In the Limelight

Contributed by Tim Lasiuta with files from Geoffrey Lasiuta and Jeremy Rinas

From start to finish, 2018’s Calgary Expo was a smash.

With Calgary Expo joining the Fan Expo family, hopes were high for an outstanding celebration of all things family, and there were no disappointments. With the Back to the Future cast, Chris Jericho, Lou Ferrigno, Jennifer Morrison, Megan Follows, and superstar comic book creators Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti meeting and greeting, all four days of the show were something special.

By the end of the show, more than 90,000 people had wandered the halls of the Big Four Building and exhibition halls, a number down from last year’s total. Despite the drop in attendance, fans still experienced geek culture in a way that only dedicated connoisseurs could.

The Parade of Wonders, a cosplay parade winding through downtown Calgary, attracted more than 17,000 spectators and 4,000 participants including Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, presenting a white hat to Steven Ogg, Simon on The Walking Dead, to open the walk at Olympic Plaza.

First timer, Keith Braun from St. Brieux, Saskatchewan dressed as Batman and loved the experience. “It’s been fantastic, everybody loves coming to talk to you and comparing notes about building costumes and lots of fun seeing the kids enjoy it,” he said, adding that it took him three weeks to make his costume from the latest Batman series.

Weather during the four-day event, April 26-29, 2018, was varied with a very hot Saturday contributing to a packed venue to a rainy, cooler Sunday that allowed more mingling with the guests.

Events throughout the weekend included panels with the special guests, discussion and education panels on topics from cosplay to merchandising to breaking into the industry, geek speed dating, a special gaming section with arcade and tabletop varieties, and the opportunity to meet both celebrity and creator guests.

Special celebrations in 2018 included a Princess Bride reunion with Cary Elwes, Wallace Shawn, and Chris Sarandon. Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, and Tom Wilson had a Back to the Future reunion. While Michael J. Fox was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, fans were still able to raise funds for Parkinson’s Disease research with pictures taken in a DeLorean.

Local production, Wynonna Earp was well represented at the show with Emily Andras, Melanie Scrofano, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Tim Rozon, Katherine Barrell, Greg Lawson, Varun Saranga, and new cast member Megan Follows, appearing.

Follows also appeared with fellow Reign queens Adelaide Kane and Rachel Skarsten, who shared their experiences on the historical drama in a well attended, enthusiastic panel discussion on the big stage. “She was kind, deceitful, and vicious at the same time,” Follows said. “It was a delightful role for an actress to sink her teeth into,” Follows said about playing Katherine Medici on Reign.

Follows (also of Anne of Green Gables) was at the show for the first time and consequently, in high demand due to her work in Reign, Heartland, and now Wynonna Earp. “She was amazing,” said fan Monica Lomond. “I grew up watching her and to be able to meet her was a dream. I went for the whole Anne package, photo opportunity and I got her to sign an antique copy of Lady of Shalott like she read in the series. She almost teared up.”

Lou Ferrigno, best known for his portrayal of titular character on The Incredible Hulk, was a popular guest among all generations of show goers. “I believe that there is a Hulk inside each and every one of us,” said Ferrigno during his panel discussion. “For me, playing the Hulk was very important as I was an abused child, and because of that I wanted to fight back and to become something. My father told me that I would never amount to anything, but I wanted to be something, so I lifted weights and despite my hearing disability, became an actor and was able to transform my inner anger into action by fighting back against those who wanted to hurt me. I have been told many times that I inspired people who watched the show to stand up for themselves and I am proud of that.”

The weight-lifting thespian noted that he had appeared in Calgary in 1987 for a stage play and during The Incredible Hulk run, appeared at a World of Wheels event in 1977. His career has since included voicing the Hulk for an animated series and offered his services to be the Hulk in Marvel films. As for extensive CGI work for the Hulk films, he prefers to be the real thing.

Elijah Wood, who played Frodo in Lord of the Rings, made his first appearance at Calgary Expo this year and his fans were not disappointed. During his panel he spoke about his recent work on the Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency TV series, which has not been renewed for a third season saying it was packed with Easter eggs. “I encourage all of you, who are Gently fans, to try a Kickstarter campaign for a third season,” he said during his panel.

When asked about his favorite TV show, he surprised the audience who expected a fantasy or sci-fi classic when he answered Grand Designs. “It is a British show that takes a construction project from start to finish and I enjoy it so much,” he added.

For the young at heart, animation voice actors and actresses were part of the guest experience as well with Steven Universe actors Zach Callison, DeeDee Magno, Michaela Dietz, and Estelle appearing.

Disney Princesses stole the show for fans of The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and Beauty and the Beast. Jodi Benson, Irene Bedard, and Paige O’Hara turned some adult fans into children as they listened to their favorite princesses.

Darlene Wagstaff, a grandmother loved meeting Benson and thought she was “wonderfully pleasant.” Wagstaff went on to say, “We had [Jodi] Benson sign two items for my daughter and it was a marvelous experience. When you talk to her, you aren’t sure she is Ariel, but when she sang at the coral, you knew she was. It was a magical moment.”

O’Hara, who dressed as Belle for the show, clearly enjoyed meeting fans of classic Disney film and collected tearful hugs from many moms and daughters.

Bedard, the voice of Pocahontas, noted that all three actresses would be in Wreck-it Ralph 2. “I am not primarily a voice actor, but also do live action work,” said Bedard. “I am in Westworld this year as well.”

A Sunday afternoon Disney sing-a-long was packed to the back as mothers, daughters, and granddaughters celebrated classic Disney show tunes.

Meanwhile in another part of the show, Jeff Goldblum wowed fans of his work in the Jurassic Park franchise in a short, but informative panel. He spoke of his work in Jurassic World Evolution, a video game which would allow players to build their own theme park in addition to his extra film work such as playing piano in a Los Angeles area restaurant and recording a CD with his band. “I also appear in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom which we shot in London,” said the actor. “But I cannot say exactly what role I play in the film. You will have to find out.”

Iconic movie poster artist, Drew Struzan appeared in Calgary for the first time to sign copies of his artwork and prints which have appeared on the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter franchise posters most notably among his prodigious output. “When I was a young man, I drew a lot but always wanted to make people happy,” Struzan said to a young artist. “Keep drawing.”

In Artist Alley, which was held in a separate building for the first time this year, Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Gisele Lagace, Nat Jones, Ty Templeton, Ray Fawkes, Jae Lee, David Finch, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti, Tom Grummett, and Steve Orlando held court along with close to 100 creators, for fans looking for signatures and sketches.

Palmiotti spoke of the creative environment of the convention experience. “We, those in this room, the writers, artists, and designers are the heart of the real process that drives this industry,” said the writer/artist/filmmaker. “The merchandisers and celebrities take what we do and reprocess our work into what the public ‘sees.’ Without the creators, there is no created, and therefore, no industry. That’s why we, Amanda, Justin, and my partners formed Paper Films to turn our visions into reality.”

Palmiotti discussed Painkiller Jane and the impending film that is in script stage. “Filmmaking is hard work, but it is worth it. We have financing in place, but are in process right now and that is why I like comic book work,” he added. “The results of our work are seen regularly which in turn helps us create an audience for the next project and so on.”

He added that Conner had landed a Detective Comics cover and they will be working on an Image series, Captain Brooklyn, in the near future.

Die Kitty Die collaborators Parent and Ruiz were pleased with fan reception and reaction to two previous DKD releases. “We will be starting our third Kickstarter soon so fans and supporters of the first two will hear from us,” said Ruiz. “More Kitty fun, more Kitty death, more Kitty in general. We are both looking forward to getting this one going. Chapterhouse Comics has been very good to us.”

On the small market side, Coffin Hop Press of Calgary showed off their pulp inspired line of Weird Western Tales and crime fiction. “We are a small market publisher that gets to play in the pulp arena, and we like that,” said Alex Howerton. “Along with my partner Robert Rose and artist Tom Bagley we have fun with what we do, and that is exactly why we do it.”

Looking for Group creators, Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza, fresh with a newly colored beard, met with enthusiastic fans of their long running web comic and comic book LFG, and game, Orphans and Ashes. “We have released the expansion pack for Orphans,” said DeSouza who has been working for 16 years on LFG. “My partner and I have a good relationship and are both twisted.”

Calgarian Quintin Dube is on his own journey in fantasy fandom, with Adamentium Studios. “I have always had an interest in building things and five years ago we started our company when we realized that everything found at cons were fake,” said Dube. “I wanted real, so we started building high-end copies of what was in films, except if a weapon clicked, we wanted ours to click too. The Daredevil baton for instance works like it looks like in the film except this one is not CGI.”

Replicas created by Dube and his partner include Lady Sif armor, Thor items, Red Hood, a Rogue pistol, and many others. “We have international customers and have had many studios ask us to create items for them but on film they need plastic and rubber, but when it comes to our products, we want substance for our collectors,” he said. “These are pieces of art, not articles you spend too much on for what you get. We have executives in Los Angeles with our products and that makes us proud of our work.”

Dube noted that a Red Hood mask was being worked on in collaboration with Red Deer native, Glenn Lasiuta who was developing a ventilation system for users. “The process of developing new products for use by consumers with our designs is sometimes complex, but always rewarding,” added Dube. “That said, we have been approached by different companies who want us to build wearable replicas of their movie props. Who knows where that may lead.”

Cosplay participants, like in any convention, spent their days part browsing and part posing. First time costumed attendee, Allistair Furtado of Lethbridge and his friends dressed up as King Arthur, Sir Bedevere, Brother Maynard, and Sir Robin. “It was so much fun to dress up, usually we attend but just wander. I was amazed how many people knew Monty Python and asked us to pose for pictures,” said Furtado.

Cynthia Wild and Betty Tischer dressed up as Mrs. Potts and Chip. “We rode the C-train to get here today and we got stuck on the train trying to get off,” Tischer said. “People were so kind and helped us get here safely. We went on stage during the costume contest and it was amazing.”

Wild noted that going in costume changes the experience of convention attendance and may not do it again. “Going in costume makes your day about photographs and not necessarily about getting autographs and talking to professionals,” she said.

Gamers were in tabletop heaven for the four days of the show with one attendee who qualified for the National Settlers of Catan championship. Rahlen Taylor was crowned winner at the Expo competition for western Canada and is off to nationals.

There were also many opportunities for first time players to games like Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon World, and the Universal Fighting System. The UFS uses characters from Megaman, Street fighter and Darkstalkers and 13 other games in a card game that plays like a fighting game.

“It was nice that there was space to just sit down and play the board games supplied such as Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, and one we purchased at the show,” said Jeremy Rinas. “We got to try games with other players and be part of the gaming community, something you can’t do in real life.”

With the last Marco Polo, the 2018 Calgary Expo came to a conclusion and FanExpo started planning for the Edmonton show scheduled for September 21-23.