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Calgary’s ‘fantastical’ love letter to pop culture about ‘people celebrating everybody’

For Serenity Than, it’s the most important date on the calendar — one filled with comic-book wonder.

Than, her sister, husband and son will be among the throngs of people attending Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo over the next three days.

Unique, amazing, inclusive — all words she uses to describe the experience.

“It’s always a highlight of my year.”

It’s a love letter to pop culture and its fans.

Than and her family are planning on attending this year’s Expo and Parade of Wonders in clothes inspired by the Barbie movie, including Weird Barbie, roller-skating Barbie and Ken, and Allen.

This year, the Parade of Wonders — or POW! — turns 10. It’s what organizers say is Canada’s largest pop culture parade, and it’s the way people from all over Calgary and beyond kick off the beginning of the Fan Expo.

Than and her family have been attending the parade for years now. She says they’ve been working on their costumes for months, thrifting and searching for the perfect Barbie-themed pieces, but preparing for the parade is all part of the enjoyment. 

a group of people in costumes stand by a parade on a sidewalk outside.
Serenity Than, middle left, and her family members Daisy Than, Jeremy Whalen and Logan Whalen, from left to right, cosplaying the 2022 sci-fi film, Everything Everywhere All at Once. (Supplied by Serenity Than)

Last year, the group went as characters from Everything Everywhere All at Once, hotdog fingers included.

But it wasn’t just about having fun. Than said the experience of being part of the fandom community in Calgary is something special, something that can only be felt by being there to experience the magic.

It’s what makes the parade and its subsequent convention a common thread that pulls a community together. And all who partake share a profound respect for what these iconic pop cultural moments mean to individuals and the groups they’re part of.

“We got such a huge response from the representation of the Asian community, and that meant a lot to me and my sister especially,” said Than.

“What I really love about the whole weekend is it’s just people celebrating everybody, and you’ll see that when you’re on site at the convention.”

Than is just one person who has a deep appreciation for all that this community offers to the city, but by no means is she alone in this feeling.

‘You find where you belong’

“It feels awesome because I get to meet people who have the same interests as me,” said Hannah Bricknell, a 17-year-old high school student from Abbotsford, B.C. 

“You find where you belong … and you get to finally realize, oh, I’m not the only one who likes this, there are other people in the world who do as well. And then you build a community from that.”

She’ll be walking in the parade for the first time ever this year, and she’s cosplaying as a character from her own original comic book, drawn and written by herself. 

Bricknell will be dressing up as Sly, a bounty-hunting fox and the protagonist of her comic book. Sly is strict and disciplined — he’s meticulous and organized, he plays by the rules, and he doesn’t like it when things don’t go as planned. His main goal is to catch evil-doers and keep a low profile, Bricknell says.

a cartoon cover shows a red and green background with two animal characters. it reads "two faces."
Hannah Bricknell created her own comic book to hopefully earn a scholarship for her post-secondary education. (Supplied by Christine Bricknell)

“I made this story for an English project in Grade 11 last year. It was like an original writing assignment, and I had recently made in computer graphics two drawings of a random character that came up in my brain.”

And she made it all for a scholarship presentation that could hopefully help pay for next year’s university tuition, where she’ll be starting a media studies degree. Whatever she pursues in the future, drawing will always be an integral part of who she is, she says.

Bricknell may be young, but she’s been going to conventions like this for years, bringing her comic book scripts and art to get feedback from celebrity comic book creators, whom she believes have been guiding mentors throughout her process.

“These fan expos are helping me figure out what I want to draw and just sort of determine what my creative journey is going to be from here,” she said. 

And Bricknell’s passion for the community has been embraced by a supportive mom behind the scenes. Bricknell’s mom, Christine, is also dressing up, but as the antagonist of her daughter’s series — Jack Rabbit. They were still working on putting the costume together as of Wednesday, but they’re excited to showcase all their hours of hard work making these costumes at the parade. 

“Going to this parade will be celebrating my completion of the comic book.”

a collage of images. one shows a person standing in a costume with a fox mask. the second image shows a comic book strip. the third shows a mask.
Hannah Bricknell, a 17-year-old high school student from Abbotsford, B.C., is attending the Parade of Wonders on Friday with her mom. They’ll be cosplaying as characters from Bricknell’s original comic book. (Supplied by Christine Bricknell)

Every year, thousands of people show up for the festivities, filling the streets by Stephen Avenue to watch the POW! pass by as it treks toward Olympic Plaza. Then, folks rush to Stampede Park to marvel at the various booths, panels, celebrities and everything in between at the actual convention.

“Everyone is a fan of something,” reads the Fan Expo’s website. For parade goers, the statement couldn’t be more accurate.

There’s something about the Calgary Expo that acts as a magnet for creativity and self-expression.

‘People who like fantastical things’

A parade attendee for the past few years, Diane Fung’s costume is an extension of her — literally.

Fung makes dragon puppets and wears them as a full-arm sleeve. As she marches with the parade, her arm slithers and floats through the air, and her dragon puppet comes to life, flying by her side and interacting with the crowd.

a woman wears a green dragon puppet on her arm.
Diane Fung holds her handmade puppet, Levi the Leviathan, at a previous year’s Parade of Wonders. Levi is made entirely out of recycled bags. (Supplied by Diane Fung)

“Whether it’s about fantasy or sci-fi, whenever I go into the parade I always end up talking to people. And the puppet really actually helps,” said Fung. 

“It almost has more of a presence than I do.”

two images of a woman wearing a puppet of a dragon.
Diane Fung holds one of her three dragon puppets. The feathery creature was made by Fung’s own hands, entirely out of upcycled materials. (Supplied by Diane Fung)

She started walking with the parade in 2018 after making two dragon puppets. She says it only took her about a weekend to make two of them, but a third — which has glowing red eyes and a skull as its face — took much longer. 

Now, she has three in total, and each of them have their own names and varying esthetic.

“It’s the Parade of Wonders, and I just like the wonder, mostly on the kids’ faces … They know that it’s not real, but I guess for a little time they get to pretend that it is.” 

two images in a collage show a woman and her black and feathery skull-faced dragon puppet
One of Diane Fung’s creations is a skull-faced dragon with glowing red eyes named Hollow. Usually, she likes to entertain kids, but ‘[that] one’s a bit scary looking, so I don’t usually bring that out for the parade,’ she said. (Supplied by Diane Fung)

When it comes to the parade, Fung says her favourite part is how it represents everything awesome about the fandom community.

“It’s just a whole bunch of other artists and people who like fantastical things.”

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