Looking at one of the largest entertainment events in Western Canada
Kelly Dowd has always been into comics; a hobby that grew into a collection. That collection has become much, much more. It became a job.
Dowd, who has served as the owner and operator of Redd Skull Comics for the past 18 years, got his start in the comic book store after a move from Saskatchewan to the bright lights of Calgary.
“I met the owner of Redd Skull Comics and he had it for eight months and then I decided to purchase the store,” Dowd said. “I’ve been running it ever since.”
In the beginning
Dowd is a man of many hats. He is a father, businessman, comic collector and president of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, which is the largest sci-fi and pop culture convention in Western Canada.
He gained experience in running expos in the mid-1990s with an organization known as the Alberta Comic Collectors Association.
“I became the publicist and media relations guy and got the word out [to] get members [for the association],” Dowd said. “Then I decided, ‘Why don’t we progressively try to get guests here to do the shows?’.”
The seeds of the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, which runs April 27-29 at the BMO Centre, were sown.
As president, Dowd admitted it is a lot of work, but there is a “definite payoff because of the amount of people attending and the exposure.”
The last two years saw 22,000 people in 2010 and 30,000 in 2011. Dowd projected this year’s attendance will be more than 40,000.
“Our numbers, in regards to attendance, are going to surpass last year,” Dowd said.
Part of what may be drawing guests into the expo this year is the Star Trek: TNG EXPOsed event, where all nine of “The Next Generation’s” original, main cast reunite on April 28th. Dowd said that this event is creating major feedback from across the world.
While there are other mega sci-fi stars at the expo such as “Fringe’s” John Noble, the inclusion of the cast of the Next Generation will be a huge draw and a major money-maker.
According to the expo’s website, a photograph with all nine members of the show’s cast will cost $495.00.
To get into the Star Trek: TNG EXPOsed event will cost a fan between $30-$125.
“We’re allowed to see where people are coming from when they purchase their tickets [online],” Dowd said. “It’s very exciting that people are coming from all over the world.”
The Calgary Expo isn’t the only show in the province, as Edmonton played host to the Edmonton Collectible Toy and Comic Show on April 1st. Founder Shane Turgeon, who is the owner of tattoo shop Shades of Grey, started the Edmonton show 10 years ago.
“It’s the second largest show in Western Canada,” Turgeon said in an email. Turgeon also participates in smaller collector events at his shop, as well as the Calgary Expo.
Appealing to the kid within
Any visitor to either show will marvel at the breadth of old toys, video games and comics. To Turgeon, the reason is simple.
“People like to remember simpler and better times. How amazing would it be if today, with all of life’s stresses and hardships, if simply getting a toy or reading a familiar comic, could just make everything better,” Turgeon said. “Being into toys and comics as adults helps us do that. Besides, who said you ever have to really grow up?”
For Martin Rouse, the co-owner of Phoenix Comics on 17th Avenue SW, the glamour of childhood fantasies still needs to mesh with economic realities as an adult.
Phoenix Comics fits a familiar pattern with other comic book stores, as its wares are not limited to simple comic books. Action figures, models, records and most importantly, graphic novels line the shelves. According to Rouse, the growth is in the graphic novels.
“There’s growth in action figures, in vinyl records, but the comic book industry has flat-lined for five years. If there’s growth, it’s in the graphic novel,” Rouse said. He noted however that most of that growth is on websites such as Amazon.
Still, the large crowds of the Calgary Expo do bring in business for Phoenix Comics, who operate a booth during the weekend’s festivities.
“It’s a great show, it’s going to be massive,” Rouse said. “The crowds are so big, you’ll do well regardless.”
For Dowd, the extra work of running a booth representing his store alongside his duties as expo president means he doesn’t get a chance to peruse the different exhibits as much as those in attendance.
However, he still managed to make time last year to spend time with his kids during the show.
“Last year, I was able to walk around Sunday morning and take my kids and show them different artists,” Dowd said.
In the end, moments like that can make the craziness of the expo worth it.
For more on Star Trek and the expo, click here