More Than A Fandom: Carmilla FanExpo 2016

 Panel festivities  Credit: Aria Bauer

Panel festivities
Credit: Aria Bauer

For the second year in a row, FanExpo Canada saw a sea of leather, flannel, and button-ups between its usual capes and tights. Carmilla, the Toronto-made queer web series about a journalistic university freshman and her annoying vampire roommate based off the 1872 novella, was back at the fan convention in full force to celebrate its upcoming season three premiere and drop the new trailer.

From its origins as a low budget experiment in branded advertising by Smokebomb, Shaftesbury, and U by Kotex, Carmilla has expanded to easily fill one of the mid-sized conference rooms and was one of the few web series at the same conference as legends such as Stan Lee, Mark Hamill, and Margaret Atwood.

Missing some of these other guests didn’t seem to bother fans who started queuing as early as four hours before the 5 PM panel to ensure a good seat to see their favorite web series stars. For some, the community of fans waiting to get into the panel was just as important as the stars they would meet inside.

If nothing else, the fandom prides itself on being a community. Waiting in line to see the ‘little web series that could’ is a fan experience unlike most others at the convention. While other panels often feature long winding lines of small groups, the Carmilla queue quickly turned from a series of lines into one large blob of fans all talking about their fandom, their theories for the new season, and making friends based on nothing more than a shared fandom and the underlying qualities it represents.

For some, it was the first time they’d met internet friends in person with fans coming as far as Norway, Germany, and Australia. Popular fan artists were camped out amidst the crowd, selling pieces or offering free commissions. Fanfiction writers unveiled themselves as the faces behind the stories and were promptly asked what happened next in their portion of the universe. Cosplay dotted the crowd from leather clad ‘Creampuffs’ emulating their favorite vampire to antler-adorned headdresses to improvised fangs glinting under snapbacks.

Fandom at its finest.

It only continued as the panel began. Opening with the long-awaited trailer and a moment of silent anticipation, the fandom was screaming in excitement before the trailer had even completed to show their appreciation. The only thing louder? The screams when the cast walked in the room.

Unlike last year’s panel, which involved a hilarious role-reversal script reading, this year the Carmilla panel focused more on questions from the audience and interacting with the fans that support the show. With new format changes in its third and final season (moving from a single episode twice weekly to a three act binge-like format), the crowd was loud in its appreciation of learning that they’d get 17 episodes dropped in the first act. For this fandom, that’s nearly half a season at once.

The surprise quickly turned to cheers.

 The cast of  Carmilla  interacting with fans during the signing portion of the panel.  Credit: Aria Bauer

The cast of Carmilla interacting with fans during the signing portion of the panel.
Credit: Aria Bauer

Other comments, such as a vague answer to a question on the ‘burying your gays’ trope and comments from the actors on their favorite scenes, left fans a tad more concerned for the lives of their beloved characters. However, there was plenty of good news such as the appearance of main character Laura’s father for the first time, a likely revival of their favorite ‘ship Hollstein, and an explicit use of the word ‘lesbian’. All things the crowd has long been waiting for.

Equally anticipated was the final hour (and more) of the panel where fans were able to interact with the stars, share their stories, and get cast signatures. Learning from last year’s over three hour signing segment for those in the back, the signing moved quickly but still provided time for fans to express their appreciation to the cast and get their provided Carmilla-branded box of U by Kotex tampons or Carmilla t-shirt signed as a take-home. 

Although the official portion of the evening ended, many fans were seen going off in groups and taking the Carmilla spirit with them to the rest of the convention, dinners, parties, and the heart of downtown Toronto.

Fandom is often thought to be a harsh place and perhaps, for many fandoms, it can look that way. Yet, this large group of Creampuffs offered nothing but positivity and support to each other. If the measure of a great piece of art is not the art itself but the community it creates and inspires, then Carmilla has earned its title of greatness.

Written by Aria Bauer