Saturday, 16 April 2016

London Film & Comic Con (Spring) 2016 - A Detailed Review

Guests met and discussed in this review :-

• Nick Frost (The ‘Cornetto’ Trilogy)
• Kurt Angle (Wrestler & Olympic Gold Medallist)
• Clare Higgins (Ohila from “Doctor Who”)
• Mark Stanley (Grenn from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Jessica Henwick (Nymeria Sand from “Game Of Thrones”)

Two quick notes before we get started...

1) If this is your first time on "Shangel's Reviews", I'm currently reviewing every single episode of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" in depth. A list of all the reviews I've written so far can be located here. While these have been on hiatus for a while, they will be back in full force from early June.
2) If you enjoy my reviews, please subscribe to the blog! Over on the right-hand side there's a little box that says "Follow Shangel's Reviews by Email!". If you put your Email address in there and click "Submit", then confirm your subscription, you will get each review sent straight to your inbox! No junk mail, no bullshit, just my reviews.

With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first ever ‘Spring’ version of London Film & Comic Con, which took place over the weekend of February 27th and 28th at the Olympia in – you guessed it – London. LFCC Spring was something of a new venture for Showmasters. The ‘Summer’ version of the event is Showmasters’ flagship convention and they’ve also been running a ‘Winter’ version of the event for the past few years. However, for Showmasters, two seasons is simply not enough, so they decided that the cluttered convention scene of the United Kingdom needed a little something extra at the beginning of the year, which birthed this event. LFCC Spring was billed as being a Star Wars celebration, with a little extra thrown in along the way. This turned out to be very accurate as out of the 50(ish) guests that were booked, 40(ish) of them were somehow Star Wars related. This didn’t bother me in the least as I’ve always been a massive Star Wars fan, with it holding the distinction of being my first ever love in life. Ironically, with the exception of Jess Henwick, I didn’t end up meeting anyone else that was Star Wars related. Yes, Mark Stanley appeared very briefly in a scene in “The Force Awakens”, but I’m omitting that.

The reason it’s taken me longer than my usual 24-48 hours to write this review is that I’ve been A) Working on my thesis, which has now been sent off, and B) I’ve been battling pneumonia for the past few weeks, which, thankfully, has started to lift. The reason I mention this is because the apex of my pneumonia took place over the weekend of LFCC Spring. Before this event, which I attended on the Saturday alone, I hadn’t left my bed for a solid week. However, bright and early on the morning of the 27th of February and looking distinctly like Gollum, I stumbled and dragged my fluid-filled lungs to the passenger seat of my friend Jon’s car so that we could drive the 2.5 hours or so to the Olympia for a day of nerdgasms. During the car journey, Jon’s 4-year-old son, Thomas, was watching “The Lion King”. Alas, I believe that myself and Jon between us knew pretty much every word to the film. I regret nothing. I’m proud. That film rocks.

I will freely admit that my interest in this convention waned dramatically after the cancellations of Emily Kinney and Charles Dance, who’ve now both avoided me on multiple occasions, and twice each in the past 12 months...those elusive bastards. Work does and must come first, so I understand the system and understand that cancellations are a common occurrence, but it doesn’t take the sting out of them when they do occur, especially when it’s people you really want to meet. In fact, during the build up to LFCC Spring, I’d nicknamed it ‘The Repeater’ as the three guests I wanted to meet the most and booked the tickets for were all people that cancelled on me at LFCC Summer in 2015. They were Charles Dance, Emily Kinney, and Kurt Angle. Two of them cancelled on me again. Ouch. If I’d known in advance that Charles and Emily would cancel, and if I’d known that I’d have pneumonia over the weekend of the convention, I wouldn’t have bothered buying tickets at all. Alas, it was what it was and I was glad I went when all was said and done because the five people I did meet/meet again were all fabulous!
The car journey was very smooth and we managed to get to the Olympia at around 10am. Ordinarily, I like to be in the queue at least a couple of hours before opening, but as there was nobody left I was desperate to meet and my pneumonia was being a royal pain in the ass, I decided the extra couple hours sleep would be more beneficial. This proved to be a very, very wise decision. Myself, Jon, and little Thomas rolled up to the entrance queues and met my best friend, Hannah, whom I hadn’t seen for months because she’d moved to London temporarily to partake in a performing arts course. Needless to say, I was more excited to see Hannah again than I was to see any of the guests. If Charles hadn’t cancelled that might not have been the case (sorry Hannah...).

Have you ever been to a convention with pneumonia? Of course you haven’t, because you’re not a complete moron. Once every 30 minutes, like clockwork, I had to sit down at the corner of the hall, lean against a stall, or otherwise recover the tiny amount of energy I had. I was trying to channel my inner Taylor Swift and shake it off, until I realised that shaking made it worse. So much worse. However, I kept going. It’s like I had this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright...okay, enough of the Taylor Swift puns now. Unlike the LFCC Summer show, which was spread out over four floors, LFCC Spring was spread over just a section of the ground floor, plus a section of the first floor, which made travel so much easier. It was quite simple really – ground floor for merchandise and a few guests, first floor for a bit more merchandise and most of the guests. Simple. I will give Showmasters credit for having the heating on as well because the weekend was frickin’ freezing. However, for me personally, it made my pneumonia and exhaustion worse. I couldn’t catch a break, I swear. At least the type of pneumonia I had was not contagious. I think most people thought I was cosplaying as a particularly well-dressed vampire because of my paler-than-usual complexion and the fact that I looked half-dead.

After entering the venue, myself and Hannah split off one way, while Jon and mini-Hulk (that was Thomas’ costume) went to look around the merchandise stalls. The first thing I like to do at conventions is to get my bearings...where are the photo shoot areas? Where are the guests I’m meeting located? Where are the toilets? Where’s my self-esteem? Shit, I left it at home. The first thing I noticed is that, while relatively busy, the LFCC Spring show was vastly quieter than its Summer counterpart, which was fantastic. Seriously, LFCC Summer weekend is roughly 120,000 people crammed into the Olympia, forced to fend for themselves and treated like a conveyer belt of mooing cattle. I hate it, but it’s a necessary evil as it allows Showmasters to bring in a calibre of guests that you don’t see elsewhere during the year. However, when cold, grouchy, and sick in February, the last thing you want is to feel like cattle. THERE WAS ROOM TO MOVE YOUR ARMS! OH, SWEET SUMMER CHILD, THE LUXURY!

Myself and Hannah wandered around the ground floor and noticed that Kurt Angle and Jessica Henwick were down there, while Mark Stanley, Nick Frost, and Clare Higgins were upstairs. So was Ian Whyte, who I intended to meet at this event, but then he was announced for Wales Comic Con 2016 Part I, so I decided to meet him there instead because I’d get more time with him. To me personally, the autograph means far less than the interaction and the conversation that goes along with it, so the more time I can get with someone the better. That’s why with some of the bigger guests at LFCC Summer, I’ll get a picture but not bother with the autograph. £30+ for a squiggle on an 8” x 10” and a few seconds with someone is not always worth the money in my humble opinion. Unless, of course, it’s someone I absolutely love or if it’s someone “Game Of Thrones” or Joss Whedon related. Those are always essential. With my Nick Frost virtual queuing ticket acquired (number 326!), it was time to start meeting the guests. Just as a side note, I hate getting a high virtual queuing number, which is why I always like to queue a few hours early to get into the convention. There was no guarantee that Nick would get to 326 by the time I had to leave, which made for unnecessary stress. Alas, it all turned out okay in the end, but it’s a valuable lesson for convention attendees in the future – the lower the virtual queuing number, the happier you’ll be.

Before any autographs could be obtained, it was time for my first photoshoot of the day, Mr. Nick Frost at 10:30am. When you exclude the prop photo area, there was just one photoshoot area for this convention, which made a nice change of pace from the six needed at LFCC Summer (all on different floors). Therefore, it was simple to scope out where it was and head back there about 10 minutes before the shoot was scheduled to begin. Easy, relaxed, stress-free. During the course of the photoshoot, Nick was hilarious. Every 3 or 4 pictures, he’d randomly decide to do a ‘funny’ one or something unique, like massaging someone for the photoshoot or pulling a ridiculous face. It kept everyone entertained and smiling throughout, which always makes the process more enjoyable. Considering I had pneumonia, the photo could have turned out much, much worse. I actually quite like it!

Kurt Angle: Myself and Hannah went back to the ground floor to meet Kurt Angle, who clearly hadn’t woken up by this point because he was a right surly bastard. We had the briefest of chats about his career and how he’s feeling before he signed the 8” x 10” and then looked up at me as if to say, “are you still here?”. However, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this occasion because from everything else I’ve read from people who met him at the event, he was very friendly and talkative. I guess I just caught him a little too early in the day, which is why I try to avoid meeting people early in the morning in the first place. Of course, the flipside of this is that if you wait too long, you might not get to meet them at all as they could leave early or become sick, which has happened to me four or five times before. Due to having a studio photo with Kurt booked for later in the day, I didn’t bother asking for a picture at the table. All in all, not my greatest experience, but I’ve also had worse. I must admit, I’ve found that wrestlers are very hit and miss, with almost none falling into the middle. They’re either incredibly friendly and talkative like Chris Jericho, Paul London, The Dudley Boyz, and DDP, or they’re very brusque and wanting to move on almost immediately. No matter, it’s still another childhood hero to tick off the list. Guest type: Responder (Barely).


But Shangel, what’s a responder? I’m glad you asked. A few years back, after attending many conventions, I devised a system whereby to categorise my experiences with guests and their level of interaction in order to compare the quality of my experiences across conventions and time. I have O.C.D., shut up. The following three types were found :-

·       The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you comment on something, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. These are the most common type of guest, and this is what you expect when meeting someone at a convention. This is a great category to be a part of.
·       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. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute 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 (extended = above 2-3 minutes), 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.

After a little merchandise hunting and a bit more resting, it was time to go and say ‘hi’ to Jess Henwick, who I first met at LFCC the previous summer and stayed in distant contact with ever since.

Jessica Henwick: The first words out of Jess’ mouth when I approached the desk were, “Hold on, we have definitely, definitely, 100% fucking met before!”. She swears, love it. After I assured her that we have indeed met before, I started to think about how unbelievably awkward it would have been if we hadn’t. Like, what would you do in that situation? Would you play along to avoid any uncomfortableness or would you say, “no, we haven’t” and then stand there while everyone looks a little awkward and embarrassed? I must admit, option 2 sounds hilarious. I might have to deliberately try this with someone in the future. Anywho, Jess was lovely, as she was in July of last year. However, unlike last year, we were able to talk about Star Wars this time! Oh, yeah, Jessika Pava to the rescue! The first thing we did was discuss the amazing article online about how much the Star Wars fandom has embraced and fallen in love with Jessika Pava, which is actually something I sent to Jess about a month before. She’s the next Boba Fett, kiddies. It’s also pretty cool that Jess is the first actress of East Asian descent to play the leading role in a U.K. television series. After discussing Star Wars for a couple of minutes, we shifted gears to discuss the new season of “Game Of Thrones” and also the last season of “Game Of Thrones”. Jess is actually a big fan of the show and was before ever being cast as Nymeria, so we had a little discussion about our respective end-game theories for the show and book series as a whole. It was great, but I’m going to avoid posting it on here in case anyone isn’t up to date with the first five seasons of the show. I managed to get a photo at the autograph table too! Guest type: Conversationalist.


By this point, it was 11:45am. I had a couple of hours to kill before my last two photoshoots of the day (Kurt Angle and Mark Stanley), so we decided to take a break and chill on the floor of the first floor so I could recover some energy and so that myself and Hannah could talk and catch up a bit. Having the option to sit and chill at a convention is a rare luxury for me because I usually have a lot of people to meet, so it was a welcomed addition to the event. I found that some people complained about the lack of guest diversity on the Showmasters forums after the fact, but truth be told it was advertised this way from the beginning so I’m not sure what else people were expecting. Plus, it’s nice to have a quiet convention every now and then! If every convention was as packed as LFCC Summer and had the same guest list, I’d constantly be broke and stressed. Plus, you know, I had to stay in a hotel for a couple of days for LFCC Summer, and I discovered a used condom in the wardrobe, so I’d rather avoid that experience as much as possible too. It certainly brought a new meaning to Cordelia’s quote from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, “hello, salty goodness”. Alas, after a long chill-out and catch up session with Hannah, it was time to go and meet Clare Higgins.

Clare Higgins: Clare was an interesting one because I loved her in “Doctor Who”, but she was on my reserve list until Charles Dance and Emily Kinney pulled out. However, after they cancelled and I discovered that Clare Higgins is a massive fan of psychoanalysis and holds a degree in psychology, she was swiftly upgraded to a must meet. For those of you unaware, I’m presently completing my degree in psychology and criminology, and I was just completing my thesis on social psychoanalysis at the time of this convention, which meant that myself and Clare had much to discuss. Especially after I read that Clare had played leading psychoanalyst Melanie Klein on stage in 2009. Ironically, the first thing we talked about was my pneumonia, with Clare filling me in that she had pneumonia while performing in New York a few years ago, so she could empathise with what a colossal nightmare it was to attend a convention while all my physical and mental faculties were confused and arguing with each other. After discussing her time in New York for a while, the conversation inevitably shifted to psychology. We discussed Melanie Klein, Freud, and our respective times learning via the Open University, as Clare had also gained her degree a decade ago via the Open University. We discussed her time playing Melanie Klein and Clare mentioned that when she retires from acting (she’s 60 now) she intends to work in psychology or psychoanalysis, which I find absolutely brilliant. We also discussed my degree and I explained some of what I was studying and writing my thesis on to Clare and she seemed genuinely interested and pleased for me that I’d almost finished. I absolutely love it when you can have a full conversation with a celebrity at a convention and you can also feel that they care and that they’re enjoying the conversation as much as you are. It’s rarer than it should be for all the stars to align and for this to happen, but I’ve been blessed with many of these conversations, especially over the past few years. Finally, we discussed “Doctor Who”, because I couldn’t leave without mentioning it. Clare grew up as a big fan of the show, so it was “truly a bucket list moment” for her to be cast. Even though her role was initially limited to the six-minute special where we finally see Paul McGann’s Doctor regenerate, “The Night of the Doctor”, it was expanded later, with Clare making multiple appearances in the most recent series of the show, series 9. Ironically, the person who went from a potential meet to a definite meet ended up being the best conversation I had all day! What a fantastic experience. Plus, a cheeky photo at the autograph table too. Totally worth the money. Guest type = Conversationalist. 



Straight after leaving Clare, while checking Nick Frost’s virtual queuing numbers (he was up to 200), I headed over to Mark Stanley, who I initially met at the end of last year at “Wales Comic Con 2015Part II”. Just a little FYI, “Wales Comic Con” host the best conventions in the United Kingdom, bar none. You should check them out.

Mark Stanley: Like Jess Henwick before him, Mark remembered me (by name) from our prior meeting at “Wales Comic Con 2015 Part II”, which was awesome. I get such a rush from being remembered. You almost feel as though you matter. Furthermore, one of the things I truly appreciate about Mark is that he’s a £10 guest. He’s cheap, he’s friendly, and he’s talkative. It’s the perfect combination for a convention guest! During our conversation at “Wales Comic Con”, after our extensive talk about the weather and “Game Of Thrones”, we discussed the imminent airing of “Dickensian”, where Mark would be playing Bill Sikes, the iconic character from “Oliver Twist”. By this convention, most of the season had aired, which gave us new material to discuss. We talked a lot about “Dickensian”, which I will avoid writing about in depth here as it’s only just aired and people might not have seen it yet. After that, we inevitably regressed back to “Game Of Thrones” because it’s far too interesting a topic to not mention. Mark was curious as to what would fill that “Game Of Thrones” void after the show finishes in a few years because there’s nothing else right now which is the same level of phenomenon except “The Walking Dead”. We discussed some of the copycat projects that have already started to spring up in the last couple of years and Mark mentioned stumbling across a show a few weeks ago, where everything felt like a rip-off of “Game Of Thrones”, all the way down to the opening credits. Sadly, he didn’t remember the name of the show, so I can’t check it out and laugh for myself. I spoke to Mark for a solid 6 or 7 minutes before it was time to head over to the photoshoot area for my photo with Kurt Angle. Seeing Mark is always a pleasure and he’s definitely more than worth the £10! Even got a picture with him at the autograph table as well! So, that’s a 6-7 minute conversation, an autograph, and a picture with him, all for £10. Fudging bargain! Guest type = Conversationalist.



The photoshoots with Kurt (1:55pm)  and Mark (2:15pm) went smoothly, as expected. Showmasters have perfected their photoshoots so that they run like clockwork. The photos are printed in a matter of seconds too, which most conventions in the United Kingdom cannot offer yet. However, with that being said, I did notice that the photos were darker than they usually are, which struck me as a little odd. No matter though, as I always buy the jpeg version online, which means I can increase the lighting a little bit as needed myself. Kurt seemed much happier than he did at the autograph table earlier in the day, which was nice to see. His queue was pretty big too and second only to Nick Frost as far as I’m aware. Mark Stanley’s photoshoot also went off without a hitch and as I was leaving he said, “I’ll see you soon, Shane! Take care of yourself!”. What a top lad!

With all three photoshoots done and four of the five autographs collected, it was time to see where Nick Frost’s virtual queuing was up to. Just as I was heading over to Nick’s queue, I received a call from Jon saying that Thomas (who’d had a great day) was exhausted from all the excitement, so he’d taken him back to the car to rest and that he’d meet me out front when I was ready. This was totally fine with me as I was basically finished at the same time. Myself and Hannah had explored all the merchandise stalls twice, the photos were taken and collected, it was just the allusive Nick Frost left. When we approached Nick’s autograph area, we were informed that Nick was up to 300. So close! Just 26 away! However, as we’d already checked back a few times before so the crew member knew us, and as the queue was pretty quiet at this particular time, the lovely lady crewing at Nick’s autograph area let us join the back of the 10-12 person queue, which was much appreciated, I can assure you.

Nick Frost: Coming into the event, I knew that Nick was going to be a very popular guest, as he’s been in a lot of great movies and television shows, while also being a rare convention guest at a reasonable price. Just from social media reactions and the Showmasters forums, I knew the amount of time I’d get with Nick would be limited to a minute or so, which turned out to be the case. I may have gotten 2-3 minutes, but I can’t be sure. Just before attending the event, I read Nick’s autobiography, which was a real eye-opener as it was filled with a very challenging, dark past, which almost exclusively mirrored my own, right down to the suicide attempt. Therefore, when I got to the front of the queue, I thanked him for his honesty and we talked a little bit about the book and our respective histories. It was a really nice moment. Unexpectedly, Nick was offering photos at the autograph table, so I blagged one in case my studio photo had turned out shit (I never check them until I get home because one shitty photo could ruin my mood for the day). Cheekily, even though she did not get an autograph or anything, Hannah blagged a photo at the autograph table too very spontaneously, which was a little awkward for me as I tend to shake at conventions and I was left to take the photo. I’m a pretty shaky person naturally, it’s a family trait. But when you couple this with excitement and adrenaline, I reaaaaaaally start to fucking shake, even if I’m not feeling particularly nervous.  Thankfully, the photo turned out perfect, with no blurs in sight, which is a minor miracle in itself. I think my phone has learned to take pictures in time with my shakes. Teamwork for the win! Guest type = Responder. It’s quite rare for a big guest to upgrade to a ‘responder’, as most stay in that ‘big guest’ category. It’s a testament to the friendliness of Nick and his ability to hold a conversation that he was able to make that upgrade.


We headed outside the venue, where I said goodbye to Hannah and found Jon parked not far away. Instead of “The Lion King”, the journey home consisted of “Peppa Pig”, which I can say with certainty I do not know the words to. Big thanks to Jon for driving me down there and to Hannah for being my photographer and partner in crime for the day. After losing a lot of my excitement for the event due to cancellations and illness, I ended up having a pretty good time. Was it the best convention I’ve ever been to? Certainly not, but it was a nice, calm, chilled-out atmosphere with zero stress, and the five guests I did meet were all various levels of awesome, with four of those five being really awesome. It wasn’t a very expensive convention either because I didn’t need to meet that many people. All in all, I had a good time and I’d certainly consider doing it again.


No comments:

Post a Comment