Friday, 1 December 2017

Reading Comic Con 2017 - A Detailed Review

Guests met and discussed in this review (with the franchise(s) I most associate them with personally) :-

• Joe Altin (Pypar from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Luke Barnes (Rast from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Dominic Carter (Ser Janos Slynt from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Ross O’Hennessy (Lord of Bones from “Game Of Thrones” & Locke from “The Bastard Executioner”)
• Sarah Louise Madison (Weeping Angel/Time Zombie from “Doctor Who”)
• Josh Herdman (Gregory Goyle from “Harry Potter”)
• David Schaal (Terry Cartwright from “The Inbetweeners”)
• Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt from “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”)

Two quick notes before we get started...

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With that being said, let’s dive in...

“Reading Comic Con” took place over the weekend of the 25th and 26th of November at the Rivermead Leisure Complex. This was the second event under the “Reading Comic Con” banner, but the first in which Creed Conventions organised the show solo, having co-ran the event in 2016 with Fanzone Events. I attended the 2016 edition for just the Sunday and I must admit that I was highly impressed. It was well organised, the venue was fit for purpose, the lighting was great, the line-up was cool, and the merchandise stalls were plentiful and varied. Therefore, when I found time in my schedule to attend “Reading Comic Con” again this year, I was pretty excited.

Unlike last year, I attended this event on just the Saturday. One of the downsides to “Reading Comic Con” being the weekend before “Wales Comic Con” was that both funds and time were scarce. However, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Luke Barnes. Luke, of course, portrayed Rast of the Night’s Watch in “Game Of Thrones”. I was supposed to meet Luke on two separate occasions before this, but unfortunately he had to cancel both times, so Luke has remained on my “still to meet list” for Thrones for a few years now. When the stars finally aligned for myself and Luke to meet, it had to be done. On top of that, I could meet Jay’s Dad from “The Inbetweeners” at his first ever Comic Con. “The Inbetweeners” is one of my favourite sitcoms of all-time and I practically know the 18 episodes (and two films) by heart, but the stars of the show are very rare on the Comic Con circuit, so my meetings with them have been few and far between. The cherry on the cake for “Reading Comic Con” was that I could catch up with my friends Joe Altin and Sarah Louise Madison, as well as chat to Ross O’Hennessy and Dominic Carter again. All-in-all, I was very excited to drive the two-hours east to Reading and have a great, fun-filled day of nerdiness.

Like the “Loughborough Comic Con” show before it, Paul had gone all-out with trying to fit as many ‘extras’ into the entry ticket price as possible. There was a Walking Dead ‘Do Not Enter’ replica area, where you could get a photo of yourself in front of it and pose accordingly. There was a TARDIS, an Ood and a Dalek to represent the “Doctor Who” fandom. There was a Bat Mobile in the middle of the main hall…and, best of all, there was a roaming dinosaur that looked incredibly impressive and made realistic sound-effects. While the “Loughborough” guest line-up was good, it lacked the rarer guests. This was not the case for “Reading”. While some more common and established actors were in attendance (such as Hannah Spearritt, Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie, and Joe Altin), there was also a selection of rarer or newbie guests as well, such as David Schaal, Julie Dawn Cole, and Russell Hodgkinson. Any time an indie event goes that extra mile to bring someone new or different into the fold, I greatly appreciate it. Another example of this was “Gloucester Comic Con” – my home-city event that I help organise – bringing in Grimm’s Damien Puckler and The Walking Dead’s Joshua Mikel and Jayson Warner Smith. That little bit of unfamiliarity or change can be the difference between a mediocre or average event and a great one.

Like most indie cons, this event was good value for money overall. The Q&A panels were free, there was a lot of ‘extra’ things to do (like those mentioned above), and while the event was busy, it didn’t feel like a cattle-market. The crew were excellent, I still adore the venue, and everything seemed to run pretty much on time, including the studio photos and panels. Can’t really ask for more than that from a convention.

As many of you know, my primary reason for attending Comic Cons is the guests. This means that an event can be organised perfectly and I could still leave feeling disappointed if my experiences with the guests were bad, or vice versa. Thankfully, stacking on top of all of the positives above, my experiences with the guests ranged from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’, without a dud or shitty conversation, or rude actor to be found whatsoever. Always the mark of a truly great con in my book!

Everybody ready for the play-by-play section of the review?

Myself and my friend Hayley left Gloucestershire at around 8:30am, after stopping at McDonalds for a coffee. Without that, gentle readers, I may not have survived the day at all. I was so tired before I even left the house! One of the disadvantages of a change in career and a change in shift patterns. The problem with having a large coffee is that I’m naturally quite shaky. I don’t have a medical issue that causes it, I just naturally shake a little bit. It’s one of the things I inherited from my Father. The shake is particularly pronounced on Comic Con days because I’m already filled with adrenaline and fatigue peaks and falls as the day wears on. Adrenaline + natural shakiness + caffeine = worse shakes and hyperactivity. Next time: green tea or some shit.

Anyway, the traffic as we were heading into Reading (rhymey goodness) was atrocious and we were caught in it for about 45 minutes, resulting in me missing my intended studio photo session with Luke Barnes. This wasn’t a big concern as I hadn’t actually bought the ticket yet, all it did was put more pressure on the table picture that was coming up later in the day. Where possible, I always, always, always like to get two pictures with someone so that if one turns out shit, you have a back-up. Eventually, we arrived at the Rivermead Leisure Complex at about midday. This gave me four or five hours to attend the “Game Of Thrones” panel, have a look around, collect my autographs, have my conversations with my friends, and then leave feeling fulfilled and satisfied.

Ross O’Hennessy: If I’m going to a convention where I know one (or multiple) of the guests, I always try to go and say “hi” to them first if their queue (or lack thereof) permits, as it serves as a great way to get my conversational juices flowing without having to try and break the ice with someone new. It puts me into the right frame of mind and mood to set up the rest of my day. In essence, it gives me that confidence I need in order to have memorable conversations a little later, as I don’t naturally have that confidence with people I don’t know. Of course, the downside to having more and more conversations with friends as opposed to meeting a guest is that I don’t feel comfortable writing about what was discussed, as it’s made that transition from ‘professional’ to ‘private’. Myself and Ross largely chatted about Comic Cons, my new work situation, and Ross trying to finish rebuilding his house so that it is habitable in 2018. It’s presently a building site with a good few months of work left to be done, so it won’t be habitable for a while yet! Seeing Ross is always wonderful. I’ve actually seen him 4 times in 2 months – I joked that we should start carpooling to Comic Cons together moving forwards. For such an intimidating looking man (big beard, built like a brick shithouse…), Ross is one of the friendliest men on the convention scene. He always greets me kindly, always offers a handshake and a smile, and he’s very easy to talk to about either his work or real-life shenanigans. I’d highly recommend meeting Ross if you get the chance. Total legend. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

(Regular readers, you can skip this section)

“Shangel, what’s a ‘Conversationalist’?”

I’m glad you asked. Many years ago, after attending numerous 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 below or on social media!

Joe Altin: Out of all the ‘celebrity’ friends I’ve made on the Comic Con circuit, Joe is right up there as one of my closest and one of the nicest. Just a through and through decent human being. Always looking on the bright side of situations, always smiling and encouraging people to live their dreams. Always sending out positivity posts on social media. Always legitimately wishing the best for people. I cannot say enough good things about Joe. Amusingly, I only met Joe for the first time at “Em-Con: Nottingham” last year, which was 18 months ago. Since then, I’ve spoken to Joe many times on social media, I’ve had private conversations with him on social media, we follow each other on Twitter, we’re Facebook friends, and I’ve seen him face-to-face six times since. I’ve seen Joe more than any other guest at a convention over the past 18 months! Every time, without fail, he is a gentleman and an absolute pleasure to talk to. As with Ross, I can talk about very little of my conversation because it was a personal one. We talked about my new career, Joe’s family situation, parts he’s recently auditioned for and just missed out on, parts he’s recently auditioned for and got…it was a blast. After talking to Joe for about 20 minutes, I told Joe I’d come back and see him a little later, at it was nearly time for his “Game Of Thrones” panel at 2:00pm. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

Highlights from the “Game Of Thrones” panel include :-

·        The panel consisted of Joe Altin, Luke Barnes, Dominic Carter, and Ross O’Hennessy, who portrayed Pypar of the Night’s Watch, Rast of the Night’s Watch, Ser Janos Slynt, and the Lord of Bones respectively. The panel was hosted by Darran Green.
·        A child asked what it was like to be on television and Joe answered by saying “it’s like work, but more fun!”
·        Ross and Joe both stated that if they could play another “Game Of Thrones” character, it would be Joffrey. Ross called Joffrey the “best character in the show” as every time he was on screen, Ross wanted to smash it.
·        All four echoed that one of the best things about conventions for them is that they get to meet people from “Game Of Thrones” that they never had a chance to while filming the show itself! For instance, Ross and Joe hadn’t met until this day, which is crazy when you consider how many cons they’re both doing!
·        Ross talked about filming “Hardhome” in a freezing cold quarry in Belfast instead of the luxurious, warm locations that some people got to film at. Someone then asked Dominic where he got to film and he said Croatia. He talked about how warm and beautiful it was. Ross didn’t look impressed! Dominic also talked about filming in Malta too. He said it was difficult to act in that heat under all the chainmail.
·        Ross, Joe and Luke all mentioned that it’s easy to act cold or miserable when you’re filming in cold and miserable weather – “Look cold!” (“I am cold!”), “Look tired!” (“I am tired!”), “Look miserable!” (“…I am miserable!”). I think that last one was a joke. Not sure though.
·        Joe and Luke talked about bonding with each other and with Mark Stanley (Grenn) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow) during filming for season one right at the beginning of the show – even before John Bradley (Sam Tarly) joined the Night’s Watch. It was largely just the four of them, filming scenes and waiting for decent weather in Iceland in order to film. So the four of them spent 2 weeks together in a hotel and only actually filmed for 2 of those days.
·        Joe talked about finding out about Pyp’s death in the show. He was in Prague, in a café, reading the season 4 scripts for his scenes, happily getting excited and day-dreaming about acting them, when he read that he would be getting an arrow through the through before the season finishes. Joe joked that Sam just leaves his body there as well. Joe called Mark Stanley and discovered that Mark also gets killed off in the same episode! It was the end of an era, I’m telling you!
·        Without a doubt, the best part of the panel was Luke Barnes nudging Joe into telling a very funny story from set just before Joe filmed his death scene. In preparation for the arrow-through-the-throat, the prosthetics guys went to Joe’s trailer to fit the prosthetic arrow onto both sides of his neck, see how it looks, etc. While they were fitting it, Joe – who suffers with epilepsy – passed out and started to have a fit. The prosthetics guys panicked and called the paramedics to Joe’s trailer. The paramedic entered the room expecting to have to deal with someone having a fit and instead walked into a trailer where someone had an arrow through the neck! The paramedic freaked out and screamed, thinking the arrow through the neck had actually happened! He had no idea how he was going to deal with this situation! Absolutely hilarious in hindsight. At the time it was probably quite traumatic though. Joe said that he doesn’t take medication for his epilepsy, but that he hasn’t had a fit since that day due to controlling his diet and his stress levels.
·        When Dominic Carter was cast in the first season as Ser Janos Slynt, he received an email from George R.R. Martin, welcoming him to the team and letting him know that he’d be killed off in season three or four (giving him a heads-up secretly for scheduling purposes). Dominic takes pride in the fact that he out-lived these predictions and Janos didn’t meet his demise until season five.
·        Dominic talked about going to get his head prosthetic in anticipation for Ser Janos’ decapitation in the show. The prosthetics people were nervous around him and asked him if he knew why he was there. Evidently, some cast members have gone to get a head prosthetic, not knowing that it’s because they are about to be killed off on the show! How horrific is that? There’s been tears and sad phone calls.
·        Everyone has their name printed at the bottom of their scripts so that if any go missing, the production knows exactly whose script it was and they get punished accordingly. All part of working on a massive show with many secrets!
·        Ross is a fountain of knowledge on the history of Westeros and the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series that the show is based off of – much like myself. Ross explained to the audience how the White Walkers were created and why. I was so proud of him in that moment. Dominic quipped, “too much time on your own, Ross?”
·        Ross was a fan of the book series and show before being cast, so when he was offered the part of the Lord of Bones (taking over from Edward Dogliani), he took it without hesitation because the Lord of Bones’ death in the books is really frickin’ cool. I won’t spoil it for you, go read. Ultimately, in the show, the Lord of Bones’ death was pretty unspectacular. He was beaten to death rather quickly by Tormund…with his own staff.
·        All four actors agreed that there should be “Game Of Thrones” counsellors on set, ready to deal with situations just like the above – “my character death was crap!”, “I had to rape a child today”, etc. That would be an interesting job. I’m available and qualified for season 8…just saying.
·        Someone asked if anyone kept anything from the set and Dominic quipped, “legally?”
·        Joe stole some stones from the Castle Black set. When Rose Leslie (Ygritte) was killed off on the show, she was gifted her bow, in a beautiful box. When Joe was killed off – in the same episode – he was expecting a nice prosthetic arrow or something, but he didn’t get anything. Ouch.
·        Overall, the panel was excellent. Lots of trivia, lots of laughs. A great way to kill 30 minutes, that’s for sure!

Back to our regularly-scheduled autograph table programming, it was now time to go and meet Luke Barnes.

Luke Barnes: I must admit, I was apprehensive to meet Luke at first. His natural facial expression is quite grumpy looking. That coupled with the character he portrayed in Thrones, Rast, I was nervous that Luke might be a little dismissive or not very talkative. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Luke was friendly, talkative, approachable…and he even smiled! I didn’t know he could! Before I got to ask Luke any questions, Luke enquired as to where I’d travelled from. I said Gloucestershire and Luke was surprised I’d travelled so far. This led into a conversation about the blog, me reviewing cons, helping book the guests for “Wales Comic Con”, and about my real-life career. That was 5 minutes gone and we hadn’t even gotten around to him yet! We discussed working on “Game Of Thrones” and the massive cast-wide table-read that took place before the first season started shooting. Luke said that some actors went away for lunch and never returned. I bet they are kicking themselves for walking out on “Game Of Thrones” in hindsight. We discussed what it was like filming in season one vs. filming in season four as the show was an international hit by that point. Luke said that things largely stayed the same. The budget and cast, and scale increased – plus the catering quality increased – but the actors and showrunners remained grounded. We talked about what it was like to act killing Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) and Luke said that in real life James Cosmo could tear him limb-from-limb. Luke also cited James Cosmo as his hero. Luke said that he’d never survive in a real-life “Game Of Thrones” situation because he doesn’t have any physical abilities or prowess whatsoever. We probably chatted for about 10 minutes in total – roping Joe Altin in at one point as well. I grabbed a selfie for £5 too (autograph was £10), which turned out great. It was a terrific conversation and I’m so pleased that I’ve finally met Luke after a couple of failed attempts before. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

One thing I did notice was that every guest at “Reading Comic Con” (to my knowledge) was charging £5-10 for a table picture (“selfie”), irrespective of whether you were buying an autograph or not. This trend in the UK convention scene continues to irk me. In my opinion, if you’re getting an autograph anyway, a selfie should be free. It takes 5 seconds. I know the actors have guarantees to make, but if Showmasters can stop guests charging for selfies and still bring in big names, then we know it’s possible to do so and still be profitable. The only time I find a selfie charge acceptable is when someone isn’t getting an autograph or if the money is going to charity. Sadly, selfie charges are becoming more and more common at events, and the prices of those charges are going up and up, and up. I’ve seen £50 selfies at some London events! For a two-second snap on your mobile phone! When you’ve just paid £70 for an autograph! God bless Showmasters in that regard. Not only are autograph and studio photo prices going up across the board in the UK, but now we have to budget for selfie charges too. Are convention attendees made of money? No. Which means that we’re meeting less people because of the increased costs. It’s a vicious, barbaric circle. I shall oppose selfie costs until the end of my days. That’s not a knock on “Reading Comic Con” as such, that’s a knock on the entire UK scene as a whole (barring Showmasters). As I’ve said before, when it comes to increasing, over-the-top costs, sometimes it’s better to let your lack of paying do the talking. If organisers know you won’t pay over a certain amount, they won’t try and charge it. We have the power here. But too many people are willing to pay stupid prices, which ruins it for everyone, including themselves in the long-run…gonna get off my soap box now.

Dominic Carter: Dominic is a really great, down-to-Earth guy. I went over to his autograph table in order to grab a quick table picture as I’ve already gotten his autograph from before. See, in this scenario, I’m happy to pay a “selfie” charge. Anyway, it’s always nice to see Dominic. We chatted about the most recent season of “Game Of Thrones” and our respective thoughts on it before transitioning into “Murdered For Being Different”, a BBC drama based on the life (and death) of Sophie Lancaster. I remember the case so well! I was in college. I was a Goth kid. I remember seeing on the news that a couple had been beaten up for being Goths (or at least that was the reasoning the news gave) and that the female had died from her wounds. I remember being broken up about it because it was very close to home for me, emotionally speaking. A lot of my friends were Goths or Emos, or alternatives. A lot of them had received hate over the years for it, myself included. When I discovered that this drama was being manufactured, I didn’t want to watch it for that very reason. Eventually, I caved in and I’m glad I did because it was beautifully put together. It was gritty and shocking, and heartbreaking as expected, but it was a great piece of television. Dominic said he’s been sent a copy of it (as he was in it!), but he hasn’t gotten around to seeing it yet. I encouraged him to do so. The table picture was taken and I thanked Dominic for his time. Guest Type = Conversationalist. Four for four!

Sarah Louise Madison: Sarah is one of my favourite people on the convention circuit, she really is. I must have caught up with Sarah for a good half an hour! Like Joe and Ross, I can talk about very little of it. However, I will tell you something fun. The last time I saw Sarah at a convention, we discussed Andrew Lee Potts and the fact we’d never seen him hatless at an event. I dared Sarah to steal Andrew’s hat and post a picture on Facebook as proof. Sarah succeeded. By the time I returned home from that event, I was tagged in a picture of Sarah and Andrew together – with Sarah wearing Andrew’s hat! Now, a tradition has been born. Every time I’m at a con with Sarah, I set her a challenge. This time, it was to steal Josh Herdman’s beanie and take a selfie as proof. Once again, Sarah succeeded and I was tagged in a picture of Sarah and Josh together before I got home. I already have the next assignment ready in my head – and I’ve definitely stepped it up a gear. No more silly hat stuff. Can someone bring Sarah to their con so I can laugh at Sarah trying to complete this challenge? Sarah is one of those people that you hope for the best for because she really is deserving of success. Very few people on the con scene are as approachable, friendly, and engaging as Sarah is. She gives great eye-contact too! I took a picture with Sarah at the table (she refused to charge me, even though I offered) and said I’d come and say goodbye before leaving. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

While waiting for David Schaal to be free, I went and said “hi” to Josh Herdman, as I’d met him a couple of times before and we follow each other on Twitter. We have a mutual love of Mixed Martial Arts, with Josh being an amateur MMA fighter as well as an actor these days. We caught up and exchanged pleasantries, we discussed the UFC event that had taken place in China earlier in the day, and I giggled (in a manly way, of course) as Josh was colouring in a picture in a colouring book between seeing people at the con. But he kept going outside the lines a little bit, it was driving my O.C.D. crazy!

David Schaal: Considering this was David’s first ever convention, he got the hang of things very quickly! He was very chatty, smiled broadly for table pictures, he gave great eye-contact and he was very engaging! A great meet! We chatted about “The Inbetweeners” and David said that he thinks that Terry secretly loves Jay, but that he’s just the type of Father that goes for piss-taking rather than showing love directly. David said it’s hilarious how many people tell him that Terry reminds them of their own Fathers. We also chatted about the Comic-Con scene and David said that he didn’t ever realise he would be welcomed to these types of events before. David only accepted the invite to this one because he’d recently been in a couple of episodes of “The Strain”, which falls into the type of genre that Comic Cons usually cater towards. It was only after getting to “Reading Comic Con” that he realised he could have been coming for years due to “The Inbetweeners” and its popularity. I grabbed a picture with David (£5) and thanked him for his time. Guest Type = Responder.

Julie Dawn Cole: Finally, rather spontaneously, I met Julie Dawn Cole just to grab a table picture with her. I grew up watching “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”, so I thought it would be cool to meet Julie – and it was. Julie was lovely. What a sweetheart of a lady! We chatted about the movie and I told Julie that my girlfriend, Robyn, had recently seen it for the first time after moving over from Austria last year. Julie mentioned that while the movie was filmed in Munich, it wasn’t that popular in Germany or Austria. In fact, the movie isn’t really a part of Munich’s entertainment exhibit. There’s a little plaque at the end to state that it was filmed there, but that’s it. Bless. We chatted about cons and what I do for a living for a while, before we took the photo together and I thanked her for her time.Guest Type = Responder.

It was now 4:00pm and it was time for my “Goodbye Tour”. I went and said goodbye to Joe, who gave me three hugs and many manshakes (a handshake with the hand up, not down). I said goodbye to Luke and shook his hand, I said goodbye to Dominic and shook his hand, I said goodbye to Ross and shook his hand. I went over to say goodbye to Sarah – and ended up talking for another 5 minutes, much to the chagrin of Hayley, who was waiting to go home – she gave me a hug, and then we were on our merry way. Traffic was much more pleasant on the way home too.

To conclude, my time at “Reading Comic Con” was excellent. It was the perfect blend of established guests and rarer guests. The venue is awesome for an indie event and a great time was had. I will definitely be looking to go again next year, line-up dependent. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and rest before the craziness of three days in Wrexham for “Wales Comic Con”! What a way to end the year!

Stay strong, stay safe, and stay happy!

-        Your Friendly Neighbourhood Shangel


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