[Review] - Ottawa Pop Expo, Winter 2013

Photo by the author
I asked the question, what is the difference between a "comic-con" and a "fan/pop expo?" The difference, on the surface, is non-existent. A quirk of terminology. A brand issue. Underneath however, and in Ottawa's case, it means a marked improvement over the previous instalments. Perhaps it was by necessity, as the cold temperatures forced organisers to keep everything contained within the building. Or maybe it was just that they have learned from the failures of the past. Whatever the reason, the cold or the clues, the first Ottawa Pop Expo, sister to the summer time Comic-con was an organisational success. As the cliche goes, third time was absolutely the charm.

Hit the jump of the review.


Photo by the author.
This past May, I commented that for all the pleasure that could be derived from the annual (now apparently biannual) comic convention at the EY Centre in Ottawa, there was much that needed improving. I was not alone in my complaints, and the organisers took those complaints to heart. I was relieved to see that many, if not all, of the most frustrating aspects of the past two conventions have been eliminated. Of course, there are still issues, and many are the unavoidable, unpredictable type. But there are still a few lessons to be learned before May rolls around.

The tact taken by the organisers for this winter convention was to scale things down from it's bigger summer time brother. Two days instead of three, fewer guests, and guests that while no less impressive, were lower profile. I noted that with the exception of Norman Reedus, all of the the guests were either former stars or current reoccurring stars of specific shows. There was also more of a focus on the larger geek spectrum, compared to the summer shows being heavily laden with Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly alum. This show had it's themes (Doctor Who and Walking Dead most prominently), but also featured former WWF wrestlers, the stars of a cult but decidedly not geek film, and professional cosplayers.

So, while there was no Nathon Fillion level star to draw in the crowds and gridlock the parking lot, there was enough and wide spread interest to keep the crowds at optimal levels. While official numbers won't be out for a while, and were certainly less than last time, it again worked in the event's favour. The aisles were easier to navigate, less congested and providing more auxiliary room to browse and duck out of shot when someone grabbed a cosplayer for an impromptu photo shoot. This was also aided by fewer vendors (but only just), with a better table arrangement, allowing for wider aisles and more linear groupings. Artists alley especially, I felt was very well laid out, creating a clear delineation between the creatives and the sellers, which also prevented any of the artists from getting lost in the shuffle.

The infrastructure was much improved as well, with none of the aggravating credit and debt machine signal loss (at least, for those that I used) that plagued the earlier events, which meant that wanted merchandise was not left behind. Though, I'll have to suffer that credit card bill in the new year, but that's a me-problem. The exhibition halls were also reworked to greater effect. The main stage finally operates at maximum efficiency, cutting out dead space while also providing a much tidier waiting area inside the facility. The Q&A's felt much more intimate and much more inclusive, and in those cases where seating didn't max out, felt less demoralising.

Photo by Aaron Reynolds
The Q&A's are still a place where the kinks need to get worked out. The organisers seem drawn to clumping the guests within themes, which on the surface isn't a bad ideas. Except, it is incredibly unfair if one of the guests is... more recognised then others. There were hints of this during May's event, with the Firefly panel focusing far more on Fillion than on Jewel Staite, despite Fillion getting his own Q&A the next day. So too this year with "guest of honour" Norman Reedus. Much to the aggravation of certain of the crowd, Reedus took part only in the Boondock Saints Q&A, along with co-stars David Della Rocco and Sean Patrick Flanery, but the crowd skewed towards Walking Dead fans, and the questions were directed more towards Reedus and his zombie killing skills. Reedus was not involved in the Walking Dead Q&A, which featured former cast members. One cannot help but wonder that, if a guest has cross promotional potential, that they should either be given their own panel, or instructions given to the crowd to balance attention. It would be near impossible to enforce, but you can't help but feel bad for the others being forced to share the stage, but outside the spotlight.

The highlight of the weekend was, for me, the Doctor Who panel. In the programme it was listed as two separate events, with Madame Vastra Neve McIntosh appearing first, followed by Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy. What it turned out to be was 45 minutes of each, conjoined by 15 minutes of them together. Ms. McIntosh was charming and delightful, and as it turned out a massive Doctor Who geek in her right, which turned the tone of the panel from the standard "what was it like to work with so-and-so" sort of questions, to forcing her to choose sides in the Mary Tamm-Lalla Ward debate, and quizzing her on her favourite Tom Baker serials.

But McCoy was a force of nature, his panel more closely resembling a stand-up routine than a Q&A. He did the entire panel walking amongst the crowd, causing the camera man no end of grief, shooting one liners and false indignation at the questioners, and playing up the "dirty old man" persona with the women in costume. While other panels are broken up by polite applause, McCoy's was punctuated by uproarious laughter. His 70 years were invisible as he never sat down, never rested, never seemed to tire, drawing on the energy of the crowd as he half remembered names but spoke quiet earnestly about using his 100 year old grandmother as his inspiration for the Doctor's darker side. And, the audience asked as much about The Hobbit as they did about the Doctor, which kept things from getting repetitive.

The cosplay was, as always, impressive, though I'm easily impressed by people willing to put such time and effort, and come out to these events in a way I doubt I ever could. There were many standouts, especially a Victorian Batman and Wonder Woman who wandered the hall on Sunday like royalty, but my personal favourite was a Gentleman Spider-man, in leotard, top hat and monocle. The local Dalek builders from the Doctor Who Society of Canada were ever present (see the picture above), and I was fortunate enough to be in line when a couple of the Daleks wandered up Neve McIntosh's line and started giving her guff, guff she was happy and enthusiastic to give right back (once her commitments were all said and done, she went to spend some time with the builders and their creations). We might not ever see Vastra and the Daleks go head-to-head on the show, but those of us lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time saw the next best thing.

In all, I'd say it was a success weekend. The kinks have been well ironed and are mostly gone. As a last point I would say, if they intend on including moderators on the panels, that the powers-that-be might want to hire some folks with some actual media training. Stuttering MCs, or people who don't bother to learn how to pronounce the guest's name are just embarrassing.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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