[Interview] James Armstrong Has Big Things Planned For FanExpo 2013

Fan Expo Canada_CROWD

Fan Expo Canada has really grown into the San Diego Comic Con of the North. Each and every year, this multi-genre fan convention pulls together the very best from the worlds of comic books, horror, anime, video game and pop-culture under one roof. This four-day convention has grown into a massive event that draws around 100,000 people each year.

Fan Expo Canada 2013 is poised to become the biggest show ever. On the pop-culture side of things FanExpo has assembled a nerd’s wet dream by scheduling Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly), Hulk Hogan, Stephen Amell (Arrow), George Takei (Star Trek, Howard Stern), Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden and Michael Rooker, Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Alice Cooper, and Slash. The comics side features rare appearances by Todd McFarlane (Spawn) and Garth Ennis (Preacher, Crossed), as well as Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and comic book legend Stan Lee. The horror side is just as impressive with Re-Animator and From Beyond reunions booked. This is simply the best convention line-up of 2013 and if you can only go to one show this year, FanExpo is hands down where you need to be. For tickets and information about FanExpo 2013 please visit www.fanexpocanada.com

Bloody-Disgusting has attended FanExpo Canada for the past few years and we always have a blast each and every time. We caught up with FanExpo’s event and programming coordinator James Armstrong to discuss this year’s line-up and how the convention has grown into a must attend event year after year.

Bloody-Disgusting: Tell us a little bit about how FanExpo started and how its grown into one of the biggest conventions in North America.

James Armstrong: FanExpo Canada started off a regular comic book convention about 19 years ago and we just had a number of local retailers and talent. In about the middle of ’90s, Anime came on really strong and we added that, but we were still primarily a comic convention. We added this Anime thing as sort of this one-time deal, and little did we know that it would take off into this giant portion of the show, as the popularity of Anime continued to grow in North America. At that point, we started to add some science fiction like Star Wars and Star Trek, and we started to bring in some recognizable actors that really helped attendance grow. It was also around that point that Rue Morgue Magazine came to us and pitched the idea of a horror based convention. They saw what we were doing and they wanted to join forces, so they helped us add the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear to the convention. Most recently we added a gaming element to the convention and we have a lot of the video game companies displaying their new games at the convention. Now here we are 19-years later with this gigantic pop-culture event.

BD: Did you ever think it would grow as big as it did?

JA: No, typically comic book shows in the past were somewhat of a hybrid with sports cards and memorabilia. In the ’80s and early ’90s comic books and sports cards would be paired together at the same shows, which is funny because this year it’s come around full circle as we are adding a sports element to FanExpo.

BD: This year’s FanExpo will feature professional athletes for the first time with appearances by Bobby Oar, Martin Brodeur, Hulk Hogan, Tony Fernandez, Doug Gilmour. It’s a pretty crazy line-up.

JA: Well Toronto is a very sports oriented town and for us it just made sense. We found that a lot of things that we were already doing could be applied to the sports hobby as a whole, and they fit very well together. Fans want to meet their favorite athletes and have their picture taken with them, the same way that fans want to meet their favorite comic book, horror or science fiction stars.

BD: Talk us through the process of selecting a guest for FanExpo…

JA: Well the number one thing for getting a guest is dealing with their schedule. These are professionals who are in the top of their fields and the date of FanExpo stays the same every year. We start by making a list of our top ten guests that we want, but almost immediately nine of those guests will be out just because of scheduling conflicts. The next thing we take into consideration, is that we want our guests to want to be there. Some people are not as comfortable meeting fans as others, so we want them to personally be excited to be there and we want to take part in the event. We don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable meeting fans or be uncomfortable with the crowds. We like it when they typically have had experience with conventions in the past, as it makes things a little bit easier for everyone involved. Then once we have that squared away, it comes down to what’s in it for them, and we’ve definitely had some unusual requests. We were just talking about sports guests being added, and we’ve had some celebrity guests that want to come to FanExpo but they want a tour of the hockey hall of fame in Toronto. Fortunately for us the hockey hall of fame is located just down the street! (Chuckles) We’ve also had guests that want to go to Niagara Falls or some other attraction in the area, so that they can make a weekend out it for themselves as well.

BD: Is there one guest that you’ve always wanted, but never been able to get for scheduling reasons?

JA: Well we definitely got one this year in Nathan Fillion, who is on the hit show Castle and is well known for his work on Firefly. He is at the top of his field and in very high demand, so we just landed him for the first time this year. In the past we’ve had Bruce Cambell and we would love to have him back, but scheduling is always an issue. It took us about 5 years to get him for the first time, and he wants to come back, but we’ve never been able to make it work. He’s shooting movies and television shows, so he’s always very busy.

BD: On the celebrity side of things you have actors from some of the biggest shows like the Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Arrow, and Game of Thrones this year.

JA: We try and outdo ourselves every year. I would definitely say that this is one of our strongest line-ups for sure. It is FanExpo Canada and fans communicate with us via social networks and at the show, and they tell us who they want to see. We get tons of feedback from fans and there are obvious celebrities that fans want to see. We also have guests like Stan Lee, that we keep bringing back because everyone loves him. When you go a Stan Lee panel and see the 3,000 people that are packed in there to hear him tell such great stories, you immediately want to spend another weekend with him! All the moments with him are always so heart-warming and he’s been such an important part of the characters we all love. The way that he tells stories, he sort of involves both the new and old generations, so it doesn’t matter what age you are because you’re just captivated by him.

BD: There are some fans that have been critical about the move towards film/television and away from the comic world. How do you respond to those fans?

JA: Well that is just one perspective and we have seen that happen with other conventions like San Diego. Taking a look at the core of our event which is the comic book portion, and over the years it has only gotten bigger. We don’t look at this as we’re offering anything less, but we’re offering a lot more. We’re not replacing the comics section with a sports section, but every year we continue to add more to make it a bigger event.

BD: So far this year on the comics side you have appearances by Garth Ennis and Todd McFarlane, which is pretty amazing.

JA: Garth Ennis is another example of a guy that is always super busy and this year the scheduling worked out for us. We’re super excited to have him be a part of FanExpo, and Todd McFarlane is doesn’t do a whole lot of appearances. In recent years he’s sort of taken a step back on the art side and worked with other artists on his book, and he also has his toy business as well. Todd was born in Canada, so this is sort of like a homecoming for him and he’s excited about it. I haven’t seen Todd McFarlane since about the mid ’90s, so it goes to show how busy he’s been down in the United States running his companies. The timing just sort of worked out to bring both Garth and Todd to FanExpo this year and we’re all excited to have them.

BD: Tell us a bit about the horror side of things for year. This year you have Re-Animator and From Beyond reunions. How did those come about?

JA: We had the opportunity to get most of the cast and we’ve had Jeffrey Combs in the past, who was quite popular. Jeffrey has a long list of classic horror and science fiction movies that he’s appeared in. We also knew that it was the anniversary year for some of these films and it just seemed like the right time.

BD: Is there a memory that sticks out in your mind from FanExpo that stands out as surreal after all these years?

JA: There has been many surreal moments, but for me one of the first years I worked the convention we had Jeri Ryan from Star Trek. At that time, she was on the front cover of TV Guide and Star Trek: Voyager was absolutely massive. That was one of the first moments where I saw fans really lose their minds. It was a room full of thousands and they were literally screaming, jumping up and down, waiving, and giving her the full rock star treatment. It was at that moment that I realized that things had changed. Before that, we had previously worked with comic books creators and there was never a rock star reception for the inker of the X-Men! (Laughs) That was one of the earliest surreal moments that I can remember.

For tickets and information about FanExpo 2013 please visit www.fanexpocanada.com/

 
  • Canucklehead

    I liked this show a lot but that convention center is a terrible location as the crowds get bigger. Need to find a better spot, floor of the Skydome perhaps?