Our first show of the year kicks off with a bang. There were a lot of ups and downs (admittedly a lot more downs than usual, sorry this post is going to get a bit more Honest) but I went into it knowing there were going to be a lot of “Moments”. I think its important to establish that Calgary Expo is one of the many conventions bought by Fan Expo Canada so needless to say that since the pandemic started its only been getting more and more corporate.
Which honestly? Is really frustrating when you’re an exhibitor. But I digress.
Admittedly we were really nervous going into this weekend. The convention locked us into a really unreasonable contract we couldn’t get out of without losing the money we paid into it. The convention itself didn’t release the health and safety measures until two weeks prior to the convention despite this rigorous contract stipulating that we were going to get this information a whole 30 days prior to show opening. Their safety measures consisted of, ‘wear a mask if you feel like it,’ and ‘if you’re sick we recommend masking,’…. which didn’t satiate anyone’s attitude towards us while we were there and still opting to keep our masks on the entire time.
We weren’t fools, we knew Alberta’s health and safety guidelines were atrocious and they had done away with masks since January. Our main reason for visiting the province at all was to get to visit with my partner’s parents (and honestly that whole part of the trip was really nice). Tas had seen them November of last year but I hadn’t been back since the start of the pandemic (likely early December 2019). The change of scenery was really nice, even if Calgary has only grown ever more hostile over the two years we’ve been away.
The Show Itself…
We’ve done this show, twice before this I believe and in my time doing it the show has always been four days long Thursday-Sunday. This year’s schedule dropped us right back into insane work hours with Artist Alley/Vendor floor opening hours being:
Thursday – 12pm-9pm
Friday – 11am-8pm
Saturday – 9:30am-7pm
Sunday – 9:30am-5pm
(I don’t really remember Thursday & Friday being quite this terrible hours-wise but I’d have to find my old badges to confirm).
My opinion is the same every year with Thursday being an honest waste of time for AA/Vendors with such a quiet turn around of attendees and being several hours far too late for people to even want to BE at a convention on a week day!! It starts a lot of us off at this show absolutely exhausted and honestly feeling a little wary with so few sales being made for both Thursday AND Friday. I was was humbly surprised in my calculations after the con to find that this time the Thursday was pretty generous to us so I only take back a LITTLE of my angry bias towards it.
We’ve also found that if you tell people they don’t HAVE to wear masks you’re likely going to be at a 60-75% maskless crowd. The first two days were probably the most unnerving days I’ve had in two years but after this you get used to it. I’m still personally favouring masks at big public events (like conventions) even after we have the ok to go maskless because I err have done a couple now with masks and found that I don’t get as cruddy feeling overall when the event is over. (Almost like having a barrier is kind of a good thing? Shock and awe /sarcasm).
Calgary Expo is divided into two main buildings on the stampede grounds the BMO building and the Big Four. For my first year artist alley and Vendors were separated into the [favourites] and the [we have to fill this other building ig]. A few shows that year did the same thing which is honestly an atrocious way to make things work. In years since the Expo has decided to split the show so that vendors are in the BMO and Artist Alley is in the Big Four (and with some of the cute remodels to the Big Four I’m honestly glad for it). The Big Four is a nice and inviting building with all the string lights suspended throughout the space. Its one of the nicer venues I’ve tabled at (even if the staff/set up was a nightmare… who in the world doesn’t number tables during set up)?? Plus all the food trucks are right outside making it extremely accessible for artist alley folks who can stretch their legs and dart for a snack, but it also drives foot traffic to the Big Four which is the smaller of the two buildings.
The Wounded Heart.
All of this aside, the moments I’ll remember the most at this show are the ones we made with attendees and people who stopped to chat with us. We had a few weird experiences, more hostile than our usual just overall strangeness. But we had a few really good interactions that sent us on absolute cloud nine.
I’m gonna start with the folks out there creating uncomfortable experiences, because I prefer to end on a high note.
Both my negative experiences came from having to Explain Myself Or My Choices In Regards To The Queer Media I Create. And I’m having a hard time with a particular permeating attitude on this. One particular interaction came from a woman who, as normal, asked me about Myth Retold and what exactly inspired me to create these retellings (I love this question, by the way, and I swear I’m not being sarcastic. It will occasionally catch me off guard as I haven’t had a real chance to speak about these stories since creating them). Most folks take my statement at its face value and accept that I am a half-Greek queer person who likes to envision what ancient Greeks of the queer persuasion might have believed or their versions of the god’s stories they may have told. (This wasn’t err… a good enough reason apparently, and I was left feeling really uncomfortable having to justify it).
The second negative experience came from folks in my own community, younger than I am stating bluntly that our books weren’t ‘gay’ enough and that they were just ‘lesbians’ which frankly is just Rude. Hi, I’m an artist at a booth who can hear what you are saying. For what it’s worth, as a queer person you can engage with media that exists outside of your own lived experience to gain an understanding of your peers. Likewise, as my mom always said, if you have nothing nice or constructive to say don’t say it at all (or like, at least walk to the next aisle to trash talk with your friends, conventions are loud but we can still hear you and all of your weird opinions).
Phew. All that off my chest now (I know, its a lot) I feel like I can finally sit in all the good exchanges we had.
First off, this was The First Calgary show we’ve done with Paint The Town Red on the table which was extremely exciting. Most of our table’s stock was new even if some stories were re-dressed with fancy new covers. Folks had really good reactions to them and I shared very many feelings with those who also believed Medusa could have had a much better outcome in her story (for all those who got yourself a copy I hope the read is as cathartic as it was for me to retell the tale <3).
I absolutely live for folks pointing at our short-descriptions for Prism Knights, shout out to all of the sad bisexuals overcoming grief, you will get there one day. We’re all having a chuckle amongst one another but I hope you all find some sort of solace and peace. My most favourite interaction in this regard happened on the Friday I believe. This person is also a writer and felt compelled to re-visit our table after reading a part of Velvet. From one writer to another, you were absolutely right when you said that it was worth coming back and telling me about your positive experience with my work. We don’t always get the feedback but when it’s such a gleaming praise it will keep you on cloud nine for days if not weeks (I am still thinking about your glowing review as I work on my next story, it has really touched me to my core having worked on so many projects throughout the pandemic and getting to hear that others really connect with the work you’ve been making). I know that, now more than ever, a story like Velvet is likely to really resonate with folks, for better or worse. I hope it brings anyone who reads it some peace <3
Interactions like these are great reminders to myself to reach out and tell someone when I think their work is just amazing. When it connects with me so strongly. I want to be better at this. I want to be able to give someone That good experience in a show that may have been, overall, rather dismal.
Generally, throughout the weekend, interacting with people was definitely something I’ve missed. Watching kids grow wide-eyed at our wall of pins, crouching with their parents to show off their knowledge of planets and mythos. Watching groups of friends flip through our books and show one another.
It breaks my heart to know how cruel Calgary has been to its young queers, and brings me hope that some have found themselves in the work we were making. Someone told us we were one of the only two queer tables selling queer stories at this con, a great decline in the dozen-or-so before the pandemic. Keep strong out there. We will keep coming back to you if we can help it <3
We found our table decimated, coming home with only a few (1-2 copies) of only a few of our remaining books. I couldn’t be more proud of us and the work we have put into this small business and this strive to create strong queer stories for those who might need them.
Calgary Expo is a very weird space for us. It feels like we are fighting against the current at a show like this, that at any moment a shoe will drop. This is the first and only convention so far that I have felt weary being openly queer at. The space is pretty, but the hate in this city is thick in the air.
We’re planning on doing the show once more next year, we will likely keep doing it if it keeps proving profitable but there is a feeling here that makes it a little nerve-wracking for our next booth at this show.
I certainly hope I’m wrong.