It’s about the only place on earth where you can see hundreds of Batmans, Captain Americas, Starfleet Officers, Supermans, Princess Elsas, Princess Leias, Princess Zeldas, warriors from every genre of fiction and the Ghostbusters’ Ectomobile all in one room. For fans of comic books, science fiction and fantasy, cosplay (playing around in costumes), Star Trek, Star Wars and just about any other related genre, Comiccon 2014 was like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Halloween all wrapped up into one.
Montreal’s comic-book convention is now in its sixth year and once again took the city by storm September 12-14, bringing in over 51,000 to celebrate pop culture fandom and elaborate costumery.
What used to be more of comic-book exchange has now become one of the biggest fan-meet-celebrity events in the world.
This year’s exhibition included a first-ever event with the entire cast from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Matt Smith from Dr. Who, Hulk Hogan, Tricia Helfer and Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica, Steven Amell and Katie Cassidy from Arrow, Osric Chau from Supernatural, Billy Boyd from Lord of the Rings, Danny Glover, Robert Englund (Freddy Kruger), Stan Lee and Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, to name only a few.
With hundreds of celebrities, comic-book writers and lookalikes that fans could get their pictures taken with, endless amounts of fan merchandise (like miniatures, books and play weapons) to purchase, special events, and video-game testing, Comiccon is a three-day fan-driven frenzy of fun.
We arrived in the early afternoon to see hundreds of fans queued up all the way around Palais des Congrès, many of whom had paid for special VIP access to attend special events in the convention centre’s upper chambers.
While press were not allowed in for the first few hours, when we were finally granted access we decided to peruse the convention floor to check out the goods for sale and see what we could glean from the many vendors and creators who lined the convention hall floors.
According to Craig, a book vendor who makes the rounds at these events, the hottest sellers at these conventions are the comics and graphic novels.
“The biggest book saga right now is Justice League and Batman, Walking Dead, Image, Black Science Zero, and Adventure Time books, which I sell a lot of,” he said.
Going through the other merchandise tables, this year’s hot-ticket item was the “costume hoodie,” which is like the Cadillac of ornate hoodies, often with a mask embedded into the hood. They are very “trippy,” and very expensive, often costing $80 a pop.
While checking out the celebrity meet-and-greet section, we met Traci Lords, the teen porn star turned TV/film actress turned singer turned writer who was there to sign autographs and talk about her life. She said she was “thrilled” to be in Montreal but didn’t say much beyond that. She was one of the celebrities people could meet if they queued up to do so but most of those tables were vacant at the time of our arrival.
We had travelled to this event with our 2½-year-old son, who enjoyed the convention immensely. As my son was checking out something behind me, Lords looked down at the empty stroller I was pushing, joking that I had lost my baby.
I replied, “Oh, he is just walking around.” She laughed and said it’s the strangest thing when that happens. It was a startlingly human moment amid the mania that is this kind of event, but this is what most fans are after – a connection with a celebrity and a glimpse of a rare moment of their humanity.
Ottawa’s Comic Book Shop had a well-stocked kiosk. Since hoodies are all the rage, they had Dr. Doom, Captain America, various Transformers, Magneto, Ghost Rider and many other of high-end hoodies.
According to Robb, the owner of the two-store chain, he attends these types of events all over the place, hitting up 16 Cons a year.
At the heart of the convention centre stood an immense tower of caging erected by the people at styleonline.com that sported fan T-shirts of almost any variety under the sun. According to salesperson Jeff, their biggest sellers were the costume hoodies and he pulled out what he affectionately called the “walking carpet,” a reversible Han Solo/ Chewbacca the Wookie hoodie. His other big seller was the “winter is coming” Game of Thrones hoodie, and after last year’s winter, this wasn’t a shock.
When it comes to gear, costuming and cosplay supplies that are sold at this event, we encountered all sorts of incredible items, many of which were just the ticket for those looking to dress up in the garb of yesteryear, particularly for Live Action Role Playing (LARP).
Martial Grisé from Au Dragon Noir was selling the products that are central to this lifestyle.
“I am a leather smith and a writer of fantasy novels and so the weapons that I make in leather and foam are actually what appear in the story. The company that makes these is Calimacil in Sherbrooke (www.fr.calimacil.ca), they sell these play ‘weapons’ for LARP games to clients all over the world. The books are francophone, but also have a large following,” said Grisé.
Other vendors were selling Hollywood-quality masks and authentic-looking play armour. The interesting thing about this stuff was that, as there is still an active film industry in Montreal, many of these ateliers now sell to companies producing both high- and low-budget films.
Other vendors sell materials to fans looking to make their own stuff. William, for instance, offers skins and pelts for those looking to make their own cosplay gear. He had a surprising amount of animal-based raw materials that included rabbit pelts, treated and patterned leathers and cow horns that could be fashioned into a variety of accessories.
Many who attend the event one year get so caught up with the whole cosplay thing that they return the following year in costume. Those who are really into this can spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars becoming the character of their dreams.
Among the many other weird and wonderful vendors who were selling comic-book-character-related goods: Neil Rohr from Ginch Gonch, who was selling comic-book-themed underwear for adults; Guillaume of Grendel Design, who was selling the most jaw-dropping beautiful refurbished lacquer tables, canvases and other refurbished goods (grendal design/facebook); and then the lovely ladies from Love Poetry Corsets (lovepoetrycorsets.com).
According to Jacquie, who was busy tying up a spectacular, hand-painted corset around the waist of a 40-something woman, this company makes everything from the Victorian to the Edwardian style of corset and beyond.
“There is a demand for cosplay. We have artists who hand paint a lot of our corsets and so we can design them to any standard, be it Superman-themed or for a wedding. A lot of people want them because they help create the shape and form they want for their cosplay outfit,” she said.
We then ran into Daniel Bernard, a local comic-book artist we interviewed last year who pens The Chieftains, which is based on a reimagining of the life of Deborah, Prophet of God, Fourth Judge of Israel. It was interesting to find out just how one gets this kind of project off the ground in 2014.
According to him, crowd sourcing – a form of online fundraising – is central to funding his project. He collected donations for months to be able to get the project off the ground, and now the first issue is out.
“Slowly but surely we are gaining in popularity through social media. We have our issues on sale at Etsy now and so you can get digital or physical copies. We are hoping that this will move things online a bit better. We sell them for $6.99 online but cheaper at the Cons,” said Bernard.
Two tables over, Latief Martin, another local comic-book author/producer for Zile, which is about an apocalypse in Montreal, explained how he had also run a campaign through social media but actually sold spots in the comic for contributors to become immortalized as actual characters within the project.
“I wanted to put Montreal on the map for an apocalypse. We are so used to seeing New York, L.A. and San Francisco in stories and they are all iconic cities, but Montreal is an iconic city too. I really wanted to bring up the Montreal flavour, so we did an Indygogo.com campaign where our goal was $6000 to draw the first six issues. I am drawing it,” said Martin.
“This comic is populated by the people who contributed to it. We have not just done their faces but actual character profiles, back stories, looked at the weapons that they would chose, what their weaknesses would be and got photos for photo references. They are an intricate part of the story and they have ownership here. We have over 100 characters in the comic.”
Poring through the pages of these two Montreal comics, it was great to see the high quality of the local works. Both these handmade publications, which were just dreams a mere year or two ago, could easily be sold by a major distributor.
While there are thousands who go to these events as fans to celebrate their fandom with the like-minded, seeing the products of local artists and what they do to put Montreal on the map is inspirational as their characters may one day end up being some of the most popular at these conventions.