FAN EXPO Denver 2022 was the tenth comic and pop-culture convention in Denver, so you might think those in charge would be setting off fireworks in celebration of the anniversary. But there was no such thing: With all the name changes, last year’s off-season “Special Edition” event and the general crowd-wrangling chaos, fans and vendors alike are just glad it’s happening again at all.
And happen it did, over the Fourth of July weekend at the Colorado Convention Center. All in all, it was both a welcome return to style and something of a learning experience for the first full-sized show from FAN EXPO HQ. Here are a bunch of highlights, along with a couple of suggestions as to how the show can improve next year.
Not even the press can take photos of celebs without paying the fee. So here's the sign.
Most Special Special Guest: Anthony Daniels
There were a lot of fan favorites at FAN EXPO Denver this year, but Anthony Daniels was the celebrity that even the other celebrities might have wanted to see. Not only is the actor who played C3P0 one of the last of the original Star Wars cast still around, but he’s been in more Star Wars flicks than anyone — so any generation will know his characteristic voice. It’s a wonderful thing to meet in person someone whose work you’ve loved on the big screen. And it’s creating those remarkable moments that FAN EXPO — and comic conventions in general — do best. (Note to Mark Hamill: Make it to Denver one of these days, please. And tell Harrison Ford to get over himself and come with you.)
Hobbits — what with the Shire reunion and all — were a popular costume this year.
Most Valuable Attendees: Cosplayers
Seriously, what would conventions be without the fan-artists that come in full get-up? These folks deserve a "thank you" for their hard work, their crafting skills, their inspiration and their eagerness to show it all off. (Not to mention the patience to stand for all those photo ops.) Kudos to anyone who takes the time to make the day better for all the fans in attendance: Your creativity, courage and commitment do not go unnoticed.
Most Important Policy: Protecting Cosplayers Another thing that does not go unnoticed? That sometimes, there are idiots who presume too much and do or say something that’s unwelcome. FAN EXPO makes it clear with banners throughout the exhibition floor and organizing areas that “Cosplay Is Not Consent.” Preach. And fans? Don’t be the person to whom that needs to be said.
Despite what the little paper sign says, this wasn't an exit, either, and the front doors were likewise off-limits. Fun!
Most Annoying New Procedure: Badge Scanning It’s something of a No Exit Sartrean nightmare, the way attendees had to “scan out” of the con this year — which meant that there was only one way out, and it was poorly marked besides. There were several points at which fans could actually see the doors but were barred by security from using them. Whether or not badge-scanning will be somehow amended, or more avenues of egress provided next year, or the powers-that-be just put up better signage — this is a wrinkle that needs ironing out. FAN EXPO HQ doesn’t want the last experience attendees have at its show to be utter frustration.
One must wonder what Tink is doing with Cap'n Hook back there, too.
Most Surreal: Robin Chattin’ Up a Body Pillow Over Beers The Breckinridge Brewery A-Frame returned this year, offering up sudsy hops and a new pint glass and brew called Doctor Hoptopus. And like any good bar, it provided a little space for the utterly absurd to occur: in this case, Batman’s young ward putting the moves on an anime body pillow, quite possibly Marin Kitagawa from My Dress Up Darling. Not that the details probably matter to Robin, who’s clearly DTC — down to cuddle.
Ever think you'd see Disneyland done up in LEGOs? Well now you have.
Most Impressive: Massive LEGO Displays For the second year running, there was a huge section of super-sized (and super-intricate) LEGO models, from the surface of Tatooine to a New-York cityscape lousy with superheroes to pretty much all of Disneyland. It's both nostalgic and inspiring — and it makes you wish you'd had this many individual bricks as a kid. Not to mention this level of patience.
Most Ingenious Way to Print Money: Convention Merchandise If you build it, they will come. And line up. And buy stuff emblazoned with your logo. Why? Because it is there. Yes, yes, Banksy: They're exiting through the gift shop. But man, that artistic commercialization is popular. Most Surprising: The Movable Bantha The Star Wars photo ops have always been pretty solid at the Denver convention — we’ve seen R2 units galore (and there are several this year as well, beep-booping their way around the crowds). But nothing before has really been as large — or potentially surprising — as the Bantha. Whether there’s a dude in there operating the head or it’s all animatronics, it was scaring the sand-scrap out of fans trying to take a photo.
Wig maintenance: Just one Dad skill of many that you never thought you'd need.
Most Heartwarming: Parents and Their Kids It bears reminding for those of us who are taking a break from the adult world and indulging in a little fun: At the core of these hobbies are kids, and the kid inside of us wanting to thrill to cool stories, marvel at awesome art, dress up like our heroes and hang out with our friends. Coolest of all? Those parental units who make it all happen for their younglings. Parenting, at least today, at FAN EXPO Denver? You're doing it right.
The bounty of comics at a convention should be immeasurable.
Most Appreciated: The Comic Stores Still Setting Up Shop For a convention that used to have “comic” in its name, there were woefully few comic vendors on the floor this year. So raise your glass to those that once again made the trip — Time Warp Comics in Boulder, Hall of Justice down in Parker, All C’s from Aurora, and a few other stalwarts. And it wasn’t just locals: One store came from South Dakota, and another traveled all the way from Florida. But comics fans deserve more — and this is one rising tide of commerce that will float all financial boats. So for those stores that didn’t show, make plans for next year, won’t you? And for those that did: thanks. Here’s hoping you made a bunch of cash, and that Denver fans get to enjoy more of you next year, and the one after that.
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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.