Guest blog by Susan Hofforth
A good time and sore feet were all I was expecting from my first comic convention in Calgary, Canada, and I got both. The FAQ on the webpage warned the first-timers not to try to do too much; have one goal, maybe, and spend the rest of the time just looking. Good advice, because, believe me, there was a lot to look at!
The one goal we had was a photo opportunity with Nathan Fillion, star of Firefly and Castle, which was planned for 3:30 that afternoon. Being Firefly fans is what brought this group of friends together in the first place, so we dressed up a little bit in Firefly costumes to have our photos taken with Firefly’s very hot star. I wore a leather cord around my neck, which did more to identify me as the Zoe character than anything else I was wearing. My friend was Zoe too, but a little more steampunk. It was her daughter who stole the attention. Everybody loves a 2-year-old dressed as Captain Mal.
60,000 people attended, 600 stars appeared and 1000 volunteers managed us all quite wonderfully. Most people wore some kind of costume, and some were amazing. Every alien, every superhero, every anime babe was here… Hey, look! Over there! Chewbacca! And look – a man on a tauntaun. The eyes are moving! And over there – one of the Ring Wraiths is getting a pizza. Over there, from the Fifth Element – oh, gurl, it is not that warm in here! …Nothing but staring…There were a few men in capes wearing their underwear on the outside. Game of Thrones was trending all over the place. Star Trek, not so much. There were plenty of Doctors wearing bow-ties, tweed coats and a fez. Lots of sexy gurl costumes. I admired them all, but I don’t know they managed in those shoes. I was feeling my feet by noon.
We wandered. We stared. It was geek paradise. Nerd-overload. Everything you have ever wanted to buy, but had no physical store to buy it in, you could get right here. In the autograph room we gazed in awe at strangers who we knew so well. I caught a glimpse of Walter Koenig, Stan Lee, Torchwood’s John Barrowman and Stargate’s Michael Shanks. I saw Wil Wheaton – *squeeee* – with the long scarf of the 4th Doctor wrapped 3 times around his neck. I stared at him from the side-ines and when he looked up and glanced at me (he glanced at me!) I decided to go and join his autograph line. Unfortunately, I got turned away. It was only half an hour before his on-stage appearance, so the line was closed. We decided to head over to find the room where he would be speaking. But it took awhile to find it and on the way there, I saw much to distract me. I got to the room just as they closed the door, which disappointed about 40 of us. But then, they opened again, announcing room for one more. I wondered if it would be okay to ditch my husband, and while I was hesitating, another woman warped in ahead of me.
Back at the trade show, we found the row of artists and got in line for a sketch drawn by Wendy Pini of the ElfQuest comics. It was a short line up, but we waited half an hour, as she drew a character for each fan who wanted one. She did a beautiful job and it was a pleasure to watch her, but her energies were obviously draining. Her husband, Richard, tried to protect her, by rewarding those who only wanted autographs with shorter wait times, but most of us wanted sketches. He closed the line off about 3 behind us, with some people whining about how long this was taking and how they were going to miss some other thing they needed to get to. I realized the expectations that conventions put on these people, and what a long day it is for them.
At 3 o’clock, I headed back towards Wil Wheaton’s autograph line up. I follow him on twitter and read his blogfeed on my phone, so he and I are tight. At least, as far as I’m concerned; he just doesn’t know about it. Wil Wheaton, if you don’t know, was Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the 80s. He took a lot of crap for it. Many people disliked his character; some of the first hate groups on the early Internet were devoted to him. Later, he reinvented himself as a writer as one of the first successful bloggers. He wrote about the struggles of his acting career and became one of the first celebrities to use that medium to allow people to know him personally. His fanbase exploded, which in turn revived his acting career. I love him as a writer, and like him as an actor, but mostly I admire his perseverence, his spirit and his ability to keep himself alive in a business that tried to kill him. I wanted to tell him that, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I would say when I met him.
But I didn’t get in the line, because it was long again, and I had to line up at 3:15 for the 3:30 photo op with Nathan Fillion. So, I thought, I will just go and do that, and be back in Wil’s line by 3:45… Yeah, seriously, that’s what I thought… If you’ve ever been to a photo session at a convention before, you are totally laughing at me.
I arrived back at the other building by 3:10 to meet my friends, and discovered that the 3:30 appointment time wasn’t our time, it was everybody’s time! In front of us, there were 500 other Nathan Fillion fans, who obviously hadn’t obeyed the ‘no earlier than 15 minutes before’ rule. In a bit of a shock, I questioned one of the valiant volunteers.
“So all these people are here to get their photo taken with Nathan Fillion?”
“Yes, this is the line.”
“Because, my friend paid. Shouldn’t we be in a different line up?”
“Oh no, this is the right place.”
“Well, what if some of these people have work in the morning?”
“Don’t worry, it’s calculated to only take 2 hours.”
I let this sink in, said a silent goodbye to Wil Wheaton and got back in the moment.
They herded us quickly through the grounds and down into the basement of the building, the geek fans holding pens. We were lined up in long, long rows. Not just the Nathan Fillion people, but all the people for all the photo ops. The basement of the Big Four Building is 60,800 square feet and we were packed in. We were in the centre of five rows of Fillion fans and we weren’t moving. They took one row at a time, while the rest of amused ourselves by planning our escape if any of the Walking Dead crowd on our right decided to eat us.
A volunteer came around and confirmed that 700 tickets had been sold for Nathan. So, math done, that’s 700 photographs in 2 hours – every group gets approximately 10 seconds each. We figured that we would probably just stand still, while he passed by in the back on a conveyor belt.
An hour and a half later, we showed our tickets, ditched our bags and checked our costumes in the mirror. And OMG, there he was! Big and handsome and vibrant. He really did the best he could for us in the10 seconds he gave us. He grabbed the long brown coat that my friend had slung over her shoulder, and tried to put it on. He got one arm in, then realized he had no chance of getting the rest of it on, and made a big joke about it. He put his arm around us, we all posed, he gave us an authentic, warm smile and a handshake, and we were out of there, feeling pretty great. The 8×10’s waiting for us on the tables outside were fantastic. So worth it! I get squeally happy every time I look at mine.
And that ended my first con. The con wasn’t over, but I was. We dragged our blistered feet in the direction of the subway. Nathan passed us in a golf cart, going back to sign autographs for the rest of his evening.