There were no shortages of Batmans. Among the 32,000 visitors who made their way to Montreal’s fourth annual comic convention at the Palais des Congrès September 14-16, there were probably hundreds of caped crusaders. Skinny Batmans, obese Batmans, Batmans with costumes that probably cost thousands, cheap Batmans who wore crappy, old t-shirts and half-assed makeup, female Batmans, Bat-girls, baby Batmans and many more….
Being big fans of comic-book characters (Nation editor-in-chief Will Nicholls) and wild costumery (me), the Nation’s dynamic duo headed to this year’s Comiccon to check out the scene as there’s no telling what you’re going to encounter at the event.
Comiccon over the years has evolved from being a large-scale convention, where fans bought and traded comic books, to an all-out extravaganza of costumery, celebrities, merchandise and like-minded folks.
Frequently described as the ultimate geek or nerd event as it is a celebration of fandom where some fans go all out to show their devotion or compete for who knows the most about Star Trek episodes or has the best cape, this year’s edition was a no-holds-barred love fest for the heroes who have captured the hearts of so many.
As we filed into the showroom I felt as though it had been a while since I had seen so many un-ironic mullets and realized that I was one of the few who wasn’t wearing theatrical make-up. It’s not everyday that you encounter straight guys with swagger dressed as Link from Zelda or see unicorns casually walking by.
What made this year’s show different to earlier ones was how more spacious the event was, having changed venues from Place Bonaventure, and how more approachable the celebrities were.
While the Nation couldn’t get in to meet this year’s headliners – William Shatner, better known as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, and Patrick Stewart a.k.a. Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation – we did manage to spend a few moments with Hercules and Andromeda star Kevin Sorbo.
Sorbo said he does about five conventions per year, but he is invited to many more due to the nature of his TV shows and fan base. Both of his shows are shown in over 100 countries. It turns out that Hercules surpasses Baywatch as the most-watched TV show in the world.
The actor said that when it comes to fans about 60% of them recognize him for Hercules and about 40% recognize him for Andromeda. But some who attend these events are fans of his independent films, like Soul Surfer or the faith-based family film What If?
But, events like Comiccon are not without fans who go out of their way to make impressions on the celebrities:
As Sorbo explained, “About three to four years ago, I was at DragonCon in Atlanta, which is a really big convention that has been around for 30 years. I was at a table just like I am now, sitting down at this level, when three women walked up to me completely buck-naked as they were body painted.
“Looking at them from 20 yards away the body paint was so beautifully done that it looked like they were wearing really tight clothing. Then they got closer and it was like, wow, that is your vagina I can see, and they were giggling and laughing. That was certainly an interesting moment,” said Sorbo.
The Nation also had the opportunity to briefly meet Malcolm McDowell, star of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange and countless movies, TV shows and video games, who has become known for his villainous roles.
Despite the magnitude of his work, in person McDowell was quite subdued and very dignified.
“I don’t do this kind of circuit frequently, maybe two a year, where I come and meet the fans and say hello. It is actually quite exhausting to do; it’s a lot of work.
“But the fans are usually very respectful and nice. I have never had a problem,” he said.
In honour of McDowell’s appearance, there were numerous fans at the convention decked out as the characters of Alex and his “droogs” from A Clockwork Orange, dressed in all-white, suspendered outfits with black boots, derby hats and false eyelashes. While it made for an amusing scene, at no point did we feel as if these costumed youth were on the verge of “ultra-violence”.
Comiccon is more of a love-fest – just ask any of the attendees.
Coming upon one of the 10 Captain Americas that we spotted at the show, we decided to find out what goes on in the mind of someone who is compelled to don such an outfit well past the age of playtime dress-up.
“I’m from Ottawa and I just started this year going from city to city to participate in these Comiccon events. It is a little addictive,” said Richard Wong a.k.a. Captain America.
“A lot of people will sign up for a marathon to workout but when you sign up to wear an all-spandex uniform, that is way more incentive to work out.”
Wong was only too happy to speak to the media and we weren’t the only ones to have approached him. It turned out he had already done several other interviews.
“Part of it for me is just getting the opportunity to meet celebrities. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Patrick Stewart is here. On the one hand, my father taught me how to be a man, but at the same time, during my formative years, the Jean-Luc Picard character showed me when it was important to follow the rules and when and where to break them – if that makes any sense.
“I am also a big fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead and in Toronto I met actors Jon Bernthal and Norman Reedus.
“The other big part of going to these events is all the love you get, especially when you are in costume. You can ‘nerd-out’ and just go wild with it. You get to meet a lot of like-minded individuals who you wouldn’t meet anywhere else,” said Wong.
Despite the stereotype of Comiccon goers as lonely, socially inept guys who have emerged from their parents’ basement, there were lots of very attractive women about, also in costumes.
Donning an incredibly flashy and sexy Pink Ninja costume from Mortal Kombat (along with some nightmare-inducing contact lenses), Amira, one of the Comiccon’s out-of-town patrons, said she chose her outfit for her love of the game, having played it since it came out in the early 1990s.
“I do a lot of these events. I was at the Calgary Comic Con and I also went to the event in Toronto. We’re from Grand Prairie, Alberta, and so it was a real trip to go to all of these events. It’s my love of travelling and these events combined that drives me to go to these things. I love to see all of the different outfits and meeting so many people – it’s just so much fun,” said Amira.
While a large part to the event is wearing costumes, for those who want to super-size their wardrobe or add to their hero/villain accessories, Comiccon is also the ultimate shopping trip.
All around the event were vendors hawking everything from Captain America shields, a wide variety of horrifyingly daunting knives, swords and other chopping implements as well as novelty items, like Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern themed bathrobes, dresses, hoodies, aprons and baby onesies.
According to merchant James Cucciara, who has sold his wares at conventions across North America, these events are competitive even for the vendors.
“My best items are something that no other dealer has as you can’t find them anywhere else,” said Cucciara.
Cucciara’s t-shirts, dresses, bathrobes and hoodies can also be purchased online at www.stylinonline.com/
But getting down to what this convention is fundamentally about, comic books abound at this event and it is a fantastic place to buy, trade and sell them as well as discover new ones and see comics come to life.
Kill Shakespeare comic-book writer Anthony Del Col, who the Nation met at last year’s event (and was featured on our cover), returned to promote a new edition of the Kill Shakespeare series and to take part in a live reading of the book.
“Shakespeare started on the stage and then came the books and now we are going back to the stage; it’s going to be the third production of the show.
“We debuted it in Toronto last November with the Soulpepper theatre company and then I flew to Tucson, Arizona, for a production there. It’s a great show and really interesting to see the different interpretations.
“What we do is project the images from the comic on a screen and the actors read the dialogue. We also create the sound effects live and the music live. So it’s a comic book and a radio play as well as a really cool theatre experience,” said Del Col.
More can be found out about this series at www.killshakespeare.com/
While there were comic-book writers and illustrators at tables throughout the event, from the very prolific and famous right down to the emerging new artists launching their own series, there were also artists on hand who have taken the medium to new levels.
Montrealer Rupert Bottenberg, a visual artist and comic-book artist who has traveled to the north to teach the art of comics to First Nations children, was at Comiccon as a member of En Masse, an artists’ collective that produces large-scale collaborative black-and-white murals that have a comic-book feel. Just recently the group completed a huge permanent installation at Montreal’s prestigious Museum of Fine Arts.
“Today I am here, with fellow En Masse member Jason Wasserman, conducting what is basically an En Masse installation,” explained Bottenberg.
“We have a standard En Masse going on and so a bunch of artists are coming and ‘jamming’ on a comic-book theme.”
Bottenberg said he and fellow crew members were absolutely thrilled to have been approached to participate in the convention as many of the collective’s members are comic-book artists as well as avid fans of the genre.
“We have our own merch for sale too. I am so happy to be able to put out my own comic on the table at the big Comiccon, where it is naturally weird and awkward and cerebral in comparison to the heaps of Batman stuff. But I look forward to walking around.
“This is an excellent recruitment ground to expand our network of artists and it is naturally just a hop, skip and a jump away in terms of creative discipline from inking a comic page at home and painting a black-and-white comic character on a canvas here,” said Bottenberg.
By attracting about 32,000 fans, this year’s Comiccon was the most successful in Montreal to date. Next year’s event has already been booked for September 13-15, and the next obvious question to ask is… who are you going to go as?