Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo kicks off Thursday with hopes to see more than 80K fans

Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo kicks off Thursday with hopes to see more than 80K fans

The Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo started Thursday with organizers looking for about 80,000 fans to stream through the doors of the four-day annual celebration at the Stampede grounds.

"We like to think it's a big deal," expo spokesperson Lindsay Thomas told CBC News.

- Join CBC Calgary on Friday morning as we bring you part of the Parade of Wonders live on Facebook and the website

"Things kick off Thursday, which is a great day for people to come if they are into shopping because a lot of the vendors will have specials and sales on."

One of the highlights every year is the Parade of Wonders (POW), which includes expo guests but also any fans who want to march in cosplay (a merging of "costume" and "play," referring to costumes based on or inspired by characters in movies, TV shows, books, graphic novels or video games).

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Last year, more than 2,000 cosplayers paraded before 10,000 spectators, according to organizers.

This year's Parade of Wonders takes place Friday between 10:30 a.m and 11:45 a.m on Stephen Avenue — and the route has changed.

"This year we are going to be starting at Eighth Avenue and Eighth Street S.W. downtown, going down Stephen Avenue and we will be ending at Olympic Plaza, with Mayor Naheed Nenshi as our parade marshal," said Thomas. "The show kicks off that afternoon."

- Join CBC Calgary on Friday morning as we bring you part of the Parade of Wonders live on Facebook and the website

Thomas says the Calgary expo is in the top 10 for attendance in North America, last year bringing in about 90,000 fans.

"We have been seeing a bit of a trend with large events, seeing some drop in attendance with the economy being what it is," she said. "We'd be happy with 80,000 to 90,000 this year."

Stan Lee's return among the guest highlights

And as usual, the expo has a star-studded lineup of guests again this year — including an unexpected return of comic book legend Stan Lee.

Lee — who helped create some of the comic world's most beloved superheroes and villains, including Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men and others — is royalty at comic-cons. But Lee, who's now 94, had announced a year ago he wouldn't be attending any further Canadian events.

In April, he said he had a change of heart.

Spawn creator Todd McFarlane "called him up, they had a conversation and Stan Lee decided to come back to Calgary," Thomas said.

"It is massive. He is such a delight. I have worked with him many, many, many, many times over the years. I adore him," Thomas said.

McFarlane, who was born in Calgary, is also one of this year's big draws.

"It's fantastic," said Thomas.

She's also thrilled about another star appearance.

"John Cusack. Unbelievable, I am so excited," Thomas said.

The actor, whose best-known films include Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity and Say Anything, will be at the expo on Saturday.

The Edmonton-born Nathan Fillion was the first guest announced this year. Fillion is best known as lead character Richard Castle in the TV crime drama Castle and as spaceship captain Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds in the Joss Whedon-created space Western Firefly and Serenity among other roles

Other fan favourites among the TV and film guests on this year's roster include:

- James Marsters, perhaps best known for his role as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as well as parts in Smallville, Torchwood and Caprica among others. In a bonus, Marsters, also a musician, is playing at Cowboys on Friday night.

- Peter Capaldi, the current Dr. Who, who announced in January that this season would be his last.

- Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, a.k.a., Silent Bob and Jay, the beloved stoners/dealers from the films Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. They'll be performing a live, on-stage recording of their hit comedy podcast Jay and Silent Bob Get Old. The performance requires an additional ticket. 

- Kristian Nairn, the Irish actor who played the friendly giant Hodor on Game of Thrones: Game of Thrones' Hodor, Kristian Nairn, talks about life-changing role

- Wallace Shawn, the actor best known for his role as Vizzini in 1987's The Princess Bride and as the voice of dinosaur Rex in Disney/Pixar's Toy Story series.

So far the expo has had three cancellations — Millie Bobby Brown, best known as the character Eleven from the Netflix sci-fi horror series Stranger Things, Jason Weiser (Myths and Legends podcast) and Tom Cavanagh (The Flash, Ed) — but that's a much better record than last year.

"We had about 13 cancellations last year which was just heartbreaking on so many levels and this year only having the three major cancellations, it's always sad, but it's better than it has been," said Thomas.

And the media stars aren't the only draws. Thomas says there will be lots of new stuff to check out.

"Our gaming zone is definitely stepped up more, so if you are into table-top gaming, video gaming, I think people should definitely check that out," she said. 

"We have got a whole bunch of new panels and lots of new guests that have never been before, so there is going to be a lot of new things for people to see."

Tricks for first-timers

She has three tricks for newbies at the expo.

Stay hydrated, wear comfortable footwear and keep an open mind.

"Schedules can change at the very last minute," she said. "It's fine to have your heart set on meeting that one person, but if you are also open to experiencing and enjoying other aspects of the show, then if that person can't make it anymore, you can still have a really great time."

She cautions if you are looking to attend on Saturday or buy a four-day pass, time is running out. Saturday was 95 per cent sold out as of Monday and the website warned fans wanting to attend only one day on Saturday to buy a ticket in advance online as tickets won't be available at the door for that one day. 

One-day tickets would still be available at the door on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, according to the website. 

Check the website for confirmation.

Correction : An earlier version of this article said the Jay and Silent Bob event did not require an additional ticket. (Apr 27, 2017 11:53 AM)