Over the last 25 years, the Armageddon Expo in Auckland has grown into the biggest pop culture event in the country.
Now, for one year only, it might just be the biggest event of its kind in the world.
The annual celebration of film, television, gaming and comics returns to Auckland’s ASB Showgrounds this weekend, with around 60,000 guests expected at what is the first large-scale event to take place at the venue since lockdown began in March.
It will be one of the few pop culture conventions happening in any country this year, with the likes of Comic-Con cancelled due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Auckland’s return to level three nearly bestowed the same fate on Armageddon, with founder and organiser Bill Geradts saying that they’ve only just squeaked through with being able to go ahead.
“We’ve always been Labour Weekend since 2005, so our goal was to pull it off the way we’ve done. We had backup dates just in case, but it’s relieving to do it how we planned.”
It may have come down to the wire, but Geradts is simply thankful that they are even able to do it.
“I know a lot of pop culture events that take place in England and Australia and they’d give their soul for the chance to be able to run a show right now. So being one of the few events of this kind in 2020, and probably the biggest pop culture event on the planet, is massive.”
While the expo has undergone plenty of iterations over 25 years – originally beginning as a Doctor Who fanclub that slowly expanded to cover all aspects of pop culture – 2020 will be a very different experience for fans.
Many events that have become familiar in recent years – VR gaming, laser tag, e-sports, card and arcade games – return, alongside the familiar shopping experiences and cosplay showcases.
Yet the international guest stars that normally make the line-up are gone. Asides from a scattering of local stars and interactional actors who have been based here during lockdown, with the borders closed, the majority of guests will be Zooming in across the four-day event for virtual panels.
It may be a change for normal practice, but Geradts says it has opened up a number of opportunities for them.
“The line-up of celebrity interactions we have this year is the biggest we’ve ever had. It’s 10 times what we would have done if we were just doing a normal show.
“If anything, Covid has just made the show bigger and better.”
Virtual guests include Avengers star Elizabeth Olsen, Doctor Who stars Catherine Tate and John Barrowman, and Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine Ian McDiarmid, as well as panels from The Vampire Diaries, Star Trek: Discovery, The Flash and Stargate.
American actress Bridget Regan is amongst the locally-based stars able to appear in person. Regan, whose husband is a New Zealander, returned to the country from Los Angeles in September – and this will mark her first convention after six months in lockdown.
“I’m super lucky that I’m here because I love the face-to-face interactions with the fans, and these sorts of conventions are really special for that.”
For Regan, best known for her roles in Legend of the Seeker, Agent Carter and Jane the Virgin, she says any chance to do work like this is a blessing right now given the state of the world.
2020 marks her second visit to Armageddon, after attending 10 years ago while filming Seeker in Auckland. Regan says that this one of those rare experiences where a TV star gets to interact with an audience – something that will seem quite surreal after lockdown in the US.
“I imagine I’ll be a bit stunned to be around that many people!”
While Auckland sits at alert level one, a small number of cases have appeared in the community this week. Geradts says that there will be plenty of hand sanitiser around the showgrounds, and encourages attendees to use the Covid tracer app.
“We’re unique in that if you want to wear a mask, you can turn up in a Spider-Man mask and it would be very appropriate.”
He says it is always a “genuine honour” to be able to present Armageddon, and that has taken on new meaning this year.
“The fact we’ve even been able to do it this year is the biggest gamble of my life. I don’t think I’ve taken this many risks in one year as I have in doing the show this year. It feels like we’ve made the right call.”
Armageddon Expo kicks off at the ASB Showgrounds from 6PM tonight, and 9am-5pm the rest of the weekend