Thousands of people, young and old, flocked to the Scotiabank Convention Centre this weekend for the Niagara Falls Comic Con, many dressed as their favourite movie, television show, cartoon, videogame or comic book characters. If you were not prepared for the spectacle, you may have thought you were dropped onto another planet.
It’s called cosplay, short for costume play. There were monsters, Mario Bros., superheroes, wrestler wannabes, knights, Daleks, Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters and more, roaming around the more than 150 exhibits. Dressed in jeans and a conservative blazer, this reporter was the one who stood out like a sore thumb.
Among the exhibitors were, of course, many comic book vendors, selling first editions of some of the most popular titles. A few exhibitors were hawking the increasingly popular Pop! toys, those big-headed, big-eyed caricatures of just about every pop culture touch point over the past 50 years.
Replica swords were for sale, along with latex masks, board games, posters, full costumes and collectible cards.
Comic book and video game artists, such as Leonard Kirk, who has worked on The Fantastic Four and Batman, were there in droves. They were, of course, displaying, and selling, prints of their best work. Many were also deep in the process of putting pen and pencil to paper, working on new creations.
Some visitors decided to have their picture taken alongside the Back to the Future DeLorean, or in the Evil Dead cabin. Others were thrilled to have their photo ops with Christopher Lloyd, Billy Dee Williams, Ted McGinley, the Undertaker, or any of the other 26 celebrities willing to pose with their fans.
Make no mistake about it — these are rabid fans that show up to these events. It’s not cheap. Tickets for the three-day event started at $35. That granted you entrance to the convention centre.
It also allowed convention-goers free admission to sessions such as Sci-Fi Speed Dating and Droids 101. There was no extra charge for anyone to take on the Dr. Who Escape Room, either.
However, if an autograph from Christopher Lloyd was what you were after, you needed to bring another $90, and perhaps wait in line for a couple of hours. A photo op with Doc Brown beside the DeLorean time machine? That was another $150. A signed 11” x 17” photo from Billy Dee Williams? That would have set you back $120.
Probably the best deal for the fans, though, were the many Q & A sessions held in the smaller ballrooms, also free with admission. Mr. Lloyd was the subject of one of these on Sunday, entitled Great Scott: Q & A with Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd. Another saw three actors from “The Office” fielding questions from obsessive fans of the show.
These sessions consist of about 45 minutes in a room with the star, or stars, and a chance to pose some questions the fans had been dying to ask for years.
I had the opportunity to moderate four of these this past weekend. They resulted in a grand total of about three hours of the most fun I’ve had yet in 2019.
Seeing these stars and behind-the-scenes toilers in the film and television industry interact with their fans was amazing.
My first session was with Roger L. Jackson. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re not alone. But the 100 or so gathered in ballroom A Saturday were there to hear, and see, the voice of Ghostface from the Scream film and TV franchise. To hear Jackson recite lines from the movie in the voice of that character was truly spine-tingling.
The 60-year-old has also provided his malleable pipes to the voice of Mojo Jojo from the PowerPuff Girls, and finds work in Hollywood and video games as a voice double for the likes of Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee and Mel Gibson.
He moved from voice to voice to sound effect to impression with barely a second in between. The questions from the fans came in quick succession, as well. It’s clear they had all done their homework, as many were aware of some of the most obscure projects that Jackson had worked on.
Ke Huy Quan was the subject of my second session on Saturday. Best known for two roles, Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in The Goonies, his joint Q & A with Corey Feldman was cut back to 15 minutes when his Goonies co-star cancelled his visit to Niagara Falls.
By the time he had turned 13, Quan had been involved in two of the most beloved, timeless, classic movies that continue to be shared amongst generations. Now a fit, 41-year-old martial artist, he works mostly behind the screen these days, coordinating stunts for action movies such as the first X-Men film.
Quan’s session was capped with the final question from a fan, who didn’t ask a question at all. Instead, she said that she wanted to thank him for all of the joy that he had brought her through his work in those two films. The gratitude was palpable.
David Barclay, an affable Brit who works as a puppeteer, shed much light on the fascinating art he has been involved in since he was four years old. Growing up with parents who performed puppet shows in parks in England, he naturally gravitated to the field.
Again, so many of his fans seemed thoroughly knowledgeable about his work on both Yoda and Jabba the Hut from Star Wars, and were awed by his stories of working with Frank Oz and Jim Henson on The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. Barclay seemed genuinely pleased to talk about his trade and to meet fans of his work.
My final session, though, was my personal favourite.
By the time I was born in the early 60s, Leave It To Beaver had completed its six-year run on CBS, then ABC. But the 234 episodes seemed to be forever in reruns during my early years. Like so many, I grew up learning life lessons from Beaver, Wally, Ward and June Cleaver.
Dressed in a blue and yellow Mayfield School letterman sweater, Jerry Mathers, at 71 years old on June 2nd, is still the Beaver. The 100 fans in the room for his Q & A were elated about that fact.
Secrets were shared about the real life of Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond — he became a bicycle cop) and Larry Mondello (Rusty Stevens — as in the show, the Stevens family moved away), and Mathers explained that when the show ended, he just wanted to attend Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California, and play football.
He shed light on his high school sock-hop band Beaver and the Trappers, as well as his time as a US Air Force Reserve officer. And he spoke about the 1983 movie, and then television series, Still the Beaver, both of which reunited him with Osmond and other co-stars, including Barbara Billingsley and Tony Dow.
Again, the gathered faithful were rapt, hanging on Mathers’ every answer.
It is difficult to explain the feeling one gets shaking the hand of a man who played a TV character one grew up watching. Especially when it was a wholesome, moral, of-a-completely-different-era show like Leave It to Beaver, which was the first TV series to be told from the perspective of a child.
I felt like a seven-year-old, transported back to my living room, sitting in front of our black-and-white TV set, eating a bowl of cereal. I’m not sure you can get that feeling anywhere other than the Niagara Falls Comic Con, which will return next June.