Toronto Comicon is more than a convention. I can tell you about the 400 exhibitors, describe the 10,000 sq. Ft. Family Zone, or list the talented folks lining artist alley. But just listing off what’s happening at the show is selling it short. For three days in March, it’s the headquarters for Canada’s pop culture diehards. Like any great Con, Toronto Comicon is a celebration. And it’s packed with cosplayers, cinephiles, enthusiasts, nerds, fangirls, fanboys, newbies, and pop culture junkies.
On Friday I outlined what there is to see and do at the show. But that’s like describing a blind date’s physical features and withholding the most important part: their personality. The best way to describe the experience is to walk around the show and talk to attendees. So today I’m going to give you some reporting from the showroom floor. I interviewed cosplayers, vendors, and attendees, and sat in on some panels to provide you with a taste of what Con-life is all about.
The first stop on my Comicon adventure was an eye-catching Steampunk booth. I spoke with The Toronto Steampunk Society’s Doc Morgan about all things Steampunk. He’s A kind and thoughtful Steampunk guru who schooled me on the lifestyle. Despite hundreds of people streaming past us, Doc took his time answering my questions and made me feel like I was the only one in the room. Our conversation wasn’t a sales pitch, but by the time we finished speaking I was ready to start assembling my own Steampunk wardrobe.
If you’re unfamiliar with Steampunk, here’s a brief rundown. Steampunk is a sci-fi/fantasy subgenre that focuses on technology inspired by steam-powered/19-th-century designs. The genre’s aesthetic features plenty of gears, springs, leather, brass, and goggles.
As Doc and I spoke, he walked me through the Steampunk gadgets in his booth, many of which he created with his 3D printer. Among the items were a mechanized pistol, a Super Mario Bros.-style mallet, and Doctor Doom mask, each done in Steampunk style. He ran me through some of the many genre’s Steampunk’s aesthetic extends into. They include movies, music, reading, and fashion.
The craftsmanship on display in his booth is so impressive that it discourages people from getting into Steampunk. Doc pointed me to his colleague Tessa, she’s dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, but decked out in Steampunk style. “She’s taken something that is a recognized pop culture item, and she has just put a Steampunk spin onto it,” he said to me. “A lot of people would say I can’t do something like that, and the answer is yeah, but right out the door you couldn’t build a fine piece of cabinetry. But you work at it. A lot of people say because I can’t make it perfectly, I’m never going to make it at all, and that’s the bad attitude.”
One of my favourite parts of attending Cons is sitting in on creator panels. Panels and Q&As feature topics that feed your nerdiest interests. If you want to learn how to craft cosplay costumes and accessories or just want to hear what it’s like working on the set of a Star Wars movie, Comicon has you covered. I sat down on the Writing for Comics Roundtable, an informative and entertaining hour-long discussion that was more than worth the price of the show’s admission.
Moderated by The True North Nerds’ podcaster Brent Chittenden, the panel featured Ian Flynn (Sonic The Hedgehog, Archie), Anthony Ruttgaizer (Heroes of Homeroom C), and Jack Briglio (True Patriot Presents). The panel featured a host of insights that as Chittenden put it, “Revealed how the [comic book] sausage gets made.” The hour-long panel outlined how the guys broke into comics, their writing, methods, and most startlingly, that, “Most people in comics have a day job.”
If you’re serious about creating comics, the Writing for Comics Roundtable was the place to be. The guys answered questions from the crowd throughout their discussion. And they also dropped loads of knowledge on the aspiring writers in the audience. Most importantly, their advice and insights made breaking into the comic book industry seem attainable.
Out of the hundreds of vendors at the show, the TO Comix Press’ booth captured my attention. They offer a series of comics anthologies that would make Drake proud; they’re all about Toronto. I found Steven A. staffing the booth, and he was ebullient in his praise of the Toronto Comics series.
“We’ve been writing comics since 2014. We went to Ty Templeton’s writing classes in Toronto, and we just got inspired to get out there and make stories,” Steven said. “They put together an anthology as a class project, and then they just exploded from there. We’ve put out five Toronto Comics books, we’ve put out a Wayward Sisters, which is a women’s monster anthology and we’re also launching Shout Out which is our first queer and adult’s anthology launching in May.”
Steven explained the Toronto-focused books’ appeal. “People come to conventions to buy things that already reflect who they are. People want to see their identity in things. If you’re from Toronto, then you’ve got an investment in these books already. It’s a book about you. If you’re not from Toronto, then it’s a souvenir of your time in Toronto. And if you’re not in the place, then it’s a tour guide of a place you might visit someday, and if you love Toronto, it’s a celebration of Toronto. And if you hate Toronto, we’ve got Toronto in flames. We cover every base we can.”
Anjali D. is a Torontonian and a self-professed nerd who had never been to a Con before. “I knew everyone would be dressed up and some people were going to be very elaborate, but I didn’t really know about the flea market part.” Anjali tightly held onto several Looney Tunes custom-prints she bought in Artist’s Alley. “Seeing it, it was bigger than I expected,” she added. “I think it’s a cool energy and everybody seems pretty into it and happy to be here and happy to be around other people, and be nerdy, that’s for sure.”
Anjali’s favourite memory was catching a guy cosplaying as a character from one of her favourite shows. “I saw a guy dressed up like Howard Wolowitz. I thought that was funny. Everyone else dresses so elabourately, but I thought he really popped out of the crowd. That was a cool one for me because I’m a Big Bang Theory fan.”
If you’ve been to Toronto Comicon or Fan Expo before, then you’ve likely seen a booth occupied by the Ontario Ghostbusters. They pack their booth with proton packs, vials of ectoplasm, and slime-green donuts. But the Ontario Ghostbusters aren’t here to “cosplay” around. “We’re a non-profit group here to raise charitable funds,” said OGB Co-President, Brily L. We’re raising, today, for Visions of Science, it’s a STEM program. And Street Cats, a no-kill animal shelter.
Brily told me that his best Comicon memories come from, “Interacting with people. That’s why we really do it,” he told me. “It’s getting to be with people, talk with them. And just to see people you don’t usually get to see.”
I asked Brily what he would say to get people to make the trip to Toronto Comicon, especially if they’ve never come down before. “I would say come by and live the dream,” Brily said. “Be with people. Don’t be afraid, don’t be ashamed. Come out and let your geek flag fly.
I couldn’t have phrased it any better.