Calgary

Calgary Expo's origin story: It started small, very small

Calgary Expo's origin story starts when founder Kandrix Foong drew up a proposal to turn a comic book fan event into something with a little more mass appeal.

Kandrix Foong turned being a good enough comic book artist into a great fan expo

Kandrix Foong founded the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2006. (Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo)

In 2005, Calgarian Kandrix Foong was an aspiring comic book creator who made it to the San Diego Comic Book Festival, where he came face-to-face with the truth about his chances of climbing the comic book creator ladder.

He was good in a world full of great.

"I'm a very versatile person," he said in a 2017 interview with Calgary Arts Development, "but I am not the most creative person or best illustrator or whatever. I definitely found a lot of other people who were a lot stronger than I was in terms of illustration, so I ended up moving more towards the business side of things, because that's where I think I'm also quite strong."

Actor Leonard Nimoy gives the "Vulcan salute" to the crowd while riding in a parade in the town of Vulcan in 2010. Nimoy was one of the earliest celebrities to appear at the Calgary Expo, helping put it on the map. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

That may have been Marvel or DC's loss, but Foong's epiphany soon turned out to be every Calgary comic and fantasy lover's luckiest break ever, because it led to Foong launching the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2006.

At the time, there was an annual comic book show in Calgary, held in the Red and White Club at McMahon Stadium, which drew a small, passionate band of devoted followers every year — somewhere over 500 but well under 1,000.

Fans at the original Parade of Wonders, in 2013. (CBC)

Think bigger

Foong, who had gotten a taste of San Diego's event, where comic book geeks mingled with Hollywood fantasy lovers, pitched his Calgary comic book geeks on the premise of blending comics with entertainment to create a new kind of Calgary festival.

"That basically triggered the business side of me, right?" he said. "I put together a proposal that [essentially] said … we can't be in this venue. We have to go bigger, you have to bring in entertainment — [and] it can't just be about comic books."

In 2006, they held the first Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in half the top floor of the Big Four Building on the Stampede Grounds.

Leading up to the day of the event, the new-look festival had sold 50 advance tickets.

"I was definitely on-site sweating it out," he said, "wondering what's going to happen? But we had a pretty good turnout [of around 3,400]."

Zachary Levi as Shazam! Levi appears at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo this weekend. (Calgary Expo)

Exploding

In 2007, they booked space in the BMO Centre. Soon, Foong was bringing in major names from the world of sci-fi and fantasy, such as Leonard Nimoy, and doing cast reunions for Star Trek:The Next Generation, Aliens and other franchises. They brought in various pro wrestlers, independent comic creators and an eclectic combination of talents both local and international, some pop culture-centric and all geek-worthy.

They brought in Jeff Goldblum one year, and Elijah Wood another. Dr. Who (Peter Capaldi) visited, and so did Carrie Fisher, John Cusack and Jay and Silent Bob. There were Marvel stars, and one time, Rosario Dawson, who grew up reading comic books with her uncle in New York's East Village, told the story of how she booked a role on Netflix's adaptation of Daredevil.

Actor Rosario Dawson appeared at the Calgary Expo in 2017. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

"The part was described as a Rosario Dawson type," she told a small crowd at the 2017 Calgary Expo (she was a last-minute addition).

"I called them up and said, 'How would you feel about the real Rosario Dawson?'"

A Guardians of the Galaxy fan at the 2015 Parade of Wonders at Eau Claire Market. (Stephen Hunt)

100,000 and counting

In short order, attendance smashed through 50,000.

For the past half dozen years, it has regularly drawn in the vicinity of 100,000.

It's grown from half the top floor in Big Four Building to the entire BMO Centre, the Corral, entire Big Four Building, the Western Event Centre, the Stampede Grounds and various other locations throughout downtown Calgary, where hotels, bars and restaurants fill up the weekend of the Comic and Entertainment Expo.

Foong went on to take over running additional comic book and entertainment festivals in Edmonton and Saskatoon. In 2017, the event was sold to Fan Expo, producer of fan events in Vancouver, Toronto, MegaCon Orlando and more, and Foong stayed on as producer on an even larger platform.

This publicity photo shows a screen shot from the video game, Grand Theft Auto V. Former Calgary actor Steven Ogg, who also had a role on Walking Dead, voiced a part in the game. Ogg was a guest at the 2018 Calgary Expo. (Rockstar Games/Associated Press)

The 2019 Calgary Entertainment and Comic Expo is underway and runs through Sunday. This year's event features an assortment of celebrities, including Shazam! star Zachary Levi, the cast of Back to the Future, original Wonder Woman Lynda Carter, Star Trek: Discovery star Anson Mount and many others.

The festival's Parade of Wonders, held Friday in downtown Calgary, featured various celebrities as well as fans, and drew 5,007 cosplayers dressed as their fantasy heroes.

It was viewed by 15,500 spectators, including thousands of children.

It turns out that Foong may have been only good enough as a comic book creator, but he was positively great as a comic book and entertainment festival impresario.

What he discovered was that greatness comes as much from grit and grind as it does from talent.

"Talent is just one part of the equation," he said. "Work ethic is another part of it. So is understanding distribution, marketing. All those kinds of things come into play for any kind of business to be successful, whether you're in the arts, you're in food, or the tech industry. It's many, many things that have to come together."

Comics changed Hollywood

What no one saw coming back in 2006 was that comic book culture was about to take over and completely transform Hollywood and entertainment.

Now, the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo is opening the same weekend as a new Avengers film, made with a budget speculated to be in the area of $400 million and debuting in thousands of theatres around the world.

It's the 22nd Marvel movie since Iron Man landed on screens right around the time Foong was coming up with the notion of blending entertainment and comics.

For Foong, there was never a map to creating what has become a major Calgary festival, right up there behind the Calgary Stampede.

But there was a compass.

"I've always had my hand in the creative industry in some way, shape or form," he said, "whether that be graphic comics, animation — all that kind of stuff."

"I've always been interested in the arts and entertainment industry," he added. "And if you want to go really far back, when I myself wanted to be a comic book artist, it was definitely [a case of] you know you want to be a part of something, but you just don't know what it's going to be."

Corrections

  • This story originally stated that Foong started the comic book festivals in Saskatoon and Edmonton, when in fact he took over running them.
    May 01, 2019 10:39 AM MT

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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