Through a voice-activated X-Box, The Flash television series is paused in Trevor Clement and Christine Barnes’s living room. The Minden couple sit on their couch surrounded by autographed pictures of some of their favou-rite sci-fi and horror film and TV actors and ac-tresses. Star Wars and zombie collectibles and toys are scattered throughout the space – some belonging to Clement and Barnes, and some belonging to their son, Jack. With ease, they can discuss the difference between nerds and geeks (nerds are book-based smart, geeks are fans – but there is cross-over, like in the case of Sheldon on Big Bang Theory), which game system is best and the devastation felt when a favourite character gets killed off on The Walking Dead … twice.
Clement and Barnes quickly point out they’re
likely not the biggest geeks in the county, but
their autograph collection and their knack for
bringing other locals along on their annual jour-
ney to a speculative fiction fan convention held
in Toronto suggests otherwise.
The interest in all things geek – sci-fi and fantasy genres, role playing and strategy table top and video games, video games in general, cartoons and comic books – started at a young age for the pair, born into a generation that grew up with influence from the success of E.T. and the explosion of home video game systems.
“I think I was more of a closet geek, back then,” said Barnes. “I liked horror and sci-fi. It was hard to come by with my sister not liking any of that. But I always liked the cartoons – like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sailor Moon, Ghostbusters.”
“I read a bunch of comics, and yeah, there were the cartoons,” said Clement. “Then Star Wars and all the sci-fi stuff. Dad used to watch Star Trek, I remember watching with him for awhile. Then he started watching Stargate. I started watching and thought, ‘it’s not that great,’ and then five years later I was hooked.”
Though Dr. Who, the original Batman series and Star Trek series attracted a select audience before the couple was even born, they agreed it was the popularity of superhero and comic book movies coming out that made ‘geekiness’ more mainstream.
Being part of a fandom is so popular that it’s estimated the attendance of FanExpo, the couple’s convention of choice, grew in size from just over 1,000 participants when it was first hosted in Toronto in 1995 to more than 130,000 when it was held last year. It’s a growth the couple has seen since they’ve attended the past five conventions together, most recently with their son. They make an entire long weekend vacation of the four-day event, typically held the weekend before Labour Day, which features panels, seminars, workshops, artist galleries and celebrity meet-and-greets.
“I collect all the loose change from the year, roll it, take it to the bank, and it’s spending money,” said Barnes. “Once the bucket fills up, I start rolling the change.”
“I’ve already got the tickets, the room is booked,” said Clement.
“Thursday we just go and walk around, see who’s there, look at all the stuff,” said Barnes. “Friday, we start to get autographs. Saturday is strictly autographs. Sunday is, ‘let’s do one more sweep, just in case.”
“It’s just gotten bigger,” said Clement. “It gets ridiculous, especially on Saturday. Saturday’s the worst day. It takes like an hour to get from one side to the other. Thursday we go in, and we can get from one side to the other in ten minutes. You almost feel like cows to the slaughter.”
“I’m the one that doesn’t like crowds, too,” said Barnes. “But, I don’t know. There, I feel like I’m at home.”
FanExpo, the largest of its kind in Canada, is known for it’s inclusiveness, with people of all ages and abilities attending the weekend. Crowds have become massive, with many dressed in full costume as their favourite characters from movies, comic books, video games and classic fiction. It’s a place where geeks might get engaged, and one pair has even been married there.
“We always joke, this would be the worst place for the Zombie Apolcalpyse to start, because there’s nowhere to run or hide,” laughs Barnes. Many of the fans at FanExpo appreciate apocalyptic fiction, and wear costumes complete with fake weapons emulating characters from TV series, video games and movies dealing with the walking dead.
“But at the same time, it’d be the best place because you have all the weapons there,” added Clement
A huge draw of the event is photo ops and autograph opportunities with actors, actresses and artists. Clement and Barnes can’t estimate how many autographs they’ve collected, or how much they’ve spent to obtain them – autographs start at $60 – but they’ve run out of wall space to hang them. The list of people they’ve met is made up of people who have played characters that influenced their childhood or their interest in a show or movie as adults, including Robert Englund, Ron Perlman, Hulk Hogan, Norman Reedus, and Felicia Day. Barnes waited six hours in line to meet Michael Rooker from The Walking Dead, and longer for Stan Lee.
“It’s exciting,” said Barnes. “We’re fans.
“We go a little overboard,” said Clement. “The thing is, you go in and you think, I want to meet them and get their autograph. You get it framed, come home and you think, where do I put this?”
“It’s kind of like a high,” said Barnes. “It’s exciting when you meet someone.”
Regretfully for the Star Wars fans, they didn’t meet Carrie Fisher when she attended FanExpo. The actress who played the beloved Princess Leia in the series died in 2016.
“We should have got her autograph but never did,” said Clement. “I thought, oh, she’ll be back, we’ll get her another year.”
They do, however, tease each other about their reactions to some of their favourites. In sync, they’re able to mimic Barnes’ fangirling ‘hiiiiiii,’ upon meeting Norman Reedus, and they both agree they scared Richard Dean Anderson away after meeting him inside and then outside of the convention.
“We told him we were going to name our firstborn child after his character (Jack O’Neil) in Stargate,” said Barnes. “Boy or girl.”
“He was like, ‘really? No,’” laughs Clement.
Their young son, Jack Logan (his middle name chosen to honour Marvel character Wolverine), who the couple notes has the same initials as the Justice League, attended his first FanExpo last year, posing with actors and actresses and helping the couple skip the line on some occasions.
“Some of the actors and actresses are pretty nice,” said Barnes. “Like Felicia Day, last year. She was a new mother as well. Anyone who had kids, were front of the line.”
Barnes and Clement could skip the long lines to meet their favourites by purchasing a VIP pass, but have opted against it.
“I’ve thought about it,” said Clement. “It would save us time and not have to stand in the line the whole time. But half the fun of going there is the lines, really.”
“It’s like an amusement park,” said Barnes, who has befriended people in lines and said friendly convention-goers have let Barnes and Clement switch between lines, like when they both wanted to meet Adam West and Burt Ward.
The couple might not admit to being the geekiest pair in the county, but they certainly have more superhero shirts than most, quarrel over video game usage, and are even set to solidify their union with a superhero-themed Jack and Jill and a wedding date set for a pair who love their combined love of Star Wars almost as much as each other.
“May the fourth be with us,” laughs Barnes. “A date he can remember.”