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Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

Convention Venture

Toronto Trek 2000 - Location: Regal Constellation Hotel - Dates: July 14th through July 16th, 2000 — My biggest convention so far! (Chantale's, too!)

(Apologies ahead of time if this seems rushed... it's because it is! :) )

This convention pretty much snuck up on me. Although our hotel was confirmed May 4th, it was almost the end of June when the panels and registration was confirmed! And, being my usual busy self with life, I barely had time to think about the fact that the convention was fast approaching. I think it was the week of July 10th that I began to think about what I had to bring. You see, one of the problems was that the only thing I knew about Toronto Trek was that (a) it was HUGE and (b) they only recently began to branch out from their Star Trek roots. Being the only Comic guest wasn't the same as being one of a very small handful of guests at PriMedia 99. I was, I have to admit, nervous and a little scared.

The organizers were unsure as to what kinds of panels they wanted me on so, after waiting for them to come up with some and failing, they asked for my opinion. This is the list I gave them:

  • 1- Fanzines/ Apazines: What are they? Why join? Why run one? Dead-Tree Editions vs. Electronic Editions. Benefits/ not?
  • 2- Self-Publishing/ Small Press Comics: Are "vanity press" comics still needed? Have the undergrounds lost their hearts? Why self-publish?
  • 3- XXX/ Adults Only Comics: Are there really stories there? Can they be erotic? Are they as enjoyable as Videos or Visual Magazines?
  • 4- Let's Talk Comics: Round Table discussion of what's "out there" and what people enjoy reading and why.
  • 5- Have Comics Grown Up Too Much?: Is there a market for children's comic books? Who's the "typical" reader?
  • 6- Comics and the Future: Are comics beginning to feel like "pulps"? Are their hey-days over? Can comics survive in this electronic age?

    I thought they were pretty good sounding. :) In the end, they chose 4 of those panels. And, considering that the Program Book had only a total of 6 Comics panels listed, and I was the only Panelist for 4 of those, I think I did pretty well. (self-satisfied grin).

    And now, without further ado, here's the events leading up to and through my first Toronto Trek experience!

    Thursday July 13th, 2000 - A regular work day except my mind kept thinking of what the weekend was going to be like. I left work at my regular time and picked up Chantale. We headed home where I finished packing and getting my last minute stuff. Then, we headed over to her place for supper and to pack her stuff. Once done, we relaxed and watched Back To The Future Part II with her dad (we had watched Back To The Future the night before and would end up watching Back To The Future Part III on Monday the 17th). Ended up hitting the sack at midnight.

    Friday July 14th, 2000 - I was awake at 5am. Don't ask me why. I guess I'm just used to getting up early for conventions :). I stayed in bed until some time after 6am and then went to wake Chantale up. We hit the road soon after that and before we knew it, we made our first stop Tim Horton's for breakfast! :) (I really, truly, cannot go on a trip to Toronto without stopping off at Tim Horton's for breakfast. It has become a part and parcel of any convention road trip for me and I'm definitely not one to break with tradition! :) )

    With our bellies full, the drone of the road soon put Chantale to sleep as she napped while I endured the joy of driving through rain/ no rain/ thunderous rain/ rain/ no rain/ thunderous rain/ no rain, etc. It was weird and at times frustrating (no air conditioning in the car. When it rains like that, in the humidity we get... bleah! Too hot!!) Nothing really major to report on the trip itself. It was different from any other road trip in that the conversation didn't revolve around comics, computers, and wrestling (poke at Jeff :)). Well, that, and I'm usually not driving half-naked... (mainly because every other convention was during the fall cooler weather! :) ... would you like to buy a bridge? :))

    6 hours later we made it to the hotel. And what a hotel it was! Quite breath-taking in size and splendor and it was quite eye-opening to see them welcoming Toronto Trek with a huge banner. I've never seen that at any other convention. Before making our way into the hotel to register, we got caught in a massive downpour! The thunder was so loud the building actually shook! Wow!

    Soon enough, we were in our room. And our jaws dropped. It was a hell of a room. Dropping our bags in the hallway, we crashed into the King Size bed for a much needed rest. All that driving does take it out of me. Once rested and unpacked, we made our way around the hotel, counting the "weird people". There were too many of them, so we stopped. :) Our badges at the ready, we decided to fill our bellies before diving into the convention proper. A cozy little joint called Pat & Mario's sated our hunger and we were off. We went through the Art Show (very nice), models and costume show (interesting) and the Dealer's Room. Wow. I have never seen a Dealer's Room that big! It was great! Lots to see! And when we bumped into my buddy Rick Mansley from R.E.M. Crystal, it was a happy reunion. It was great seeing Rick again and I quickly introduced him to Chantale and we chatted a bit before allowing him to finish setting up his table.

    We saw the 8pm murder-mystery play (barclay helps some bozos go back in time and kidnap great sci-fi authors of the past (a la Bill & Ted) to bring forth for a weekend convention. At the very end, one of them kills William Shatner. Was it Harlan Ellison? Isaac Asimov? Edgar Burroughs? Or HP Lovecraft?). Whodunnit? Who cares. It was really lame.

    The 9pm Hottest Space Romances wasn't any better. The underscore of Trek came to the forefront as the majority of the time was spent discussing Chakotay and Janeway. Bleah. We tried Wiccan & Pagan Fen at 10pm and were bored silly and left quickly. Practically given up on panels, we decided on Babylon 5: Faith & Skepticism at 11pm. Larry Stewart was the moderator and it was Chantale's first exposure to him. He was in fine form (although completely exhausted) and his Babylon 5 convention stories (not to mention impersonations of Londo and Vir) were hysterical. It was a good way to end the day (on a high note) after the crappy other panels.

    Saturday July 15th started nicely with a swim. It was one of the first and probably only times during the weekend that Chantale and I were able to just relax. Afterwards, we headed for my first panel of the weekend at 10am: Fanzines and Apazines. I was seriously wondering if there would be anywhere near the level of excitement there that Jeff and I had at last year's Con*Cept. However, another part of me didn't expect it. I was set up in the biggest room I'd ever been in for a panel. Even if there were 8 panelists, the table would have been too big. It was the lounge set up for the dance! And there I was wondering if the organizers knew what they were doing. So, as usual, I got off of the table and joined the audience. At this point, the audience was strictly Chantale. 15 minutes later, someone walked in. She wanted to learn what she could about Apas since she wanted to start her own: an Apa dedicated to Knight Rider. With a captive audience of one I was able to make the panel be exactly what she wanted and needed it to be. Chantale jumped in every chance she got and talked about Comicopia. I was very pleasantly surprised and she was actually shocked herself. (The Comicopia Assimilation Virus seems to be spreading nicely... heh heh heh... :) look what it did to so many of the member's S.O.s! :))

    With that panel out of the way I can't honestly remember what we did next besides heading up to the Green Room to see if we could find David Shtogryn. I have to admit, Con*Cept and Primedia spoiled me with their Green Room. Toronto Trek, as amazing and huge as their conventions are, came nowhere near the Green Room of those other, smaller, cons! Weird but true. Anyhow, we did indeed see David there and he greeted both of us with a huge hug :). It was the warmest reception I'd received at T-Trek with Rick's greeting coming in second. We chatted a bit about various stuff and then he left for a panel.

    Chantale and I went to see John DeLancie at noon. We were thoroughly disappointed. He came across as simply being in the biz for being in the biz. He played his roles and that was that and didn't seem to care one way or the other. He was groggy from sleep and some of the questions asked of him were rather pathetic. I regretted not having seen Patricia Tallman as the end of her session was full of laughter and enthusiasm. We both left that panel feeling as if we'd wasted an hour. I have to say, John's arrogance works great as Q.

    With that bad taste in our mouths, we decided to get some chow. We headed over to Tom Alley's Root Bar & Grill and had a hearty meal there. The funniest/ weirdest part of it, however, had to be after the meal. We made our way to the restrooms and were both shocked. The women's stalls were very dark. Same for the men's. However, there were no urinals. It was a long, metal, trough. I backed away from it when I saw it but then realized that if I didn't use it, I would probably regret it :) So, I moseyed on over (you tend to mosey when you're in a cowboy joint :)) and used it. It felt like I was pissing in a bucket. As I was finishing up, the auto flusher kicked in and I had to back away again as it was wetting my legs! Sheesh! :) Oh well. It was all part of the experience I guess. I don't know if I would have used it had there been anyone else there, though.

    It was soon time for my 3pm panel: Let's Talk Comics! What a great panel it turned out to be! I was scheduled to be with two other panelists but they were no-shows. Again, as always, I made this into an audience participation panel. I got everyone to introduce themselves and give us their backgrounds in comics (re; if they're current readers or not, what they read, etc). It was a lot of fun and I was doing my best to ensure everyone had a voice and everyone contributed. It was great. (Oh yeah. I said that already... :) ). A funny aside, one of the guys in the audience turned out to be from Montreal, a friend of some of my friends, and on the Con*Cept con-com. He wanted to know if I was going to be a panelist at Con*Cept this year. Too funny. :)

    The next panel we attended was The Future of Religion. It sounded like it could have been an interesting discussion (ie; when humankind takes to the stars, what type of religion will we take with us?) David was on it as well which was another reason we wanted to go. However, it quickly got out of hand. The prejudices which came out of the audience's mouths was horrifying. No one was interested in discussion. They were only interested in forcing THEIR opinions on everyone else. Very frustrating. In fact, it was so frustrating that David, Chantale and I (along with Stephanie Bidwell-Grimes) ended up talking almost an hour about it in the Green Room afterwards!! We ended up having our own Green Room Panel on Panels Gone Wrong! (LOL!)

    I had wanted to take Chantale out for a nice romantic supper during our trip and Saturday night became the time. We changed our clothes into something more suitable and, after stopping by to fluster David while he was speaking on a panel, we went to Graffiti's (Italian cuisine) and shared another amazing meal. It was really cozy and it felt really nice. The fact that she looked absolutely stunning only helped to enhance it :)

    We went back to the convention as I had an 8pm panel - Small Press Comics. However, there was a really stupid mix up with the panelists from Who's Queer in SF. They told me our panels had been switched and I was a little upset that no one had warned me. After about 10 minutes of debating, I told our one audience that the panel was moved to 11pm and left to go talk with the folks at the desk. Turns out their panel WAS moved to 8pm, but in the room next to mine. Bleah. Although somewhat upset (I hate letting anyone down and felt bad about the guy who showed up), I was glad to be able to catch the Masquerade. It was phenomenal. I have never seen something so intricate. 40 people on that stage! And the costumes were amazing! Jeff, our buddy Krequor was there as Angel (of Death thanks to Apocalypse of X-Men infamy). He walked on stage and opened up his wings as the spotlight shone on him... and he practically blinded the audience!! When I spoke with him afterwards, he hadn't even realized it! He did end up winning first prize in the Masters division for that :)

    A really cool moment during the show was when a woman came on as a Psi-Cop supposedly on the trail of Byron. Pat Tallman came on stage after her as she was walking away and stopped in the middle of the stage with her hands on her hips. The crowd was hysterical. The woman came back on stage as Pat was about to leave and then... Byron himself (Robin Atkin Downes) came on and glared at the two of them. It was priceless! Patricia Tallman is definitely someone who loves what she does and it shows!

    10pm came and it was time for my last panel - Comics And The Future. It started slow but people came in a bit at a time and we ended up having a decent discussion on where we saw the industry heading. Before we knew it, time was up. I attempted to go back to the Small Press panel, but no one showed. We walked around a bit and ended up watching Babylon 5 bloopers. They were an absolute hoot :)

    Sunday morning, we got up leisurely and checked out. It was fun sharing an elevator with Richard (Apollo) Hatch even though we didn't speak. He was quite friendly and I just enjoyed listening to his tale of airplane horror stories :) Robin Atkin Downes was also in the elevator but Chantale and I were used to seeing him. He was, after all, only a couple of doors on the right of us and we saw him often. Pat and Jeffery were a couple of doors on the left of us but we didn't see them much. Just saw Pat rush in and out of the Dealer's Room. She didn't need security people the way De Lancie did.

    The 10am panel we attended was on Memorable Fantasy with David Shtogryn. It was actually quite interesting but not as fun as the noon panel of Assimilate Your Spouse. That one also became somewhat of an audience participation. It was a little funny how the guy who's panel it was barely spoke. Everyone else, however... :)

    At 1pm we caught Pat and Jeffery and thoroughly enjoyed it. They seemed like a really fun couple and kept the audience jumping and entertained the whole time through. You have to have a lot of respect for people who'll go the extra mile to please fans. (Jeffery was alone for a while as Patricia was finishing signing autographs).

    After that panel, there really wasn't much else to do. So, we went looking for Rick and David, said our good-byes, and, after a quick stop at the Green Room to stack up on munchies, we left for Montreal. We made really good time and even had time for a very enjoyable pizza at the usual Pizza Hut stop.

    End Notes: This convention, for me, was a roaring success! I had an amazing time and yet, even though Chantale and I were busy every minute of every day, it STILL felt like we didn't get to experience much of it! In fact, in complete contrast to Con*Cept or Primedia, we didn't get a chance to sit on more than 2 Literary panels the whole weekend!! We both had a blast and I really am looking forward to going back next year.

    The Dealer's Room was great and yet I didn't have enough time to look around. John was quite a let-down but Patricia and Jeffery more than made up for it. With over 240 hours of programming, however, the convention really was mind-blowing.

    I must admit that the absolute highlight was spending the entire time with Chantale. To be able to experience a convention with someone you love who also participated and was excited about it, just can't be described. I definitely look forward to many more such shared moments of joy. :)

    Special Bonus! Read Chantale's Report on Toronto Trek 2000!!

    (Convention Venture (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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