• James Marsters (Spike from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Amber Benson (Tara from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Jerome Flynn (Bronn from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Mark Addy (King Robert Baratheon from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Ian Gelder (Kevan Lannister from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Mace Tyrell from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Ian Whyte (The Mountain/Wun Wun from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Elizabeth Webster (Walda Bolton from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Esme Bianco (Ros from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Neil Fingleton (Mag The Mighty from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Booker T (Wrestler)
• Ricky Steamboat (Wrestler)
• Miriam Margolyes (Prof. Sprout from “Harry Potter”)
• Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley from “Harry Potter”)
• Hugh Mitchell (Colin Creevey from “Harry Potter”)
• Rachel Miner (Meg Masters from “Supernatural”)
• Xander Berkeley (Gregory from “The Walking Dead”)
• Peter Davison (The 5th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Sylvester McCoy (The 7th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Dan Starkey (Strax from “Doctor Who”)
• Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart from “Doctor Who”)
• Shaun Parkes (Zachary Cross Flane from “Doctor Who”)
• Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones from “Torchwood”)
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.
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With that being said, let’s dive in...
Over the past weekend, I attended my fifth consecutive “Wales Comic Con” event, in Wrexham, Wales, which is orchestrated by the Mercury Promotions team. Coming into the event, my hopes were as high as I can ever remember them being for any convention I’d ever attended. The line-up was incredible, boasting such names as James Marsters, Amber Benson, Jason Momoa, Billy Boyd, and Miriam Margolyes. Better still, this was to be Wales Comic Con’s first ever two-day event – twice the fun! My long time readers will know that I’m particularly fond of Wales Comic Con to say the least. It’s my favourite convention event in the world, the organisers are great, the crew are first-class, the venue is beautiful, the atmosphere is electric, and it’s the perfect size whereby the bigger names can be afforded, but the queues are still just about small enough to get a decent conversation with them. Wales Comic Con also holds the distinction of being ranked my first and second favourite signing events in both 2014 and 2015 consecutively. Suffice to say, I was excited to head back to the Glyndŵr University campus and soak in some more nerdy goodness. While a university campus may sound troublesome on paper, it allows everything to be spread out nicely, with the kiosk and talk halls in one building, the majority of the guests and merchandise in another building, some of the bigger named guests in a room to themselves, and the photoshoot areas in yet another building. You have room to move, room to breathe in fresh air even when you’re manically busy (as I always seem to be), and room to get run over by a car if you can’t live with the shame of embarrassing yourself in front of a childhood hero...all needs are catered to! I’ve also just received word that over 10,000 people attended this event, which is a new record for Wales Comic Con. Congrats!
My only ‘criticism’ of the last event – which wasn’t event a criticism in truth – was that the autograph hall can get stiflingly crowded during the peak hours of 11am-3pm, which makes moving around difficult. Alas, I’m not sure what was changed this year, but it seemed to be much easier to navigate the hall even during those fateful peak hours. I believe that a wider aisle was used between the merchandise stalls and the guests’ autograph tables, especially around the back wall. That could all totally be in my imagination (I am now running off of 28 hours without sleep), but it appeared that little adjustments were made in order to reduce the crowding. Kudos. As I’ve covered some of the more basic topics, such as the layout, how the schedule works, how the photoshoots work, etc., before, I won’t be doing so here. If you’re a newbie and looking to attend your first Wales Comic Con event, give these two a read - “Wales Comic Con 2014 Part I” and “Wales Comic Con 2014 Part II”.
As always, I’d like to take this opportunity to give a few shout-outs and thank yous before diving into the convention itself, as there are many people that make these events happen and make them worth going to. Firstly, thank you to my friend John for driving me up to Wrexham, being my photographer for the weekend, driving me back, and keeping me awake all of Saturday night with his Earth-shaking snoring. Secondly, thank you to Mr. Jaime Milner and his team for putting these events together in the first place. Special shout-out to my friend Gareth, who is always useful in giving advice, geeking out with me, and trying to lure in “Game Of Thrones” guests I’m desperate to meet. A huge ‘thank you!’ needs to be given to the entire crew at this Wales Comic Con event, as every single one of you was on top form. Everyone I spoke to knew what they were doing, where people needed to queue, which photoshoots were starting a little late, where guests were signing...you all kicked ass! Sadly, on Saturday, two of the four rented printers that are used to produce the studio photos broke down, leaving a lot of photos unable to be printed until after closing of the event on Saturday. Naturally, this was problematic for people that were attending Saturday only, and while it’s always a little bit of a pain in the ass, the Wales Comic Con team acted remarkably quickly, got the information out immediately, and put plans in place to get the photo shoots to people as soon as possible. While the printers breaking was a bad thing (albeit, not Wales Comic Con’s fault particularly if the printers were rented, these things happen), the way the team handled the worries, queries, and annoyances was first-class. I don’t envy the crew that were in the photoshoot building on Saturday afternoon, but I heard nothing but professionalism throughout. Although, it might be worth Wales Comic Con investing in a couple of instant printers ala Showmasters, as I think they’re now at a size where it would be incredibly beneficial to them...if they don’t cost too much. I’m now at a point with Wales Comic Con, where I know two-thirds of the crew members by name or well enough to have a conversation with as we remember each other from the previous events. That’s totally badass, as Wales Comic Con now feels more like a family reunion than a mere signing event. Even some of the repeat guests feel like extended family! Kerry Ingram, Mark Addy, James Cosmo (who had to pull out of this one last-minute due to illness), Gareth David-Lloyd, Chris Rankin...it would simply not feel like a Wales Comic Con event without you there. As my friend Jules put it on the Sunday of the event, Wales Comic Con is the conventioning equivalent of a holiday. No stress, no negativity, no drama, just fun and reunions. Finally, thank you to all the people (old friends and new) who came up and said “hi” to me. I won’t start naming you all as I’ll inevitably forget someone and feel bad, but it was great to see everyone, and equally fulfilling to have strangers come up to me and say that they love the blog and only bought a ticket because of my previous reviews. I imagine that odd feeling in my belly right now is fulfilment...or gas.
After the previous two events receiving a record-breaking 9/10 ‘final scores’, I was interested to see if the first edition of 2016 could live up to the lofty heights of its predecessors. I’m a self-confessed tough critic, so while I was more excited than ever, I was a little sceptical that Wales Comic Con could reach (or exceed) those heights for a third time in a row. To be honest, these events are so well organised by this point that there’s little the team can do to improve their scores. A 9.5 or 10 (which has never been awarded to signing events of this kind) would mostly be reliant on the guests and my happiness with my photoshoots. Can Wales Comic Con keep up their unprecedented success? Let’s find out.
Myself and John (A.K.A. ‘The Wagmeister’) left a surprisingly warm Gloucestershire at 6am on Saturday morning, ready to arrive in Wrexham by around 8:30am. That would give us time to get near the front of the early bird queue, get in the venue quickly, grab ‘virtual queuing’ tickets for the bigger guests I wished to meet, and skip happily through the daisies. Everything went pretty much to plan, which I can assure you is a first. I was dumbfounded to discover that the weather was fucking unbelievable as well! The previous event still holds the title of “shittiest queuing weather ever”, but this event was sunny with little wind, the perfect conditions for queuing outside for long periods of time. Good start, folks, good start. It was time to join the queue for an hour, sit back (stand up), relax (get nervous about talking to famous people), and get excited (fearful) for what was to come. I knew full well that even by my standards, this was going to be a very busy event, even after a few last-minute cancellations (James Cosmo, Miltos Yerolemou, Luke Barnes, Josh Herdman, and Stanislav Ianevski). My itinerary was 8 studio photos (4 each day), 21 autographs, and two photo blags (to replace the ones I lost with Chris Rankin and Hugh Mitchell the previous November). When you take into account photo queuing times and guests being at a talk or on lunch, I was staring down the barrel of a gun. A self-made gun.
After entering the event and snatching up my James Marsters virtual queuing ticket (you keep your place in the queue, virtually, while you’re able to go off and do other things and return at a later time), it was time to head to the main autograph hall. A few days before the event, I wrote myself a very, very detailed plan (O.C.D. brain for the win!). I was supposed to get James Marsters, Amber Benson, Jerome Flynn, Ricky Steamboat, and Booker T’s autographs done before my first photoshoot of the day at noon. This plan instantly fell apart. James and Amber were moved to later into the day because they still hadn’t arrived at 10:45am. Jerome was there, but busy already. So, like any seasoned convention pro, I took the opportunities that were available to me and proceeded to meet everyone who was around that was on my list – Ian Gelder, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Elizabeth Webster, Esme Bianco, Neil Fingleton, Booker T, Ricky Steamboat, and Gareth David-Lloyd were all accomplished before I headed over to the photoshoot building at 11:45am.
Gareth David-Lloyd: First up was Ianto himself. My biggest advice to any convention attendee wanting a good conversation out of a guest is to be prepared. Before a convention, I do some research on everyone I want to meet. I read some interviews, check out their histories, get a feel for them as a person, and try to act accordingly. For instance, I knew a little about Gareth’s new movie, “Dark Signal”, as Jaime has been mentioning it for a year. I knew that Gareth sometimes likes to sneak down to the Ianto shrine in Cardiff to have a look at the new notices and pictures. This is all information that can be used to start a conversation. If the guest is a conversationalist (more on that later), it can lead to long discussions that take unexpected tangents. If the guest is a responder, you’ll get new information, you’ll get your questions answered, and you’ll feel like you had a good experience. Gareth fell into the latter category. We discussed Ianto and his heartbreaking exit from “Torchwood”, with Gareth mentioning that he would have stayed on the show forever if given the choice. When he was first told Ianto was going to die, he was quite pissed off about it. He felt as though his contributions to the show and the level of story left to tell for Ianto meant that he shouldn’t be killed at that particular time. However, after reading how Ianto was going to go, he accepted it because it was such a beautiful scene. We discussed “Dark Signal” and the filming process behind it. Gareth mentioned that it had just been screened a few days previously and that the feedback was very good. Here’s the trailer...
Looks great, right? We also discussed the longevity of the Ianto shrine in Cardiff! It’s pretty incredible that it’s still there and being used every day, even five years after the death took place on screen. Not many people can claim that. I thanked Gareth for his time, grabbed a selfie for £10 (more on that later), and headed two steps to my right to meet Ian Gelder next. Guest type = Responder.
“But Shangel, you’re speaking in riddles! What the feck is a ‘responder’?”
I’m glad you asked, random voice in my head.
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.
Feel free to let me know your experiences with guests in the comments! You can even borrow my categories to label them, like jars on a shelf.
This was the first Wales Comic Con event I can recall where there appeared to be selfie charges in many, many places. I can recall at least 15 guests who were charging, which is a little troublesome when you’re meeting a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for them sometimes, but I also feel that sometimes it’s a piss take. Some guests had signs up saying it was free to get a selfie if you bought an autograph, but £5/£10 otherwise. I’m all for this, as I’ve always felt it was a bit cheeky to request a picture with someone for free, while getting nothing from them in return. Others, like Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, I understand too. It was £10 for a selfie with them, or £20 for a studio-quality professional photo. The selfie charges are almost always set by the guest or agency, not the convention organisers. With everyone having smartphones and wanting selfies these days, the guests were losing a significant amount of money by giving out free pictures to attendees, meaning that less people bought the studio photos. However, there were two situations that I thought were a bit ridiculous....1) People charging for selfies with no notification anywhere that they would be. If you see a sign up saying ‘£5 for selfies’, you can decide what you want to do before you approach the table. When there’s no sign up, you’re subjected to this awkward moment where you ask for a picture with them, and they have to tell you that it’ll cost you an extra £5/£10. They feel awkward, you feel awkward, you have to root for additional money, and you might even pay for one you don’t think is really worth it because you feel it would be rude to say “thanks, but no thanks” at this stage. Always, always, always have a sign up! If the fee wasn’t decided until doors were opening, hand-write a sign and put it up, I beg you. We’ll all appreciate it. To be fair, most guests that were charging had signs. 2) Personally, I feel a £10 selfie charge is steep if the studio photo is £15 or less. I think the general rule should be half of the studio photo or less. This is just my opinion though. I’m interested to see what other people think of the selfie charges, so feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section or on social media.
Ian Gelder: What a legend. Ian was a wildcard for me coming into the event. I’d never seen him announced for a convention before, I’d barely seen an interview with him, so I had no idea if he was going to be a friendly, talkative man or a grumpy bastard. Thankfully, it was the former. The first thing I noticed about Ian was his unexpected warm presence. He gave a lot of eye contact, offered a handshake, and smiled throughout the conversation. While these may seem like little things and things you’d expect everyone to be doing, I assure you, it’s not always the case. Tiny things like eye contact and reflective naming (if I say my name is ‘Shane’ for the autograph, call me Shane where appropriate later) can go a long way. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of my conversation with Ian (which went on for a good 5 or so minutes as there was nobody behind me at the time) centred on “Game Of Thrones”. Ian was in the first couple of seasons of the show before a random two-season gap. David and Dan tried to bring Kevan Lannister back during the fourth season of the show in order to re-establish him before Tywin’s death and Kevan’s expanded role, but Ian was unavailable for filming. Ian assumed that this would be his death sentence for the show and that the role would be recast, which has been the norm on the show before. However, they didn’t recast him. They waited until he was available for the fifth season. Ian is aware of Kevan’s journey in the books, but has tried to take little stock of it because the show and the books have taken two different paths by this point. Although, saying that, he said that Kevan’s epilogue chapter from “A Dance With Dragons” would make for an excellent scene on the show (see how I kept that spoiler-free for non-book readers? Skills). Guest Type = Conversationalist. Also got a picture with him at the autograph table too. Honestly, I don’t remember if it was free or not. I think it was.
Booker T: Once again, I hopped two steps to the right and it was time for Booker T, who had his wife, Sharmell, with him. Sharmell was a former wrestling personality and his manager in her own right. I will freely admit, this wasn’t the best conversation I had all day. While Booker was perfectly polite and responded, he didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to carry a conversation, and spent half of our conversation trying to shill his second autobiography after I mentioned that I read (and loved) the first. Booker does have an amazing backstory. His parents both died when he was a pre-teen, he was raised by his older brother, where they struggled to afford to eat and keep a roof over their heads. Booker turned to armed robbery and spent six and a half years in prison before coming out and turning his life around. Now he’s a former world champion, a Hall of Famer, a role model, and an ambassador. Quite the success story. Also, his story might be being turned into a movie, so that’s something to keep an eye out for. £10 for a selfie, and I was on my merry way. Guest type = Responder, but only just.
I must admit, more than any other fandom or group, wrestlers have been the most hit-and-miss when it comes to meeting them at conventions. While I can’t recall a single bad experience with a “Game Of Thrones” guest, and only one with a Joss Whedon-related guest, I think the wrestlers are an even split between amazing and unresponsive. Well, perhaps ‘unresponsive’ is the wrong term, but you know what I mean. One word that does not come to mind with Ricky Steamboat is ‘unresponsive’.
Ricky Steamboat: If I felt a little dejected after meeting Booker T, Ricky Steamboat certainly made up for it and then some. Ricky is single-handedly the best storyteller at the autograph table I’ve ever met, and he’ll talk for a long time too. Case in point: Ricky told me (and John by extension as he was lingering around) two very interesting stories, both of which took a good 4 or 5 minutes each. The first of which revolved around Wrestlemania III, where Ricky Steamboat faced Randy Savage in the five-star classic match for the Intercontinental Championship. While Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant headlined and sold the show, Ricky and Randy certainly stole it. After the match, the wrestlers were lined up at various tables to meet press, celebrities, and V.I.P. fans, and Ricky noticed that his and Randy’s lines were huge, while Hulk and Andre’s were really short. Ricky pointed this out to Randy, to which Randy replied (Ricky did a Randy Savage voice impression to the letter), “brother, they know who stole the show tonight”. While Savage was pleased, Ricky felt uneasy and he thought that there might be some backlash to this, as Hogan was known at the time for being very insecure about his spot at the top of the roster. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, WWF (now WWE) used to run two separate loops, an ‘A’ roster and a ‘B’ roster. The ‘A’ roster was headlined by Hulk Hogan and various other people. They’d get to go to places like Madison Square Garden and other huge arenas, while the ‘B’ team would hit up places that were unheard of. Guess who ended up on the ‘B’ shows, making less money and getting less exposure? You guessed it, Randy and Ricky. Poor Ricky. Punished for being too good at his job.
The second story involved Ricky’s return to the WWF in 1991, where his gimmick now contained a fire-breathing element, where Ricky would come to the ring and breathe fire into the air while standing on a turnbuckle. I asked Ricky if this was a skill he had before the act or whether it was something he had to learn. Ricky said that WWF sent him to a well-known circus outfit in Florida, who swiftly declined as they didn’t want to give away their secrets. Finally, a small-town carnival owner – who was a huge wrestling fan – decided he’d teach Ricky. Ricky arrived at the carnival one day, but the roof of the tent was still being erected, so the owner told Ricky he’d teach him in the car park. He started Ricky off with a shot glass of kerosene and then slowly worked up to the point where Ricky’s whole mouth would be full of it. The first rule of fire-breathing was simple: blow with the wind, not against it. Makes sense, right? The owner takes back a mouthful of kerosene, then proceeds to show Ricky how it’s done. However, mid-flame exhale, the wind changed direction, and the owner got a face full of fire. He was running around the car park, trying to dab the flames off of his face. After the flames were out, Ricky called the WWF management and asked them to pass the following message to Vince McMahon (the owner of WWF) – “Ricky is down in Florida watching a man’s face melt off. He will not be doing this”. Guess what? He did it. Multiple times. The owner was fine, he just had no eyebrows and a face covered in blisters for a while. Kudos to Ricky for taking so much time with me. I like how when Ricky would start telling a story, everyone around him seemed to stop and listen, so Ricky would start looking at everyone in turn, like he was at the front of a lecture hall. Total class act. Can’t praise him enough. I grabbed a selfie with him for £10, which I was more than happy to pay. Guest type = Conversationalist. Bonus guest type = Storyteller. It doesn’t get much better than that.
After going to four successive guests in a row, I decided to finish the aisle and meet the three “Game Of Thrones” guests in the corner of the hall, starting with Esme Bianco, our favourite whore...I mean her character in “Game Of Thrones”, not Esme...as far as I’m aware at least.
Esme Bianco: One thing to note about Esme was that she was £20, as opposed to the £15 she was advertised for on the forums. My conversation with Esme took a two-part journey. The first of which was music, the second was “Game Of Thrones” (please, try not to reel from that shocking news). Esme is married to a music producer, so Esme used to listen to a lot of music and she realised that she didn’t like the vast majority of it. Therefore, like any sane person, Esme decided to start DJ’ing herself. At least that way she’d approve of the music being played. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Ros is a DJ. Pretty cool, right? I’m always surprised at how musical the cast is. Finn Jones, Kristian Nairn, and Esme all DJ. Jerome Flynn, Natalia Tena, and many others sing. Roger Ashton-Griffiths is a trained opera singer. Impressive stuff. The conversation transitioned to “Game Of Thrones”, and Esme likened her “I’m sorry, we have to kill you off” call from David and Dan to an awkward break-up talk. Like Gareth David-Lloyd before her, Esme wasn’t happy with the decision until they told her the manner of Ros’ death, which took the sting out of the news to some extent. At least she got a call! Many of the cast (Ian McElhinney, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Mark Stanley, and many others) didn’t know they were being killed off until reading the script, while a friend of mine was recast and didn’t know until the San Diego Comic Con panel, where they revealed the new cast members for the coming season. Ouch. We also discussed the coming season, our end-game theories for the show, and what Ros was playing at by turning spy for Varys against Littlefinger (which led to her being Joffrey’s arrow fodder). I must admit, getting to meet some of the cast and see some old friends on the cast was an incredible way to welcome in the new season of the show. Guest type = Responder. Esme was also charging for selfies, but this was one of those times where there was no sign up, so things got a little awkward. However, I walked past a little while later and there was a sign on the wall behind Esme, so it was probably just because I’d met her early on the Saturday morning and the sign wasn’t ready yet. The crew member with Esme, who I’ve seen around lots but don’t know the name of, was particularly good.
Roger Ashton-Griffiths: Roger, like Ian Gelder, was something of a wildcard for me. I had no idea what to expect, as I’d primarily known him as a buffoon from “Game Of Thrones”. In the most lovely way possible, Roger was similar to Mace Tyrell in many ways. He was quick to make a joke, quick to laugh, and kept the conversation light at all times. Roger filled me in on the extravagance of filming Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding in Croatia, to which he said, “beautiful weather, beautiful women in little clothing, while being paid...what a nightmare”. Now there’s a caption for the newspapers! We also talked about the origins of Roger’s operatic training. Mace Tyrell does briefly sing operatically in “Game Of Thrones” and I always figured it was just a quirky thing David and Dan threw in, but, alas, Roger is a trained opera singer. We also talked about the looming season of “Game Of Thrones”, and how Mace Tyrell is going to respond to both of his children being imprisoned by the High Sparrow. Suffice to say, the Tyrell family is going to be central in the coming season I feel. As I’d bought an autograph, a selfie with Roger was totally free. Not going to say no! Great guest, very funny man, and you should definitely meet him if you get the chance. Guest type = Responder.
Neil Fingleton: In the far corner of the hall was the tallest man in the European Union, standing almost 7’8”, Neil Fingleton. Even at 5’10”, the top of my head barely grazed the top of his nipple...or so I’d imagine. I mean, my head is his nipple height in the picture, but there was no nipple grazing. From a size standpoint alone, meeting Neil is a singularly unique experience. When I met Conan Stevens at Wales Comic Con a year ago (7’1”), I figured I’d never meet anyone taller. At this Wales Comic Con, I met two people taller! Ian Whyte is 7’2”, while Neil is half a foot taller than both of them. When you throw in Jason Momoa as well, I’ve never felt so short in all my life. I was about to start asking what would you get if you guzzle down sweets (if you get that reference, your childhood was awesome). Meeting Neil wasn’t only awesome for height-related reasons. In addition to being physically imposing, Neil was also an incredibly humble, well-spoken man, who seemed unfazed by his first convention experience. We talked about his basketball career, we talked about injury forcing his hand into retirement, and we talked about acting. Neil’s height gave him opportunities that few would have, such as the Fisher King on “Doctor Who”, and Mag The Mighty in “Game Of Thrones”. I asked Neil if he ever considered auditioning for another role on “Game Of Thrones”, and was pleasantly surprised to find that Neil auditioned for The Mountain, Gregor Clegane, the first time around (when Conan Stevens was cast to perfection). Neil found it ironic that he was told he was ‘too skinny’ to play The Mountain, yet after Conan was unavailable for season two, Ian Whyte was cast into the role, who’s a skinny gentleman himself. The prosthetics for Mag The Mighty took around three and a half hours to apply every day...I would go stir crazy. Wait until you read how long it used to take Ian Whyte! Ironically, while Mag The Mighty played a large role in the gigantic Night’s Watch vs. Wildlings battle of the fourth season, all of Neil’s scenes took place in Belfast, with Neil and Mark Stanley (Grenn) being digitally added together in post-production. That’s pretty cool! One free picture together later, I thanked Neil and departed. Guest type = Responder.
Elizabeth Webster: My last autograph of the morning was the delightful Elizabeth, who I was reliably informed was shy, as this was her first convention. I’ve got to say, if Elizabeth was nervous, she certainly hid it well! One of the funniest, most talkative, most wonderful guests of the weekend! When I approached her autograph table, her eyes were drawn to my red tie, engraved with the “Angel” television show logo at the bottom (thanks, Enza & Chrissy!). Evidently, Elizabeth’s husband is a big “Angel” fan, as she said that he would be very jealous of the tie. I explained the backstory of the tie, before we transitioned to “Game Of Thrones” and the experiences of conventions more generally. Have I mentioned that I set myself the impossible task of meeting as many “Game Of Thrones” cast members as possible? I’m up in the 70’s now, and still trailing my friend Gareth, the bastard. I asked Elizabeth what it was like filming on such a humongous franchise show like “Game Of Thrones”, with such elaborate sets. Elizabeth said that at first it was very surreal and daunting because of the scale of the franchise. Her scenes almost exclusively involve Michael (Roose) and Iwan (Ramsay), who always make her feel more relaxed because they’re always laughing and joking on set, as opposed to some of the more method actors who stay in character between takes (I’m looking at you, Stephen Dillane). Elizabeth has confirmed that she is indeed back for the sixth season. I told Elizabeth that I was worried for Walda’s safety after the comments from Ramsay – especially with her being pregnant with a potential heir to the Dreadfort and all – and Elizabeth said, “there’s nothing to worry about, he’s going to send her away to a nice place to rest and be pregnant”...I’m now more convinced she’s gonna die than ever. A lovely, long conversation, followed by a free picture together at the autograph table, all for £10. Bargain. Guest type = Conversationalist.
With eight autographs done, it was time to head over to the Catrin Finch building, ready for three back-to-back photoshoots in photo area A, starting at midday – the Doctor Who double photo with Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, then Jerome Flynn straight afterwards, then James Marsters right after that. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jemma Redgrave had been added to the Doctor Who photoshoot. This was particularly unexpected as the e-ticket specifically stated Davison and McCoy, as opposed to a more generic “Game Of Thrones” or “Harry Potter” group photo, where the line-up was interchangeable. Awesome! This was a great addition to the photo, especially after my conversation with Jemma later in the day (she’s a total peach). All three photoshoots started on time and were enjoyable. All three photos also turned out great, which is even better. I don’t mind a photoshoot being late or dramatic as long as the photo is worth it. This was stress-free and worth it, so hugs and puppies for all! I believe James’ shoot ended up running an hour, so the demand for Spike was obviously high, as it should be. My photoshoot with James was particularly memorable and humourous. Eighteen months ago, I spent a fair bit of time with James at “Vampire Ball 5”, as I attended the event as Jeff Ricketts’ agent and therefore had green room access (have I mentioned that yet?). I’ve also met James since then. Now, in the photoshoots, James is quite unique in that he faces the person approaching him, says “hi”, shakes their hand, and gives them eye contact. He did this for everyone as far as I’m aware. When I got to the front of the queue, James was on auto-pilot with this, after having done it some two hundred times already. He shook my hand, said “hi”, smiled, then paused...a second goes by...then I received a much more enthusiastic “hey! Shane!” as James registered who I was. I’m just happy he remembered me (by name!) almost eighteen months after we last met. Top man, right there. There’s a reason he’s number one on my all-time greatest guests list. Yes, I have a list. Yes, it is numbered from first to last. You say ‘sad’, I say ‘organised’.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard through the grapevine that James had his ass groped during the photoshoot, even after everyone being repeatedly told ‘no hugs’ and ‘no inappropriate touching’. If you wanna know why the rule ‘no hugs’ was in place, it’s because of stupid people like this. James was so sick of being molested that this rule was introduced. Outside of a convention setting, it would be sexual harassment. Inside of a convention setting, guess what, it’s still sexual harassment! Don’t be grabbing the guests in inappropriate areas! It’s basic common sense and human decency. I was impressed to see just how seriously Wales Comic Con took the matter, as Sunday’s photoshoot had extra security (so I’m told, I wasn’t in it) and the people queuing were emphatically told that any groping would result in arrests being made. When the crew member made this announcement about sexual harassment, my friends Jules and Rosie both whooped loudly. The crew member mistook this for whooping in favour of groping, which led to a hilariously awkward explanation needed. They were whooping that it was being taken so seriously as it’s not always the case at conventions. Historically, sometimes James being groped has led to him being in a bad mood the rest of the day, which is totally understandable. Other people’s assholeish behaviour has therefore ruined the experience for the people that followed them. Thankfully, James’ mood seemed to remain good, as everyone that met him Saturday afternoon post-grope remarked on how talkative and charming he was. Kudos to James for staying happy and professional, even though his number one rule was broken.
My final photoshoot of the day wasn’t scheduled until 3:15pm (photo area B, the “Game Of Thrones” group shot), so I decided to head over to James and Amber’s signing room, as they were arguably the most important guests to me of the weekend. James was on lunch when we got there, while Amber was in her photoshoot. No matter, James wouldn’t be too long, so we joined the back of his little queue (it was virtual queuing remember) and waited for him to return.
James Marsters: The man, the myth, the legend. The crew member with James was another that I recognised and have spoken with before. As always, he was very gracious and wrote down exactly what I wanted James to write – “Out for a walk, bitch” for me and “happy birthday!” for my sister’s 29th birthday present. My conversation with James was the best of the day and I got significantly more time with him than I was expecting considering his queue length. Now, I’m going to go a little off-script here from the way I usually do things, as I’m not going to be sharing the details of this particular conversation. It involved something that myself, James, and George Hertzberg had talked about in the green room of “Vampire Ball 5” some eighteen months earlier, where we were sat around talking about fatherhood (NO, I’M NOT GOING TO BE A FATHER, THAT IS NOT IT!). George shared some personal details, as did James, as did I, and I merely updated James on what has happened since that time. During this particular conversation, James shared more details about his relationship with his parents and children, after I shared some good news with him. I will share the following James quote with you though, “that’s literally the best fucking news I’ve heard all day!”. If you’re a friend of mine and reading this, just get a hold of me on social media and I’ll share it all with you (my side), I just don’t want some of this stuff in the public eye. Best conversation of the day, most deep conversation of the day, and a longer conversation than expected. What an amazing experience. I will say this about James too...he cares. He looks you in the eye, he shares parts of his life with you, and his reactions feel so genuine. Just a remarkable human being. Guest type = Conversationalist.
Amber was still yet to return from her photoshoot and lunch break, so we decided to head back into the main autograph hall and see who else was around that was on my hit-list...I mean, meet list. Did I walk into a doorframe on the way out? Yes, I did. I was distracted. Happily distracted.
Jemma Redgrave: What a terrific woman Jemma is. Like James Marsters before her and Rachel Miner after her, my conversation with Jemma got quite deep, and it’s for a very specific reason. First of all, though, we talked about “Doctor Who” because it’s mandatory to when stood next to Jemma Redgrave. Jemma loves the fact that she has presently been able to flit in and out, while having the freedom to pursue other projects at the same time. Furthermore, “Doctor Who” has given her the freedom to play multiple personality types by having Kate pretend to be a Zygon during the most recent season. Personally, she was a huge fan of the 50th anniversary special, “The Day Of The Doctor”, as well and considers it her favourite episode to be a part of thus far. It’s at this point that the conversation got a little more serious. Now, I need to take you back in time a little for this part. Over the course of 2007-2009, during an 18-month period, I lost three people that were close to me, which sent me into quite a dark depression period for a long time. As I was nearing the end of my four-year battle with depression and attempted suicide, I stumbled across an article in the Guardian. I don’t recall why I was reading the Guardian, I can only assume I was on the toilet or bored on a train. Anyway, the article in question was a long, detailed interview with Jemma, where she addressed the recent passings of Natasha, her aunt, and her father, I believe. Ironically, Jemma lost three people close to her within eighteen months, just like I had. Jemma was clearly still grieving at the time, but the way she openly talked about her struggles and her grief was truly inspiring to me because it’s one of those topics that was never really talked about publically, especially 5 or 6 years ago. Thankfully, mental health issues are finally being addressed a little more freely and acceptably than they were before, which is a step in the right direction. So, myself and Jemma started exchanging stories of grief and loss, which got pretty intense (in a nice way). Jemma seemed totally relaxed talking about such a deep topic and in fact she was more the instigator and inquisitor than I was. When it was time for the selfie, Jemma actually took the camera off of John as she wanted to take the picture herself, which was a nice touch. After it was taken, she turned around so we were facing again (she sat on the desk facing her chair for the selfie), leaned over and hugged me, and told me to take care of myself. Guest Type = Conversationalist.
Xander Berkeley: Right next to Jemma...I think...was Xander Berkeley, The Walking Dead’s own Gregory. My friend Bunny was crewing with Xander, which instantly took away any nervousness that could have been lingering, as the conversation turned more into a general chat than an autograph table Q & A. It was totally chilled. We talked about conventions and Wales, before Xander asked who I was cosplaying as. Someone always seems to at every convention. I explained that I’m not cosplaying, this is just how I dress. Honestly, it’s a compliment when you think about it, right? This led to a conversation about the tie and the “Angel” logo at the bottom of it. Bunny pointed out that it’s always easy to spot me at conventions because of the bandana (funny editing note: I originally accidentally wrote ‘banana’ here). Now, I will freely admit that my interest in Xander stems from “The Walking Dead”. I haven’t seen “24” (DON’T JUDGE ME!), I haven’t seen “Nikita”, I believe I only know Xander from “The Walking Dead” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, and even then I didn’t realise that was Xander until I spotted the 8” x 10”. So, naturally, our conversation centred around “The Walking Dead”. Xander is confirmed as back in the next season and he hasn’t read the original graphic novel source material as the show and the graphic novels often go down different paths or the same paths but with different characters. Also, Xander is a make-up artist in addition to being an actor and he applied all his own make-up for “24”. That’s a multi-talented man, right there. Free picture with him at the autograph table too! Guest Type = Responder.
Ian Whyte: It’s not often I get to say that 7’2” Ian Whyte was the second tallest person I met that day, and I imagine it’s quite the rarity for Ian to meet someone taller than him. Unsurprisingly, we talked about “Game Of Thrones”, as Ian has been in every season, including the sixth. He’s played White Walkers, he’s played various giants, he’s played The Mountain, Gregor Clegane, during the second season, and now he portrays Wun Wun the giant. When Ian first started on the show, the prosthetics and make-up for some of the parts used to take nine hours! So, when you take into account the filming itself, that’s a good 14-hour day sometimes. Poor Ian. Now, thankfully, the processes are largely down to under three hours. Ian said that it’s surprisingly not too difficult because he can sleep as it’s being applied and the make-up artists are friends of his as he’s been around the show so often, so it’s more like a family reunion than having to sit around miserably for nine hours. His personal favourite character to play was Gregor, simply because it was more stress free as there was no heavy make-up or prosthetics to worry about. We talked about conventions and life a little more generally before I asked for a picture of us together. It was free! Yay! Ian said, “I’ll see you later, Shane!”, as he was partaking in the “Game Of Thrones” group photo later in the day. Reflective naming, people. It’s a good thing. Guest type = Responder.
With my final photoshoot of the day looming (the “Game Of Thrones” group photo at 3:15pm in photo area B), we decided to head back to the Buffy building and see if Amber was back from her lunch break. She was.
Amber Benson: I love James Marsters. I love the “Game Of Thrones” cast. But Amber was the guest I was looking forward to meeting the most, simply because I’d never met her before and she’s a main character from my favourite ever television franchise. I’ve met most of the main cast of the show by this point, with just the rarities left – Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Marc Blucas. Amber was the only main cast member who does frequent conventions that has continuously evaded me. Either I missed her or she cancelled on an event I was going to. Nevertheless, it was finally happening. Tara-y goodness. When I approached Amber’s autograph table, she noticed my finger tattoo and I explained the meaning behind it. It’s a little Celtic knot that I used as a tester before getting the larger black and red Celtic knot on my right forearm, both of which are a tribute to my deceased best friend. So, we talked a little about grief and loss before moving on to happier topics. A large portion of our talk centred around writing, as Amber has almost exclusively transitioned from an actress to an author. Writing had always been a passion of Amber’s so one day she just decided to give it a go and so far her books are selling well! I, of course, shilled my “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” reviews as well. Finally, we discussed the scariest episode of Buffy, “Hush”. This was the first episode of the show that Amber’s character, Tara, appeared in, so the episode holds a special place in both of our hearts. When the episode originally aired, I was ten years old and I’d been watching the show for a couple of years. After months of nagging, my mum finally allowed me to stay up late with my sister and watch the uncut version of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Oh, Hell yeah! Which episode did it happen to be? You guessed it, “Hush”. Suffice to say, I didn’t sleep that night nor stay up late to watch the uncut version again for another year. Poor little Shangel. Amber found the story funny though, so I guess my pain and terror was worth it seventeen years later. Amber was a total sweetheart and definitely lived up to the high expectations I’d placed on her before the event. A must-meet for any fan of the show. Guest type = Conversationalist.
I headed over to the Catrin Finch building for my “Game Of Thrones” group photo and chatted to my friend Natasia about the upcoming season as we were waiting to go in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Jerome Flynn was a part of it, which I don’t believe was the initial plan. I assume that Jerome was a last-minute replacement for the ill James Cosmo, but either way it was very cool of the Wales Comic Con team, as the photo technically only needed to contain 3 cast members, yet had 6 before Jerome Flynn was even taken into account. Elizabeth Webster, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Ian Whyte, Neil Fingleton, Esme Bianco, Kerry Ingram, and Jerome Flynn were all present, which made for a nice group shot. With the shoot starting a little late, by the time I exited the building it was slowly approaching 4pm, so myself and John decided to head back to the autograph hall and see what else I could get done before the end of the day. Left on my list was the following: Chris Rankin and Hugh Mitchell photo blags, go and have a chat with my friend Kerry (Ingram), and potentially get an autograph from Jerome Flynn (I already had one before this event) as I wanted a quote on the 8” x 10”. If I saw Jerome doing table pictures, I would definitely go for it. Everyone else left on my autograph list was back the next day, so they could bounce over if needed.
After arriving in the autograph hall, I noticed that Chris Rankin was standing in front of his autograph table, having just finished taking some pictures with some attendees. Naturally, I moseyed over and explained the situation (my phone broke and I lost the last picture), and asked if we could take another picture together. Chris remembered me from the last event so he knew I was being honest. To be fair to Chris, even if I was just a random attendee that wanted a free picture, I’m sure he’d have obliged because he’s such a great guy. After the picture was taken, I had a little bonus out of the experience, as Chris starting talking to me about how my day was going, etc. So I ended up talking to Chris for a good ten minutes. What I love about Chris is that he’s so very, very normal. He acts just like an attendee. One of the easiest guys to talk to I’ve ever met. Chris mentioned how excited he was for the Harry Potter panel with Miriam Margolyes the following day, as Miriam has zero filter between mouth and brain, so it should make for a good time. For those of you unaware of what I mean, Google some of Miriam’s Graham Norton appearances. She told Dominic Cooper that “Mamma Mia” was a dreadful film (it was), she told Graham that when she first met Laurence Olivier, she ‘creamed her knickers’, she told a story about offering to wank an American soldier off because you should be kind to the troops...she’s my spirit animal. Highlights of her time at Wales Comic Con included :-
· (To the lovely female photographer): “You know, dear, can you skirt get any shorter?”
· “How does a ‘selfie’ work, anyway? Do I take a picture of you? Do you take a picture of me? Shall I get my tits out?”
· “Sorry for the delay, dear. I had to visit the lavatory because I was fearful I was going to shit myself if I didn’t.”
All of this with an upper-class English accent. She’s phenomenal.
Shaun Parkes: Just down the aisle from Chris was Shaun Parkes, who was deep in conversation with his crew member as he was down to very few 8” x 10”’s left, all of which were from “Doctor Who”. That was fine with me as I was primarily getting his autograph because of “Doctor Who”, even though I love him in “Casanova” and “The Mummy Returns” as well. What is there to say about Shaun? He can talk for England, he’ll keep talking for ever and ever if there’s nobody behind you in the queue, and he’s an absolutely terrific gentleman. Between myself, Shaun, and his crew member, we must have covered pretty much every topic known to man, especially things surrounding his career, “Doctor Who”, James Bond, and conventions. Shaun has worked with every actor to portray The Doctor since its revival except Peter Capaldi. Shaun’s name has also been thrown around numerous times to play The Doctor himself, which would be epic. A black Doctor or female Doctor has got to happen at some point soon, and Shaun would be a great choice in my opinion. We discussed Russell T. Davies’ era of the show and remarked on how it hit a lull period for a while after he left. We talked about Shaun getting to hang out around Venice while filming “Casanova” with David Tennant, we talked about conventions and fan interaction...we pretty much covered everything, I think. Only downside was that the picture I got with him turned out a little blurry, so I’ll have to go say “hi” this coming weekend at “Em-Con” and get another one. Although, out of the 28 photos that were taken over “Wales Comic Con” weekend, I like (or love in some cases) all of them except this one, and that’s only because it’s blurry. That is a very, very, very rare feat, so I can’t complain too much. Stupendous guest! Guest type = Conversationalist.
When I was leaving Shaun’s autograph table, I noticed that Hugh Mitchell was now back at his, looking a little nonchalant as his 8” x 10”’s had all been used and he was waiting for more to be printed. So I took the opportunity to get a replacement picture with him too and he very graciously accepted, and also remembered me from the previous November. Gotta love those Harry Potter guys. They’re always so friendly and talkative. After the picture was taken, I also started having a chat with Hugh, much like I did with Chris a little while earlier. Yet another guest that you should go out of your way to meet where possible.
Kerry Ingram: The night before the convention started, Kerry messaged me to say that she’d be leaving at around 5pm instead of the closing time of 6pm because her train home left at 6pm. I’d mentioned to her previously that I was planning to come and say “hi” to her quite late in the day, as I’d be running around like a lunatic for most of the day up until that point. As 5pm was starting to loom closer and closer, I decided to go and see Kerry, which is always a big bundle of fun. I’ve met Kerry three times now face-to-face, the last three April editions of “Wales Comic Con”. Kerry and I first met, she was fourteen years old(!), and Kerry reminded me that if she were to come next April as well, she’d be about to turn eighteen. I’ve literally seen her grow up to some extent. Myself and Kerry have remained in contact ever since we first met and we’ve occasionally exchanged messages pretty much ever since, so talking to her is a piece of piss as I already know what projects she’s been working on, etc. Recently, Kerry has been working as an understudy for “The Wizard Of Oz” in Bracknell, and she’ll be performing as Dorothy on Friday the 3rd of June at 2:30pm and 7:30pm. If you’re in the area and you want to see Kerry perform as Dorothy, that’s the only day she will be doing so, so make sure you get your tickets now...I feel as though I’ve lost my calling in life as a salesman. Kerry’s also got “Barbarian’s Rising” coming to the History Channel in June of this year, where she’ll be playing Hilde. I filled Kerry in on my hectic day, we caught up, and shot the shit. There isn’t a huge amount more to say here as it was more catching up with a friend than trivia facts for “Game Of Thrones”. Although, I did say to Kerry that I can’t believe she didn’t tell me last year that Shireen was gon’ burn! She said she’d have been destroyed if she’d told anyone. Bless. Ironically, in the “Game Of Thrones” group photo queue last year, I predicted that Shireen was going to get burned by Melisandre in order for Stannis to win the war with the Boltons. Well, I got the burning part right at least. Guest type = Conversationalist. I saw Kerry again a little while afterwards and we talked for a while longer because her train ended up being later than she thought, so Kerry didn’t leave until closer to 5:30pm.
Usually, the autograph hall starts to thin out drastically around 4:30pm, but my expectation was that it wouldn’t this time because of the terrific line-up of guests. While I’m reliably informed that James Marsters’ queue was busy up to and even a little after closing, everyone in the main autograph hall started to be relatively dead from 5pm onwards, even the likes of Jason Momoa, Miriam Margolyes, and Jerome Flynn. Therefore, I used my brain, which doesn’t happen often. My original plan was to meet Jason Momoa, Mark Addy, and Miriam Margolyes early on the Sunday morning, but the opportunity presented itself so that I could get all three done at the end of Saturday, resulting in a lie-in the next morning and less stress in regards to potentially long queues and virtual queuing systems. A lie-in, on a convention day?! What kind of bizarre parallel universe have I stumbled in to? What happened to the glory days of queuing at 6am in the rain for a convention that opened at 9am or 10am? Oh, wait, yes, doing that fucking sucks. Especially if the weather is bad.
Jason Momoa: Jason is not the most talkative guy on the planet, and I’m aware of some convention issues that were surrounding him at this particular event, including showing up late on the Saturday morning, resulting in people waiting in his autograph line for an hour, then showing up late on Sunday morning because he was upstairs in the gym. No matter, Jason’s a quirky dude and always has been, but I must admit I found it a tad disrespectful to his fans. Anyway, none of that affected me personally, so back to the business at hand! I was within the last handful of autographs that Jason signed that day, and you could tell that Jason was exhausted, drained...and perhaps a little hungover, so he wasn’t overly talkative at that particular time. However, he was still very gracious, we talked about “Game Of Thrones” and Aquaman for a while, we fist-bumped, and I was on my merry way. I actually got this autograph for my friend Melly, as I didn’t need another one myself. Guest Type = Hungover.
Mark Addy: I’m not sure if Mark was charging for selfies on the Saturday, but there was no sign up or charge when I got there at the end of the day. However, I did notice a sign up Sunday, so I’m under the assumption that it was added for the Sunday. Either way, Mark was, as always, a delight. For one of the bigger names the event has frequently brought in, Mark is nothing but humble, talkative, and quick to laugh loudly. I don’t have enough good things to say about Mark and it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve spoken to him. In a move that shocked none of you, our conversation largely revolved around “Game Of Thrones”, ranging from the impending sixth season, right back to the first in which Mark was a part of. Mark said that filming “Game Of Thrones” was easy most of the time because a large portion of his scenes were with friends of his from before the show, Sean Bean and Lena Headey. He noted that filming with Conleth Hill (Varys) was particularly challenging as Conleth keeps trying to make everyone laugh between scenes or when the camera isn’t aiming at him. That wretch. I happened to mention how much I adore the scene between Robert and Cersei, where they’re sat around, just the two of them, discussing their marriage. It’s a beautiful scene and really helps you understand why they’re together in the first place and how they’ve survived as a couple so long, even though they loathe each other. Robert’s revelations about Lyanna Stark are absolutely heartbreaking. Ironically, this masterpiece of a scene isn’t in the books, it was solely added in by Dan and Dave for the show. The downside is that it wasn’t originally in the script for the episode. Mark was given it as an additional scene in the morning, then expected to film the whole thing later that afternoon. Mark had to try and learn the lines and get into the right frame of mind, all in one day! No worries, though. At least Mark had the morning to learn the lines...oh, wait, he was filming the boar hunting scene all that morning. Poor Mark. Still, it turned out perfectly, so it was worth the stress. We also discussed the one drawback to “Game Of Thrones” being that the show does lose some incredible actors over the years because of the high death count. Mark, Sean Bean, Charles Dance, Jack Gleeson, Richard Madden, Michelle Fairley, and Pedro Pascal all instantly spring to mind. However, I pointed out that in the case of King Robert and Ned Stark, the deaths were not only inevitable, but needed, as those two moments start the chain reaction to pretty much everything that’s happened since. Mark enforced how proud he was to work at the beginning of such a great show, and help set the scene for what’s followed. He still watches along, just like all of us. Guest Type = Conversationalist. The picture of us together turned out pretty good too. Totally worth the money. Mark is still only a £15 guest at Wales Comic Con, which if anything seems a little underpriced when you consider some of the £20 guests you see these days. Total legend.
Jerome Flynn: Jerome isn’t the most talkative man in the world, it’s just not who he is. Well, not at conventions, at least. Yet, I was totally impressed with Jerome this time around and he was way more talkative than the last time we met. Perhaps he’s usually less of a talker because he’s worried about the queue behind? I was Jerome’s last autograph of the day as far as I’m aware because I took the last 8” x 10” that was left, and I can’t see anyone getting more printed with Jerome leaving a matter of minutes after this encounter. Jerome was great. I mentioned how exciting it was to usher in the new season of “Game Of Thrones” by meeting a large number of the cast the same weekend that it was returning. Jerome hinted at where Bronn’s character arc may be going this season, but I’m remaining silent here in case people want to avoid any and all spoilers, regardless of how little they may be. We also talked about why Jerome took the role of Bronn, as he’d basically been in a self-imposed decade long retirement from acting on and off before being cast in “Game Of Thrones”. As the conversation was coming to a close and Jerome was about to start writing on the 8” x 10”, I cheekily requested a rather rude Bronn quote to be added to it, which Jerome chuckled at and seemed happy to oblige – “To Shane, there’s no cure for being a cunt”. LOLs. I also filled Jerome in on a story regarding my work life and that quote, where, not long after that episode aired, I may have used that sentence on a Director of the company without thinking after he really pissed me off. Ironically, not only wasn’t I fired, but we’ve been on very good terms ever since...still, I wouldn’t recommend calling a company Director a ‘cunt’, just in case. I shan’t be held responsible if you try it and get fired. Also got a picture with Jerome at the autograph table for free! Isn’t it ironic that a bigger name like Jerome wasn’t charging at all? Guest Type = Responder.
Miriam Margolyes: What else is there to say about Miriam other than ‘hilarious’ and ‘bat-shit crazy’? She’s a disarmingly friendly woman. After seeing her on Graham Norton so many times, I was expecting her to be brusque, almost to the point of being inadvertently rude, but she was nothing of the sort. I must admit, I could listen to her talk all day and make a living selling the headlines. I’ve never met someone who’s so unintentionally funny. That’s the best part, she doesn’t realise that she’s being funny, she’s just being herself. When I mentioned that I’ve loved her Graham Norton appearances, she said, “Oh, you’re a naughty one, aren’t you?”...she knows me already. We discussed the wonderful world of Harry Potter and what it was like filming in such a large, successful franchise before I grabbed a quick picture with her and was on my merry way. Guest type = Bonkers.
I must admit, by this point in the day I was pretty shattered myself. I was running off of almost no sleep, zero food, and very little fluids. It was time to head to the hotel, check in, and get some food. Now, some pretty cool stuff happened during the Saturday night, but I won’t be going into details here as this review is solely about the convention. I will say that the hotel, the Wynnstay Arms, was vastly superior to the shit-hole we stayed in for “LFCC” last July. Firstly, there was no used condom in the wardrobe, so my nostrils remained unviolated and salty smell free. Secondly, there was no shared bathroom with other rooms. Always a plus. After trying to drift off to sleep in the wee hours of Sunday morning, I was instantly awoken by when sounded like an ear-splitting earthquake...oh, no, wait, that’s just John snoring. Mother of God, I’ve never heard noise like it. I put the pillow over my head, but it was too hot. I put toilet paper in my ears, but it wasn’t strong enough. I ultimately resorted to headphones and “The Inbetweeners” to drown out the noise. Alas, by 4am, John had rolled onto his side, leaving me free to remove the headphones and sleep for a solid three hours. Ahh, bliss.
Myself and John – who was refreshed from his blissful sleep – got out of bed at 7am and chilled in the twin hotel room until just before 9am...again, what the fuck is this chilled out convention day shit?! We drove to the university campus and realised that we didn’t need to queue up outside again, as we already had our weekend wristbands from the day before, so we chilled out on the campus, went to the student lounge (where I took pictures of myself inside a TARDIS!), and collected my “Game Of Thrones” group photo from the day before, as it wasn’t ready when we left due to the printer issues. Again, with those printer issues, while it sucked that they broke down, I feel as though the Wales Comic Con team acted swiftly and went into damage control mode effectively. Of course, some people will always be disgruntled, especially if they were there Saturday only, but the team did the best they could, I’ve no doubt. I still think two instant printers might be a wise investment for the future, though.
When the second day officially opened at 10am, it was time to head back to the autograph hall, for a much more chilled day than the previous one. Unlike Saturday, the event would be concluding at 4pm on Sunday, instead of the usual 6pm. This gave me 6 hours to get through the three autographs that remained and get through the four studio photos I had booked. All I needed to do was meet Dan Starkey and Luke Barnes (who were there Sunday only), then go and meet Rachel Miner. After that it was time for my Jason Momoa photoshoot, followed by Amber Benson, the Harry Potter group shoot, and the second “Game Of Thrones” group shoot. Simple, simple day. Getting Momoa, Miriam, and Mark Addy done at the end of Saturday was certainly a big step in ensuring that Sunday would be as stress-free as possible. I saw Luke Barnes’ autograph table and backdrop, but he wasn’t there yet. A couple of minutes later, the backdrop was removed. Evidently, Luke had to cancel at the last minute...that’s twice in a row he’s cancelled on me, damn it! No worries, Dan Starkey was at his autograph table, so I headed to him first.
Dan Starkey: Strax, the Sontaran from “Doctor Who”, looked different in real life. He was less blue and his head was shaped less like a potato. Dan was basically as you’d expect for someone playing a comedic, short alien character in a hugely successful franchise. He was quick to joke, easy to smile, and kept changing his voice from his natural one to Strax’s. We discussed “Doctor Who”, and Dan said that he’d love to do a Paternoster Gang spinoff show with Madame Vastra and Jenny, if the opportunity ever presented itself. It was a rumour a few years back, so perhaps one day it could come to fruition. We also talked about the differences between working with David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi, as Dan has worked with all three on “Doctor Who”. Matt’s a big goofball on set evidently and likes to improvise and make jokes between takes. Dan hopes that Strax is brought back and that the writers don’t see the Paternoster Gang as an Eleventh Doctor only group, barring Capaldi’s first episode. £10 for a selfie seemed a bit steep for Dan, but I paid it anyway because I wanted to complete the trifecta of pictures, as I’m meeting Neve (Madame Vastra) and Catrin (Jenny) at “Em-Con” next weekend. Guest type = Responder.
With Dan accomplished and Luke absent, there was just one autograph left: Rachel Miner.
Rachel Miner: Rachel turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of the weekend and one of my favourite guests I’ve met. We started by talking about “Supernatural” and Meg Masters, naturally, but we swiftly transitioned into her multiple sclerosis challenges, as they were the reason primarily that she had to leave the show. Physically, the show was becoming harder and harder for Rachel to maintain, even though the show loved her and kept wanting to bring her back in a reduced physical role, it got to the point where it was time to say goodbye. However, Rachel was happy with Meg’s exit, so she’d likely not return either way as she thought it was a great send off for the character. We talked about conventions as a whole and I told Rachel that Wales Comic Con is like a family reunion for me and many others. I know a large number of the attendees, I know two-thirds of the crew...Hell, I know a section of the guests by this point! Rachel loved that Wales Comic Con held such a family atmosphere and she said she was glad that she chose to do Wales Comic Con and Rogue Events, as that family atmosphere is what led her to doing conventions in the first place. I mentioned that I was going to Rogue Event’s “Prophecy” in June, to which Rachel said that Christian Kane is a friend of hers (Christian is attending the event). Deeper and deeper the conversation went until we started having quite an intense talk about multiple sclerosis, the power of positive thinking, and how the mind can help combat ailments of the body. The way that Rachel talked about her illness, the way she was able to see the positives in everything, the way she won’t let it define her, is totally, totally inspiring. Here’s a woman that has lost a large function of leg movement and needs a mobility scooter to get around, whose life has been traumatically affected by this disease, yet she’s powering through and keeping a smile on her face regardless. I have so much respect for her for that. The conversation ended up running on for a solid fifteen or twenty minutes as there was nobody behind me in the queue. Rachel wasn’t offering table photos for obvious reasons, so I decided to buy a studio photo instead. Rachel did, however, offer a hug. She stood up, hugged me tightly, and told me she’d see me later. Simply, an incredible woman. Guest type = Conversationalist.
It was now 11:30am, so I headed over to the Catrin Finch building, ready to start queuing for Jason Momoa’s photoshoot a little while later. There’s a lot less to say about the Sunday of the event than the Saturday, simply because a large section of the day for me was photoshoots, which all run pretty much like clockwork by this point. Myself and John didn’t leave the Catrin Finch area between 11:30am and 3:30pm, as we had back-to-back photoshoots. All the photoshoots went as well as they possibly could. Momoa was badass, Amber Benson was a total sweetheart to everyone in her queue, Rachel Miner was chatting to each of us before the photo was taken and wrapped me in a big hug for the picture, the Harry Potter group photo started late, but was worth it, and the “Game Of Thrones” group photo was terrific, as Mark Addy was added last minute thanks to the efforts of Gareth, who grabbed Mark after his solo shoot finished. That meant that every “Game Of Thrones” cast member at the convention was in one of the two group photos, barring Jason Momoa, who was specifically mentioned as not being in them as he was a sponsored guest. A special mention needs to also be given to the crew members running the Catrin Finch building as they had an the unenviable task of having to get all the photoshoots finished, then get the prints out as quickly as possible, while everyone was waiting and tutting as they wanted to go home. Yet, they all handled it like pros. Thankfully, the lovely crew members would take my photos out of the pile and keep them aside for me, as they know me by appearance if not by name. Greatly appreciated, ladies, greatly appreciated!
With 9 studio photos collected (all of which I love!) and 23 autographs to my name, it was time to start the two and a half hour journey back home. The mark of any convention ultimately rests on one simple question: “Would I return?”...I’m sure by this point you’ve noticed that the answer is an emphatic “yes!”. Not only does Wales Comic Con offer the best conventions in the United Kingdom, but the organisers, crew, and a selection of the guests have transitioned into extended family. As long as Jaime and the team keep running them, I’ll keep going to them. It’s that simple. I actively encourage you to attend a “Wales Comic Con” event yourself if you’re in a position to. They’re all over social media, so finding out ticket information and guest information for the next event once it’s been announced won’t be difficult. Thus far in my experiences Wales Comic Con has been unparalleled when it comes to conventions.
In addition to breaking their highest attendance record, did the Wales Comic Con team manage to break yet another one? Were they able to achieve a ‘final score’ greater than the present record of 9/10? Let’s find out.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10
So what made this “Wales Comic Con” even better than the ones that came before it? Simply, guest experiences and my satisfaction level with my studio photos and pictures. As I’ve said before, barring one or two minor tweaks – chief among them the need for instant printers – Wales Comic Con’s are as close to being perfectly run as you can get. A stellar line-up, some incredible conversations, some genuine moments of human-to-human bonding with some guests, and my photoshoots all turning out various levels of awesome has resulted in this being the best “Wales Comic Con” yet. Kudos to Jaime. Kudos to the team. Kudos to the incredible crew.
I’ll be at “Em-Con” this Sunday, May 1st, so come and say “hi” if you’re in the area. My review of the event should be up within a couple of days.
If you’ve made it to the end of this review, I thank you tremendously and also question your sanity a little. If you were there and want to share your experiences, if you have anything else to say, or any feedback to give, please do so in the comments section below.