For those that don't know, I'm out in Toronto every summer. First and foremost, it's for holiday. A chance to catch up with friends, hang out. Hit some restaurants, hit some bars. Stuff like that. The trip is usually at the end of the summer, which means I have the opportunity to take in the likes of FanExpo as well as TIFF, which is the Toronto International Film Festival. As I write this, I'm thinking I've not yet made provision to step to the London Film Festival - which is held in, well, London - courtesy of the BFI (British Film Institute). But I digress.
I've yet to actually make it to the Toronto Film Festival, despite all the years I reach Toronto for the summer. FanExpo usually falls on the last long weekend of August - the Thursday to the Sunday. TIFF, if memory serves, runs from the 2nd week in September. I forget how long for. Historically, I've never made it, for some reason or other. This year, it was because I had intended to attend a wedding back in London which realistically I couldn't make due to logistics, among other things.
Again, I digress.
I first happened across FanExpo some years ago, back when Rue Morgue magazine used to appear as part of the Expo. Their concession was known as the Festival Of Fear: and it was just that: a celebration of dark/horror media: books/magazines/film, etc. All those years ago, my interest in stepping to the MTCC (Metro Toronto Convention Centre) was to reach the Festival Of Fear. the actual 'FanExpo' wasn't even a consideration for me: just an unavoidable side effect, if you will.
For those of you who haven't been to FanExpo or haven't seen it:
'FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world. The event provides a substantial multi-million dollar economic impact to the City of Toronto, filling up hotels and restaurants throughout the duration of the Expo.
Every year, FAN EXPO Canada offers exciting family-friendly attractions, events, and world-renowned celebrities! Previous guests include: Stan Lee, Patrick Stewart, Buzz Aldrin, William Shatner, Christopher Lloyd, Elijah Wood, Leonard Nimoy, Carrie Fisher, Gillian Anderson, and stars from hit television shows: The Walking Dead, Star Trek, The Vampire Diaries, Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Teen Wolf, Doctor Who, Gotham, Criminal Minds, Castle, and many, many more.'
I won't steal FanExpo Canada's thunder, so do feel free to click the link and see for yourself.
Despite the content, what the site might not convey is the sheer scale of the thing. This is where a picture - or a video - will speak more than 1000 words, so Google, search on YouTube for FanExpo, and you might get some idea of what the better part of 130,000 people attending a 4-day weekender looks like. This is no digression here. This is showing you that for the sheer scale of the thing, there's understandably a lot of work in stringing it all together - regardless of the fact that I was attracted to the Festival Of Fear in the first place. FanExpo has comics. Shitloads of them - where I've filled some gaps in my collection. Given that I still own several-hundred original issue Spider-Man comics, that's very welcome. You have the opportunity to meet celebrities for signings and photo opportunities. I met both Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee and horror film director John Carpenter. (Having shook the latter's hand, he warned me the handshake was too strong). I've sat in on some truly engaging Q&As with the likes of the aforementioned John Carpenter, as well as some outside the realm of horror. The likes of Star Trek actor William Shatner, martial artist Ray Park, actress Famke Janssen, singer Meatloaf.
In the realm of horror - or, at least dark/er media - I've seen some good stuff. Q&As with the likes of actor Robert Englund, director Don Coscarelli, special make-up effects man Tom Savini, etc. And it's more than just Q&A. There's been premieres, e.g. for the Bitten TV show. There've been discussion panels from the likes of Psychopod, a local podcast finding its feet, as well as the local (Ontario) chapter of the HWA. Let's not forget stalls that sell trinkets/baubles/books/magazines/T-shirts/apparel/DVDs/etc - all in the name of something dark and wonderful.
Some years back, Rue Morgue left FanExpo. Why, I don't know - someone out there can educate me, I'm sure. In the wake of this, the Expo still had some horror content. The local chapter of the HWA still had a presence there (and as of this post, they still do). There were still certain book publishers, such as CZP. There'd be the occasional attraction, such as last year's IT (of the recent Stephen King adaptation) and this year's The Nun.
Apparently, some areas of the venue were hit by flooding this year, which meant as a result, the FanExpo programme wasn't as full as it would have been. But what I noticed this year was very little in the way of dark/horror media via Q&A, panels and discussion. Outside of an appearance from cast members of The Walking Dead, the only guests I would have seen as having any draw in horror would have been Jeff Goldblum and he cancelled, as per update on the FanExpo site. According to some, he didn't even know he was invited, but maybe someone can verify that either way.
Even outside the realm of flooding, there looks to be have been a steady decline over recent years in terms of horror/dark content that's actually scheduled at FanExpo. Not the attractions - the scheduling; the programming. The Q&As. The panels/interviews. The previews. The discussions. That, for me, is the issue. Sure, when I'm in town, I hang with friends - friends that I don't get to actually see until then (despite the IMs, emails, social media posts and video calls).
Just a couple of the friends I catch up with: Terri Giesbrecht and Andrew Wilmot. This is a 'lucky' shot in the sense that it captures two of the people who've helped me overhaul a lot of my long and short fiction in the last year. Valuable assets indeed.
clockwise: Sephera Giron, Nancy Kilpatrick, Bill (William) Snider ...looking distraught for laughs, and David Thivierge.
As part of hanging out, we hit the Expo. But time at FanExpo isn't free - not when you're paying for the Deluxe ticket.
The upshot of this is that I contact FanExpo asking where I can engage and give feedback. On being invited to go ahead, here's my reply:
I accept that hosting such a large convention over a 4-day weekend is no mean feat. For the most part, the guests that I saw gave value for money: they appeared genuinely happy to be there (e.g. the Back To The Future panel, Jodi Benson, etc), and really interacted with the crowd. Apart from one hopefully isolated incident where a moderator talked for pretty much all of a (Wallace Shaun) Q&A, the panels appeared well-moderated too.
The main question/concern I have is that there appears to be progressively less of a horror/dark media presence over more recent years. Why would this be? This, for me, is the main draw. Previous years have shown:
1.Panels and Q&As with those in dark media, e.g. film directors John Carpenter and Don Coscarelli, actor Bruce Campbell, make-up artist Tom Savini, etc.
2. Premiere screenings, e.g. Bitten, Ghosted.
3. Discussion sessions, e.g. with the HWA (Horror Writers Association), and podcasters
Thanks in advance,
Thank you for your providing your feedback! FAN EXPO Canada is always evolving, and we use feedback received during ticket purchases each year, to move forward with future shows.
We understand you are a big horror fan, and we will continue to review our programming and exhibitor spaces year to year.
The FAN EXPO HQ Team
Now I've been tempted to point out that my question 'there appears to be progressively less of a horror/dark media presence over more recent years. Why would this be?' hasn't been answered. But my schedule is busy enough as it is. For now, I'm prepared to leave this as an unintentional oversight on their part. I will table this for now and review it come next year's Expo. I might even ask the same questions next year; albeit a little harder.