Oct 7, 2015

Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo Trip Report part 1

The Edmonton Expo was my first comic convention in 5 years. The lean means of academia have for the last half decade curtailed my pilgrimage, so this year's con, which I attended as part of a panel on video game "Let's Play" videos and their pedagogical aspects, was a special one. Sage came with me, providing for some father geek-son geek bonding time. It was really cool going away and attending a con with him. He knows how to navigate them. And likes the same cool stuff I do.

I figured that a trip report would be the thing to do.

We didn't arrive in Edmonton in time to get to the con on Friday night. It's a 3-hour drive from Calgary, and, as is always the case when planning a trip, we left a little later than I'd have liked. We weren't really bothered. We ended up in a hotel in downtown Edmonton and ordered room service and watched The Matrix.

(Oh, our hotel's name was also "The Matrix.")

We headed up the next morning, hoping that we'd navigated Edmonton's subway system correctly, and that we weren't in fact heading away from the con. We needn't have worried. As we neared the Expo, the numbers of "our people" increased. Some were wearing a subtle, faded Flash shirt. Some, a TARDIS in the shape of a dress. Some....? Some were not human at all, but creature, half angel and half devil. Sage in his long coat and Miskatonic U. t-shirt. Me...well, me in a shirt, jeans, and a blazer. I was trying to make a good impression.

That's the first thing I noticed, and I remarked on it numerous times over the course of the weekend. The last time I was at a con, cosplayers were few and far between. They were this hidden population within the vast crowd of the con. You noticed them as an anomaly in your midst, a slight shift in the stability of reality. A lovely treat in the stuffy confines of the con. But this weekend was so very different. I'd be surprised if the ratio of street clothes to cosplay wasn't 2 to 1. At times, it seemed like there were as many cosplayers as there were....us, the mundane. I hadn't realized that cosplaying had become so huge.

Deadmau5pool. Genius.
That magical moment I was describing? It happens all the time now. It's amazing. Every time you turn around, you catch another glimpse of another reality. A beast lumbers toward you out of the crowd, a heavily-armoured soldier from the future bumps into you, and turns quickly and says, "Oh, I'm sorry," pats you on the shoulder with a gauntleted hand. Odin stands next to Jean-Luc Picard, the two mighty leaders posing for a majestic portrait.

I don't have to tell you I felt completely out of place.

No, that's not quite right.

I felt completely out of costume.

You're not about to hear a story about me cosplaying Animal Man or something like that. When I say costume, I mean whatever second skin it is that you take on when you go to a vast celebration of geek solidarity. For me, it's a superhero t-shirt. My gothic Batman one, perhaps, or my Green Lantern one. I have a picture from  the Toronto Fan Expo in 2009 of me standing back-to-back with this tall (taller than me!), well-muscled Hal Jordan cosplayer, working the DC booth when Green Lantern was hitting theatres. I felt like a Lantern, standing there, if only briefly.

So everyone in the building is in costume, so to speak. We may not all be as engaged in the atavistic ( in the sense that these characters in some ways represent a more primal version of ourselves, we have reverted from reality into fiction, an ontological atavism) practice of striding the floor as heroes ourselves, we wear their symbols, on our shirts, our ears, our skin. We sing their praises with each gasp at finding that sought after relic, with each picture and congratulation on a costume most becoming.

Oh. I did not make up the Odin/Picard portrait.
So I felt slightly out of place, lugging my laptop in a bag that clearly was not designed to hold a laptop, none of my markings, my allegiances on display.

I did have something else, though. Something I've never worn to a con. I had a presenter badge. Sage and I decided that, in the run-up to the time of my panel, we'd hang out for a bit, check things out around the halls, and then split up for a bit to wander at our leisure. I didn't want to make him wait around while I spent hours looking for...just...the...right....comic (which inevitably is often the one that someone else was looking for, because you CAN'T FIND IT ANYWHERE!!), so we went our own ways, planning to meet later to brave the food court lineups. And as I wandered, a strange thing began to happen. People at tables would ask me why I was there, what my panel was about. Prior to this, my one experience of cons was to approach a table, eyes cast down at the boxes of back issues. I wandered Artist's Alley, but never stopped to talk. But now people were asking about my presentation, making conversation. It was sort of a profound moment for me. I was being recognized, within this glorious weird culture I inhabit, as someone who had something interesting to say. I've had quite a few really lovely moments in grad school, but that realization has to place close to the top. I chatted with people gladly, met some fascinating artists and activists, buyers and sellers.

We are too often those who live their lives in the basement. Even as I type this, I'm sitting amongst the ephemera of my geekdom, in the basement of my house. These things we love, these heroes and villains and princesses and ghouls and gods and demons, these people, their stories, come from a deep place in the Earth. It makes sense that those of us who carry their marks build our temples there too. But our annual forays into the light, into the brightly-costumed world of the convention is our energizing, our return to the Great Lantern on Oa. It is where we gather, and see each other, and think, "Yep. I understand." That I had been missing this aspect, this actual connection with actual people, people who were just happy and interested and grateful to be there. That I had lost so many years of this connection. We meet our heroes in those halls, sometimes. It is a profound space.

Next time? The art. I've blogged the comics I picked up here, here, here, and here. (That last one is my favourite one) But this year, upon my return, I promised myself I was going to get art, stuff that I could put in a frame, put up on the stairs descending to the basement. It was a fun time. I met some very cool artists, to whom I will introduce you next time, and bought some beautiful prints (and one commissioned sketch!), which I will show you next time.

I loved coming back to the con.

I loved it.

Below: Some more of the visitors from Other Worlds who stopped to say hello in Edmonton.

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