By: Daniel Reynolds
You notice it a couple times a year – a certain buzz in the air downtown. The tone of conversation on the TTC sounds perhaps a bit strange. And then, there are people in totally inexplicable costumes.
Yes, the Toronto ComiCon is happening this weekend. And with it, the kick-off to the general “nerd” convention season in the city leading up to the mega-con of Fan Expo in August. Now, I want to be clear here, I may be using the word nerd here but it is not being doled out in the pejorative sense. As you may have guessed, I’m something of a nerd myself (shocking!). My sense of the word has always come from a desire, perhaps obsession, with acquiring knowledge about a specific field (and then being either fiercely protective of it, or over sharing to an absurd degree).
As a touchstone, modern comics are a useful starting point when discussing nerd culture. Usually unfairly judged as a medium for children, comics have grown into a cultural tsunami that has crashed into mainstream society in every direction. That same passion driving people to collect every issue of the Amazing Spider-Man tracks directly to, say, the recent wave of sports nerds (the statistic revolution didn’t happen by accident), movie nerds (ditto sites like Rotten Tomatoes), and video game nerds (advances in technology usually equals increases in nerd attention). While some would say that the cultural and artistic mores of our society is driven by the elite or celebrities (well, at the very least, the tabloids suggest this), I’d contend that the true narrative, for better or worse, is being driven by the movement of nerds in less immediately glamourous fields.
See celebrities: This is definitely the above-the-fold reason to head to the Con, and most of the marketing done for the event is angled through this prism of potential celebrity encounters (last year, at FanExpo, Ernest Borgnine, was wheeled past me. No joke). This year is no different. Straight up, do you like Star Trek: The Next Generation? I’m not going to wait for your answer. You do. This convention boasts not just the usual convention lifers like Michael Dorn and Gates McFadden (what a name!), but you can see the smoothest motha of the Trekkie universe, Jonathan Frakes; indulge your inner Troy and meet LeVar Burton; or, you know, see Patrick Stewart. No big deal. Added random bonus: Sean “Rudy” Astin will be there.
Meet talented people: Unbeknownst to many, the ComiCon (well, all conventions, really) is filled with a ton of small ‘c’ celebrities and talented people that keep the engines of nerd culture going. Admittedly, not everyone in the comic book world is a household name (OK, most aren’t), but who doesn’t want to meet interesting and artistically skilled people? And while the “bigger” names may only have time to talk for a second or two, the platoon of local artists and craftsmen extends far and wide. You could find a new, ready to breakout comic book or the latest in indie DIY artistic expression. At the very least, you can probably ask for that sketch of Batman and Mickey Mouse that you always wanted to hang on your refrigerator.
Free stuff: The obvious midpoint on this list. Not much explanation is required. As with any convention, one of the nice perks is always the same: free swag. Mill around at the Con long enough and you’ll get handed comic books, maybe a small poster or two and the usual mix of semi-useless promotional material. I’m not saying it’s good stuff, but it is free stuff.
Great deals: Here is the secret tremendous reason to entertain an invitation to a comic convention. Want to get a run of trade paperbacks or some deluxe hardcover editions? Have a hankering to relive some childhood memories with the aid of some vintage action figures? Need to improve the artistic merit of your den with a well-placed bust? The ComiCon has got you covered. Now, an admission: I’m a bit of a crate digger. There is something divinely satisfying about sorting through box after box of comics in search of some buried treasure. I’d love to brag of some complicated system of research whereby I make elaborate lists and plans for my excavation of the comic convention’s usual riches. Usually, though, I just stumble around with a vague notion of what I’m looking for (sort of like what happens when I go to the grocery store) and hope for the best. Do I find amazing comic books at heavily discounted prices? Yes. Do I find piles and piles of memorabilia that I should not even consider buying? Yes. Do I buy said memorabilia? I admit nothing.
People watching: And finally, there is something to be said for the nerd community in that when the time comes to fly the flag of their conviction, costumes become the de rigueur mode of expression. The first question I always get asked upon mentioning that I will be attending a comic convention is always: “So, what costume are you going to wear?” I then have to calmly explain that its not really my thing, and that I just go for the aforementioned deals. Look, I could get mean-spirited here, but I’m not going to do that. Wearing a costume at a comic convention is a proud tradition. In fact, the proliferation of costumes around the Convention Centre is actually a heart warming sight; they’re a mix between a call to arms and a not-so-secret handshake (my problem is when they are worn wantonly at random events. I’m looking at you, that Joker Guy). Baseline: it is definitely a value-add to wander the convention floor while observing the obvious pride and care that went into the construction of good costumes. Are they necessary to enjoy the Con? No, not really, but then again, that may be the whole point. The ComiCon is an overabundance of passion, of unreserved joy. Enjoy riding the wave, or get out of the way of the tsunami.
 I realize comics have been around a lot longer than just the past century, thanks to uber-comics nerd Scott McCloud filling me in on some background info, but I’m not here to give a history lesson.