“I have one power: I never give up.”
The words of Batman couldn’t be more true for the return of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo after a two-year hiatus.
Appreciative visitors from across the province took in the start of the expo on Thursday night. Many donning an amazing variety of cosplay costumes from popular, and sometimes obscure, but nevertheless beloved media franchises.
“Everyone is welcome to come and celebrate pop culture with us this weekend, and even if you think it may not be for you, I think you’ll be surprised,” said Andrew Moyes, vice president of Fan Expo HQ.
“To be back on such a good strong weekend with such a great, full-scale show feels really great. I mean, these are community-driven events that are driven by passion, that are driven by connection, and nothing can really replace that.”
Friday’s festivities start off with a return of the Parade of Wonders (POW), where thousands of Calgarians will gather to parade their costumes from Olympic Plaza through the Downtown Core. Like in previous years, it’s free to participate in or to simply watch the parade. That goes at 10:30 a.m.
Guests to the expo at the BMO Centre will also be able to learn how to cosplay, meet celebrities like Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, learn to brew some Hogwarts potions, and even shop for a comic book or two.
Back among friends, and customers
Jamie Ripley, who owns local historical arms and armour business, Dark Age Creations, said that getting back to the BMO Centre for the Expo was a little bit surreal.
“It’s humbling, it’s a weird sensation, it’s a little like getting back on a bike after two years,” he said.
His business, which sells re-creations of weapons and armour found in museum collections, as well as provides medieval sword fighting lessons, started as a trade show business with the very first Calgary Expo.
Despite having a brick-and-mortar location on 42 Avenue SW, being back at the show puts them among friends they haven’t seen for some time.
“It’s been a lot of hugs and a lot of good to see us and a lot of ‘how have you been?'” he said.
Being back at the show also gives people who might not ever make it to his store the ability to pick up, touch, and try on items. And that also translates into serious business as well.
“We’re a bit of a specialty market. It’s difficult for us to advertise, it’s difficult for us to find a demographic that we can promote ourselves to, and this is just such a natural fit for us,” he said.
It also means that Calgarians will have a chance to take in what Ripley calls a dying art form.
“The best thing that you can do down here is not only put the product in your hands and physically get to get a chance to see it and feel it, but you’re going to be able to talk to a person who made it,” said Ripley.
“You can talk to our whip makers, you can talk to our fetcher, our bowyers, you can talk to our blacksmith—they’re going to be around all weekend.”
A 3d photograph/lidar scan of one of the handmade 3d printed Star Wars droids from the Calgary Expo. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY
Cosplay for community
One of the undisputed crowd favourites, and highlights of Thursday night was a full-sized replica of the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, brought to the show by B.C. Delorian for the Alberta Ghostbusters.
The Alberta Ghostbusters are a cosplay group that is also incorporated under the provincial societies act. Their mission, besides spreading a love of the Ghostbusters franchise, is to raise money for the province’s Children’s Hospitals.
Micah Agard, vice president for the Alberta Ghostbusters, said it was easy for members to combine those two activities.
“We’ve had a lot of our members that have had children through the hospital, that have gone into the hospital, and received fantastic care,” he said.
He said that the symbol is instantly recognizable, and brings joy to children and adults alike.
“My favorite thing is when kids just come running up, because they shouldn’t even know what Ghostbusters are, and they are just beyond the moon because there’s a Ghostbuster,” he said.
I feel the need for speed, and second breakfast
No expo would be complete without at least one Gandalf the Grey, and also a Maverick.
Richard Spilsted, whose natural beard rivals that of Sir Ian McKellen’s in the Lord of the Rings, was joined by Cam Jones dressed as the legendary fighter jockey played by Tom Cruise in Top Gun.
“Well, I love it. It’s all about serving the kids, it’s all about bringing the smiles to their faces in the joy— that’s why I do it,” said Spilsted.
Jones said he wanted to bring something different to the Calgary Expo, but also instantly familiar.
“If you bring in something that is familiar, but is original enough that you stand out among the rest of the crowd, that’s what makes you stand out,” said Jones.
And echoing a little bit of Maverick, he said that’s what makes him the best cosplayer for people with a need for speed.
“Ready to go Mach Two with their hair on fire,” he laughed.
But the fun also has a serious side. The two have been involved in cosplaying to raise money for Warrior Kids Camp, which helps the children of military and first responders with PTSD build psychological resilience.
“Mum and Dad have problems, and kids are notorious and internalizing it, and then that doesn’t end well,” said Spilsted.
Jones said that there was nothing else like being able to cosplay and help kids at the same time.
“If you can find me something else I can have this amount of passion to do something for yourself and for the kids, and also free to a nerd right, then what else is there right?”
Spilsted will be performing as Albus Dumbledore in the children’s area of the Expo, helping them with potion-making classes put on by the show.
He laughed that his glorious beard was his real superpower.
“I do Santa Claus. I do Gandalf? I do Dumbledore. They’re all based on this wonderful natural growth.”
Show is also a gateway to a lot of fun
“This is ridiculous,” is how Keith Park describes live-action role-playing with Refuge LARP Calgary.
The group is demoing the game at the Expo, which is a little bit like combining Dungeons and Dragons with improv theatre.
“Every character has a story, and there is also an overarching story, and hopefully every character’s story blends into the overarching story in one seamless and magical event,” said Park.
And like Dungeons and Dragons, the group is based around the idea of medieval high fantasy.
“We kick over the table, throw away the dice and put foam weapons in everybody’s hands.”
And if that isn’t your speed, there are many many other things to do at the expo over the weekend. Celebrity guests like William Shatner, Brendan Fraser, John Clease, and Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd who all played Hobbits in Lord of the Rings, will be attending, among many more.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek will be leading the Parade of Wonders on Friday, where she will be unveiling her surprise superhero costume.
Having the mayor lead the parade speaks to the event as being a signature one for the city, said Moyes.
“Those relationships are incredibly important for us,” he said.
“This is 15 years of our celebrating that we as a community have built this event to be what it is.”
For more details and a schedule of events, see the Calgary Expo website.