Celebs, Creators, and Cosplay on Display at Fan Expo St. Louis 2022 (Weekend in Review)
For the first time since 2019, the America’s Center was filled with nerd life. After acquiring Wizard World last year, Fan Expo brought a great show to downtown Saint Louis.
The entry procedures were easy, the floor was well organized, and the programming rivaled some of the best cons I’ve been to. The guest list featured legendary actors like Carl Weathers and Ron Perlman. The main cast of Clerks showed up as well, with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes hosting a Jay and Silent Bob show on Saturday night. Fan Expo even hosted multiple after-parties at popular bars downtown. And of course, the experiences I have with the people I meet are worth well more than the ticket price.
I have to say I had a whole lot of fun. Fan Expo knows how to host a damn good show with stuff for every kind of nerd. It showed great potential for future conventions. I was honestly shocked by the addition of legitimate after parties. It may not be everyone’s thing, but that attention to the social aspect is very important to the con community. This recap is going to be a bit shorter than usual, as I was only able to attend on Friday and Saturday.
If you’ve ever done a full weekend at a con or read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that Friday is usually slow. But there’s still plenty to do. The floor is set up and ready for shoppers, there are a variety of panels and events to attend, and a decent amount of people to see. I really appreciate the first day of a con as an opportunity to see the floor without the huge crowds that Saturday brings.
For this first day, I decided to focus on panels. After a minor struggle to find parking and make it inside, I just barely managed to arrive in time for the first of two panels I planned to cover. Laura Richter of Spencer Films moderated as Nolan North, one of the biggest names in video games, took us on a trip through his experiences as a voice actor.
It was painfully obvious that it was a Friday event, but the sparse attendance actually made for a much more comfortable setting. Nolan started the conversation with his love for the Cardinals, pointing out his hat and mentioning the tickets he had to the weekend’s games. He has a deep appreciation for how important baseball is to Saint Louis and no matter where he goes or where he lives, the Cards have always been his favorite team.
Nolan then delved into his origin story, recounting the events that led him to becoming the voice of so many beloved characters. After a drunken dare to do standup comedy and a string of theater productions to help out a friend, he finally made his way to Los Angeles to take a real shot at acting. Obviously, that move worked out very well for him and for us as fans.
Even with a credit list a mile long, Nolan said his most impactful role has been Nathan Drake in Uncharted. He shared a bit about how he got the role and the multitude of opportunities that opened up for him afterward. Producing the games, and most recently the movie, has taken him to many places around the world. He said his experience with it probably took him to more places than Nathan actually visited in the series. Between using his own speaking voice and doing the motion capture for the character, it’s easy to see why Nathan Drake is Nolan’s most treasured role.
Despite the relatively low attendance, plenty of people stepped up to ask questions during the Q&A part of the panel. Nolan recounted stories about his roles as Superboy and Superman in Young Justice, how he was offered the role of Superman completely out of nowhere after he got the Superboy part. He shared some of his experience as Deadpool in the Deadpool game, saying they’re really hoping to make a sequel in the near future. He also talked about the conflicts of legacy characters. Those characters that are played by one person for so long that they’ve become synonymous with the role. The biggest instance of that recently was Bender in Futurama. In those cases, it’s very hard to recast because of the respect among actors and the fans that don’t want that change.
I actually got to close the panel with a final question. Over the hour, Nolan dipped into a southern accent that sounded a lot like Matthew McConaughey. I pointed it out and asked what other celebrities he likes to impersonate. After doing a spot on McConaughey, he shared his Walken impression, which he calls his “sleepy voice”. Apparently when Nolan North is extremely tired, he sounds like Christopher Walken. He even did an ADR session for an extra line for Walken in Click. He then shared his Jason Statham impression, expressing how much he loves the attitude and how fun it is to sound like a European badass.
By the time the panel ended, people were already waiting outside for the next guest to appear in the theater. While Nolan North left to get ready for the Cardinals game, fans packed into the room to see the legendary Carl Weathers.
The whole room immediately got to relate to Carl on a midwestern level. Even a former Raider, a world heavyweight champion, a golf instructor, and an intergalactic bounty broker can fall victim to the massive amounts of pollen in Saint Louis. A true professional though, he powered through the allergies to tell us all about his journey.
Carl started off with a dive into his early theater experiences. He came to thrive in adoration, which led him to follow passions that gained praise. The pursuit of “mountains of muscles” took him to a short professional football career before acting. His combination of theater experience and athletics made him a perfect candidate for action movies.
The room was enthralled by stories of Carl’s experiences in making the Rocky movies. He said they were by far his most difficult and rewarding projects. The training and shoot schedules were intense, but it paid off by launching Carl’s career into the spotlight. It led to more successful and memorable roles in TV and movies. He recalled exploring the jungles in Predator, cracking jokes with Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, and running down the street in Action Jackson. He shared stories about meeting and becoming friends with Muhammad Ali, play boxing whenever they’d meet.
After energizing the attendees with his past highlights, he came to his most recent project. His face was alight with joy as he recounted his experiences working on The Mandalorian. He’s been on both sides of the camera at this point, having directed “The Siege” in season two. The seasoned bounty broker Greef Karga is among Carl’s favorite characters he’s ever played. He loves the mystery of the charismatic character with underworld connections and an obviously epic backstory. We share his excitement in seeing where the story takes the characters.
Stories about his interactions with a little green friend had the crowd captivated. Grogu, Baby Yoda, The Child, or however you know him, has certainly taken his spot as the star of the show. Carl loves the baby not only because of his extreme cuteness and mysterious powers, but because attention follows him wherever he goes. Carl knows that every bit of screen time he shares with Grogu is another opportunity to show what he can do as an actor. Carl also shared that he would be taking another shot at the helm in season three, confirming that he will direct another episode of The Mandalorian.
With an open floor at the end of the panel’s hour, Carl took the opportunity to voice his opinions and desires for more social responsibility and awareness. Like many of us, he wants to see a better world where people take care of each other rather than scramble for power and money. It was an odd thing to see at a comic convention, but certainly struck a chord with most of the audience. It took bravery and a kind heart to share those words with us.
Thoroughly pleased with my only planned panels for the weekend, I spent the rest of the day exploring the convention floor. There weren’t a whole lot of people that day, so it was easy to navigate. What I did see and experience was certainly worth a day walking a con floor. The Wulfgar Weapons and Props (@wulfgarweapons) booth was busy all weekend, even on the slow Friday. Wulfgar always brings a solid crew with him. For this particular show, that included Lisa (@ladydragon_creations), Rachel (@simplyrayelle), and John (@whojohnquade). James and the crew were hard at work both in and out of costume all weekend running the booth and panels.
Exploring the floor led me to a few more familiar faces, like Des (@desireecosplay) and Scott (@wildkarde). Scott and I weaved through the aisles for a while, catching up on life and the con scene. I also got a chance to meet Craig of Front Row Network, who had just moderated the Carl Weathers panel. He told me about their coverage and how they simply volunteered to moderate panels after years of press work for conventions. I may have to look into that and try my hand at moderating a panel or two. If I can sit down for long enough, that is!
As Friday came to a close, Wulfgar invited me and several others out for dinner and drinks. After a quick walk down Washington to the nearby Flamingobowl, we sat down to relax for a great ending to a chill day with friends. There was the official cosplay afterparty at Start Bar, but we don’t get too many opportunities to see each other outside of conventions. Dinner and drinks in a place that wasn’t packed was the perfect speed for us. Of course, it also gave me the opportunity to rest up for the big Saturday.
Here’s where the inconvenient parking actually causes me some issues. Now, I wear the vault suit for several reasons. I love Fallout, it’s comfortable, and I can get as sweaty and messy as I want and it doesn’t mess up the look. That being said, it is 20-30lbs of gear depending on what I bring in my bag. Parking about three blocks away, I was sweating before I even got halfway to the entrance. I know my other cosplayer friends had similar issues. I’m willing to bet at least someone melted on the sidewalk.
Knowing that the majority of my day would be on the convention floor, I started off the day pretty slow. My first stop was Wulfgar’s booth, where I saw a crowd admiring and shopping the wall of props. The first friend I found was Tom (@barkingbasset), who’s been to several cons with Justin and I before the pandemic. We caught up on life updates, discussed a few upcoming events, and started off on a hunt for cosplay photos. On our first lap around the floor, I ran into another familiar face. Another former guest of the Calamity crew, Harper (@dl_grooming) was at a lot of the cons I covered in my first couple years on this adventure. He stopped cosplaying to focus on his career, so I was very happy to see him back in nerd mode.
We explored each section of the convention floor. While the organization was good, some areas felt a little cramped. Groups of cosplayers accumulated on the cosplay red carpet, which made for some great photo opportunities but also jammed up the aisle between the entrance and exit. The lane in front of Wulfgar’s booth, which featured a series of backdrops, was a much more comfortable place for cosplayers to congregate. That lane also held the Star Wars groups like the 501st and R2 Builders as well as the guest cosplayers’ booths. I found myself around there a whole lot over the course of the day.
While wandering on my own, I had another classic convention moment. After going to these enough and making a whole bunch of cosplayer friends, it’s easy to spot someone you know from about a mile away. This one in particular was Sarah from the Terrible Trio (@terrible_trio_creations) dressed as Caduceus Clay from Critical Role. I followed her and the smell of Sugar Fire to the food area to find Kat (@tiny_angry_elf_cosplay) as Fjord and Morgan of Terrible Trio as their handler. They’ve been in my albums before and I love how fantastic these costumes look. The only one missing from this reunion was Joannah (@terrible_trio_crafts), the eldest sibling.
As soon as they gave me directions, I went to find Jo and a couple of our other friends. Of course, they all stood out in their epic costumes. Joannah looked like a complete badass in her newest costume, Eivor from Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Sisters Dana and Diana are in the “long time con friends” category and we share a massive love of Star Wars. I really appreciate OC cosplays, and their Star Wars characters are iconic. As we reconvened with the others, the Trio decided to return to their car for touch-ups and a beverage break. While I was invited to join, I got quickly and thoroughly distracted.
Shortly after they left, I found a couple of the friends I made at AnimeSTL. Now, I greatly value new experiences… and the weirder the better. No matter whether it goes well or horribly, it’ll usually make a good story. In ridiculously cute costumes, Brooke (@randomlullaby) and Keesha (@kuudere.kitten) took me on a manic, “blue powerade” fueled journey through the various vendor and artist booths. It was like diving down an anime rabbit hole, which was much appreciated since I didn’t get much time to shop at ASTL. Fan Expo was on a tight budget for me, so I was happy to shop vicariously through them. And they didn’t disappoint! Brooke had a bag literally big enough to climb into. The only thing I regret not getting was fudge from Copper Coast Confections. They’ve been at several midwest cons before, including Planet Comicon and C2E2, and they’re ridiculously good!
At some point during our journey (which involved several shoe changes and lots of photos from con attendees), a wild Justin (@justbryyce) appeared! Justin wasn’t a part of the ReviewSTL crew this time since he was only able to attend half of Saturday, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the con and taking photos. Not long into our photo walk, I could feel the wear of the day and desperately needed to lose some weight. This is why I love the vault suit. It looks fantastic when I have the Pip-Boy and big steel-toed boots on. As soon as I take those off though, it suddenly becomes 80% more comfortable. I call it “party mode” because it’s usually how I handle the nightly activities. After a quick walk back to my car, we came back to the con in party mode.
Justin and I bounced around collecting what photos we could before making it to the celebrity area where all the con’s guests were lined up. The north third of the dome floor had plenty of room to walk through, where we could get glances at all the famous faces like Michael Rooker, Mark Sheppard, and the Smallville cast. It was also close enough that we could hear the iconic voices of Billy West, Rob Paulson, and Dante Basco. We ran into several more friends in this area, including the marker artist Mike Czerwonka (@mwonkaart) who I hadn’t seen since before the mass quarantine. We also had a moment to catch up with Katie, partner of the ReviewSTL head honcho Kevin Brackett, and their son Ryan. Kevin, unfortunately, couldn’t make it to the con due to an injury. Wish him a speedy recovery and hopefully we’ll catch up with him at another event soon!
We were also lucky enough to find Elea from Muddy Waters Cosplay (@muddywaterscosplay) along with her crew. Elea shined bright in her new Din Djarin Mandalorian armor. I can’t imagine how hot it must have been even with the two fans she built into the helmet, but I have to say it looked like she stepped right out of the show! It’s sturdy enough to take a few blaster shots too. Elea has recently been helping me with one of my dream cosplays, Darth Malak from Knights of the Old Republic. After my latest test fitting for the body suit, I’m ridiculously excited to show it off later this year at DragonCon. I’ll be posting plenty of pictures of it as I test the makeup and other pieces.
Time until the cosplay contest was running short. Upon double-checking the schedule, I realized I was already late. I had already seen most of the contestants on our way back in as Wulfgar and Lisa (Lady Dragon) rounded them up for organization. I snuck into the Ferrara Theater after the first few contestants had already walked. As I posted up on stage right, I saw the line of cosplayers waiting to be announced was still plenty long. I was just in time to catch Joannah as Eivor, then Sarah and Kat as Caduceus and Fjord. There was a plethora of impressive, intense, and funny cosplays in the competition. The audience and competitors alike had a ton of fun.
Everyone cheered for the winners announced. Each judge gave an honorable mention award, picking some of the most fun and unique builds. They gave awards for Best Hero to a beautifully elegant Cinderella, Best Villain to a delightfully creepy Springtrap from Five Nights at Freddy’s, and Best Group/Duo went to Kat and Sarah! I wish I could have seen the look on Kat’s face upon winning the first cosplay contest she’s ever entered. I’ve taken photos of both these costumes before, both at other cons and in photoshoots and absolutely love the detailed work that went into them. They bring a great energy to these characters, which are such an adorable odd couple.
As the cosplay contest wrapped up, I talked to a few people about their plans for the evening. The primary consensus was “happy but tired”, which is pretty typical for a bunch of experienced cosplayers. I had planned to check out the Drag & DJ show at the Crack Fox, one of the official after-parties, but desperately needed some food first. This led to a string of mistakes.
Now when I say mistakes, I don’t mean I got in trouble… but the opposite. My first mistake was leaving downtown to go home for food. If you know Saint Louis, you know that it’s probably not the best idea to leave a car full of expensive equipment unattended downtown. I wanted to drop off my camera gear and cosplay stuff before going out for the night. This is where not having a hotel room did me in. The effort to get home, get food, and unload my car made me realize how gross and sweaty I was. So my second “mistake” was taking a shower. After that, all of the energy I had was absolutely gone. Cue the third mistake, sitting down on my couch with Baron (my cat) to rest for a bit. I was dead within minutes! So this course of events, while probably the responsible thing to do, kept me from going to any of the several after-hours events happening that night.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
I love these events and want them to be successful, but I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t at least mention a few issues that stood out.
Firstly, Wizard World put a bad taste in the mouths of some midwest nerds. Several people I spoke with were comparing it to years past. And while Wizard World and Fan Expo are two different things, the vibe is similar enough that some people were mixing them up and unwilling to give Fan Expo a chance.
Another huge issue is the location. The parking garage attached to the America’s Center was closed all weekend. From what I’ve been told, it’s falling apart and will be demolished soon. Then on Saturday, the next closest garage (on Washington) was also closed. Even wearing about 30lbs of gear, I am fine walking a couple blocks to get to a convention. That effort is multiplied for people with big cosplays, people that want to do a lot of shopping, and people with disabilities. I’m willing to bet inconvenient access affected the attendance.
Overall, Fan Expo was a lot of fun. I appreciate the fact they tried to pick up where Wizard World left off and make some real improvements. As I mentioned earlier, the floor was well organized despite a few areas being a bit cramped. The guest list was impressive despite several cancellations, and they all seemed to be having a great time.
My only regrets from the entire weekend were not buying fudge and leaving to go home early Saturday night. Other than that, I was happy with the experience! Sure, I could complain some more about the inconvenient parking and location, but it wasn’t enough to keep me away. I’m sure Saint Louis and Fan Expo will work out a better venue at some point. No matter the quality of the convention though, my favorite thing will always be the people.
Experiences like this don’t mean much to me if I can’t share them with others. I treasure every moment I get to share with my con friends. It comes so easy in the midwest, too. It seems like the world gets a bit smaller with every convention. I can go to Fan Expo, Planet Comicon, ASTL, C2E2, or any other midwest con and guarantee I’ll find at least a few people I know. I’m infinitely grateful to be a part of this nerdy community and cannot wait for the next adventure.
Unless something impulsive comes up between now and then, I’ll see you all at DragonCon!