Comic Cons, the Mecca of geeks. The ultimate one of course is The San Diego Comic Con in America where every blockbusting, sci-fi, nerdy geeky Star Wars-GODZIILERY film is shown, along with the stars who give fan-boy panel talks about it, a dream come true.
Comic Cons in Britain attempt to emulate this, the London Film and Comic Con being most similar. It attracts the big stars, has the panels, the photo ops with the stars, but never quite reaches the heights of the San Diego one, the reason being it’s NOT in America.
Seven years ago Jaime Milner started the Wales Comic Con. Year by year it’s grown, and Emma Anderson; Jaime’s lovely assistant, estimated that there would be upwards of 5,000 people at the event.
On arriving at the venue in Wrexham’s Glyndwr University, I was quite taken aback to see the enormous queue waiting to go in, that snaked around and around finally ending up on the road into the centre of Wrexham. Luckily for me, I was able to jump the queue and get in through the back door.
I never want to start a review with negativity, and I will point out that ALL the crew who work extremely hard at that event, do it as volunteers, they get no pay, and most of them don’t get to see/meet any of the guests as they’re too busy. However, it appeared that several of the VIP patrons I spoke to, who’d paid £100 were not happy at their treatment from the off. A group of VIP girls had got into the hall and told me they should have been let in a 9.30am, but hadn’t been allowed to, and found it difficult navigating the crowd. On arriving, the crew member couldn’t find their bag. It appeared (and I may be wrong) that there was a pile of VIP bags, and instead of just giving each person one, they had to have a SPECIFIC one. Luckily for me, my press pass was no problem and gave me access to literally everywhere.
Walking through the length of the university building to the main attraction; the sports hall, took 2 minutes, and on the way I passed a square of gaming, film cars (such as Bumblebee) and a wrestling ring. There were also groups of people getting changed into some wonderful Cosplay outfits. By now I was excited, and everyone I’d talked to was lovely and obviously up for a great ‘geekathon’ day out.
The main attractions were in the sports hall, stalls selling autographs, pictures, posters, toys, games, cards, jewellery, you name it, and it was there.
DTL Models had a really fantastic display of hand-made, to order models by Derek. Well worth checking out as I’ve never seen such a true likeness mask of Predator, or Stormtroopers helmets. Must Merchandise offered amindboggling array of film/geek stuff and have an online shop that’s worth checking out as they have a sale on! All the stalls were great, and you could spend hours just leafing through books of cards, pics and autographs. Trying on Arwen’s necklaces and generally playing with dolly’s (no Rambo dolly’s though, phew). I also met a film maker Steve Evans from Dark Art Films who has recently produced the Tony Todd starring Dead of the Nite Steve was also offering the chance to become an Extra in his next Film Goliath. If you’re interested, contact him via his email.
Of course the main feature of any Comic Con is its guests.
I’m a massive Game of Thrones fan, so of course wanted to languish over the cast, but no, this wasn’t to be as Dave had found out Graham McTavish who played Lewis in Rambo and Dwalin in The Hobbit was in attendance. Being one of the first into the main hall, we got to spend 15 minutes chatting to Graham, who was lovely and had some great Rambo stories for Dave. I wandered over to the Red Dwarf section and chatted to the lovely Robert Llewellyn, next to him was probably the BIG Hollywood star of the show, Zach ‘Gremlins’ Galligan. Now Zach is one of the oracles of 80s film for us at the 80s Picture House, and both Dave and I approached him, gave him one of our postcards (to which he was totally disinterested), then Dave asked if we could perhaps take a picture of him to put up on our website. During this he didn’t make eye contact, didn’t really look up and sort of pretended to tidy his many Gremlins photos. He then, eyes still down, made an ‘mmmwelllll’ noise, which basically meant, ‘pay and you can have a pic’. I walked away.
He wasn’t rude as such, BUT he was quiet and ‘awkwardly pissed off’. To be frank I felt embarrassed that he could be so mean spirited, and we both had HUGE ‘PRESS’ lanyard’s on. In all honesty if Dave and I were rich we would have bought a lot of autographs and photos, however, like the crew at Comic Con, WE also do this for free, and basically all we are doing is essentially telling the public what we’re up too and sharing stories, and mostly PROMOTING that person we are talking about. We don’t expect ‘free stuff’ and it wouldn’t have hurt him or his reputation to smile for his 80s fans. NOT impressed with Zach at all. Though to his credit, as far as Dave was concerned, he ensured during his Q&A session that he answered Dave’s question. Still would have liked a pic though Zach.
Next up were the cartoon/comic book/graphic artists. First up, the quirky and gorgeous Liam Shalloo. Then Dan Harris & Kris Carter, Neil Edwards, The incredibly talented Andrew Wildman, The lovely smiley Henry Davies, and Anastasia Catris, all of whom had the most amazing pieces of art on offer that I truly wished I had some £££ to buy a few pieces.
Next were the Wrestlers, one of whom I did recognise; Rikishi, and 2 (Vader and Tatanka) who were really not happy at me taking a picture of them (press were allowed to take photos).
Then there was, in my honest opinion, THE main draw of the whole Comic Con; The Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard. I didn’t get anywhere near Charlie, not even close enough for a picture. His queue was the length of the whole auditorium and at points spread out through the entrance doors. He was so popular they began to give tickets out for him so as to limit the queue. Now, back in the University itself was a little alcove, and in it all alone was Kenny Baker . Poor Kenny, a really lovely man, whom I did feel for him, and it was noticed by most people who walked past him, that he was more or less, stuck in ‘no man’s land’. Kenny should have been in the main hall, and I think Charlie should have been in the alcove, which had its own door, would have enabled his queue to not get in the way of every other queue in the auditorium, and would have enabled more people to talk to Charlie in a steady stream (Kenny later was moved into the main hall, taking over Warwick Davies place.
One problem was the placement of the guests. Some will be vastly more popular than others, and it seems good sense to group Games of Thrones together, and The Hobbit together (with Shane Richie, who was VERY charming and smiley, in the middle. Go figure?), but in truth, it doesn’t work, as it creates bottlenecks of fans. The queue’s, for example Charlie Adlard’s, was so big it seriously got in the way. This was intercut with Mark Addy’s and James Cosmo’s queue, which made it literally impossible to move around the room.
This was the one major problem with whole experience, lack of attention to the details, the things that make a good day into a really fantastic day.
Photo opportunities were also available with most of the guests throughout the day. This was like other comic cons, a one-to-one photo with the star of your choice, prices ranged from £25 upwards. We then embarked on a round of Q&A panels; Gremlins, Game of Thrones, Red Dwarf, Middle Earth, Jonathan Ross (all of which I attended) and Torchwood. And in another hall, Star Wars, Dark Art films, Wrestling, Battlestar Galactica, Smallville and The Walking Dead. My personal favourites being (of course), Games of Thrones and Jonathan Ross.
The only queue I joined was to meet Jonathan Ross, who was there promoting his comic America’s Got Powers. Kudos to Jonathan for being the ONE person who offered the only FREE signing of the day. He was friendly, engaging and charming, and the consummate professional by moving people on efficiently and politely.
I attended nearly all the main panels. These were held in the University itself in the large hall, so finally there was some room to move. The first 2 rows were kept empty for VIPs, and during the whole day, there was probably at any time only around 10 people sitting there, which was quite surprising (did the VIPS know they could sit at the front?). There was one particular lady there who was in a magnificent Iron throne wheelchair, and on entering the hall in time for the Game of Thrones panel, was most vocal about not being able to sit at the front, but rather at the end of the row, where her view would be obstructed. She ended up sitting next to me and told me she had found the day practically impossible as she couldn’t manoeuvre her wheelchair around the hall at all, ending in her only seeing Mark Addy and James Cosmo and getting squashed in the Charlie Adlard queue. A couple of VIPS told me that they were very disappointed at paying ‘Nearly £100 each’ for VIP tickets, only to have to queue with everyone else at signings as they thought they could queue jump. They had travelled from Cornwall and were leaving early as they were very disappointed.
The panels were only 30 minutes long, which limited the amount of questions, but there were extra monitors up so even if you were at the back of the hall you had a good view of the action. All the guests were exceedingly charming and interesting, stand outs for me were Aimee Richardson; Princess Myrcella (Cersei’s daughter) from Game of Thrones, who was so funny (and she’s only 17), and Jonathan Ross who was so natural and funny, yet earnest and honest. He was a delight to listen to. The Hobbit panel was fab too.
There’s a lot of guests I haven’t mentioned as although I like fanboy stuff, I’m not a hardcore Dr Who/Torchwood/Smallville/RedDwarf/BattlestarGalactica/Stargate fan. So I really can’t comment on those guests or panels. I have contacted comic con and asked for a list of guests, BUT (there’s a lot of them in this review…) I’ve had no reply. And this is one of the major problems with Wales Comic Con; lack of communication and organisation.
From my own point of view, trying to get a reply off anyone to do with the Comic Con is practically IMPOSSIBLE. You can tweet them, email them off their site, message them through twitter and facebook, even ask questions on their forum. NO reply. For 9 months I continually contacted them about the event, and finally, a week before it began, I had a reply off Emma, who is obviously a very hard working crew member (thank you Emma for all your help). I did ask to speak to the person who runs the Comic Con; Jaime Milner, but was told that he ‘doesn’t attend’ the event, which I find hard to believe! I did ask a few crew members throughout the day, and also looked out for him, but all I saw were a lot of t-shirts and badges with his picture on, never the man himself.
Then there’s a total lack of advertising. I live/write/talk in a world of geeks, people that go to Comic Cons ALL OVER THE WORLD, who travel to film premieres, who go to screenings, who write films and books, who direct films, actors and just normal FANS… who LOVE this stuff. And not ONE of them had heard of Wales Comic Con! I’ve never seen an advert in a, for instance, Empire, SFX, or Total Film, and I’ve never seen anything online about it. THAT’s why I was so keen to support it.
Organisation is sorely lacking. Now I know the crew, all of whom were LOVELY, do it for free. But… it’s so disorganised. People who had bought Early Bird tickets were queuing up with ordinary punters. People who’d bought VIP tickets were also… yes, queuing up with everyone else. Early Birds, VIPS and disabled people should have a separate entrance where the queue should be minimal, and they should get in first not queue with everyone else.
A massive Faux pas was the complete absence of social media. NOT ONE TWEET was sent from the Comic Con account on the day. What a massively missed opportunity. People could have found out what’s happening, where, when. It’s essential, especially nowadays that someone is constantly tweeting, it encourages the audience to join in, it’s helpful, and it gets the word out.
The queues and lack of space in the hall could have been avoided by some more thoughtful placing of particular guests. If they have the use of the whole University, they need to PLAN, THINK, and space them out a bit more. Think about who’s going to be popular, and put them where the queues aren’t going to stop the traffic.
Then there are the guests themselves.
You’ve got to give the people what they want. The biggest show is Game of Thrones, and of course it would be a massive coup to get Lena Headly, Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington to appear (after all James Cosmo and Mark Addy’s characters are now dead in GOT).
America/London will always have better guests due to where they are. BUT, they could spread it out a bit more, take a leaf out of other Comic Cons. Having been to previous Wales Comic Cons I was dismayed at the same old guests. They’re all nice people, but they appear year after year… after year.
If I can SUCCESSFULLY get in touch with Film companies, directors, writers and actors, surely Mercury Promotions can? There are facilities to show films/trailers in the University. There is a state-of-the-art TV studio there also. I am sure that a few British film companies would be delighted to bring their movies/movie trailers to Wrexham and do a few Q and A’s. Even if it was via Skype on the BIG screen. This year there are several major blockbusting movies out (I will add that Comic Cons, although called COMIC, are really about the movies these days) this summer, where was GODZILLA? Where was Transformers 4? Maleficent? X Men? Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy?
There’s so much that could be achieved by Mercury Promotions, and I do feel that they need to tighten their belts and think outside the box. They obviously have a very hard working (for free) and committed crew, who it seemed on the day, didn’t really know what was going on. It’s now 2 weeks since the event, and I have contacted them several times for some information. A full guest list and the tickets prices. I have emailed, tweeted, facebooked, tweeted, emailed…. And yes you’ve guessed it. NO reply, even though they MUST have seen. I’ve read previous reviews of the comic con, one of which is an offer from a frustrated writer to help out. So I’m offering too. Let us help!
There’s a lot that needs fixing about Wales Comic Con, but the bottom line is, it has amazing potential. Instead of trying to sell ‘Team Jaime’ pins (which I found quite bizarre, that the person who runs it has a line of merch), perhaps he needs to address some of the things his audience have pointed out. Reading Facebook feedback confirms this.
So, the big question – Did I have a good time?
YES I did, and the reason was the friendliness of the people who attended, and the actual niceness of the crew. All (except perhaps one) the guests I met were exceptionally lovely and accomodating (I am totally in love with Graham McTavish). EVERYONE was talkative, I chatted to so many people, and despite the majority of it being a moan about something, everyone was so nice, it made my day.
Would I go again as a paying punter?
Only if there was a very different set of guests, and not so much of the Torchwood/Red Dwarf/Hobbity stuff (although I do love the hobbit, they’ve had a few LOTRs panels now). I’d definitely not waste my money on a VIP or early bird ticket as it appeared that not many VIPs felt special.
Jaime, what you’ve started is a good thing, Wales Comic Con could be really…. GREAT. But to make it great you really do need to expand, not necessarily in size but in thought and organisation. I really would like to come back next year and be knocked out by your guests (something/someone different!!) and see VIPS treated as VIPS, see better organised placement of guests, and most of all have interaction through social media! I’ll put my ££ were my mouth is, we can do that for you on the day. You can’t say fairer than that.
Now let’s see if anyone at Comic Con actually reads this and replies.
I’ll keep you posted…
Review by Spankee Spangler
Jonathan Ross with our postcard:
Graham McTavish and Dave:
The Hobbit Q&A panel:
Q&A timetable in the main hall: