By Georgia Wiebe

Dressed as characters from the anime Vocaloid, members of the local dance group, Voca Sensation performs at Ai-Kon’s Winterfest convention. /GEORGIA WIEBE

Winnipeggers witnessed their favourite fictional characters come to life at the RBC Convention Centre for Ai-Kon’s Winterfest event on Saturday, February 22, 2020.

The small event lasts for a day once every year. Despite it being one of the smallest conventions in Winnipeg, it still holds a special place in some of the convention attendee’s hearts.

Aileen Johnston, 27, enjoys Winterfest because it’s a break in between the other conventions that happen in the city, like Ai-Kon’s three-day summer convention in July and the comic convention in October.

“I think Winterfest is fantastic as a starter convention. It’s a little less crowded, it’s not as long [lineups and runtime] and you can cram more stuff in a shorter period,” said Johnston.

Johnston mentions Winterfest is also the perfect place for people to start cosplaying (dressing like your favourite TV show or comic book character) if they want to but aren’t sure where to start.

“It’s good ground for trying out cosplay,” said Johnston.

Johnston started cosplaying back in 2004. Now, they’re a member of the Ai-Kon cosplay committee and throughout the years, they’ve noticed how the cosplay community has become a welcoming place for everyone.

People taking photos during Ai-Kon Winterfest of local cosplayers Jesse (jesse.qua) (left) and Sarah (babyguggy) (right). /GEORGIA WIEBE

“In recent years it’s become a very nice safe space. Especially with the whole “Cosplay Is Not Consent” [an anti-harassment policy/movement for convention etiquette] sort of thing. But ya there’s lots to do and lots of events,” said Johnston.

Ai-Kon’s Winterfest has a selection of tables set up to help cosplayers including a Repair Booth for cosplay props, a Weapons Check table to ensure convention safety and a SafeCon Guide. These are to help make convention attendees feel as comfortable as possible.

Among these tables, Winterfest also hosts a vendor’s room where people can buy anime and comic-related merchandise, a gamer’s lounge, maid café, panels where people can talk about their favourite shows, and a dance showcase.

With plenty of different things to do at the convention with like-minded people, Johnston mentions how Winterfest can be a place to connect with others through your favourite characters or series.

“It’s a fantastic place to meet people and make friends,” said Johnston. “Especially if you’re not an extrovert.”

People like Angelica Northam, 33, says conventions helped her in more ways besides as a creative outlet.

Members of Voca Sensation during a dance performance at Ai-Kon Winterfest in JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure cosplay. /GEORGIA WIEBE

“Going to conventions was the best thing for me. When I was in high school, my guidance counsellor wanted me to get tested for social anxiety disorder and now I run up to everyone like, ‘Hi, how are you?’” said Northam.

An Ai-Kon committee member for the 11th year, Northam says she met many of her friends through cosplay and continues to enjoy the more relaxed environment at Winterfest.

“Cosplay helps develop that confidence and you meet likeminded people, so you kinda learn to be – to find yourself through being a different character,” said Northam.

She says she also helped come up with the idea for the mini convention. It acts as a nice break, so people don’t have to wait too long for the other conventions. Winterfest is a special convention for Northam because it helped her express her creativity while giving her a place to have a “hoot with friends.”