lobby of Roy Thompson Hall – Fan Expo Canada has come a long way, occupying two full buildings and a total of 750,000 square feet. “There’s no wardrobe at the Metro Convention Center that we’re not using,” Moyes says of the second-largest such event in North America, after San Diego Comic-Con.
It wasn’t until years after the first show that ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Jeri Ryan became the first celebrity to appear, turning the event into the ultimate geeky meet-and-greet. “It’s really an electric moment when you’re in that autograph room and you see that connection,” Moyes says. “You see (a fan) walk away with that autograph or that photoshoot. We really create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
“And celebrities,” he continues, “get first-hand feedback on the impact of their characters that they brought to life.”
Meeting now his third generation of fans, Shatner says he is thrilled to see “grandmothers with their grandchildren on their laps.” But he admits there is a downside. “Mothers and fathers bring their kids, and they like to watch (‘Star Trek’), but the kid doesn’t recognize me, or the adult, for that matter,” he says. “They recognize the character who was on camera 60 years ago.”
Go out and cosplay
The various branches of fandom have grown exponentially since the start of Fan Expo, and now includes games, anime and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – all of which will be represented at the convention by cosplayers. In addition to hosting the Grand Prix Masters of Cosplay 2022, the exhibition offers a cosplay space with booths, panels and workshops.
“You feel like you’re walking on a film set when you’re around them,” Moyes says of fans dressing up in elaborate outfits to celebrate their favorite characters. “It’s come such a long way (from) going to the thrift store and gathering a few things.”
Jill Godin won’t soon forget the time she dressed up as the Disney villain Maleficent. “That little girl was screaming, she was so happy,” says cosplayer known as Jillea, who has 107,000 followers on Instagram (@whoisjillea). “She thought I was the real Maleficent. Any cosplayer will tell you that’s one of the best feelings.
Toronto-based Godin will be the official guest at this weekend’s exhibit, where attendees will find her dressed as Captain Hook, the titular creature from “Beauty and the Beast.” and a “Stranger Things”-inspired demogorgan.
“I’ve always been on top of Halloween since I was a kid,” says the 28-year-old artist and singer. “Making the costume is my favorite part. Even if I wore it just for me and no one saw it, I would still cosplay just for the love of the art.
Cosplayer and props artist Reed Rabito (IG: @reedspropsmore) will also appear as several personas, including the Mandalorian and Steve Harrington from “Stranger Things.” He will also host and co-host two panels: on the costume– and armor–building, respectively.
The 23-year-old Oshawa resident attended his first comic book convention in 2015, but didn’t start cosplaying until 2018, when he dressed up as Star-Lord from “Guardians of the Galaxy” at the Fan Expo. “It’s an amalgamation of all the corny things that me and so many people love,” he says. “It’s a very specific place for very specific people.”
While many of Rabito’s costumes belong to widely known entities, GTA-based artist Chell takes a different route, creating cosplay based on more obscure video game characters such as “Your Turn to Die” and “Deltarune”. for his more than 30,000 Instagram followers. (@chell.creates). “There’s nothing that makes me (happier) than finding someone who recognizes the characters I cosplay because they’re so specialized,” Chell says. “There is an instant connection. That’s why I like to go to these conventions and dress up. The self-proclaimed introvert admits to becoming more outgoing in costume. “It’s so liberating and so much fun.”
Hundreds of vendors and exhibitors also return to Fan Expo, including the Artist Alley and Comic Creator areas, where attendees can watch the masters at work. New for 2022 is a partnership with the Buffer Festival (the largest digital film festival in the world) and a Podcast Theatre. Guests can get tattoos in Tattoo Alley, where, according to Moyes, some of the artists are licensed by Lucasfilm to tattoo Star Wars images.
For younger visitors, there’s a Family Zone, which includes a Harry Potter Sorting Hat Ceremony, a ‘Jurassic Park’ themed activity zone and a ‘Floor Is Lava’ game.
Moyes says organizers are always looking for new features to keep the show fresh. “Pop culture is always in ebb and flow, and as a pop culture event, we have to stay true to that,” he says.
Shatner, for his part, has watched the culture shift over his 70-plus-year career. One evolution he has witnessed firsthand is the progression of special effects. “Anything in the imagination of the science fiction creator,” he says, “is capable of being done, and of being done in a very efficient, technical, and realistic way that we could never have been able before.”
As much as the exhibit showcases these changes, Moyes says, it’s really about people and community, and celebrating their shared passions.
“That’s what drives us,” he says, “to create a platform where someone can thank the person who breathed life into a character who had a huge impact on their life.”
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