Having one of Canada’s largest comic conventions in your backyard can be a blessing and a curse. Fan Expo brings over 100,000 people to Toronto annually, and for better or worse, is one of the biggest cons in North America at this point. It’s also an expensive proposition, especially if you want to attend all four packed-full-of-sweaty-nerds-and-constantly-disorganized days. However, it’s the con next door, which means it’s the one I’ve attended the most— and may also be why I’m so cynical about it.
But that also means that any other show I attend is automatically compared to Fan Expo, and when it comes to Hal-Con, that’s an excellent base to measure from. Because with how jaded fans can become having everything at the tip of their fingers at a giant show like Fan Expo, it was a refreshing change to be at a convention like Hal-Con with so many people who were just genuinely excited to be there. In a community that seems increasingly filled with elitist nerds, everyone at Hal-Con was a breath of fresh air: from the exceptionally helpful and friendly volunteers, to excited attendees and cosplayers, to guests and vendors who were excited to share their work without making you feel pressured into buying anything.
Sure, I may be looking at this show through rose-coloured glasses, and I’m sure there are those would dissent with my perception of Hal-Con. But the fact remains that the entire duration of my visit, I was constantly reminded of how excited everyone else was to be there too. That genuine delight and sense of camaraderie of being in a building full of geeks is often lacking at bigger shows, which could be due to several factors: more attendees means a higher douchebag vs. average nerds ratio, and more guests/vendors means more competition for your hard earned nerd dollars (and therefore, more pressure to buy instead of just browsing). Hal-Con was a laid back environment that let attendees decide exactly what they wanted to do by giving them well distributed options.
The show itself was spread throughout several floors Halifax’s World Trade & Convention Centre, with different rooms for celebrity signings, retail vendors, artists, gaming, and other events. It took me a little bit to get past the idea of not having everything in one massive, overwhelming room, but once I got the hang of it, it made for clear destinations depending on whatever I was in the mood for. Did I feel like gawking at Mark Sheppard for a bit? There’s a room for that. Or pick up reasonably priced, adorable art from established or emerging comic artists? There’s a room for that too. Separating content felt a little counter intuitive initially but it made browsing the con easier to do by breaking up attendee traffic, and actually led to me re-visiting areas and taking a closer look at things I might have missed the first time.
Hal-Con never felt overcrowded, even though they sold out of tickets long before the doors opened, which meant attendees weren’t forced to keep moving with the crowd and accidentally bypass a vendor or artist they were looking for. There was ample room for cosplayers to show off their hard work without getting in the way of anyone trying to get by, and for attendees to get a book signed by a creator in manageable lines. Sure, this is simply part of being at a smaller convention, but reducing these seemingly minor frustrations leads to a much more enjoyable experience overall. It’s easy to forget how much being part of a large crowd can influence your mood, especially if the majority are feeling just as frustrated as you are. Shows like Hal-Con may have a more limited variety of merchandise or guests, but you can’t buy the sensation of feeling welcomed, comfortable, and truly excited to be at a convention with your fellow peeps. Well, not yet at least.
It wasn’t until I got home that I also realized how many women were in attendance at Hal-Con, and in particular, female artists. The majority of prints or sketches that I bought at the show were from local female Halifax artists, which in an industry where about 10% of comic creators at the big two publishers are female, that’s a great ratio for Hal-Con to boast. Maybe because these women were selling more items depicting the female heroines I was drawn to, but after taking time to browse everyone’s booth, they stood out the most for me — in part because they were content to just geek out with attendees over shared interests. Excitement and passion over what you love makes for a great environment, and inevitably led to sales when it came to prints too.
Although I didn’t attend many panels (other than the surprisingly entertaining charity auction hosted by Garrett Wang) or gaming events, the attendees/guests I spoke to were all incredibly positive about how they went. Overall, I could not recommend Hal-Con enough to anyone who can make it out east for a show. When you take into account the ridiculously high number of volunteers who make each year a success (which one PA said amounted to 2-3 volunteers per vendor/guest/artist), it’s obvious that Hal-Con is powered by the Halifax community’s love of nerd culture and the remarkable result is a welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy.
Con swag from artists you should check out: