Central Canada is one of the best spots in the north for conventions, known for a roster of events that are as numerous as they are reputable. For the citizens of Winnipeg, Manitoba, an exciting new convention has emerged under the name FanQuest, which seeks to represent all fandoms including video games, comic books, anime, and more. The new con has made a splash in the local scene and seems to be maintaining its momentum heading into its 3rd year of operation, so what better time to have a sit with FanQuest’s Chief Organizer Dan Vadeboncoeur.
Interview with Dan Vadeboncoeur from FanQuest, Central Canada’s Up-And-Coming Convention
What motivated you to work with conventions?
That goes back a couple years to 2014 at Central Canada Comic-Con. I’m a big podcaster, I do 2 podcasts and produce a third one and at the time I thought it would be fun to do a podcast from the con all weekend. I’ve always been a big comic book fan so I got some friends together, we got a club table at C4 and we spent the weekend podcasting and had a great time. So the following year, I approached C4 and asked to do it again and then, through a conversation with their management, I was offered a job as their executive director for a year, helping run their events and there were 3 or 4 that we did other than the big convention so that was a lot of fun.
Speaking of Central Canada Comic-Con, there’s been a lot of local buzz about them taking the year off. How do you feel this affects FanQuest and its position in the local convention scene?
Well, it's certainly brought more attention our way. That week that they made that announcement a lot of people were speaking [up] about all the other conventions happening because I think what you saw in the mainstream media reporting on it was "oh well, Winnipeg's not having a Comic-Con this year." Meanwhile, there's us, there's Aikon, there’s Keycon . . . there’s all kinds of conventions—smaller ones—and we’re just part of that family. We have such a great fan community here in Winnipeg and these people love coming out here to these events and there are so many of them and I think that's a great thing.
What about FanQuest, in particular, do you think draws people in as opposed to other cons?
I see some flaws in the big con system as it were. . . for example, bringing guests in and having people pay for autographs and access to the guests and we didn’t want there to be a barrier to people. So, one of the things we thought makes us stand out is that we don’t have any autographs, we never will have autographs, anything like that. Other than the merchandise, once you pay to get in the door everything else is included in the price of admission so it’s kind of an all-inclusive convention as opposed to another con where you pay and there’s a little fee for this and a little fee for this and it adds up. We would rather have people come in and have a good time. If they have money to spend, they can spend it with our vendors and artists.
Do you have any sort of rules or standards when it comes to what vendors you’ll accept or reject?
We haven’t had to reject anybody yet and we’ve had a great response from our vendor community. We’ve sold all our tables out every year and we’re finding people who have tabled with us in the past come back year after year. What we want in vendors is a diverse range so that when someone comes to the con they can see a bunch of different things. We don’t want a lot of direct competition so we don’t want to have, for example, more than one video game vendor. We’d rather have one person selling video games, one person selling comic books because those are pretty much the same. When you go [to a video game vendor] they're going to have pretty similar titles. Fortunately, most of our vendors are artists, artisans, and authors, people who create their own products from scratch. They're not just reselling toys, comics or memorabilia, they're selling something unique to themselves and that's what we want in our vendors, we want something different.
Where did you come up with the name FanQuest?
We had such a hard time with the name. We lost some committee members over our naming issues. For example, one person suggested we call it Red River Comic-Con and a.) there’s already Comic-Con; and b.) everything [in Winnipeg] is named Red River, so I didn’t want it to be that generic. Another former committee member who had to leave because of family obligations, she came up with FanQuest. The idea behind the con is basically that you're on a quest for your fandom. So, if you're a fan of something, be it anime, videogames or sci-fi, you're going to find something to do here and have a great experience. And maybe in the process, you'll come across some new fandoms and discover new things that you didn't know about before and become a fan of that, so it's a quest to find new fandoms as well.
Do you ever run into any troubles behind the scenes trying to represent such a wide variety of fandoms?
Not really, I mean we can’t get everybody every year, but we do our best to try and represent as much as we can. Our committee is made up of people from diverse fandoms so we’ve got like a person who loves D&D, a person who loves Star Wars, a person who loves Lord of the Rings and those are just the big names. Even stuff like LARPing, cosplay and that kind of stuff, there’s someone on our committee who’ll like it so they’ll always pipe up like “we don’t have anybody from a LARPing group, we’ve gotta get some in here.”
What do you think sets the fandom scene in Winnipeg apart from other ones?
I’ve not been to a lot of conventions out of town, but I just know that Winnipeg has such a passionate fanbase for everything like this. I saw it at C4 when I first went there in 2014, I saw it again when we ran our Kickstarter 3 years ago when we raised the money for the first FanQuest—they came out, they supported us—and I saw it again when C4 announced they were taking a year off, because they’re so passionate about their fandom, they want to celebrate it and they’re telling the world, they’re telling everybody that they love it so much. I mean, I know there’s fan communities everywhere else, I’m not saying we’re the best, but we’re pretty good.
We’ve never heard of a convention launching via Kickstarter before. How did you find that experience?
It was great! Nerve-racking, because Winnipeg is a very last-minute town but also Kickstarter is a very last-minute entity. People don’t want to contribute until they can see that you’re going to make it, which is weird. Our goal was $10 000 and we made more than half of that in the last 2 days of the campaign. I was convinced we weren’t going to make it. We were still going to have an event if we didn’t make the Kickstarter but it was going to be something much smaller than what we wanted to do. There have been other conventions that did Kickstarters; I saw there was a Steven Universe con somewhere that raised money to start their first thing and all kinds of different conventions that use Kickstarter so it does happen.
It sounds like the operation has run pretty smoothly for a con that started up relatively recently. Did you encounter any challenges or roadblocks past getting the funding?
I’m sure there have been. I don’t tend to think about those because I tend to block them out but, for example, the first year we were in operation, one of our guests that came in was D.C. Douglas who does a lot of voiceover work for video games and anime. He was coming in, and we lucked out because he was doing a con in Minneapolis the day before and he was going to fly in, spend two days with us and then fly out, back to L.A. or something. Well, he forgot his passport in Los Angeles and he phones me the day of and he ended up driving here from Minneapolis, which he didn’t have to do but he had already started doing it so I couldn’t tell him to turn back. We basically didn’t have him for the first day which was not good but, he was very nice about it, we worked out a new deal and people loved meeting him so that turned out okay. On the first day last year we forgot to tell the college that we were happening, so [the venue] didn’t have air conditioning so it was so hot, boiling hot. It was like a greenhouse. Everyone’s setting up their tables and we’re all sweating buckets so I had to call [the staff] in on their day off and get them to come in and turn the air conditioning on because we would not have been able to run the con without having it on. There’s always little hiccups here and there, but what’s amazing to me is that it all comes together and people do it for the love of the fandom, they do it because they love celebrating it.
What do you think is the best part of being in a fandom?
Just feeling so passionate about something and connecting with other people who feel as passionately as you do. That’s why we do these events. We have an actor coming in who’s part of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s not the most popular TV show in the world, it’s really good though, I love it and everyone who’s going to come to meet him are probably going to be fans of that show so they’ll be able to connect with other people who love that show as well. I don’t have a lot of personal friends who watch that show, a couple people maybe here or there, but getting a bunch of people en masse together to talk about one specific thing like that is awesome. And the same thing goes for anime or videogames or whatever your fandom may be. Just getting together with like-minded people and having conversations about it, that’s the best part of it for sure.
It sounds like you enjoy quite a few different aspects of the convention experience. Do you have any one favorite part?
My favorite part is programming, which is where I tend to be during these events, that’s what I did for C4 as well. Q&A’s, the panels, that’s where the conversations take place, that’s where the discussions are happening. So, I like to be there either moderating or sitting in the back. Last year we had Pablo Hidalgo here, he’s the creative executive at Lucasfilm and he’s one of the guys who oversees the Star Wars property. He also writes the visual dictionaries they come out with, so he came in and he gave us a talk about Solo: A Star Wars Story which had just come out and it was the first delivery of that particular talk which he does at conventions all over the world, he does it at all the Star Wars conventions as well. And he’s from Winnipeg by the way, so it was so cool hearing how he sneaks in these little references to Winnipeg in Star Wars. One of them was a Hudson’s Bay reference in Solo, like Hudson’s Bay fur trading from back in the day. So, it was kind of a thing that he said only Canadians would get and it was very cool to hear that stuff that you wouldn’t know if you weren’t at that talk, so that’s what I love best about FanQuest.
FanQuest famously takes place at Winnipeg's Red River College. Why choose this venue when so many others in the city go to hotels or the convention center?
First of all, I work here, my day job is as an instructor, so I know it very well. I know all its rooms are pretty adaptable to panels and discussions and they’ve already got projectors and screens in them so you just hook up a computer and you can play whatever you want. The first year we did it at [the University of Winnipeg] and that was a great experience, but I would say it was too big, I had delusions of grandeur after that Kickstarter, it was just a little bit too big for our first year. So, we scaled it back, came here, it’s a smaller space. It worked out very well, so we just decided to stay here for the third year.
Do you have any words to tell the people who might be on the fence about coming to FanQuest?
I guarantee you're going to have a good time [laughs]. I would say that it's a lot of fun. If you love fandom if you've never been to a con before it's a great experience so it is what you make of it and there's going to be a ton of fun stuff here.