You become a star of a cult science fiction series or play a superhero in the movies. And, for the rest of your life, you make a darn good living doing the convention circuit. You go from city to city, convention to convention, where fans always remember you as that famous character.
For those unfamiliar with the comic/sci-fi/horror convention circuit, that’s the stereotype that fits. But, in fact, putting together a star-studded lineup for a comic con isn’t easy. You have to lure the stars to you. You have to show why they should do your show rather than a convention in another city.
Kandrix Foong, owner and general manager of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, is one of the success stories. He’s turned the Calgary Expo into one of the world’s most famous fan shows. Now, he’s hoping to have similar successes in Edmonton. After joining forces with the folks at the Edmonton Collectible Toy and Comic Show, Foong is looking to bring that Calgary magic up the highway.
The Edmonton Expo goes Oct. 21-22 at the Edmonton Expo Centre (who would have thunk it?). The vendor booths are already sold out. As of late last week, the $150 VIP tickets — which guarantee holders front-of-the-line access to the stars — were 90 per cent sold out. Adam West, who played Batman in the campy ‘60s TV series, will be at the event. And, you can't have Batman without Robin — so Burt Ward, West's sidekick from that series, will also be in Edmonton. Billy Dee Williams, famous for his role as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars films, will be there — as will Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura. Nichols and William Shatner engaged in the first interracial kiss in the history of network TV, on a third-season episode. (Of course, this got by the censors because their character's minds and bodies were being controlled by aliens who had delusions of godhood.)
Members of shock-metal band Gwar will be there, as will Green Arrow and Warlord comic artist Mike Grell.
Getting the big sci-fi names isn’t easy, says Foong.
“All the time people say to me, why don’t you just invite so and so and get them to come to the show. It’s not that easy. We had a hard time getting comic creators, as New York Comic Con is the weekend before, and no one wants to be traveling for two straight weekends when they have work to do.”
Foong has turned the Calgary Expo into a major tourist boon for that city. Six months back, when the Expo brought together the original cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, hotel rooms were booked solid. Foong said that 47 per cent of all attendees came from outside of Calgary.
Geek tourism, indeed.
“And definitely a lot of people coming down the highway from Edmonton,” he says.
Knowing so much of Calgary’s traffic had originated in the Capital City, Foong said the idea was to launch the Edmonton Expo six months away from the Calgary show. That way, an Alberta-based Expo will happen every half-year, but they're still far away from each other so as not to get stale.
And, because Edmonton’s show will happen so close to Halloween, there is more an emphasis on dressing up and horror themes. That’s why Gwar, a band with a stage show that usually involves a lot of fake blood and mutilated mannequins, will be on hand. And the show will also host a costume contest, so it's probably wise to start working on that ridged Klingon skull.
“We wanted to take some more of the mainstream elements of the Calgary show before we developed the niches,” says Foong. “And what you often see fans wear to shows are very different than the costumes you find in the stores.”