By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
I have attended many pop culture style conventions in the past 25 or so years. Some took place in my home town of Victoria, British Columbia but more off island. I am sad not many local shows have a footprint of lasting more than five years. Attempts have been made to centralize all aspects of geekdom, but to pull it off needs a proper committee of dedicated folks. I’m aware most of the businesses along Nerd Row (on Johnson Street and Broad) are in communication with one another, but this community was not in place till the early part of this century.
In terms of history, a major comic book type event (which was a one-off) took place at the Empress Hotel in the late 80’s which had a who’s who of talent (from New York even), which Big Brothers and Big Sisters organized — my introduction to the scene — but since then, everything else which followed never compared. Van Isle Con is a step in the right direction, and although a short commute is required to get there, I’m wondering what’s next? Are there individuals willing to make something happen within the capital city?
Trying to get a regular show going (or even a new one off the ground) is tough. I was invited to help out at a few in the years I have been a geek. But after watching the wildfire occur when Island Fantasy Convention (IFCon) announced to exhibitors, guests and attendees it is not happening last-minute, I’m certain everyone is still feeling jaded and cautious towards any type of new geeky event. I spoke to some organizers of the shows (which spawned recently) and they acknowledge what happened has lasting ramifications. When I heard about Galacticon 2015 in Seattle trimming the guest list and the Midwest Media Expo 2017 cancelling their show last-minute, I accept the situation experienced locally is not unique.
As far as I know, my hometown has at least six regular events considered safe from the turmoil. Smaller shows, like a steam-punk themed gathering have taken place, but I do not think that’s a staple. Tsukino-Con occurs in February and it has been around for some time (under different names). LANtasy grew out of Gottacon (they folded two years ago) and their show occurs in March. Cherry Bomb Toys’ Ultimate Hobby and Toy Fair ignored the “convention” label and is more like a carnival experience; it takes place twice a year (May and October). The Victoria Comic Book Expo is this city’s oldest comic book only swap meet, and it runs on a quarterly schedule.
Ken Steacy‘s Camosun College Comic Conference (4C) occurs in April. This five-hour mini-convention is well-attended. The venue can not support more than 300 folks on the third floor of the Young Building, but it can expand to occupy other floors. At this conference, graduates of the graphic novels program he runs and local artistic talent can showcase their work. Together, they talk about the industry.
I assume Vancouver Island Comic Convention will be an annual event in June, and it is just like 4C with approximately eight hours of fun. All of these events does a good job to satisfy the local geek community in limited ways.
I attend as many of them when I can, but after getting spoiled by the big shows (Anime Expo, Fan Expo Vancouver, V-Con, Sakura-Con and Emerald City Comicon) which are becoming more and more cross-media, there comes a time where I am forced to pick n’ choose. For the best shopping experiences and getting to learn about the latest happenings in nerd culture, I leave the island.
Eventually, someone will think of organizing a show to fill a niche the aforementioned list does not. When Victoria, BC is host to many movie productions (mostly the Hallmark Channel variety) and the odd television show, perhaps the people who visited here once might come back to be at a reunion-style convention.
Plus, Royal Road’s Hatley Castle is Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngster (X-Men 2 was partly filmed here and Deadpool dropped by while shooting his second movie). Gracepoint filmed in the municipality of Oak Bay and while I do not know if David Tennant wants to come back to enjoy the city, I can definitely say the charm of the Western Communities can lull any Hollywood name to walk around and not be mobbed by paparazzi. I must include John Cleese in this list because he made this city a definite stop when he has to make those damned alimony payments. While he’s unlikely to appear at a British fandom convention, he is worth noting to show how some celebrities made this city their second home. Perhaps the right kind of event might convince them to return and interact with the public.
If another geeky media festival is to emerge, the big question is when is a good time? The months of February to June is packed. Some Islanders head to Seattle for the big two (Emerald City and Sakuracon) and a few might make a full week out of visiting instead of coming home. Cost-wise, to hit events so close to one another is financially nonviable. There is a reason why the two big Seattle events are distanced a month apart. As much as I would love to attend a gathering every weekend, I’m sure some business operators can not handle the stress. Some fans may not want to run back and forth, though a few may relish in the energy. PAX West takes place in early September, and gamers love this show.
When considering Victoria is known as a University Town, I propose the later part of September to November is better. In the Fall, any new convention experience can benefit from getting a boost by the students who moved here to attend the University of Victoria (or Camosun College). Of course, because studying is the higher priority. I suggest making the dates sometime during reading break.
A general problem I have, should a new get together emerge, is with an overused venue. I hope it will not be at the Pearkes Recreation Centre. I assume rental of the space is cheap (hence why it’s the ‘perfect’ place) and while I do like how all the events effectively make use of the sports arena, it’s not ideal. Should the convocation want to include costume contests, have panels or have video screenings, a different space is needed. Cramming it all in one big court does not make sense. As for where a show can be held, there’s no venue (including the Victoria Conference Center) in town accommodating enough to make any convention shine because of some regulation dictating their building can not be molested. A proper welcome and come back next year banner is needed over the entryway so the curious public can take notice and come in. After finding the event enjoyable, they will be inclined to return next year.
If I am to describe how my dream festival needs to look, I can imagine a mix which includes the booth-style fun going on at Cherry Bomb Toys Ultimate Toy Fair mixed in with all the book/art vendors from The Victoria Comic Book Expo. The artistic talent who attend Camosun College Comic Conference can line a row of tables (or occupy a side room). If this lineup happened under one roof for an entire weekend, then it would have the feel of a large-scale event than a typical small one. Some events want to grow, and others are happy being at where they are. LANtasy and Tsukino-con fit into this latter category.
Yes, I know the counter-argument to spread the love throughout the year is better, but this city needs a three-day clambake so we can sing Kumbaya together and feel good afterwards. All I’m nibbling on these days in the Victoria fandom scene are bits of snail.