Photo by Richard Amery
Matthew Odland has organized a big Entertainment Expo this weekend.
The Lethbridge Entertainment Expo will be bigger and better this year at Exhibition Park, Nov. 22-23.
There will be plenty to do for pop culture aficionados of all stripes from playing video games, role-playing games and cosplay to meeting movie stars and actors.
“We’re sold out of vendor space already,” said organizer Matthew Odland, adding he learned a lot from last year’s event.
“We’re adding a gaming area where people can go to play video games, role-playing games and board games while waiting for panels,” he said. He noted the panels will take place in the same area as the vendors rather than in a separate room like last year.
“Last year people didn’t know where the panels and special guests were,” he said.
Some of the special guests include English actress and model Esme Bianco, best known for playing Ros in the popular TV series “Game of Thrones.”
“Her character wasn’t even in the book but the producers liked her so much that they basically created the role for her,” Odland said.
They also feature famed voice actor Billy West who voiced several characters in “Futurama” and “Ren and Stimpy.”
“He’s also the voice of the red M and M in their commercials,” Odland continued.
Another highlight will be Garrett Richard Wang, who played Ensign Harry Kim on “Star Trek: Voyager.”
From the comic book world, Calgary artist Steve Gervais is coming, as are siblings Nathan and Erin Millar who created the graphic novel “Where She Walks.” And Lethbridge’s own “Slaughterhouse Slough” creator Eric Dyck will also be on hand.
Alexander Finbow of Canmore-based Renegade Arts Entertainment was so impressed with his experience at last year’s expo that he decided to return with a bigger presence this year.
Renegade Arts Entertainment releases many historically themed graphic novels as well as the world’s biggest and best classic horror audiobook library, Doug Bradley’s “Spinechiller.”
Finbow will be accompanied by Raymond-based artist Claude St. Aubin who has worked on comics for Marvel and DC including Aquaman and the Green Lantern and Edmonton-based writer and cartoonist Jeff Martin who is behind a couple of Renegade’s cornerstone projects.
“We were part of the first Expo last year. I came by myself just to help out. But what impressed me was how enthusiastic everyone was,” said Finbow.
“I’m used to bigger shows like Calgary and Toronto and the number of people who go to them can be overwhelming,” he said.
“But in Lethbridge, there weren’t as many people, but all of them were just so enthusiastic,” emphasized Finbow, who got his start writing and directing for movies and moved to Canada five years ago where he got inspired by Canadian history.
“When I emigrated to Canada from England five years ago, I started learning Canadian history and immediately fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe there weren’t already comic books about Canadian history,” he said, noting he started looking for graphic novels based on Canadian history, which led him to the recent release of Jeff Martin’s new book “Redcoastsish.”
“It is about two men during the War of 1812 who join the militia and help burn the White House down. They like to eat, but they don’t like to march or fight. It’s very funny,” he said.
“You get lost in a fantastic story and accidentally learn about history,” he said.
“If Americans had done something similar, they’d probably have a national holiday. Canadians are too humble,” he said.
When deciding on what projects to publish, he looks for a good story as well as a little humour.
They have released nine books and are already planning ahead for three years from now.
“The cycle of a book to research to writing and artwork is about three to five years. So probably the earliest new project would be released would be in 2017,” he observed, adding there are exceptions.
“We have a new book coming out in November called ‘Robbie Burns: Witch Hunter.’ Robbie Burns was known as a drinker and a womanizer. So the authors (Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby) asked the question what if one event turned Robbie Burns from man about town to poet of renown. What if his poem ‘Tam’ O’ Shanter’ was a story that actually happened to him,” he said.
“The world premiere will be in Lethbridge, right before we take it to Scotland and introduce it for Robbie Burns Day,” he said.
“The story was great. It was all edited and he wanted to work with artists who have proven track record so I really didn’t have to do anything to it,” he said.
The Renegade group will be taking part in an interesting panel on Saturday called “Get Published or Die.”
“It’s where we’re going to reveal all of the secrets and tricks of the trade to work in this industry,” he promised.
“It will help you decide what route you want to take — do everything yourself and self publish like Jeff Martin or be part of a bigger organization like DC or Marvel and not have to worry about the business side of it. Some people are better suited to working on their own deadlines. Jeff and Claude offer their own interesting perspectives on it,” Finbow said.
“It will be a good springboard for people to launch their careers,” he said.
He noted he has been fortunate in his career but still has his dream projects.
“I have one that I shelved about a musical zombie house party. But around the same time Simon Pegg’s zombie move ‘Shaun of the Dead’ came out and it came a little close to home, so I shelved it. But now is probably the right time to revisit it,” he said.
“It’s about these kids at home who decide how to help their friends who have been bitten and music is the key to it,” he said.
“It’s a lot of fun, so that would be my dream project,” he said.
The Lethbridge Entertainment Expo is not just about comics, though.
“It is about all aspects of pop culture. If you are interested in what happens behind the scenes in TV and film, model builder David Tremont, who is part of the design team WETA which worked on “Lord of the Rings,” will be in attendance.
There will also be four people who specialize in Cosplay or dressing up as TV/movie/comic characters.
And Calgary’s Cam Farn from F and D Scene Changers, who creates 3D models for television and films like 2008’s “Death Race,” will also be there.
“It’s nice we’ve got the interest of local people. But it is up to them to support events like this,” Odland said.
“We’re really excited about it. We had 60 per cent of the vendors from last year wanted to come back,” he enthused.
They are also offering $1,500 in cash prizes in their Cosplay competition.
“We want to have something for everybody. I really wanted to create an event that is very inexpensive for families to attend,” he said, adding children under 10 get in for free.
“We don’t want people to pay their admission and stay for only an hour and then they’re done. We want them to stay for the day,” he said.
“We want to give people the full experience.”
Tickets cost $12 in advance for one day, $15 at the door or $22 for the weekend in advance and $25 at the door.