Time to Get Geeky: FAN EXPO Debuts in Denver

The (not so) Big Blue Bear came inside to help kick off FAN EXPO Denver Special Edition.
The (not so) Big Blue Bear came inside to help kick off FAN EXPO Denver Special Edition. Teague Bohlen
The weekend devoted to nerd-dom is back, baby, and all over downtown. It's been a couple of years since you could see a purple dragon walking hand in hand with Hagrid from the Harry Potter series, an impressively large Transformer and what looked to be the entire original X-Men squad in a single block of Champa Street. Ah, the siren song of indulging pop-culture love with friends.

FAN EXPO Denver is here for the first time to host this geeky goodness, teaming up with Pop Culture Classroom to bring what started as Denver Comic Con into its next iteration. A ribbon-cutting on October 29 kicked off the festivities, with brief remarks from Visit Denver Director of Sales Cahal Mowry, General Manager of the Colorado Convention Center John Adams, Pop Culture Classroom's Adam Kullberg, and Andrew Moyes, vice president of FAN EXPO HQ. Perhaps signaling an unofficial "passing of the torch," it was PCC's Kullberg who was handed the scissors to actually cut the ribbon.
"We're just thrilled to be here in Denver," said show director Betty Waypa. "There's been such an outpouring of interest, and fans really wanted something as soon as possible. So we put together this special edition of the FAN EXPO experience to get a good start."

FAN EXPO Denver Special Edition, which runs through October 31 (and for which single-day passes are still available online), is a smaller production than what attendees will see starting in 2022, estimated to be about 50 to 75 percent the size of the event in coming, non-COVID years. For longtime convention-goers, the space itself will seem more modest, in line with what they might remember from the first few years of Denver Comic Con. "Our footprint this year is a little more modest," said Waypa, "but we're also excited to be adding new elements already. The show is already amazing, and it's only going to get better."

Waypa is serious about her hands-on quality control for FAN EXPO. "I walk the floor every day asking everyone how the experience is for them," she explained. "I talk to the fans, I talk to the vendors, everyone. If they're having an issue I can help with, why wait for comment cards and feedback after the event? If I can step in and solve problems now, that's better for everyone."

"FAN EXPO is phenomenal," said V1 Tech's Kim Chetty, one of the 680 vendors at this year's convention. "They're really responsive to what vendors need and what ticket buyers want. It's why we travel so much to attend the FAN EXPO events. I drove thirteen hours to be here, and I can already tell it was worth it."

Here are just a few highlights from day one of FAN EXPO's debut in Denver:
click to enlarge Drizzy enjoys her new lair. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Drizzy enjoys her new lair.
Teague Bohlen
An Emphasis on Cosplay
Perhaps the most notable difference this year is the addition of a new area: a long row of cosplay celebrity booths where professionals can hang out and meet fans and sign autographs. "I'm stoked about it," said Drizzy, a pro cosplayer from Fairplay who was one of the first to take up residence in cosplay row. "I've got a couple of panels tomorrow, and it's just nice to have a place where people can come find me afterwards, talk about the panels. I love to teach people how to do this stuff!"

click to enlarge Get your drink on at Wild Bill's — this weekend, and every con to come. - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Get your drink on at Wild Bill's — this weekend, and every con to come.
Teague Bohlen
Wild Bill's Soda
In a head-smackingly "Why haven't they been doing this from the start?" brilliant business move, Wild Bill's Old Fashioned Soda Pop anchors not just one, but two sides of this year's convention. Fans (and vendors!) can buy a hefty metal mug emblazoned with the Wild Bill's logo, and then get free refills for the rest of the con from the wall of soda selections ranging from root beer to orange to birch beer — even a diet option is available. Save that mug for next year's con, when it will still be good for refills for only $5 a day. That's a bargain anytime for soda this good, and at a convention, it's pocket change! To introduce its sweet wares to the crowd, Wild Bill's even has a tasting table set up near the convention entrance where you can sample some of its flavors.

New Local Connections
There have always been the comic-related regulars, such as Mile High and other local stores, that come in and appeal to the throngs of hobbyists. But FAN EXPO clearly did its homework with some other Denver institutions, from Meow Wolf's Convergence Station to Distortions Monster World. Many of the old standbys are present as well: Tattered Cover has a satellite store set up near Author's Alley, for example. It's a mark of respect for the local market that Denver's event still feels like a Denver event.
click to enlarge Kids Lab lives! (And also...there's Waldo.) - TEAGUE BOHLEN
Kids Lab lives! (And also...there's Waldo.)
Teague Bohlen
click to enlarge TEAGUE BOHLEN
Teague Bohlen
The Kids' Lab Lives!
Just as in years past, Pop Culture Classroom has consulted on creating a special place for kids to be creative in their fandom: Kids' Lab. It's a place where kids can be kids and make some super-cool stuff to take home. (Please remember: This is not a babysitting service, so adult supervision is still required.) "This is really one of the most important parts of the event," Waypa said. "You can quote me on that." So important, in fact, that Pop Culture Classroom is acting as consultant on not just the Denver event, but other FAN EXPO conventions across North America. That's a good move, given all of the good work that PCC has done for Denver and kids' fandom over the years.

More General Weirdness
Want a pair of booty shorts that echo Captain America's line about "This is America's ass"? Got it. Want a slice of custom-fudge named for the Incredible Hulk? Easy. How about a LEGO display that makes you want to dive back into your old bin full of blocks? Yep. And the always-impressive 501st Legion, with handmade wearable art, prints, posters and original pencils, even a place where you can buy anything from dice trays to a gaming table worthy of becoming a dining room centerpiece...even if you're not a gamer? Yeah, the first FAN EXPO Denver has all of that, and more.

At least it did on Day One. Get downtown and experience it all for yourself before someone else takes all this awesome stuff home.

FAN EXPO Denver runs through Sunday, October 31, at the Colorado Convention Center. For tickets and more information, see the FAN EXPO Denver website.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen