Conventions have been around in Sweden for a long time, but it is only in recent years that they have really exploded. On top of that, Heroes Comic Con Stockholm is the biggest convention in the Nordics, regularly getting somewhere around 30,000 attendees per year.
When I got to the convention on Saturday morning there was a feeling of hype in the air. Doors had not even opened yet and the queue outside only got longer. Walking by the queue, it was lovely to see fans proudly sporting signs of their fandoms. People with different runes from Shadowhunters — no doubt there to see Katherine McNamara — people dressed up in their finest Hogwarts robes to see Tom Felton, and Critters en masse in both cosplay and Critical Role merch for a chance to meet Matthew Mercer.
With a fully packed schedule you would be hard pressed to be bored at this convention. There were guest Q&A’s, cosplay competitions, live role playing games on stage, book signings, opportunities to try the new Iron Man VR game, Gears 5, and so much more. Most of the crowd had gathered near the Special Guest Area, where signings and photo ops were available throughout the weekend. One by one the guests arrived, first Tom Felton, then Katherine McNamara, and then Matthew Mercer. Mercer seemed to be the one to draw the biggest crowd, since a wall of sound erupted the second he became visible in the doorway, taking anyone who wasn’t paying attention to it by surprise.
This would be a continuing pattern over the weekend, the line for autographs and photo ops with Mercer only ever dispersing after being ordered to by convention staff.
I spent much of the Saturday wandering the convention floor trying to get a feel of it. There was no shortage of amazing cosplayers, outstanding artists, interesting merch, and interactive booths. There was also no shortage of attendees, which sadly made it both hard to traverse the main floor, as well as hard to see everything as well as you would hope. Turns out they broke the previous record of attendees, and you could definitely tell that was the case.
The first panel on the main “Heroes Stage” was Tom Felton, but it filled up so fast they had to start turning people away at the door to keep from breaking the fire code. Because of this, I spent some more time walking around the main floor, watching people try out the new Just Dance 2020 (available November 5), and checking out the Gears 5 booth.
Then came the time to start queueing again — this time for the Saturday Matt Mercer Q&A. This panel filled up just as quickly as the Tom Felton panel had, the difference for me being that I actually made it inside for this one. When the seats had all filled up people were redirected to sit on the floor to the side of the stage, as well as on the stairs going up the stands. The room was packed to the brim when there was still 50 minutes left until the panel would start.
Mercer entered the room to cheers and thunderous applause. As the cheers died down he remarked on how he didn’t realize it was going to be such a packed, wrap-around-room, and then joked about being stuck now. He went on to introduce himself, and apologized to the one person in the room who had no clue who he was for the coming weirdness. Brittany Walloch, Director of Events for Critical Role, was there to help screen questions and a queue of mostly Critters formed to get a chance to ask Matt a question.
The hour long Q&A practically flew by in a flurry of interesting topics, ranging from audiobooks to worldbuilding for Critical Role. Matt shared that while he does plan ahead for the campaign, it is usually a very vague long form plan, with only thoughts on where the party might end up and what they might find once they get there. That way, if his players decide to go in an entirely different direction, he doesn’t have to throw out six pages of plans, instead only three sentences on a word doc. Then he plans on a more immediate scale, where the characters might be a few sessions from now — which is all liable to change — and then he plans session to session. He aims to never shoehorn characters into his story that he worked on, because the thrill of being the Dungeon Master (DM) to him is to see what the players do and to then have to adapt to that. Sometimes they do go on the path you want them to go on, but it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you’d think. He also talked about how his players surprised him when they decided to throw any semblance of a plan out the window and straight up steal a ship and become pirates when they were going to leave Nicodranas. He kept thinking they were going to approach it from an entirely different perspective, but nope. They became pirates, and on top of that, named their ship “Balleater”. Matt lamented over it being extremely on brand for the group and wondered why he ever expected it to be anything else. There is a challenge as a DM to try and follow your player’s logic and stay ahead of it, but Matt admits he doesn’t always succeed at it, and that was one of those moments. He was also surprised when Fjord decided to not fulfill the mission set before him by his patron, Uk’otoa, and he had planned a story arc for what would happen when Fjord went to fulfill that, so that is a thread that died off, but then morphed into Uk’otoa getting perpetually more angry and Fjord and the consequences that would bring instead.
Matt talked about how he organizes his lore. Despite there being tons of useful tools around online, he is still old school and uses bullet points in a word document with tons of bolding, italics, and underlining. This makes it very important to back up your data, he pointed out, and shared the story of a fellow DM who lost a year’s work due to his hard drive failing. He also talked about combining his love for dressing up for Halloween and costume parties and his love for nerdy things after he went to his first AnimeExpo in 1997 and being blown away from seeing the cosplayers there. He also outed Brittany’s cosplay origins, telling the crowd that he met her through cosplay meetups in Southern California. Back on the topic of worldbuilding for his campaign he named art as being his first and foremost inspiration. Matt will look through artbooks, or see other pieces of still art, and build lore from that. He mentioned that he got his start in art since he had planned in becoming an illustrator before going into voice acting. That is also part of why he appreciates the art community that has risen up around Critical Role.
Matt also offered a whole lot of insight about some of the non-playable characters (NPCs) we’ve seen so far. He admitted that both Gilmore and Allura were a kind of self inserts, both of them representing parts of himself that he might not get to show a lot of the time. A question about Orly’s magical tattoos also came up, and Matt explained that this idea came from the thought of there being so many places to create inks and pigments and crushing gems to such a degree that they could be included in the ink. Then on top of that having Orly’s bardic magic and him being able to ritualistically ingraining his own magic into the tattoo as he places the tiny pieces of gems to create a one time attribute buff to a character. Another question came up about Essek Thelyss and how he seems to float instead of walk, and if that is because he simply can’t walk or something else. Matt mentions that Essek is a Graviturgist — a person that specifically focuses on Dunamancy and the study of gravity. He explained that while Dunamancy hits on time and spatial relations, gravity and density are a big part of it as well, and while Matt realized in hindsight that it would be cool to add the element of Essek not being able to walk, that wasn’t his intention to start with. Essek is simply kind of arrogant and chooses not to walk because he doesn’t have to.
During the lightning round Matt said he would cosplay Mollymauk, he adds quantum and astrophysics to magic when he creates new spells because it felt like that element was missing, he started voice acting because he could fold his nerdiness and love for theatre together, Vax is being the Raven Queen’s little errand boy, but he also keeps her company, he would love to DM for Stephen Colbert, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Angelina Jolie, Matt Colville and Deborah Ann Woll inspire him as a DM and he is very excited to see Ashley Johnson finally DM, he deals with burnout by walking away for a bit, he would love to play Allura or Gilmore in a oneshot, Vax would see the Raven Queen’s will be done if he was summoned and kick total ass as usual (and maybe flirt with some characters), he might create his bird Dagon as an enemy some day, and the creepy shot of him on a merry-go-round is from a safety instruction video for a carnival.
After Matt’s panel was finished off with a standing ovation, I pretty much walked out the doors and then back into the same room for the panel with Katherine McNamara. While the room didn’t fill to quite the same extreme capacity as it had with Matt, there were still plenty of eager fans who wanted to pose their questions to her.
Katherine admitted to being a huge Star Wars nerd, and said that she’s learning more and more about DC every day, and she is currently obsessed with IT. She met Bill Skarsgård once and found him to be super kind, and she is very proud of her co-star Isaiah Mustafa for his work on It Chapter Two.
She also talked about how she is a huge nerd, and loves school and learning. She finished high school at 14, and went on to get her bachelor’s degree in business when she was 17. Katherine said that she thinks she finished school so quickly because to her, learning was always a positive journey of discovery, and that is something that she tries to convey to other people as much as she can. While she might not apply her math skills as an actor, she does use her business skills in her day to day life because it helps her understand the business side to being an actress. One of her favorite things about being an actress is also getting to learn something new almost every day, and being a chameleon, getting to slip in and out of different characters.
Katherine also talked about how terrifying it was to do a show like Shadowhunters that already had such a huge pre-existing fandom. She tried to do what she could to learn about Clary by watching the movie, and she read the books about Clary’s story while they were filming the show. She didn’t want to read the other books since she didn’t want to spoil or know too much about other arcs that Clary herself wouldn’t have known about. Katherine also explained that each season of Shadowhunters felt like a school year. The first season felt like they were just trying to keep their head above the water, for the second season they found themselves, and for the third season their characters had history and their own relationships, and that made it the most fun for her. At the start of the third season it almost scared her because it didn’t feel as much like acting any more, because Clary had become an entity of her own to Katherine, so she could just step in and out of her. The last episodes were hard to film because it felt like they didn’t have enough time, but she said it also felt liberating in a way because they did it all for the fans. Every department got to try things they hadn’t tried before, and they got to realize some of the visions they had had themselves.
She also talked a bit about the differences between her role as Clary on Shadowhunters and Mia Smoak on Arrow. When she auditioned for Arrow, she didn’t know what Mia was the role she was going in for. When she got the news that she got the part, and they explained to her that Mia has Felicity’s intellect and Oliver’s physicality, she went straight to the gym. Katherine did say that she preferred starting out on a show and getting to help build it from the ground up — like she did on Shadowhunters — because it creates a very familiar bond, but that coming on to Arrow has also been a very positive experience because everyone on set is so open and welcoming. Another difference between the two shows was the amount of stunts and fighting she did, since Arrow was a lot more intense when it came to fight scenes. When she was allowed she would do her own stunts and fights on set but it happened more often on Shadowhunters since they were often times less complicated.
As far as her dream role goes, Katherine said that she had promised herself that she would never get stuck in one kind of role, so now she wants to do something completely different. Maybe a different type of character or a completely different genre. Her favorite reaction to a script is when she doesn’t know if she can pull it off, because that means it is an opportunity for her to grow and push herself beyond her limits.
Toward the end of the panel Katherine also shared that she is currently working on her own original music and that she will hopefully be able to share it with us soon.
With Katherine’s Q&A coming to an end, the panels on the main stage were over for the day. There seemed to be a perpetual crowd gathered near the Special Guest Area out in the main hall. While the crowds seemed to be winding down for the day, the queues to meet the guests were still long — the one for Matt Mercer most of all. In the end, several people with weekend tickets headed home without getting to meet Mercer, but with the promise from even staff that they would be first in line the next day.
The Saturday was truly a whirlwind, and so packed that it was hard to see the convention for all the attendees. While it was slightly chaotic at times, I still had a wonderful time at the panels, and I was definitely looking forward to more the coming day.