Walking & Stalking: A Fan Fest Portland Recap
A few short weeks ago, I hopped on a plane from Vancouver, BC to Portland, OR for the weekend for my 29th birthday. Pretty sweet trip, right? Lots of delicious food, cool places to visit, and lovely people, no doubt, but my sole purpose - my main reason for going - was to celebrate my birthday at the joint Walker Stalker Con / Heroes & Villains Event, Fan Fest Portland. Thanks to some careful money-saving as well as gifts from best friends, I went all-out, scored a Platinum VIP ticket, and had the best. Weekend. Ever.
Compared to your typical major comic convention, the Fan Fest events are a more intimate affair; Walker Stalker focuses on (no surprise here) The Walking Dead while Heroes & Villains features a bit of a wider scope, mainly including superhero shows such as Arrow, The Flash, and Gotham but also expanding to the DC/Marvel film universes and beyond (they’re looking to get Stranger Things on board, which would blow my mind). Unlike comic cons with sprawling artist alleys, neverending aisles of merchandise, and quadruple-overlapping panels and sessions, the main focus of Fan Fest conventions truly is the opportunity to meet the actors from the shows… and let me tell you, this weekend did not disappoint.
Stuff & Thangs
Though smaller than your typical comic con, the selection of merchandise to be had at Fan Fest Portland was by no means meagre. With my VIP pass I was able to walk through the con floor and do some shopping an entire hour and a half before General Admission entered. Any person who’s ever attended a con can attest to how crowded it can get and this one was no different, so I appreciated being able to see everything without feeling rushed or bumped into. My haul at this con was far more conservative than in cons past (self-control - who knew I had it in me?) but they had something for everyone, from beautiful works of art to jewelry to Funko Pops to getting a tattoo on-site (yeah, seriously) and everything in between. I personally got these super cute fandom (and cat?!) onesies for an expectant mom friend from Harebrained Design because it’s never too early to introduce a tiny human to fandom.
Walker… Talker Con?
The panel line up at Fan Fest events is always a fun affair. They have a “live stage” which hosts quick, 15-minute sessions with standing room for the audience and the main stage where full-length panels take place. Though my photo ops ended up conflicting with a few panels I wanted to see (an inevitability at any con), I was able to catch Ming-Na Wen (Melinda May, Agents of SHIELD) and Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis, TWD) on the live stage as well as well as my personal fave Tom Payne (Jesus, TWD) on the main stage. Though there was a moderator, they kept the panels fan-focused, and the actors were answering questions from the audience the entire time. I thought that was great, and the actors are fantastic at keeping it interesting and often quite hilarious. A favourite part of mine was Christian Serratos (Rosita, TWD) crashing Tom’s panel - which I happened to capture on video.
But First, Let Me Take A Selfie
A big difference between cons today and cons of yore is the proliferation of selfie-taking. With camera phones now in every hand and the rising cost of professional photo ops, it really was just a matter of time before cons realized they had an additional moneymaker on their hands. For those who don’t care as much for an 8x10 or a posed photo, selfies are not only a cheaper option, they also end up feeling more personal. Since they’re taken at a guest’s autograph table, you get to actually strike up a proper conversation with them, and many even take several photos, ensuring that you really get your money’s worth.
I had the chance to take quite a few with Tom, Christian, Alanna Masterson (Tara, TWD), Michael Cudlitz (Abraham, TWD) and Chandler Riggs (Carl, TWD). Every single one of them were incredibly kind - no airs about them - and the goofy ridiculousness now saved to my phone forevermore is something I will treasure and fangirl over in many days to come.
Photo Op Shenanigans
Over the years, one of my favourite parts of cons truly has been the opportunity to meet guests. I’ve had the great fortune to meet several actors and actresses that I admire, and talk to them about how their role has made an impact on me (whether through race or LGBTQ representation, positive traits, or overall badassery). I’m lucky to get to chat with them in their autograph line, but sometimes I also want to commemorate the day with a proper photo op. While I love the usual smile-and-pose, I also really love being a bit more ridiculous in photos with poses or props - it’s more memorable for the guest, and it sure as heck ends up being memorable for me, too.
Celeb Photo Ops runs their system like a well-oiled machine. From the moment you queue for your photo to taking the shot to receiving your print-out, everything was incredibly well organised. Thanks to them, I have to say my photo op experiences went amazingly. What do you think?
I thought they all came out awesomely, if I may say so myself - I must be doing something right if my favourite actor retweeted and reposted my photo on his own Instagram, right? You might even recognise some familiar shirts which I’ve grown terribly fond of wearing at my convention photo ops. :)
For Fans, By Fans
One thing that quickly became very clear to me over the weekend was that everyone treated one another like family. There were so many hugs being thrown around amongst the actors, staff who hadn’t seen one another in a while, and fans - I even had someone rush over to me with smile and a hug, exclaiming that we’d been talking for months on Twitter leading up to the con and that she’d recognised me from afar (and a few hours later, I did the same with someone else I recognised).
I feel like being united not only by fandom in general but by one show specifically just drew everyone together all the more. Sharing smiles and striking up conversations with people in line with me was easier, and even though I’d never attended a Fan Fest event before, I felt more than welcome. In fact, it ended up feeling like thousands of people threw me a massive birthday party, and in many ways, that’s exactly what happened. Fan Fest’s slogan is that everything they do is for fans, by fans, and I really think they hit that nail on the head.
Though the weekend came to a close far too quickly for my liking, I find myself already looking to see what nerdy, geektastic, fandom-filled event I can go to next. Where are YOU going for your next fandom adventure? Sound off below and give me some ideas!
Jen dela Luna
Jen is a 29-year old Canadian writer, traveller, pastry cook, and full-time fangirl. When she isn’t busy with her day job, she’s usually leaving on a jet plane or taking a midnight train going anywhere, baking up a storm, reading a new book (or rereading a really good old one), or marathoning The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and sense8 (again… ahem).