This is a piece I’ve been meaning to write since my first trip to Hal-Con, and I’ve been building it in the back of my mind for the last five or so years. Every year that I’ve gone to Hal-Con I tell myself, “This is the year”, and every year I’ve put it off because it just didn’t feel like the “right” timing. Now I think the time has come, and while I will interweave the various goings on I attended this is more about the feel of Hal-Con rather than a straight up report on the event and it’s component parts.
Before I start to expound on my thoughts however, for those who don’t know (which may be many of you) Hal-Con – Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Gaming Convention is a yearly Convention that is run in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Fan owned, Fan run, and Fan delivered it’s has brought in some remarkable talent over the years and this year was no exception with the likes of John de Lancie, Levar Burton, Anthony Head and Billy Boyd. Previous years included John Rhys Davies, and Billy De Williams. Outside the celebrity Q&A’s are a plethroa of events like Author Signings and Panels, Costume Contests, Fan Run panels, Gaming Tournaments, and much more. The geek collective from the Atlantic Provinces, Canada, and other points around the globe have attended to partake and share their love of all things. This year it took place in a new venue, the brand spanking new Halifax Convention Centre which was interesting in and of itself but that is something for another time.
All of that said, I’ve let myself loose on a couple of occasions. While others have excitedly gotten their photos taken, gotten their artifacts signed, or shared a brief conversation, I’ve gotten to shake hands with certain notables like Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, and a few others. That’s enough for me. I will remember those moments vividly for the remainder of my days. Perhaps someday i will go just as a fan, but when it comes down to it I don’t need to; I am content to observe and record. Since the first time I took Jessica with me down the rabbit hole 5 years ago I’ve been watching her reactions which started as, “I’ve never gone to anything like this”, to this time years later, it’s all been leading up to this piece.
The veteran taking the rookie to a convention and watching the experience wash over her is a large part of this piece. That wide eyed wonder that first time convention goers experience is a
magical moment. Being able to share the experience, the exploration of the expanse of fandom, and proof positive that one is not alone in either what they love or that that, yes, people really do dress up as anything they really love, and ,yes, it doesn’t matter what that thing is because while you might not know what that thing is, you do know they are passionate about it. Finally, yes, it’s okay that you can be just as passionate about the things you love and people will understand your passion. We walked the various rooms and areas together and saw smiling people exchanging stories, taking photos of one another’s costumes, and we kept hearing the following exchange over and over again…
“Oh my god, can I take your picture?”
“Yes of course, can I take yours too??”
It’s the community of passion for all things Sci-fi, Fantasy, Gaming, and so much more, with that innate, “We love you for you”, that has become almost stereotypically Canadian, but with that underlying Atlantic Canada accent that Hal-Con shines most. I spent much of my time outside of the Q&A’s just orbiting the convention. Floor after floor, room after room Were filled with just people gushing about what they love, accepting what other people loved, and enjoying the camaraderie of loving their separate things together. I have several highlights from this year’s convention, but the one that stood out most, is the most mundane and the greatest one of them all. While I was waiting for a meeting at the press booth, which amusingly doubles as the lost and found booth (if you stop reading and think about that for a moment, you will understand why this makes sense) I watched as random strangers brought all manner of weird and wonderful items they had found forgotten in some part of the convention from just fallen in a hallway to left in the bathroom during a costume change. Regular items or vendor bought treasures it made no Difference – someone lost something and someone picked it up and brought it to the booth hoping it would be reunited with it’s proper owner. I’m sure this is something that happens at many conventions, but it’s also one of the key ingredients to the Hal-Con recipe.
Editor’s Travel Notes: Something new also happened this year. The first GameDev Atlantic Conference was held parallel to the first day of Hal-Con, and there was also a game developer section on the vendor’s floor where aspiring industry hopefuls could meet with Atlantic Canadian game developers to chat, have their portfolios looked at or ask questions about various elements like Q/A testing and so on. Exhibitors included Ubisoft Halifax, Copernius Studios, and REDSpace. Keeping these notes gaming related, let me add a shour out to the crew of Extra Life Halifax who stream live from Hal-Con and are always working to raise money for the IWK Children’s Hospital.
Like many conventions the Fan Q&A’s are a great part of the event, but also one of the cornerstones of the experience. Fans line up to ask the question(s) they’ve had in their heads since the guest was announced. These can run from the usual things like, “What pranks happened on the set?” to more obscure, “How was the experience on insert obscure role here that only hard core fans might remember?” More often than not however, the eager fan invariably starts off with “Hello! (pause for a gathered breath to quell nerves) Welcome to Halifax, thank you so much for coming”. Sometimes there isn’t even a question, sometimes all they wanted to say was “Welcome to Halifax, thank you for coming, I hope you have fun/enjoy yourself/try the food!” You know a lot of the time the questions will be the same question the celebrity has probably been asked a million times, but with that almost standard opening, it changes the dynamic of the room. You can see it whenever it happens, where-ever it happens. The addressed star smiles, says thank you or they comment on how much they are enjoying themselves so far, and the question that follows gets answered with a good natured laugh and a kind of happy freshness that leaks out from being greeted so. The other curious thing is that about halfway through the time allotted, the welcomes to Halifax start to disappear as though by silent agreement. The fans opt to not pound it into the ground, though the Thank yous for coming remain.
There were some stand out Q&A’s this year of course. David Yost (Billy the Blue Power Ranger) had some interesting stories to tell. The ever magnificent John de Lancie (Star Trek TNG, DS9, Voyager, and so much More – really if you don’t know who he is, I question your life choices) was as interesting as you would expect and he was also in Halifax to do an event with Symphony Nova Scotia. Levar Burton (Roots, Reading Rainbow, Star Trek TNG; if you really don’t know who Levar Burton is then I just don’t know what to say any more.) was as awesome, genuine, and hilarious as you would expect, from his pride in his daughter to his comments regarding donairs. Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin, Warehouse 13) was a riot and let me tell you, when he laughed, you laughed with him. And while I didn’t get to Gareth David Lloyd’s (Doctor Who, Torchwood) or Laura Vandervoort‘s (V, Smallvile, Supergirl) the one that stood out most to me was Billy Boyd’s (Lord of the Rings). From his bringing a young fan onstage to explain the camera trick of “How did they make you look small?” to singing a song from his band Beecake and, of course, “The Last Goodbye” from Lord of the Rings: The Battle of the Five Armies, he was awesome. Billy was expressive, funny as hell, and really appeared to enjoy the fan’s questions and the whole experience of sharing stories or singing to a room full of avid listeners while he strummed on a guitar.
Of course there were moderators present and this leads into another moment that was enjoyable and different from Hal-Con, as we go back a bit in the timeline. They held a Moderator Q&A. Our guest moderators and Tanner Zipchen answered fan questions while the ever entertaining @liveactionfloyd moderated the panel. Watching moderators give advice on questions or a bit of what they’re up to made for a nice tangent to enjoy on the opening day of the convention. Let me take this moment to give shout outs and kudos to all three for their work moderating the Q&As, asking questions, and taking time out to talk to fans, or, in many instances, being fans themselves. Their enthusiasm echoed the same enthusiasm of the audience and at times, honestly, Ajay’s face expressed some of the same thoughts the rest of us were having at different times.
Sidebar: One of the other ingredients that makes Hal-Con magical is Fat Apollo (Aka: Michael McCluskey) who seemed to be everywhere bringing happiness and joy to all, or just yelling boisterously at you about baby races.
To be fair and bend to the dictates of honesty, Hal-Con this year was not without hiccups. Most noticeable was the wait times for those seeking autograph and photograph tickets, especially on Saturday. The overflow line was quite rather separated and the wait times were long so there’s some improvement that could have been made there, depending on the particular person being sought after. The change of venue played into that and I suspect now that all is said and done the Hal-Con team will be looking over everything and make changes accordingly. Hiccups aside, as with the other years, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Hal-Con this year and look forward evermore to next year and perhaps a new story to tell as I travel once more to rejoin the Tribe. If you’ve never been to a convention or fan event, or you haven’t gone to one in many years, perhaps it’s time to take a look at what’s nearby and go explore. Doesn’t need to be one of the big mega conventions and these days there are small fan conventions all over the place. Get out there and explore what’s local to you, see what you find and share your stories.
Sidebar 2: Before I wrap things up, I do want to take a moment to say Thank You to the Staff and Volunteers who make Hal-Con happen. Your hard word, dedication, and passion are a pleasure to see and experience and you all deserve a round of applause and recognition for making all the magic happen year after year. It’s been a great pleasure to meet and work with some of you, and for the rest of you keep up the good work and know you are appreciated and respected.
I’ll leave things here and perhaps I will expand on some thoughts in the days ahead as I continue to unpack the experience mentally and decompress from that convention high. As a parting gift, here is the footage I took of Billy Boyd singing the Last Goodbye. Appologies in advance for the somewhat shaky camera as I was getting rather emotional during the performance. Nothing breaks through the observe stance like well sung music that holds meaning and memories.
Bonus Round: There was a Trumpian Dalek (Creator Credit: Rob Noakes) on site…