THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR, sickness JUNE 11, patient 2012.
Click here to read in The Hamilton Spectator.
Robert Picardo just announced to a room full of Trekkies that he wasn’t really a fan of the sci-fi show before he landed the role of The Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager.
Heads shake in pity. There are a few gasps. Picardo repents. “But I have thrown myself at the feet of the faithful!” he cries. “And I have seen the light! Thank you Gene!”
Everyone laughs. His pledge of allegiance to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is appreciated, sickness but unnecessary. Even the admission that he’s a relatively recent convert isn’t enough to alienate the crowd at Niagara Falls Comic Con (NFCC). This is fandom on an interstellar level.
“There’s a little bit of geek in every one of us,” says Chris Dabrowski, co-owner and co-founder of NFCC, which began in 2011. “We all get excited in our own ways.”
Because of this, Comic Cons have expanded to include obviously complementary subcultures like Stars Wars and Trek, but they’ve also intersected with wrestling, horror, anime and gaming. There’s something for every one of the 5, 000 attendees at today’s show.
While Picardo fields questions ranging from hypothetical show strategies (how would he have steered Voyager home?), to broader issues (there are no space ships on TV right now!), to creepy requests (can I see pictures of your house?), non-Trekkies cruise the main floor of the Scotiabank Convention Centre. Each flies his own freak flag high, though … some are much higher than others, and these people get as much attention as the celebrities they’re here to see.
For every simple Batman T-shirt, there is a complete costume with elaborate makeup. A group of adolescent Avengers runs rampant. Power Girl and Black Canary wander past the Pulp Comics stand. Dr. Evil checks out the artist’s alley, where illustrators speed-sketch like they’re working in a factory. There’s Snow White and Lara Croft and a scantily-if-not-accurately clad Hermione Granger.
Her costume garners some looks, but it doesn’t get the respect of those like the one worn by Brandon Code, who has been posing for pictures with strangers all morning. As manga character Roy Mustang, Code, 18, wears a stylized blue and silver military suit. This is the first convention for the Niagara Falls teen, but he says his friends call him Roy Mustang all the time (he flashes the photo on his student card and in it, he’s wearing his Mustang costume). His favourite part of NFCC has been seeing others who, like him, commit to cosplay — dressing up and maintaining the personality of the character. When a girl in cat ears cosies up to him, meowing, he shrugs her away, proving his point. “My character loves dogs, not cats,” he explains.
Maybe this is a sign of what’s to come for John Valade’s grandson, Cole, 13. Valade says Cole has been into comics since he became a teenager and though he’s not dressed in full comic regalia today, he did wear his Green Lantern ring.
Valade, 59, is a comic lover himself, so he’s happy to share the experience with his grandson, even if it means acting as chauffeur for conventions and regular trips to Hamilton’s Big B Comics. “It can be expensive,” Valade says, standing in line at an ATM. Cole does have some special comics — the kind he only looks at while wearing white gloves. “My goal is to make it out of here without an empty wallet,” he laughs.
Because Cole is into the comics and culture of Valade’s day, they’re here specifically to see Burt Ward, who played Robin on the original 1960s Batman series. If the day has to be pricey, at least the money goes to a good cause — Ward told Valade all his photo fees go to his own organization, Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions.
Ward isn’t the only one cashing convention fame in for charity. Groups like the 501st Legion (a worldwide costume group representing the evil side of Star Wars) make regular appearances at conventions. According to Hamiltonian Phil Fabroni, Canadian Garrison PR Officer for the 501st, the volunteer organization has more than 4,000 members. Each has proven his worth by painstakingly rendering a costume down to the most minute detail (an online reference library offers images and outlines for storm troopers, jawas, bounty hunters and more). By appearing in costume, accepting donations and raffling prizes at various shows in 2011, the organization raised more than $11 million for charities like Make-A-Wish.
“It’s bad guys doing good,” says Fabroni. “Everybody loves Star Wars and people love to see their action figures come to life.”
If you missed the chance this year, mark the 2013 NFCC in your calendar now. According to Dabrowski, it’s tentatively scheduled to take place at the same bat time, on the same bat channel — the second weekend of June.
Keep an eye on http://nfcomiccon.com/ for more information.