A Tale of Two Cons

So, last weekend I attended what is arguably Toronto’s largest SF/Comic/etc. convention – FanExpo. And I couldn’t help contrasting my experience there with the one I had at a much smaller, fan-run con in July. That con would be Polaris, which has been around for 26 years, starting its life at the Roehampton Hotel as Toronto Trek and which said its final farewell to the Toronto con scene this year – I suspect that will be the subject of a whole other post.

One can’t deny that FanExpo had great guests: John Barrowman, Alan Tudyk, James Marsters, Stan Lee and Matthew Gray Gubler to mention just a very, very few. And it would have been wonderful, if I could have actually seen any of them. Unfortunately in order to get into any of their speeches I would have had to line up at least an hour before the panel, which still wouldn’t have guaranteed me a seat.  Not to mention the additional lineup and extra cost (between $30 and $50 per guest) if I wanted an autograph, which I didn’t.  I did get some pretty good pictures of some of the guests but that was only thanks to the great 70-300mm lens I bought earlier this year, as I don’t think I got within spitting distance of any of them.  (You know, I’ve always hated that expression.  Even if I had gotten within “spitting distance” it’s not like I would actually spit. Drool, maybe, but that’s a whole different matter…)

FanExpo Guests

The benefits of having a big…uhm…lens.

Polaris, on the other hand, had a much smaller guest list.  This year, as it was the last year for the con and the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the guest list was rather pared down – Wil Wheaton was the headline guest, along with Tony Amendola of Stargate SG1 and Continuum, Neil Grayston of Eureka and Warehouse 13, and award-winning author Norman Spinrad.  Last year’s guests included Adam Baldwin, Ben Browder, Melinda Clarke and Armin Shimmerman.  With an attendance of around 4,000 versus FanExpo’s 80,000, it was a lot easier to get into the guest speeches at Polaris.  And by that I mean I walked in five minutes before the panel started and there were still empty seats.  Heck, one of the highlights of my 2011 Polaris visit was being called a troublemaker by Adam Baldwin after asking a purely innocent question at his panel! (L’il old me?  Never!)

Another thing Polaris had that FanExpo didn’t was great panels.  Panels that had nothing to do with the guests but were run by, and for, the fans.  Panels like Slobbering Fangirls Unite where we talked about what it’s like to be a female in fandom and how well or poorly female geeks are portrayed in the movies and TV, or A Rough Guide to Time Travel where we talked about what we would do and where we would go if we could actually travel in time.  The panels at FanExpo seemed to be mostly either Q and A sessions with the guests or marketing opportunities for publishers, producers and such to tell you about what they had coming down the pipe.  There were a few neat panels – Steampunk 101 and the Life After Twilight and True Blood stand out in my mind.  Funnily enough, the panel I enjoyed the most at FanExpo was the one on the War of 1812 with Scott Finlay of Fort George portraying General Sir Isaac Brock and talking about the graphic novel and six-part TV series commssioned by Parks Canada that is coming out later this year.

One thing FanExpo does have in spades over Polaris is vendors.  Lots and lots and lots of vendors.  Vendors selling everything under the sun – or moon, if you’re looking for vampire stuff, I guess.  To me, at least, it seems like this is the core of FanExpo in a lot of ways – get people in the door so they can buy stuff.  Books, graphic novels, tee-shirts, stuffed things (I won’t say animals, ’cause most of them don’t even remotely resemble animals), dolls action figures, more graphic novels, swords, artwork – you name it, you can probably find it in the vendors’ area.

They also have a great artists’ alley – there must have been over 100 artists selling their work.  (Full disclosure: a friend of mine, Gerry Vail, who draws the wickedly funny webcomic Remotes N Dice was one of the artists, and a big reason I decided to attend this year.  Check out his site – after you finish reading this post, though!) The quality of the artwork from these artists amazed me, as did some of the spontaneity. I picked up a fantastic sketch that one of the artists had been working on there simply because I admired it and he offered to sell it to me. There were five or six other pieces from various artists I would have loved to have bought as well, but couldn’t due to lack of funds and wall space to display them.

Another thing FanExpo has is crowds.  80,000 fans, remember?  Trying to get into most of the panels involved lining up for varying amounts of time, and trying to move around the floor of the vendors’ and artists’ area was well-nigh on impossible for a good part of the weekend.  And if you left the con on Saturday apparently there was about a 45-minute wait to get back in because they’d oversold the tickets.  Compare that to Polaris, where the worst crush seemed to be in the ConSuite at last call – which is another thing you don’t get at FanExpo, but which would be really hard to do there.

All in all, it was interesting to attend FanExpo for the full weekend once, just to cross it off my bucket list, but I doubt I’ll go back.  If I do, it will probably be for only one day, and definitely not Saturday.  And, since Polaris is no more, I guess I’ll have to find another fan-run con to satisfy my small-con desires.  Any suggestions, loyal readers?

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