Not unlike Camilla, my girlfriend Tuna's career as an artist draws her to table at comic & entertainment conventions. We've only been to a few so far, and all within the city, but Vancouver has tons of small conventions that go on throughout the year which draw a diverse and enthusiastic crowd. A colleague - Chaos Lindsay - caught wind of a new, first-ever comic expo going on in nearby Kelowna and invited us along. Tuna signed up, split a table with Art Ikuta, and last Friday our merry band packed up & set out for the Coquihalla highway.
Our expectations weren't terribly high. Most large conventions are now 4- or 5-day affairs, organizational ziggurats of nerd-merch, fan-art, and tweetable conference-room reveals. If anything we were testing the waters of a small, but seemingly well-to-do convention in a nearby growing city. Judging by dinner conversation the Friday before the con (tales of of epic fails at other first-time conventions), we were really expecting the very worst and hoping just to recoup travel and attendance expenses. (SPOILER ALERT: We didn't.)
I was rather confused as we rolled up to the Capital News Centre on Saturday morning. In the sprawling parking lot were two huge buildings. I saw signs for a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a public library... a couple of open bay-doors revealed the exhibitor entrance to the expo floor, which was an astroturf indoor soccer field. The floor was small (we were separated from the other half of the soccer field by black mesh) but spacious, everything hedged in by lovely (and no doubt budget-hemorrhaging) curtains of black fabric. We finished setting up and counted down as the match timer on the far wall counted down to 10:00.
Our time at the con may have ended with a whimper, but it started with... also a whimper. It was hard to tell if the doors were open. We met some lovely people - I was a particularly big fan of the genderbent Prince Leia and Han Solo couple who were walking around. There was a hired Robocop cosplayer who scared the shit out of everyone. Two or three of those charity Stormtrooper guys were on duty. Billy West's autograph table was almost indistinguishable from the other exhibitors. After lunch we asked the door volunteers how many people had attended so far, and they couldn't tell us. They didn't know. I headed out to grab some food for my exhibitor family; I think it was a 20-minute walk to find the nearest Subway. By the time I got back around 4:30, there was nobody on the floor except for exhibitors checking out other exhibitors and volunteers playing Super Smash Bros. Melee. Nobody had recouped their expenses by this point. An hour later, everyone at both our tables had melted down to the soft bed of astroturf, waiting out the ennui.
Then Lindsay's eyes lit up and she asked us what we thought of cutting & running, just skipping Sunday altogether. Then everybody got going and the next thing we knew, a con organizer (because this felt much more CON than CONVENTION) asked us why were packing up in such a hurry. We told him we were leaving and not coming back. With a dejected grimace he quietly nodded and said he couldn't blame us. We were hugging goodbye at King George SkyTrain station by 11pm that night.
Don't get me wrong. The Okanagan has got some awesome artistic talent. There were lots of quality exhibitors and guests - I liked the inlander penchant for crafting - and the space was well used. But between an absolute vacuum of marketing power, and competition with the young but successful Kelowna Fan Expo earlier in the year, there's just no enthusiasm for the KEE. We heard from others that some of the artists had gotten together Saturday night and distributed flyers themselves to rouse up some rabble for Sunday - so what, exactly, did these exhibitors pay for? As far as I've heard, not a soul has gotten a refund for this lackluster event.
All told, we had a fun weekend. We made friends with radical people, realized that sometimes "Best Value Inn" really does mean "Best Value" and not "Worst Quality," and made enough bad train puns to guarantee an eternity in the deeper levels of comedy hell.