DSC_6054In past incarnations it may have appeared as a marginal convention for comic-book nerds, but now the annual Comiccon exhibition is a mainstream cultural event, drawing major celebrities to promote the latest comic-related games, films, costumes and literature.

This year, there was an inexhaustible choice of fan experiences available, from celebrity meet-and-greets for autographs and photos to merchandise to satisfy the most obsessed collectors.

Some 42,000 patrons attended this year’s Comiccon, which ran September 13-15 at Montreal’s Palais des congress, to live out their superhero/super-villain/sci-fi/anime-related fantasies.

The big names included Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), George Takei (Star Trek), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones), Manu Bennett (Spartacus), Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), Felicia Day (The Guild), Ray Park (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), Dave Prowse (Star Wars), Edward James Olmos and Tahmoh Penikett (Battlestar Galactica), Jason David Frank (Power Rangers), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), IronE Singleton (The Walking Dead), Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob) and Margot Kidder (Superman). There were also wrestlers – Mick Foley, Maryse Ouellet and Kevin Nash.

You could also get your photo taken with Robot Chicken’s Robot Chicken, the iconic DeLorean car from Back to the Future or the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Professional “Ectomobile” from Ghostbusters.

Among the friendlier faces at the event was actually one who scared me as a child – Lou Ferrigno, the original Incredible Hulk from the 1970s TV series.

Still bulging with muscle, the 61-year-old actor had the demeanour of a placid puppy. He was so approachable you almost wanted to cuddle him. While he said the days of green body paint may be over, the Hulk was brimming with enthusiasm for the fan-filled love-fest.

He even apologized for being the subject of my childhood nightmares.

“But you, kept watching, right?” he chided. Of course I did, but I left out the part about watching him through my fingers.

“I am very excited to be here because about four years ago this event only attracted about 800 people; but now we are seeing over 40,000 and this is only Friday afternoon,” said Ferrigno. “I just love Montreal because it’s got so much spirit and integrity. The people work so hard to make you feel appreciated and I really respect that.”

Ferrigno’s enthusiasm was infectious. But meeting your heroes is only half the fun as a growing number of patrons are just as enthusiastic about being their heroes. There was no budget limit when it came to crazy get-ups to look as much like their icons as possible.

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Frequently dubbed “Halloween for Grownups,” this year’s event featured a limitless range of characters in the convention hall. One fan, Peter from Blainville, even had his own booth outside of the hall to show off his Wolverine costume and gear.

“Wolverine has become a little part of me now. I have been co-playing (role playing) this character for a while now and people have been telling me for years that I bear a striking resemblance to him. I also enjoy the brutal rage that this character has,” said Peter.

And, since the event organizers thought it would be awesome to have an individual Wolverine display that patrons could get their photos taken at, they gave the grisly fellow his own booth.

One of the most popular costumes for this year’s event was Marvel Comic’s Deadpool as there were various incarnations of the red spandex regalia to be seen throughout the event.

One of the Deadpools we met was Eric, accompanied by his girlfriend dressed appropriately as Domino.

“I have been collecting Marvel Comics for about 15 years and Deadpool is my favourite character. And, because they made a Deadpool game this year, I decided that it was the right time to come as this character,” explained Eric.

As for Eric’s girlfriend, who wanted her real identity to remain anonymous, it seemed her attire was all about pleasing her man.

“My inspiration is pretty much the same as his. Eric taught me all about this milieu and so I decided to do this costume to go with his,” said Domino.

Among the more amusing sights at this event were the hoards of half-dressed characters carrying their helmets as a jam-packed convention floor, summery weather and heavy attire created sweltering conditions. I made a mental note not to approach any of these fellas (yes, they were all guys) as the wet hair generally was a warning sign of detectable body odour. I would also imagine that a lot of these outfits are quite difficult to disinfect.

More than ever, this year’s event reminded us that, in the end, it’s all about separating fans from their money. Retailers are tuned into the big bucks to be found in nerdy pockets. Everywhere you turned there was another superhero-themed garment, toy or house wear (think Hans Solo trapped in a cake mould) for sale. Or you could purchase Halloween costumes, weapons, slippers, socks, pyjamas, figurines, coffee cups, baby bibs, earrings, necklaces, DVDs, books, board games, video games and just about anything else with a licensed trademark.

Being a fan of “super-powered” snuggly warmth, I have to say that I did fall for some of the bathrobes. I even tried on the Chewbacca robe and, much to my overheated surprise, found it much like putting on a winter jacket.

There were all kinds of bathrobes at this event – from the ultra-flashy Spiderman and Wolverine varieties resembling something a pro wrestler might wear into the ring, to the more functional varieties.

Comiccon is so overwhelming that it’s almost like walking into a live-action internet. The selection of items such as cartoon/superhero T-shirts is endless. From vintage superhero originals from the 1960s to pretty much everything produced in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s were begging for a new home.

For those who couldn’t make it to the event, www.stylinonline.com has all of this merchandise available online.

For us, the real treat was the folks offering their own handmade merchandise. Seeing the big commercial stuff is fine, but meeting the individual writers, game producers and event promoters makes the experience so unique.

Trying to get his own comic book off the ground was Daniel Bernard, an old high-school friend.

“My new comic book, The Chieftains, is actually an epic reimagining of the story of Deborah from the Bible in 24 full-colour issues,” explained Bernard.

“This is a historically based comic book that places the characters into the context of the Bronze Age; it’s what you would get out of a fantasy novel or historical fiction.”

Bernard, who has a PhD in Religious Studies, has drawn from his academic career when it came to his newest venture.

“I will be honest, a recession is not the time to have a PhD. There is very little work and there are way fewer jobs here in Quebec. So, I wrote about what I had learned,” said Bernard.

He hopes his project will be out sometime in 2014.

Fans of paper-product board games could rejoice in the selection available, including two locally developed gems. We spoke to two designers sharing their own board game hub at the event – Andrew Valkauskas and Patrice Combatalade from Fate of the Norns and Gladiators respectively.

“Fate of the Norns is a Viking RPG meets table-top game and it employs actual rune stones instead of dice. The rune stones on the table are made from stone and wood and the mechanics of the game are based on them.

“What we have done here is created a very evocative tale of the end times of Ragnorok. It is the end where the gods and the giants fight and the players can take on the roles, siding with one or the other,” said Valkauskas.

Combining elements of Magick the Game, Dungeons & Dragons and actual historical myths, this board game is now in its 20th year and featured breathtaking images and endless aspects of game play.

Combatalade, on the other hand, was just about to launch his new game, Gladiators.
“This is a game where the players fight for glory in the age of Rome. There are 12 playable gladiators, all of whom are drawn from history. And each one fights in his own particular style,” said Combatalade.

What is unique to the game are the specially made dice, to play you roll five of them and they come up with the symbols. On the dice are swords for attacking, feet for moving and stars to activate special abilities.

Combatalade is hoping to launch his new game within the month.

Among the best booths we encountered were three strung together by a shop, a special-effects atelier and a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) group. Montreal’s medieval boutique Dracolite produced a large-scale display to showcase the collaborative efforts of the three businesses.

According to Charles of Dracolite, 18th century gear, play weapons and accompanying armour have all moved from the marginal into the mainstream.

“You see it everywhere, there is now a lot of good stuff being used by a lot of cool people,” Charles said.

Dracolite provided materials used in part for Game of Thrones fan film, A Tale of Benjen Stark, which the three were also promoting.

His friends at Ateliers Nemesis provided many of the props and are also responsible for making many of the masks available at the store, including a mesh Medusa on display that looked right out of Hollywood.

“Those masks were made for a show based on Amos Daragon, from the books by Bryan Perro. There are some masks that can be worn, like the reptile and the crow masks. People will often wear them for live-action role-playing games,” said Jonathan from Ateliers Nemesis.

Then there was Éric Dubé from Bicolline, the LARP group he runs for a week every July in St-Mathieu du Parc in the Mauricie region. It’s for those who want to experience non-stop 18th century battle – minus the injuries or shoddy medical care.

“If you were to imagine a kind of LARP Mecca, about 2000 people come to the event for an entire seven days to go back in time and live and breathe this game,” said Dubé.

More on this event can be found at www.bicolline.org/

Finally, among the acres of enthusiastic kitsch at Comiccon, one group stood out for the way it used their Hollywood-grade film costumes for a charitable purpose.

Ernst Peters of the 501st Legion was on hand to display some of the costumes his group had made.

“We are a charity group from the South Shore that builds incredible superhero costumes to go and visit children in the hospital and often does work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” said Peters. “We also do Toys for Tots and whatever else is fun. Our people do individual work on these costumes, cast the plates and do the resin work and tailoring on their own.”

For more on his organization, go to www.501st.com/charity.php