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Degrassi cast testing limits of series' fandom at comic book conventions

TORONTO - Boston resident Dee Moore rushed her U.S. passport and booked a flight to Toronto for the chance to see some of her favourite Degrassi cast members together again.

While the 22-year-old had long planned to make a pilgrimage to the hometown of her favourite TV series, the opportunity to join hundreds of fellow fans at Toronto's ComiCon over the weekend seemed too good to ignore.

"We used to watch reruns of 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' — like the Drake era," Moore says, laying out her loyalty.

"Then I re-watched all 500 episodes, from the (original) all the way through to 'The Next Class.'"

Her friend Corean Reynolds, 25, chimes in with a distinctly Chicagoan accent: "I think we would kick ass in a trivia competition, for sure."

Dressed in outfits inspired by the 1980s characters of "Degrassi Junior High," they joined other fans in witnessing a reunion of the actors who played Joey Jeremiah, Snake, Caitlin and Tessa, billed as a celebration of the show's 30th anniversary.

No other Canadian show has left an impression quite like Degrassi. The franchise built its cult fanbase — which extends into the United States — by tackling real-life issues rarely portrayed by other shows.

Some say Degrassi helped them come out to their parents, while others considered it an essential resource for topics like rape, drug addiction and divorce.

Miria Furtado showed the series to her daughters when she wanted to open conversations about awkward social topics.

Her daughter Miranda says Degrassi exposed her to issues about race and religion that she might've never otherwise encountered.

"We got to see a different light," she says. "It's definitely shaped how I can talk to my future kids."

Sharing space at ComiCon with events catering to the geekdom of endless franchises like "Doctor Who," "Star Wars" and various Marvel superheroes might seem like an unusual play for a less fantastical show like Degrassi.

The experiment was masterminded by Joey Jeremiah — or actor Pat Mastroianni if you're living in the real world.

After making the convention rounds by himself for years with his trademark fedora in tow, he decided to invite a few castmates.

"I kept getting asked the same questions: 'What is Snake like in real life?' or 'Whatever happened to Tessa?'" Mastroianni says, referring to his co-stars' characters.

"I wanted to do something where we could thank the fans for being there for us. Multiple generations of fans."

He started making calls last year, herding together a class reunion of several cast members — including Stefan Brogren (Snake), Stacie Mistysyn (Caitlin Ryan) and Kirsten Bourne (Tessa Campanelli). Discussions began for a more ambitious effort to canvas the country's biggest comic conventions and test the loyalties of the Degrassi faithful.

Stops in cities including Ottawa and Regina are planned in the coming months.

Of course, the Degrassi event in Toronto was about more than just reuniting to share memories.

As the late Carrie Fisher once jokingly put it, swapping cash for the fleeting presence of a famous person is basically a "celebrity lap dance."

So a few seats down from retired wrestler Bret (The Hitman) Hart and actor Ray Park, best known for playing Darth Maul in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," the Degrassi cast made their play.

Autographs and selfies from each actor cost $30 a pop, while there was a discounted price if you bundled the group.

Dan Woods, who played Degrassi's Principal Raditch, lugged in ironic T-shirts to sell, emblazoned with the words "Raditch Attitude with Drake Feelings."

Mastroianni hopes to keep the Degrassi convention engine chugging this year. The group has talked about other cast members appearing at future events, if the demand shows itself.

"We still have to kind of test it," says Mistysyn, who's along for the ride as she doubles as a stay-at-home mom.

"This was good. This was fun. And we'll see how Ottawa goes."

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