While annual events naturally grow from year to year, few could have predicted how quickly the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo has become one of the city’s largest and most popular events. What started as a small convention in 2006 is now an internationally-renowned event, drawing attendees and special guests from around the world.
Running from April 26–28 in the BMO Centre, the Expo has become a fixture in Calgary’s busy festival season, drawing in thousands of visitors eager to browse collectibles, meet celebrities and celebrate geek culture. However, it is not only visitors that benefit from the Calgary Expo’s recent growth. For local businesses and artists, exhibiting at the event presents a chance that only comes once a year.
“We had such a great time last year meeting people,” says Calgarian Lyndsay Peters, the owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags. “Our sales were so good that we knew right away that we would have a bigger booth this year, and that we would try to bring more to the show.”
Peters, known by many through her twitter name @GeekyLyndsay, became popular in the geek world by starting a business selling handmade dice bags to be used for games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Her dice bags have become an enormous success, and the Calgary Expo has only helped her business grow.
“This will be my third year exhibiting at the Comic Expo,” says Peters. “I always exhibit with a friend of mine, and we started with just a tiny single booth with three businesses crammed into it, and this year it will be just the two of us in a really big double booth, and that is because the Expo has been so good to us.”
The massive growth of the Calgary Expo has presented both challenges and benefits to the organizers of the event, who have had to quickly adapt to a rapidly swelling number of convention-goers.
“The challenge lies in dealing with the sheer number of people coming through those doors,” explains Shane Turgeon, one of the Calgary Expo’s head co-ordinators. “Sometimes you’re just not expecting that growth, and it is difficult to accommodate everyone and make sure everyone is taken care of. But the benefits lie in having more opportunities to have a better event and to bring in bigger names for guests. The Calgary Expo has a fantastic reputation now not only because of the number of people that are coming but also because of the way we run our shows, in terms of attracting those kinds of international guests.”
Last year, the Calgary Expo ran into problems when the convention went over capacity. This resulted in people with tickets being turned away at the door, which left a bitter taste in people’s mouths.
“Last year it was really a shame that people had so much trouble,” says Peters. “We saw a lot of frustrated customers and we talked to a lot of frustrated people. I know there are some people who won’t be coming back this year. But everything we have been told as vendors and everything that has been communicated to us shows that they are taking it very seriously this year.”
Turgeon and the other organizers of the event have worked closely with the event centre and the fire marshall to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated during this year’s Expo.
“There is a significant plan to correct the challenges we had last year,” says Turgeon. “The main issue was the sheer number of people, which no one was expecting.”
This year they are taking over the entire BMO Centre for the Expo. All of the celebrity guests will be in a separate area of the building in order to enable greater flow of traffic.
“You don’t just get the BMO Centre for free — it’s taking a lot of effort and dedication to ensure that people get in,” says Peters. “So I think people are going to have a better experience this year. From what I’ve been reading I feel pretty confident about it.”
Despite past fumbles, there is no sign of the Calgary Expo slowing down. With geek culture entering the mainstream, conventions are no longer solely the domain of the nerdy elite — they are now something everyone can enjoy.
“The convention industry is exploding all around the world, and I think it obviously has something to do with the fact that the biggest movies right now are about The Avengers, Batman and Spider-Man,” says Turgeon. “So this is reaching a much larger segment of the mainstream population, and that population is seeing how much fun people are having at conventions. That’s really the biggest part of it: it gives people a chance to get away from their everyday lives to meet celebrities, hang out and look at cool stuff for a weekend.”
Update: In an email received after print time, it was announced that the Calgary Comic Expo is sold out and no on-site ticket sales will be available this year.