Fan Expo Vancouver 2016: Lines, Bags, and Cancellations

Written by Mackensie Baker (@MackensieBaker)

Typically, Vancouver’s Fan Expo is one of the local conventions I look forward to the most. So when this year produced an array of disappointments for the attendees, I can honestly say it took me by surprise.

First off, the weekend was awkwardly situated in November, as opposed to its usual spot in April. April is nice for many people in the 18-25 age range because it means school’s out. November, though, is exam time. It is also very cold, as you may imagine. Taking cosplay photos, which is normally done outside along the water or under archways, mostly had to be done inside this time around. This in itself was also frustrating, however, as there were so many people crammed inside that everyone—and I mean everyone—was complaining about the heat.

All of this could have been shrugged off (along with everyone’s coats) if there hadn’t been so much more to come. Once the coats did come off, it became apparent there was nowhere to put them. That’s right—there was no bag check. Now, every single convention I have ever been to has had, nay, required, a bag check, including past Fan Expos. So I, like so many other people, showed up with a coat, hat and scarf, and a bag stuffed with a change of clothes, wallet, makeup to touch up cosplays, and whatever else was required to survive the weekend. Little did we know in travelling to downtown Vancouver that we would be forced to carry everything around with us all day. That went for anything we wished to buy as well, so this quickly turned into a widely-felt annoyance as the day dragged on. Then there were the cancellations...

There are always cancellations, of course, and this at least was not (I hope) the fault of the convention, but merely a stroke of bad luck. But when a number of big names, including Gillian Anderson, Karen Gillan (for the second year in a row), Carrie Fisher, and Tom Kenny drop out of the lineup, fans are going to start wondering why they spent so much on the entrance fee.

Speaking of lineups, actually, this was another sore point for many. There are many a tale to tell about the horrendous line to get to a line to get to another line that sometimes is necessary at a convention with a large turnout, but the process was poorly communicated and resulted in confusion and, rightly so, more frustration. The problem of coming to a standstill did not end after the line, though. There were so many people this year, and so little monitoring of entrances and exits, that you could hardly take a full step in one direction before colliding with another sweaty, tired-looking person and their load of bags and coats.

I’m not kidding about how hot it was in there. Makeup and body paint was running down people’s faces. Which in turn meant the bathrooms were always full of overheated cosplayers struggling to keep up with the temperature.

Now, at this point, one might ask: was it all bad, though? What about the panels? Well, my friend, if you enjoy speed dating, or say . . . more speed dating . . . then Fan Expo had the events for you! There were no less than 8 slots filled up this past weekend by speed dating. Why? Nobody knows. Maybe the person in charge of programming was feeling a little lonely this year, or felt that Fan Expo was secretly just an excuse for nerds to hook up, but I really couldn’t tell you. Honestly, there just wasn’t that much this year.

There were a few other not-so-great things about Fan Expo this year. One of the other truly noticeable aspects was how early everything ended. Nothing was going on until 3:00 pm on Friday, despite it being a holiday, and Saturday and Sunday both started at 11:00 am, but the latest the con stayed open was 7:00, unless you had prepaid for a ticket to Kevin Smith’s only appearance, or else wanted to head to a bar for the official afterparty, which included a $15 entry fee.

One thing they definitely did well was the sheer scope of the vendor’s hall. It felt like a veritable goblin’s market for all the nerdy knick-knacks your heart could desire. Yes, it was a constant battle to move faster than the shuffling pace of a zombie, but at least each table you were stopped at was filled to the brim with gorgeous art, plushies, collectibles, t-shirts, and more. It still felt like an expo, like a grand display of everything we love in the various corners of nerd culture. And the guests who did make an appearance were kind and wonderful. Harry Potter’s Tom Felton wandered the rows, in fact, taking selfies with surprised Potterheads and crashing photoshoots in the most delightful way possible. And of course there were the amazing cosplayers, whose hard work and dedication to their favourite characters is always impressive.

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I will continue to look forward to Vancouver’s Fan Expo, but with a grain of salt from now on. After all, my high expectations were not baseless, but grounded in the previous delight I have felt in attending past events. Hopefully, with a bit of extra care and tweaking with the scheduling (and the foresight to make space for a bag check), and some communication between the fans and the people behind the curtain at Fan Expo, next year will be more of a treat and less of a parade through a sweaty crowd with a bit of early Christmas shopping thrown in. If Fan Expo is, as I have said before, becoming our very own comic-con, then they need to be able to keep up and treat it as such.