Sunday, 17 April 2016

A Recap & Ranking Of Conventions I Attended In 2015

This is a continuation of a post I first made at the conclusion of 2014, where I ranked and reviewed the conventions I’d attended in 2014 and compared them against one another, as well as giving some general advice and information about conventions and ticket types in the United Kingdom. As I’ve written extensively detailed reviews of all of these conventions already, this will simply be a place to list the pros and cons of each event, as well as a place to make direct comparisons between them. It’ll cover some of the highlights of the convention year, some of the best guests, some of the biggest advantages and disadvantages of each company, and, of course, most importantly, the best convention of the year. So, theoretically, this will be much shorter than my average convention review or article, so you should be able to happily read this in one sitting.

There are two types of convention: genre-specific weekend conventions and signing events. There used to be a time where genre-specific weekend conventions were referred to as ‘conventions’, while signing events were referred to as ‘signing events’. But, alas, signing events started putting the word ‘convention’ in their title and everything got confusing. Therefore, for the purposes of this review, I’m going to call them ‘weekend conventions’ and ‘signing events’. These terms aren’t technically correct, as signing events often take place over entire weekends and also include activities other than guests signing autographs (photos, talks, Q & A’s, cosplay competitions, etc.), but I’m too lazy to come up with better terms. Everybody clear?


Weekend conventions are smaller and more intimate than signing events. The ones I’ve attended before have ranged from 200-700 people, with 400 being the mean number. They usually take place over a Friday evening, a Saturday, and a Sunday (sometimes there’s no Friday evening), and you always get much more time with the guests...if you’re willing to pay for it. If you attend a weekend convention as a standard ticket holder, you can attend the talks and get an autograph with the guests (bonus guests come with an additional charge), but you can also do that at signing events. However, it’s rare that signing events have parties at the night time. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, the guests (or some of them) will attend the parties and interact with you. They’ll dance with you, have conversations with you, and maybe, if you’re very lucky, let you grind against them on the dance floor, which is the case with someone I know. Therefore, the first major difference between signing events and weekend conventions is that weekend conventions are often smaller, more intimate, and gift you the opportunity of spending more time with the guests. If you go to a weekend convention as something other than standard, you get more perks. These perks and ticket options vary from company to company, so I’ll discuss them later when it’s relevant. 

Signing events have some similarities with weekend conventions, such as autographs, professional photographs, and talks, but they also have a few key differences. Firstly, entry is cheap in comparison. Whereas you might pay £100 for a standard ticket to a weekend convention, a signing event may be £15 (note: that’s £100 to attend all the days of the weekend convention, whereas signing events are usually paid for with individual days). Signing events are much larger...especially with the growth of signing events in the past few years. There are more signing events in the UK than ever before and they’re only continuing to grow in popularity. I believe that both ‘MCM London’ and ‘London Film and Comic Con 2014’ topped 100,000 people over their respective weekends. Due to this volume of people, you get less time with the guests. This obviously depends on a few factors. Firstly, the size of the guest’s queue. Secondly, the guest’s preferences and temperament. Some guests might not like to talk much. Some guests might be shy and nervous...or some guests might talk your ear off. It really depends on the person and the situation. Whereas a weekend convention may have 5-10 guests, decent signing events can top 50 or 100. Therefore, you have a wider range of guests, covering a large number of fandoms, and you’re only paying for the people that you want to meet. One of the biggest downsides is that queues are way longer. Queues to get into the building, queues to meet guests, photo’s all going to be much longer on average than a weekend convention, which is why organisation is so important (we’ll get on to that topic later). There are many more differences and similarities between the two convention types, but I’ll address some of those later as they’re relevant. Plus, I’ve written about a lot of them in depth during various convention reviews already, so check some of those out for a more detailed analysis #CheapPlug.


Before the countdown begins, there is one last thing to mention. In my experience there are three types of convention guest. I have labelled them and given a brief description of each :-

·       The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you give them a comment, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. Examples include David Yost, Andy Umberger, Lena Headey, Summer Glau, Jim Parrack, Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas.

·       The Groucho/Big Guest: There are two aspects to this category. Firstly, you have the groucho. The groucho is there for monetary purposes or is generally just having a bad day, or is a bit of an ass. If you meet enough people, one of them is bound to be an ass! The grouchos aren’t interested in conversations above a few words. They’ll say ‘hi’ (sometimes they don’t bother with that), sign, say ‘bye’ (sometimes), and you’re on your merry way. Of course, in certain situations this is relevant and expected, which brings me to the second part of this category, the big guest. Some guests are going to be insanely popular. Such as Stan Lee at LFCC ’14, who had an entire building to himself basically. When you get a huge queue like that, the guest can’t take a lot of time with everyone. If they did, many people would go home disappointed at not getting to meet them at all. Therefore, the convention company and the guest want to get through as many people as possible. If one was being cynical, one could also mention that the more people a guest gets through, the more money the guest and the organisation makes. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute or two with them, which is perfectly fair.

·       The Conversationalist: This is easily my favourite type of guest. They’ll answer your questions with a smile, ask you questions in return, and are happy to chat for an extended period of time, regardless of where the conversation leads or how long you’ve been talking. Obviously, there has to be some cut-off point if there is a queue behind you, but you leave the experience feeling euphoric and like you gained a lot more than just the autograph you queued for. Examples include James Marsters, Jonathan Woodward, DDP, Aimee Richardson, Anthony Head, Ian McElhinney, George Hertzberg.

Keep these three categories in mind while I run through the countdown.

Comparing weekend conventions to signing events is unfair as they’re so different. You can’t compare, say, a gold ticket for “Vampire Ball” to a standard entry ticket for “LFCC”. They’re two entirely different experiences and trying to fairly compare the two would be difficult. Therefore, I’ve decided to omit “Vampire Ball 6” from this list entirely. In 2014, I attended three weekend conventions, which gave me the opportunity to adequately compare and contrast all three of them. However, with just one being on the agenda for 2015, there’s no point trying to compare “Vampire Ball 6” to anything else, so I’ll just say that it was amazing and encourage you to check out the full review of the event here. “Vampire Ball 6” was given a respectable ‘final score’ of 9/10.

One final thing to note before the countdown! I’ve attended a lot of conventions before starting this blog. When I used to attend these conventions, I’d write up detailed reports of the day/weekend and send them to my friend Jon. I’m currently in the process of looking through these reports, editing out the swear words and snarky comments, and making them blog friendly. Keep an eye out for them over the coming days. These will include my experiences of meeting Norman Reedus, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Jason Momoa, DDP, Jon Bernthal, Armin Shimerman, and many more!


Signing Events – The Countdown

During the course of 2015, I attended six signing events. In chronological order they were :- Cardiff Film & Comic Con (March), Stoke Con Trent (April), Wales Comic Con 2015 Part I (April), Collectormania: Milton Keynes (June), London Film & Comic Con (July), and Wales Comic Con 2015 Part II (November). For those keeping score, that’s 3x Showmasters events, 2x Wales Comic Con events, and 1x Stoke Con Trent event. Rhymey goodness. Without further ado, let’s dive in...

6th Place: Stoke Con Trent 2015

I believe that this was the 2nd ever “Stoke Con Trent” event and it showed. While the event was successful and I enjoyed myself, there was no doubt that some teething issues were still apparent. The talk stage was in the middle of a crowded merchandise area where some of the guests were located, there were no studio photos being offered, and there were certainly some spacing issues. However, to give “Stoke Con Trent” their due, it seemed like most people were having a good time. Since this event, “Stoke Con Trent” seems to have gone from strength to strength, now running two events per year, with a higher calibre of guest attending each subsequent event. It might be interesting to go back in a couple of years to see the progress that has/hasn’t been made. The downside was that there were only a few people I wanted to meet, with a couple of those having to cancel before the event. This left just two people on my meet list – one to meet for the first time and one to go and say ‘hi’ to again.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

3rd: N/A
2nd: Spencer Wilding (An absolute gent and very, very easy to get a long conversation out of)
1st: Aimee Richardson (It was great to see Aimee and her Mother, Lesley, again. Aimee is something of a friend, so it was nice to catch up)



 5th Place: Cardiff Film & Comic Con 2015 (Showmasters)

Much like “Stoke Con Trent”, I had high hopes for this event. However, it was hit with an absolute shit-ton of cancellations right before, including James Marsters (my favourite celebrity I’ve ever met at present), Brenock O’Connor (Olly from “Game Of Thrones”), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont from “Game Of Thrones”), and Christopher Cousins. Even with these taken into account, I still wanted to meet five people, but it definitely took a little bloom off the rose, especially as James Marsters and Iain Glen were the number one and number two people I was most looking forward to seeing. However, what “CFCC” had that “Stoke Con Trent” didn’t was the experience of Showmasters. Even the shittiest Showmasters events are pretty well organised these days. The photoshoots mostly run on time, everything is usually laid out in a way that you don’t get crushed, and you’re usually inside the building fairly quickly. However, some things about the event did irk me. Firstly, I had two studio photos and both turned out shockingly bad. Like, both in my top 5 least favourites ever bad, and I think part of the reason why was the lighting and setup of the area in general. Secondly, the lighting in the Motorpoint Arena does absolutely nothing for good photos at the autograph table. While this isn’t Showmasters fault, it still needs to be taken into account when reviewing the event as a whole because subpar photographs at the autograph table can lead to a sucky time once you get home. The five guests I met at the event were Dave Prowse (Darth Vader), Ray Park (Darth Maul), Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne from “Game Of Thrones”), Bob ‘Hardcore’ Holly (wrestler), and Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink from “Doctor Who”). Out of those five guests, four offered photos at the autograph table, which was surprising in the case of Ray Park. The only one who didn’t was Dave Prowse, which is fair when you consider his age and the fact that he had a broken ankle at the time and was on crutches. Out of those four photos at the autograph table, one turned out great, two turned out mediocre, and one turned out awful. So, for those keeping score, that’s 5/6 photos with the guests that absolutely sucked. Again, the lighting in the arena is not Showmasters’ fault, but it still adds to or detracts from a good experience. On the plus side for the event, all 5 guests were varying levels of excellent and the Motorpoint Arena is a great place for a convention, shitty lighting aside.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

3rd: Ray Park (A very friendly, talkative guy, who gets extra props for offering pictures at the autograph table. Not many £25 guests do.)
2nd: Daniel Portman (Great guy! Funny, friendly, had a long conversation, bonded over our mutual love of wrestling, and bumped into him at ‘Yo! Sushi’ later in the day. Studio photo and phone photo turned out shit, but I’m rectifying this at “LFCC” this year.)
1st: Samuel Anderson (One of the best guests I’ve ever met. Talked for ages, drew a little picture on the 8” x 10”, drank vodka Slush Puppy with’s just a shame the picture turned out shit. Hoping to get this rectified soon. Would love to meet Samuel again.)


4th Place: Collectormania: Milton Keynes 2015 (Showmasters)

This event holds a special place in my heart because I attended it about a week after I was kicked out of the house I was living in because the room was needed for someone else. I was angry, I was hurt, I was furious, and I desperately needed a distraction. So, quite spontaneously, myself and my friend John decided to go, mostly for Nick Blood (Agent Lance Hunter from “Agents Of SHIELD”) and Carice Van Houten (Melisandre from “Game Of Thrones”).  Of course, following my string of bad luck with cancellations, Carice cancelled just before the event. Oof, the pain. No matter, there were still many, many people I wanted to meet. That was definitely one of the big pros of this event – the guest line-up was fantastic and I ultimately met thirteen people in one day, including seven studio photos. Furthermore, out of those thirteen people, eleven offered photos at the autograph table, which is always a big bonus. Even if I’ve got a studio photo booked with someone, I love getting a phone photo too because it acts as a backup in case the studio photo turns out shit. Unlike “Cardiff Film & Comic Con”, the studio photos turned out great here. I like all seven of them to various degrees. Every single guest I met was fantastic and I had some incredible conversations. So why isn’t this event higher? There are a few reasons. 1) I had better conversations and more memorable experiences at the other three that are ranked higher. 2) There were definitely some overcrowding issues during the early afternoon. After 11am, entry to “CM:MK” is free. Therefore, it gets rammed, and because the convention takes place around the concourse, certain areas get congested very quickly. Would I attend again? Yes. Does the event have areas that need improving and rethinking? Absolutely.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

3rd: Toby Sebastian (So many guests at this convention were remarkable and a treat to spend time with, but Toby stands out above the rest because of just how damn talkative he was! I think it’s safe to say by now that the conversation is often the most lasting impression I have of a guest. If someone is brusque, it’s memorable. If someone engages with you and spends a good 5-10 minutes talking to you, it’s very memorable.)
2nd: D-Von Dudley (Had the longest, most humourous conversation of the day with D-Von and he couldn’t have been friendlier.)
1st: Peter Ebdon (Head and shoulders above the rest. Our conversation was long, interesting, deep, and real. We talked about Veganism, snooker, his career, and what he needs to do now to be in contention again. Total class act.)


3rd Place: London Film & Comic Con 2015 (Showmasters)

Let’s give the Devils their due here. While LFCC 2014 was an absolute clusterfuck from an organisational standpoint, especially the Saturday, LFCC 2015 showed marked improvements. Don’t get me wrong, there were still problems. The 3rd floor bottlenecked and we were stuck there for 20 minutes trying to get out, the building was bakingly hot because of all the people and the July weather, but the great guest line-up made up for that. Showmasters still have fundamental changes that need to be made to their flagship show, which is why I can’t rank it higher, but overall the 2015 edition was a vast improvement over the 2014 addition. However, they definitely need to put all the photoshoot areas on one floor if possible. Getting from photoshoot to photoshoot quickly was a fucking nightmare. Of course, LFCC will always be a conveyer belt. You’ll always get less time with the guests, which sucks, but is a necessary evil. You’ll always feel a bit like cattle. You’ll always be too hot. You’ll always be exhausted and your feet will ache, but, honestly, that’s part of the charm these days. If you want A-List guests, you should expect A-List guest queues. The line-up was wonderful, practically everyone I met was amazing, it was awesome to see some old friends again, and it was my second favourite LFCC of the eight I’ve attended (second to 2013). I will definitely be attending again in 2016. In fact, I already have my weekend tickets and hotel booked.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

I ended up meeting 17 guests over the LFCC weekend, while also getting studio photos with a further 4 guests. Narrowing this down to three was surprisingly easy because one guest stood out above the others on each of the three days I attended the event. Peter on Friday, David on Saturday, and Rose on Sunday.

3rd: Peter Shinkoda (Peter was my wildcard guest. Due to the scale of the event and the amount of people I needed to meet, Peter was initially a reverse. Alas, after Natalia Tena, Charles Dance, Kurt Angle, and Emily Kinney all cancelled, Peter was swiftly upgraded. One of the most genuine, honest, funny, heartfelt, humble people I’ve ever met, while also holding a conversation better than almost anyone. I’ve stayed in contact with Peter since this event. What a legend.)
2nd: David Bradley (I didn’t know what to expect with David because A) He was only there for one day so would be incredibly busy, and B) He always plays assholes. I am happy to report that David is overwhelmingly upbeat and friendly. Even with his queue rammed and his exhaustion obvious, David talked to me for a solid 5 minutes while everyone behind was getting restless. Every time I started to leave, David would continue the conversation. Totally exceeded my expectations.)
1st: Rose Leslie (What a sweetheart. Due to pick-ups with “The Last Witch Hunter”, Rose had to cancel on the Saturday of LFCC. However, she was still coming on the Sunday, resulting in two days worth of photoshoots being crammed into one day. Plus, one day to get through as many autographs as possible so people didn’t go home disappointed. All of this on very little sleep and with jetlag. Yet, I saw Rose five times that day. Every single time she had a massive smile on her face. She was warm, caring, and made everyone feel special. Thankfully, I met Rose quite early in the day, which was before she was being rushed by her crew member because there were still loads of people to meet, so I got a lengthy, wonderful conversation with Rose. Just a beautiful soul.)


2nd Place: Wales Comic Con 2015 Part I

Choosing between the two 2015 editions of “Wales Comic Con” was hard. The venue was the same for both, the atmosphere was the same for both, both were excellently organised, both had stellar guest line-ups...honestly, it’s hard to find a bad word to say about “Wales Comic Con” these days. Everything just works. I love the talk halls, I love the venue, I love the layout, I love the studio photo building, I love the obvious passion that goes into the events, and, most of all, I love the fact that you can feel that this isn’t solely a money-making venture for Jaime and the team. They care so much about putting on a good event and it shows. They listen to customer feedback, which is rare in this industry, and every time I attend one of their shows it gets a little better. I’ll certainly be at both 2016 editions of “Wales Comic Con”, and as long as they keep holding the events, I’ll keep attending. It’s that perfect balance of being big enough to get great guests, while also just about small enough so that you get a decent amount of time with all of them. Almost all of my best experiences with guests have been at “Wales Comic Con”, and almost all of my best conversations have been as well. Absolutely faultless, and I say that with all sincerity. So why is the part I edition ranked lower than the part II edition? Simply, with “Wales Comic Con” being so good at the fundamentals by this point, what differentiates one event from the other is solely down to interactions with guests and the line-up. Both editions had strong line-ups (with the first edition of 2016 having the most guests I’ve ever needed to meet at one convention in my life!), but the interactions I had at Part II slightly outweighed the interactions I had at Part I. That’s it. It’s that simple. Also, bonus point to Part II for having a “Game Of Thrones” group photo shoot. For the second year in a row (that’s both years I’ve been doing this), “Wales Comic Con” has taken the number one and number two spots for signing events. Kudos to Jaime and the team. You’re doing an incredible job.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

3rd: Conan Stevens (For a guy who’s 7’1” and incredibly intimidating to look at, Conan couldn’t be a nicer guy. We’re both former wrestlers (with Conan’s former boss, who fired him, Eric Bischoff, sitting at the next table), both big fans of “Game Of Thrones”, both have read the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” books that the show is based off of...basically, we had a lot to talk about. And we’ve stayed in distant contact since the event. The most surprising guest of the event for me.)
2nd: Kerry Ingram (I met Kerry at “Wales Comic Con” the previous year and stayed in touch with her, so seeing her again was great and gave us the opportunity to catch up and also discuss the coming season of “Game Of Thrones”...and she still didn’t tell me about Shireen’s toasty end!)
1st: Nicky Brendon (One of my favourite guests ever and someone who was really struggling at this time. Before the event, I reached out to my Buffyverse family and asked them to send me gifts and words of comfort for Nicky if they so wished, and they responded in droves! So, during the event, I gave Nicky a sack full of cards, gifts, letters of encouragement, and words of support, which led to the most real conversation I’ve ever had at a convention and one of the most real conversations of my life. We discussed his battles with depression and attempted suicide, my battles with depression and attempted was incredibly touching and emotional on both sides. I’m so pleased to see Nicky doing well now.)


1st Place: Wales Comic Con 2015 Part II

There’s not a great deal to say here that wasn’t said above, so I’m just going to congratulate “Wales Comic Con”. Somehow, some way, “Wales Comic Con” managed to take the worst weather I’ve ever experienced at a convention and make something beautiful. It’s the embodiment of the phrase ‘turning chicken shit into chicken salad’. It was windy, it was pouring with rain, umbrellas were snapping, everyone was soaked, everyone was getting colds, but damn it, it was an amazing event! The line-up was phenomenal, the atmosphere was sublime, and my photos even turned out great considering I looked like a drowned rat. All of them in fact! The only downside to “Wales Comic Con” is that they keep raising the bar, making it harder and harder for them to live up to the standards they’ve set. Will the first part of 2016 live up to the hype next month? I certainly hope so.

Top 3 Guests Of The Convention (Go To The Review Itself For Reasoning)

Nope, not choosing. It’s impossible to pick just three. So, I’m making a top five, plus a bonus guest.

Bonus: Tad Looney of “Four Star Mary”. “Four Star Mary” played the aftershow party and I had the opportunity to talk to the band after the gig. I talked to Tad about my history with the band and how they were my best friend’s favourite band growing up. We talked about my best friend passing away, Tad asked how I was got really deep. He cried, we hugged, it was magical.
5th: Kate Dickie (A delightfully warm woman, with no hint of the madness and psychoticness of Lysa Arryn in sight. Disarmingly friendly, chatty, appreciative, open...nothing but good things to say about Kate.)
4th: Chris Jericho (A childhood hero that lived up to the hype, which doesn’t happen often, quite frankly. Chris was only at the event for a couple of hours. Once you take photoshoots out of the equation, he had perhaps an hour and a quarter at the autograph table. Yet, we have a nice little conversation and he seemed genuinely interested and appreciative. With the time constraints available, you could ask for nothing more. One of my favourite wrestlers I’ve met.)
3rd: Mark Stanley (Such a great guy! Concerned at how soaking wet I was, insightful, funny, talkative, only £10, photo at the of the best guest encounters of my life.)
2nd: Ian Beattie (One of the funniest people I’ve met in my life. Loud, over the top, painfully hilarious, great stories, talks for him.  Meet him now.)
1st: Ian McElhinney (If James Marsters didn’t exist, Ian would be my favourite convention guest. This was the 2nd time I met Ian and the 3rd has already been lined up for 2016. He’s like a wise grandfather. I’ve had 1x 15-minute conversation with Ian and 1x 10-minute conversation. I cannot do Ian justice. Just go meet him. Especially if he’s at a convention with Ian Beattie.)


So, there we have it. The countdown is complete, the rankings have been assigned, and “Wales Comic Con” comes out on top again. Now, the big question is will 2016 be as memorable as 2015? I’m actually expecting it to be even better. I’ve already got two weekend conventions lined up, both of which are Buffyverse based – “Prophecy” and “Vampire Ball 7”. In addition to those, I’ve already attended “LFCC Spring” in February, with at least six more signing events scheduled for the year – “Wales Comic Con 2016 Part I”, “Em-Con”, “LFCC”, “Bournemouth Film & Comic Con”, “Wales Comic Con 2016 Part II”, and “Gloucester Comic Con”.

Thank you for reading, thank you for supporting me, and thank you for making it to the end of this recap. Virtual hugs and cookies for all!

If you have any convention related questions or simply want to talk about your own convention experiences, please drop a comment below! Oh, and sharing this on social media is also greatly appreciated!

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