Thursday, April 30, 2009

Expo-sition: A Dealer's-Eye View of The Calgary Comic And Entertainment Expo 2009.


Normally it'd take an artillery barrage outside my window to get me to rise in the morning, but for whatever reason if you give me a time I need to be up for anything I'm usually awake in advance of the alarm. Today is no exception, and I rise at the (for me) unprecedented time of 6:45am. I stumble through my morning routine of getting cleaned up and dressed and wait for Ryan to come over from next door. He does with a few last-minute items for the booth and we make our way to the car, stopping only to pick up some much-needed cans of Sugar-Free Red Bull and some pocket money for the show. Thus prepared we make our way toward the Stampede Grounds and the Round-Up Centre, where Hall D awaits.

We park and make our way inside, our lanyards bearing the legend of EXHIBITOR. With such power we're easily able to slip past the cowboy-hat wearing, vest-sporting security staff of the venue and into the open space of the mostly-deserted hall. It's about 8am now with the show due to kick off at 10. Ryan and I make our way to the Red 5 Collectibles booth and begin some last-minute setup. It's nothing too strenuous; Ryan and some of our friends had already done the heavy setup the night before, a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. We price some items, ready our mobile shelving units at the front of the U-shape we like our booth to take and lock the wheels in place. The float is ready, the merchandise is good to go, now we wait for the opening of the doors and the battle to be joined.

Being in early means we get a chance to take a look around, and the floor looks to be pretty glorious. Most of the regulars are here(Red Skull Comics, Phoenix Comics), but there are some newcomers who haven't been (Another Dimension Comics), as well as some new venues that are out to get my hard-earned geek dollar (Evil Dead: The Musical? Sold). Displays of trade paperbacks, comics, t-shirts, props, and vintage toys meet the eye as we each canvas the floor of Hall D. The celebrity tables are set up a little different this year, with some of them being up on risers. This strikes us both as a litle weird, since most celebrities will have to lean over the table to interact with the fans, but it's a minor quibble, and one will see get (partially) resolved later. No sign of Edward James Almos yet, so I treasure the oppurtunity to retain some semblance of dignity lest I go completely Chris Farley Show in his general direction.

Our volunteers roll in at around 9:30-9:45 and we proceed to run down the clock. Ryan and I open our Red Bulls and I ensure my Dr. Scholl's are in place and ready to support my feet. In my 'desert of the real' job I tend to sit professionally for a living, but eight hours of standing shouldn't really kick my ass. The floor of the round-up centre (and most convention halls I've been to) has no carpeting or support of any kind. It's you and a concrete floor. And a concrete floor is absolute hell after about four or five hours of straight standing on it.

I notice across from us the SwitchBox Games booth setting up their multimedia presentation. They click on their arcade-style video unit and are booting up what looks to be Street Fighter IV. I figure that's cool, people will walk by and sample their wares, then turn and see the magnificence that is Red 5 Collectibles. Shouldn't be too distracting, I think. Sometimes my naivete charms even me.

9:55am. A mere five minutes separates myself, Ryan, Greg, and Garrett from glorious battle with the hordes of fandom. I steel myself as the minutes creep by one after the other. . .:9:58. . .9:59. . .10:00am! LET'S COMMENCE PREPARATIONS FOR RUMBLING!

Minutes pass. Long, expectant minutes with nary a fan in sight. Then begins a light trickle of people wearing guest passes. I look at Ryan, who looks at me. From what we'd heard more than 3000 advanced passes had been sold for the show. What's going on? We send a man to get some answers. It turns out the lines at the door are logjammed for some reason and it's taking an inordinate amount of time to get people inside. Undaunted, we ready ourselves. Customers are coming, we need to be prepared. People come to our booth in a slow trickle; we begin to talk to customers and make sales.

Ryan ducks over to Red Skull's booth to talk with someone and leaves me in charge. Nothing new to me; I've been drunk with this kind of power before and have learned to savor its heady flavor. As I walk around the booth a gentleman comes up and inspects our shelves. He's a more mature fellow, maybe mid-40s, and he's examining the rack where we have a variety of DC Direct figures. He looks up and smiles at me, and I blink. This guy looks familiar, but I can't place him.

“Can I help you sir?” I inquire.

“Hi, I just noticed these figures you have.” he points out our modest collection of DC's NEW FRONTIER figures we have on sale.

“Yeah, they're pretty cool.” I reply, puzzling as to how I know this guy. I don't think I've seen him at the Expo before, so who. . .?

“Thanks. I created it.” he smiles at me and it clicks even before I catch sight of his name tag. DARWYN COOKE.

I immediately struggle not to lose my shit.

“Uh. . .” I manage, taking time to remember paltry little things like blinking. In my peripheral vision I see Ryan making his way back to the booth.

“Would you like me to sign them?” he offers helpfully, reaching for a pen.

Somehow my neurons manage to slip by the Pavlovian fanboy paralysis I seem to have slipped into. “Yes please, that would be awesome.” I hear myself say.

Mr. Cooke proceeds to sign each figure we have on the shelves. As he's doing so Ryan comes up behind him, we exchange an 'OMG/WTF?!' look as the convention hall slowly fills around us. Mr. Cooke finishes his work and smiles. “When you sell out of these if you have any extra I'll be happy to sign those too.”

Ryan and I nod our heads, still a little too stunned to speak. We manage to get a picture with him and exchance some pleasantries about Nova Scotia, our former and Cooke's current province of residence. He then wishes us luck with the show and makes his way toward his table.
The Red Bull and that alone got us through most of Saturday.

There's a bit of a pro/con aspect to being a dealer. On the one hand you get to be part of the show on the ground floor, interacting with lots of interesting people and getting to share a common love of comics and pop culture. You meet and speak with a mass of people gathered in one place who you might never get the chance to know otherwise and reaffirm the notion that, yes, I am not alone in liking what I like. There are people who understand. That sense of community draws a lot of people to fandom of any stripe and at a show the communal vibe can be a wonderful thing.

On the flip side, as dealers we're largely stuck at our table. Thankfully with a four-to-five-man team with some friends to alternate we all got the chance to slip away from the booth to experience the convention in small doses. It also gave me a chance to do something I love to engage in at cons: sitting. Lords of Kobol do my feet hurt after a while. The Dr. Scholl's helped but I still needed to take the odd break or two. I took the oppurtunity to stop by the Tosche Station booth and see how my fellow Fan Force peeps were doing. Tosche Station is the local chapter of the Star Wars fan club, and a cooler collection of cats there could not be. We rapped for a bit then I proceeded to head back to the booth. Around us swirled a mass of people, some costumed, some not, but all just drinking in the first major-league convention of the year. It was packed.

Congestion became a bit of a problem in the aisles also, and as to getting food. . .forget it. My advice to any would-be con-goers out there? Bring snacks. Seriously. Energy bars, little boxes of crackers 'n cheese, anydamnthing. Convention food will always be difficult to obtain because A) it'll cost you (4 mini-pizzas for myself and my compatriots was $24) and B) the lines will kill you(I must've waited a good 20, 25-plus minutes in the food line). Bring bottles of water, bring snacks, and be ready to wait in line.

The day went by in a blur. We met with people, we conversed about comics, movies, and pop-culture. Garett and I sold comics trades while Cody, Greg, and Ryan focused on moving action figures and our collection of higher-end merchandise. We also took time to bust the occasional funky move as the Street Fighter music pounded across the hall from the SwitchBox booth. Mr. Cooke was as good as his word and happily signed all our remaining New Frontier figures and a copy of the book itself Ryan owned. We met another famous face in the form of Battlestar Galactica's Kandyse McClure, who bonded with Garrett over their mutual love of the Vertigo comic Fables. She was even kind enough to let us take a picture.

Gradually the clock wound down and we eventually reached 6pm, when the show finally closed its doors. We'd done well and the first day was in the can. A victory dinner awaited us with our fellow Tosche Station friends and our pals in the Badlands Garrison of the 501st Stormtroopr legion. Moving the shelves in and putting tarps on the tables, we waited until the last few stragglers were out of the hall and then called it a night. Tomorrow would bring new challenges, but for now we could all relax and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes with getting that first day of con out of the way.

Oh, and the sitting was glorious by the way. My feet felt so happy. . .


The Expo recently expanded to incorporate a second day of events and programming, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand its great to have two days of potential profit, but from previous experience last year we were expecting it to be quite slow, at least in the morning. As 10:00am rolled around and the doors opened we were pleasantly surprised by the steady flow of foot traffic. It didn't get particularly busy until about noon, but there were enough customers to make selling lively and conversation engaging.

With a day under my belt and a Sugar-Free Red Bull in my system, I was be-bopping and ready to rock and roll. With Cody and Garrett to spot us on the rotation (and us to tend the booth when they wished to move around, fair being fair) we were able to see a bit more of the show on Sunday. Its gratifying to see so many people enjoying pop culture, sharing their passions, or just enjoying a day out out with their families. Costumed folk abounded in detail ranging from the impressive to the awesome. I will give those who costume credit; when they bring the thunder it's an amazing sight. To bring such care and creativity and a commitment to detail to something you'll only have certain oppurtunities like the Expo to display and share with people is nothing short of astounding. You can't say they're not dedicated to their passions.

I even managed to attend my first panel at the show, which was a unique event. The Breaking Into Voice Acting panel was about an hour long, and despite some technical glitches and a regrettable shortage of chairs it was actually quite informative. I'm not sure if a career in voiceover talent is for me, but it definitely had some tips and insights that made the hour-long panel worthwhile. Plus I got to sit, and have I mentioned what a luxury that is a convention? I may have, I'm not sure. . .

Sadly, by the time the panel let out it was four o'clock and the convention was due to close in an hour. I headed back to the booth and we each took turns taking a last look around the convention for some last-minute items of swag. I managed to come away with some nice finds (expect to read about them in a future column) and the people gradually trickled out as the show came to a close. There's always a bit of pleasant melancholy to seeing it end for another year. . .watching the artists and celebrities pack it in. . .and of course having to break down the booth and pack up our remaining merchandise. This year added a fun wrinkle in that the weather—which had been relatively cooperative up to that point— decided to make things interesting by becoming a windy, snow-ridden miasma of freezing cold. Wheeled shelves blew over as the wind whipped in our ears. Everything eventually got bolted down and secured and we took it all back to Red 5 in the southwest, unloading it and heading to the Richmond Pub for some well-earned drinks and meals.

Overall I'd say this year was a marked improvement over 2008. Not to say last year's expo was bad; merely that this year the word of mouth seems to be spreading and people are becoming more aware of the show after four years. 2010 will bring its own challenges, but for now I think it's safe to say 2009 was a success. Of course, when you're a dealer it's never really over. No sooner do we get a chance to decompress and relax than we're off to the Edmonton Pop Culture Fair for May 3rd. Its hard, it's heavy, and its murder on the feet, but at the end of the day it's the oppurtunity to share the things about genre and fantasy that we love and to remind ourselves just why we're into this stuff in the first place. Is it worth it?

Yes. Yes it is.

ETA: Yes, in case you were wondering I do plan on renting out my forehead as a screen for IMAX films. Great googly moogly. . .

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