Here it is: part three of this epic tale of Nerd Rising. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first two sections as much as I enjoyed taking part – I might rag on nerd culture a little, but it was a genuinely educational and entertaining experience over all. Despite the fact that Brent and Adam kept me holed up in the press room for the whole weekend. Luckily, I’m a resourceful cat and I managed to make my own fun.
FUN IN THE PRESS ROOM, I
The press room at the Convention Center was little more than a mid-sized conference area retrofitted for AV work. One wall was dominated by a Fan Expo backdrop against which interviews were conducted and press-op photos were taken. The rest of the room was inhabited by the unsung heroes of any media agency – camera guys, sound techs, roadies and on-assignment blog writers (yours truly included). We were spread amongst the tables like vibrating pockets of energy, each clique performing their duties to bring the story of this massive con to the interested eyes and ears of the world.
As is my custom, I chose the farthest table from the door; the better to observe and report what I saw and heard. It took me almost no time to set up our little TATAS headquarters – Adam’s laptop wired into my sound board which ran four mics for the three of us and whatever guests were inclined to drop by. We were later to learn that most of the con’s featured guests couldn’t be torn away from their assigned booths for more than a smoke break and a piss, so it fell to Brent and Adam to venture into the vast cacophony of the main floor in order to garner their interviews (see Part II for more on that). Luckily Adam had the foresight to invest in a portable voice recorder, so they were able to take their work to the field. Unfortunately that left me with very little to do all day apart from watch over our gear and ensure it wasn’t absconded with by some shifty DP.
But, as Leonardo advised the other Ninja Turtles in the opening scene of TMNT 2, I have the ninja-like ability to make use of my surroundings in order to obtain my objective. Being as my objective was filling out part three of this monstrous blogging undertaking, that meant keeping my eyes and ears peeled for interesting goings-on in the press room. I was far from disappointed.
The Ninja Turtles reference wasn’t without context. On Saturday we shared accommodations in the press room with the lovely Carol Zara of Digitally Blonde, who came to the con dressed as the most provocative April O’Neill I’ve ever seen. But don’t take my word for it:
I know which one is cooler in my books. Ms. Zara was very nice to the Assholes and to me; she even went so far as to have an extended conversation with Brent – I guess hanging out in sewers with mutants is good practice. Ba-dum.
Ms. Zara wasn’t the only cool person to come through the press room over the weekend. We shared the room with several other podcasts and websites, including the guys from Comic Book Bin, Pete De Courcy of Comic Book Daily (who I’ll talk more about later), and the folks at RGB Filter. They were all really nice people with a lot going for them, and it was fun trading notes on interviews and general con experiences with them. I know, it’s not all that interesting, but I wanted to give shout-outs where they were due, because it all comes back to me being genuinely surprised that everyone at Fan Expo was so pleasant and agreeable. Having been in and around the music industry most of my life, I’ve come to realize that during large-scale conventions and trade shows, people can get pretty frazzled and uncool to deal with over the course of a weekend like this. Everybody I came into contact with at Fan Expo was professional and great to hang around.
On that note I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Holly (whose last name I never did get). She was the spunky blonde Fan Expo team member in charge of the press room all weekend, and I have to say, with the kind of shit she was dealing with day-to-day, not to mention the long hours and the fact that she had to be at her real job at 6am on the Monday after the con ended, she carried herself with considerable grace, poise and charisma the whole time we were there. She dealt pleasantly but firmly with members of the press who, for some reason, didn’t feel it was necessary to send in the requisite paperwork before showing up that would allow them press access to the con – apparently Fan Expo takes their press passes very seriously, and if your publication doesn’t pass their muster, you get to pay like everybody else. (There’s a school of thought that says their standards couldn’t be that high if they’re letting in podcasts called Two Assholes Talking About Nerd Stuff, but I prefer the school of thought that ranks the boys with the major news players of the world.) A lot of these so-called reporters were pretty belligerent when Holly had to inform them ignorance of the rules is no excuse, and if they dropped the ball, too damn bad – get in line. She kept not only her cool but her cheerful disposition intact and only started shit-talking them once they were gone. I decided I liked her quite a lot. Only once did I see her get rattled about anything, and I’ll talk about that in a second.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of her, and after three days of filing through the nine-thousand-plus photos from Fan Expo on their Facebook group, I don’t think I have the intestinal fortitude to go looking for a picture that probably isn’t there anyway. Just believe me when I say she was a ray of sunshine the whole weekend, and move on.
FUN IN THE PRESS ROOM, II
Most of the “celebrity” interviews, as I mentioned in my last post, took place on the floor of the con, so Adam and Brent spent their time prowling Artist’s Alley looking for potentials. However, a lot of the major and minor news networks doing their obligatory coverage of the con were more interested in speaking to Fan Expo’s organizers and volunteers, so they set up shop in the press room to talk to the people in charge.
Of the myriad interviews I got to watch, the one I found most interesting was a minor network’s conversation with James (again, never got his last name), a Hobbystar representative. A lot of the questions were pretty standard: just general information on the con’s history, what genres are represented on the floor, how many people they expected to show up, you name it. If you’re really interested in that kind of minutiae, go check out Fan Expo’s website.
I was sort of dozing off listening to stats and figures, and then the interviewer asked a question that perked me up. The query posed was “what is the nature of Fan Expo’s attraction, and more to the point, why do people become such rabid fans of these genres to begin with?” I have my own theories on this issue, so I listened intently to James’ response. I can’t quote him directly because I didn’t have a recorder on me, but this is the gist of what he said.
Basically, his estimation was that Fan Expo provides a venue or outlet for creative expression and mutual enjoyment of a shared interest. People who consider themselves “fans” of the pop culture associated with science fiction, fantasy, horror, anime and comics look forward to events like the Expo all year, because they get to meet with thousands of like-minded individuals, discuss their interests, browse and purchase artifacts of their favourite stories, and maybe most of all – they get to dress up. I mentioned in my last post that a lot of fans start work on next years’ costume the day after the Expo ends, and much of the fanfare and spectacle of cons in general stems from the all-out creativity of regular people coming up with extraordinary outfits.
More than anything, he said, Fan Expo represents a group of people who share something of a tribal mentality. This is where I got really interested. James explained that fans of traditionally “nerdy” genres tend to get stereotyped by the general populace (and by certain blog writers, obviously) and therefore their interests and passions invite castigation and ostracism. But they’re united in those passions, and Fan Expo (and cons like it) is perhaps the only place they can publicly come together and share their love of Star Wars or hentai or Evil Dead or whatever, surrounded by like-minded people, free of the derision of “regular” people.
This makes good sense to me. I mentioned in my first post that I saw a lot of table-top gaming going on all over the con floor, and apart from the costumes, that is probably the most visual representation of the tribe mentality and shared safety James talked about. When I was in high school, my close friends would periodically run paper role-playing games in the cafeteria (for the uninitiated, that’s stuff like Dungeons & Dragons, where gameplay is verbal and based on dice rolls). A lot of people tried to take the piss out of us for being “nerds” or whatever, but insulated by our mutual enjoyment, we were able to shrug off the ribbing and just have fun. Not everybody who’s into that stuff is lucky enough to have friends with whom they can band together against that sort of criticism. Fan Expo, at least from what I saw, promotes that sense of community and gives gamers, geeks and even anime fans a place to chill for a weekend and really submerge themselves in the culture in which they feel most comfortable. And I think that’s pretty goddamn cool.
FUN IN THE PRESS ROOM, III
Unfortunately, there are a few things that can spoil a con for the people who love it. One of those things is blatant theft.
I mentioned earlier the reason I stayed in the press room all day was to lord over my gear in order to ensure nobody stole it. Turns out it was a pretty good idea.
Naked News was on-site with their spokeswoman, provocatively dressed as Emma Frost, covering the con for their website.
Late Sunday afternoon, while Adam and Brent were out getting the last of their interviews, the two NN camera guys burst into the press room, fit to be tied. When Holly asked them what was wrong, they told us that someone had tried to steal some of their equipment. Off the back of Camera Guy #1.
Apparently they were filming in Artist’s Alley somewhere, when some thirty year-old douchebag decided to make a grab for one of the lenses hanging from the field pack Camera Guy #1 was wearing on his back. He managed to get the lens off and tried to vanish ninja-style into the crowd. Unfortunately for him, he was less than subtle and was noticed by, oh, everyone in Artist’s Alley, including both camera guys. They gave chase, while congoers and merchants alike screamed “get that fucker” and “kill him”. He almost made it to the door before he was caught by what was described to me as a Nordic god – one of the merchants happened to be about seven feet tall by four feet wide, and he caught the would-be robber by his considerable backpack (I’m wondering whether it’s the same guy I saw outside the washroom in part one). They hauled his thieving ass down to the security station, where he sat and rotted while the Naked News guys finished their work for the day.
When the cops showed up later on, the camera guys were told they couldn’t really charge him with anything, since he didn’t actually succeed in stealing anything, and that’s when Holly got rattled. If by rattled, I mean “batshit furious”, which I do. She was literally calling for this guy’s blood, cursing the police for letting him off too easily, even though the camera guys told her he was basically having a nervous breakdown in the security office (apparently the only thing he could do apart from shake like a leaf was repeat “please forgive me” over and over). She went so far as to go down to the security office herself to ream him out on behalf of Fan Expo. It was, in a word, awesome. After many years of working in retail and dealing with shoplifters escaping custody, it was rewarding on some level to see somebody get caught and, even though he wouldn’t be charged, have the ever-loving shit scared out of him.
I don’t blame Holly for being mad, mind you. The Fan Expo people work very hard to pull off a really fantastic weekend, and shit like that tends to cast a negative light on the whole experience. I’m only glad he didn’t make off with that lens – according to the NN guys, that would have set them back a good couple grand.
FUN IN THE PRESS ROOM, IV
On that note, you know who could afford a couple grand? This guy.
For the uninitiated, this is Bruce Campbell, actor, cult-movie icon and – according to Fan Expo’s program – Demigod. He was there the whole weekend for signings and a Q&A session.
Now, let me go on record right now saying I really, really like this man. I’ve read his autobiography, and I think it’s brilliant – he’s one hundred percent up front about being a working hack, and I like that kind of honesty in my celebrities. And from what I’ve heard, he’s not a bad cat to work with either.
Holly had to leave the press room for a while, so she left an assistant in charge. She also left her walkie-talkie on the desk, turned to maximum volume, so I got to sit and listen to the interplay between Expo workers all afternoon. It was mostly maudlin stuff until I got to hear this gem. The following is a paraphrased version of what was easily the best story I heard all weekend.
Expo Man: * static * Come in, two-five-eight. Come in.
Expo Girl: This is two-five-eight.
Expo Man: Where the hell is Bruce Campbell’s lunch? It was supposed to be here already and Bruce is getting pissed!
Expo Girl: WHAT? I thought you guys were taking care of it!
Expo Man: You said you had the food!
Expo Girl: I said I had the food order! Oh shit, oh shit. (insert sounds of running)
Expo Man: Get over there and get his goddamn food!
Expo Girl: I’m on it. (click) Two-five-eight. Can someone please call ahead so Bruce Campbell’s food is ready when I get there? PLEASE?
Expo Man 2: Sorry, I’m tied up at the Leonard Nimoy signing. We’re really busy over here. Get someone else.
Expo Girl: (still running) Goddamn it! (huff, huff) Someone – anyone – PLEASE call ahead for Bruce Campbell’s food order! I’m almost there!
Expo Man 3: Look, get someone else to call.
Expo Girl: Oh my God, the line up is out the door! Shit!
Now, you may have had to be there, but I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pee myself. All I could imagine was this image.
Now, I’m sure that wasn’t how it went down, and frankly, if I had to deal with the kind of fans Bruce deals with on a daily basis (see my first post for more on that) I would probably really want to catch a break and eat some lunch too. So I don’t blame him. But I do feel extraordinarily bad for the woman who had to bring Ash his dinner. That’s a boom-stick the wrong end of which I would definitely not want to meet.
I tried very hard to find out what the outcome of the Bruce Campbell Lunch Debacle wound up being, but nobody seemed to know. If anybody happens to hear something about this, please let me know. I could use the laugh.
Given the number of cool people we met over the course of our weekend, Brent and Adam decided to organize what Brent colloquially called a Beer Summit at local bar The Loose Moose after the con ended. Once we got packed up and snagged the last few interviews (see part two) the three of us headed over to wait for any other arrivals.
By five o’clock we were surrounded by weirdos in costumes. We had counted on being surrounded on all sides by weirdos in costume – but we failed to foresee exactly what kind of weirdos.
Yeah, there was a Jonas Brothers concert scheduled at the Air Canada Center that evening, and apparently the mothers of the legions of pre-teen Jonas fans figured it would be totally okay to bring their kids to a bar called the Loose Moose for dinner before the show. Presumably, to keep them away from the unsavory elements coming out of Fan Expo.
I don’t know about you, but if I (god forbid) ever have kids, and they have a choice between being fans of Spider-Man or a creepy Disney-rock group like the Jonas Brothers, I know which one I’ll be supporting.
I don’t really want to revisit that part of the evening, because frankly everything that was said at our table whilst surrounded by the Mouseketeers is probably exceptionally crass and offensive – which means sooner or later, Adam will put it in a podcast (I found out later he was recording our conversation, that sneaky lawyer). So if you want to hear my true feelings on the subject, listen to that.
I do want to mention our long-suffering waitress, whose name we never got unfortunately, because she provided outstanding service despite fielding constant requests from the Jonas tables for more soda pop and napkins to wipe up the numerous spills prompted by the flailing of over-caffeinated, over-sugared pre-teen limbs flailing akimbo to the strains of Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” and Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” (which we found more than a little amusing). Oh, and did I mention the Moose ran out of – well, everything? Chicken fingers, fries, burgers, cheese…it was as though a plague of locusts had descended upon the bar, devouring everything in its fan-crazed, glowstick-fiddling wake.
Jonas fans aside, we wound up having a very pleasant wrap party with Shelley Smarz and the aforementioned Pete De Courcy of Comic Book Daily and the Blue Beetle Comic shop based in Barrie, Ontario. These are genuinely awesome people, even from the short time I spent with them, and it sounds like Comic Book Daily is going to be equally awesome, so check it out if you’re into that sort of thing (and really, if you aren’t, what are you reading this post for?)
The highlight of my night came when Pete regaled us with what is probably one of the best stories I’ve ever heard. He recounted a drunken evening he spent attempting to hook up with a friend-of-a-friend, a very attractive young woman who seemed only lukewarm to his advances. He wound up bringing her home (not sure what happened after that – he says nothing but I don’t believe him) by virtue of what I can only describe as Drunken Zen. This was Pete’s quote.
“You know when you’re drinking, and you start thinking you’re really great, and then you hit that brief moment of clarity where you realize – “I’m not great. I’m SPECTACULAR! Yeah, that’s where I was when I got her to come home with me.”
Pete became my hero that evening. If you’re reading this, Pete – that is still the best line I heard the entire weekend. You are the man.
Fan Expo was a great time, generally speaking. I was exhausted, to be sure, by the end of the weekend – I arrived late back at the Compound, and the Fixer was less-than-pleased, but in my estimation it was worth it. I never thought I’d be the kind of guy to enjoy a fan-driven convention, especially considering my feelings about the nerdiest of nerds (see part one) but Fan Expo went a long way to turning me around on the idea. It was educational, for starters, and being a part of the podcast/press thing was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time (and it made me feel important, so there is that too).
I’d like to thank everyone who spoke to me over the weekend and contributed to this blog…you were all a joy to hang out with and I appreciate the fact you’re not going to kick my ass for making fun of nerds. Everybody got a mention over the course of this monstrous missive, so I’m not going to repeat myself here, but you know who you are.
The ones who do get a shout-out are Adam and Brent, of Two Assholes Talking About Nerd Stuff. Thanks for letting me tag along, boys – I’ll definitely sign on for next year if you’re planning to go back.
And now, after three days of recounting my experiences geeking out, I’m going to go do something manly. It’ll probably involve beer, explosives and tits.
Rock and roll.