Thursday, 17 May 2018

Wales Comic Con 2018 Part I - A Detailed Review

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

• Anthony Head (Rupert Giles from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” & Uther Pendragon from “Merlin”)
• Juliet Landau (Drusilla from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Marc Blucas (Riley Finn from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Clare Kramer (Glory from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Billy Zane (Cal from “Titanic” & Match from “Back To The Future”)
• Andrew Scott (Moriarty from “Sherlock”)
• Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly Hart from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”)
• Frankie Muniz (Malcolm from “Malcolm In The Middle”)
• Paul McGann (The 8th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Alexandra Breckenridge (Jessie Anderson from “The Walking Dead” & Moira O’Hara from “American Horror Story”)
• Eion Bailey (Pinocchio from “Once Upon A Time” & Kyle DeFours from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Tony Amendola (Geppetto from “Once Upon A Time”, Bra’tac from “Stargate SG-1” & Thesulac Demon from “Angel”)
• David Anders (Blaine from “iZombie” & Victor Frankenstein from “Once Upon A Time”)
• Sean Pertwee (Alfred Pennyworth from “Gotham”)
• David Mazouz (Bruce Wayne from “Gotham”)
• Erin Richards (Barbara Kean from “Gotham”)
• Tyler Mane (Sabretooth from “X-Men” & Michael Myers from “Halloween”)
• Chris Rankin & Ness (Percy Weasley from “Harry Potter” / Girlfriend extraordinaire)
• James Mackenzie (Raven from “Raven”)

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. Yes, I haven’t written one in a while due to my Master’s degree, but I am starting up again really soon now that the Master’s degree is over.
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With that being said, let’s dive in...

Firstly, a note of apology to you all, gentle readers. When it comes to my favourite convention(s) of the year, “Wales Comic Con”, I ordinarily like to get the review uploaded and shared within two or three days of the event drawing to a close. Alas, on this occasion, life decided to shake things up at the least opportune of times. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Some amazing stuff, some devastating stuff. I am now single for the first time in over 5 years. Someone close to me committed suicide. I have attended 6 conventions in 9 weeks. And I am still kicking ass at my job. It’s been a very strange month or two, but the end result is that all of my reviews have been delayed. I still need to get around to Worcester and Nottingham after Wales is finished, then I’ll need to also write the review for Cardiff after this coming weekend. The message here is to check the blog often over the next week or so as there will be a minimum of four reviews coming. Potentially a 5th to rank all the conventions I attended in 2017….yes, I know, we’re almost halfway through 2018. I’m behind, okay? Must you go on about it?

My 9th consecutive “Wales Comic Con” happened to be the 10-year anniversary show, so the entire team pulled out all the stops. I can’t speak for others, but the final month before showtime, I must have been clocking 25-30 hours a week between collages, discussions with the guest booking team, answering dm’s, and admin’ing the Facebook group. Throw in my ‘real’ job and this blog, I was averaging a hundred working hours a week. “Soft Shaney, warm Shaney, little ball of fur” indeed. With that being said, I wouldn’t change it for the world because I have the greatest three jobs imaginable for my personality and interests. In one, my ‘real’ job, I get to work with 16-18 year olds in Social Services care. Give them therapy and help create pathways to a more positive, brighter future for them. In another, I get to help book guests for my favourite convention in the world. I get to interact with thousands of people and play a small part in helping their dreams come true. In the third, I get a creative outlet to spew all the bullshit floating around my brain. It’s a release. It’s like therapy for me. This blog helps me process my emotions.

Writing reviews about things you carry a passion for isn’t the toughest way to earn a secondary income, but it does come with certain challenges. How do you find the time to write a 25-30 page review (excluding pictures!) when you’re working 50+ hours a week? That’s one challenge. How do you capture the essence, the magic, and the experience of “Wales Comic Con” accurately so that people who were there can relive the weekend and people that weren’t wish they were? That’s a bigger challenge. For me, in all sincerity, “Wales Comic Con” has become my spiritual home over the past four years. From the first time I stepped onto the campus on a dreary day in April 2014, I knew this place was special. The atmosphere was electric, there was an excitement in the air that I’d never experienced at a convention before – and Wrexham is fucking windy! Turns out my first impressions were correct on all front.

Since that windy day in 2014, “Wales Comic Con” and the Glyndwr University campus have become home. The crew became family. The attendees became extended family. The guests became friends. The venue staff and security became mates. All of this happened long before I had any involvement with helping book guests or creating collages, or helping to run the fan group, or any of that other good stuff. Helping organise the guest side of the event has given me an even greater appreciation for just how much work goes into it. The other events I’ve helped organise are not on the same scale as “Wales Comic Con” and I know how many hours I’ve put into it since June, so I can’t even begin to fathom how much dedication it takes for Jaime. The entire “Wales Comic Con” team, from the Team Leaders to the newbie crew are all an asset to the event and bust their asses.

While I can take a little credit for working hard up to the event, I can take none for the weekend itself once doors opened. My “crew assignment” for the weekend was one that was very familiar to me: do exactly what I’ve done at every event before. Come in and objectively, independently review “Wales Comic Con”. Now, objectively and independently reviewing something that you’ve helped put together in some ways is not an easy task, but what would be the point in writing a review if it wasn’t objective? I like to think I have enough integrity to see both the positives and flaws of an event, and I like to think that everybody appreciates and understands that. Plus, I’ve been a part of the family for years. If I was going to be subjective, I would have started long before this event. 

One final thing to note before diving into the pros and cons, and then diving into the play-by-play section (I said it’d be long!) is that I will barely name-drop crew or attendees. If I started naming everybody I was excited to see or talk to, I’d inevitably forget someone and would feel like a total knob-jockey once I discovered this. So don’t get all dramatic if you don’t get mentioned. It’s not because I don’t love you…well, probably not. I mean, it’s possible. But it’s unlikely.

Now let’s take a look at the pros and the cons, shall we?

Of course, I can only review the pros and cons from my perspective. I’ll try to address a few things I read about as well, but I can’t comment too much on things I didn’t experience first-hand as it wouldn’t be fair.

After reading the Wales Facebook group – a lot – at the conclusion of the con, there only seemed to be two major complaints amongst the attendees. Firstly, amusingly, people complained that it was “too hot”….erm, sorry? That’s our bad. After all the grumbling about it being too cold and windy in December, we thought we’d do a sun-dance and give you some good weather. Perhaps we overdid it? Mild, even, half-sunny, but with a gentle, cooling breeze for Part II in December? Does that work for everyone? To be fair, we gave warning after warning on the Facebook group (as did the official page) that people needed to check the weather forecast and prepare accordingly. We all knew for a couple of weeks that the weekend was going to be hot. Sunscreen would likely be needed. We also reminded people many, many times that entry queues and studio photo queues were outside. What more do you want Wales Comic Con to do? Personal servants fanning you with palm trees as you wait in line? A stall outside to buy Factor 50 sunscreen? Personal accountability, ladies and gentlemen. It was my job to make sure I checked the forecast and lathered up my milky, Irish skin accordingly. As was it yours for you.

The other ‘major’ complaint I saw for the weekend was the virtual queuing situation for the ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ room on Saturday. My understanding is that Anthony Head was being virtually queued, but at some point it changed to virtually queueing the entire room because people were pretending to go inside to meet non-Anthony Head guests, but then joining Anthony’s autograph queue. So it all became a little bit of a clusterfuck for a section of Saturday. I believe the overarching reason why is that nobody really anticipated just how popular Anthony Head would be. Tony (he told me to call him this a few years ago, I have permission #Besties!) has been to numerous UK cons before and even graced the Glyndwr campus with his (and his daughter’s) presence for the 2014 Part II event, so we anticipated that Tony would be popular, but certainly not to the level he was. When we put Tony’s professional photos on sale via TicketWeb and they sold out within 5 hours, the booking team legitimately thought TicketWeb had made a mistake! Nobody had ever sold out that quickly…or close to that quickly. TicketWeb must have gotten the numbers incorrect on the system, right? Nope! Tony sold out everything in 5 hours. Insanity! I think another thing to remember is that different cons, for whatever reason, have different fandoms that do particularly well there. When I think of “Wales Comic Con” and the years I’ve spent there, I think of “Game Of Thrones”, I think of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, I think of “Torchwood”, and I think of “Harry Potter”. The Buffy guests always seem to do staggeringly well at WCC, which is a particular point of pride for me personally as A) “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff, “Angel”, are my favourite shows of all-time, and B) I’m always pushing for Buffy and Angel guests…not that Jaime needs that much pushing as he’s a huge Buffy fan himself. The way virtual queuing works does need tweaking in anticipation of Part II in December, in my opinion. The “Buffy” room worked perfectly when “The Walking Dead” cast were in there in December 2017, so I’m sure that will not be a problem moving forwards, but I would like to see guests that are virtually queuing having the virtual queuing tickets ready for doors opening at 09:45. There have been times where I’ve dashed into the autograph hall to grab a V.Q. for someone, but the V.Q. hasn’t started yet, so I go away for a little while and by the time I come back, the V.Q. has started and I’m number 250 or something…even though technically I was there first. I’ve never missed an autograph due to this thankfully, but if it were an event like, say, LFCC, that could potentially be a major thorn in my ass. I’m prickly enough without adding ass-thorns into the equation.

As far as negatives or wider criticism goes, that was basically all I saw! Which is pretty spectacular when you think about the size and scale of “Wales Comic Con” at this point. Yes, other people did have individualised problems in some cases. But as far as recurring complaints and dramas go, I personally only saw people getting annoyed about the weather and the Buffy room V.Q.’ing, which, honestly, is such a win for the team and goes to show how efficiently they function as a whole. Yes, some photo sessions started late on Saturday afternoon. But anyone who has been to a few conventions knows that things start a little late all the time. At every con. There are so many moving parts and factors that cannot be foreseen until the time itself. It is inevitable that some photos will fall 10 or 15 minutes behind. Inevitable. Personally, I always give every convention a 30-minute grace period known as ‘con time’ whereby if something starts up to 30 minutes late, I just accept these things happen and shrug it off. When I write my oh-so-complex convention schedules for what I wish to accomplish over the weekend, I always take a grace period into account. To my knowledge, no shoot was more than 30 minutes late at any point. I attended 15 photo sessions on Saturday and none of those 15 were more than 30 minutes late. So while it can be an annoyance if you need to dash from a photo to a panel, etc., and it is definitely something to strive for to make sure everything is as close to on time as possible, I don’t see that as a major detriment of the convention whatsoever.

Now onto the greatly outnumbering positives…

Well, first and foremost, I still believe that “Wales Comic Con” has the best crew in the world. Even the newbies conducted themselves like pros by the end of the weekend! Sure, they might not know the answer to every question you have, especially with fluctuating photoshoot times and unforeseen issues cropping up spontaneously, but they still did a damn good job. Also, I still maintain that WCC has the best photography team I’ve seen at a con. All my photos came out great, I love the white backdrop (which I believe was even tweaked a little for this event), and they are total legends. Kayte and the lads are world class. All of my 15 photos were printed within minutes. Even at peak times where photos were manic, nothing seemed to take too long to be printed. If I was going to isolate the biggest improvement I’ve seen at “Wales Comic Con” over the past few years, it would be the photo printing. A couple of years ago, it was a bit of a nightmare at times. You could be waiting up to a couple of hours to get your photo printed if the printers were having a dramatic day. Jaime listened to the feedback and spent “a house deposit” on a new printing system and I personally believe it has paid dividends for him and the event. Also, this is the first time I’ve ever seen an event that had already started to upload digital copies to the website so that they could be bought if wanted before the end of Sunday. Now that is fast service! Bravo, photo team! Bravo.

I’ve made my feelings on selfie charges abundantly clear on this blog time after time…after time, so I won’t flog a dead horse any longer…flogging a dead horse is a bit too necrophilic for me. But it was nice to see, in most cases, that the selfie charges were reasonable. Whether or not a guest wants to partake in selfies and if they do, whether or not they wish to charge for them or have a combo price is almost exclusively decided by the guest and/or their agent. It was wonderful to see some guests charging a charity donation or just £5. Anthony Head’s selfie charge was £5! Anthony Head, arguably the most popular guest of the Saturday, was charging the bare minimum for selfies. Class act through and through. Part of my issue with selfie charges is that I’m an old-school convention attendee. I remember the days of £10 autographs and free table pictures (this was before the term ‘selfie’ really existed!), so adjusting to some people charging, like, £30 for a quick snap with them on your own phone – after already forking out money for an autograph – was and is a bitter pill to swallow. Alas, I’ve made my peace with it in most cases. If it’s for charity? No issue. If someone isn’t getting an autograph and just wants a picture? No issue. The guest has to make money after all. My general rule of thumb now is that the selfie price should be 50% or less of the professional photo price. Of course, I’d still prefer they were free, but I have to think of the convention scene in 2018 and not 2009. But if a £3o professional photo guest is charging £30 for a selfie, at any con? Fuck. That. Just gives me that vibe personally that the guest is there to make money first and foremost. Yes, every guest is there to make money. Very few guests would come for free. But I like to think that ‘most’ guests are there just as much to meet the fans and engage with them, and give back, as they are to get a pay-check. You’d be surprised at how many guests come to an event for a fee, but then enjoy themselves so much that they come to the next one for cheaper or no guarantee. Love those type of people.

Speaking of guests, the single biggest highlight for me is always the lineup. It always has been, but now it goes even deeper considering I get to help shape the lineup in some ways. I’m proud of that. Really proud. This particular event got bitch-slapped with cancellations on the run-up to showtime. When you look at it objectively, 10 guests cancelled out of, like, 55, so it wasn’t that many at all. It just so happened that three of the four Walking Dead guests, plus both headliners had to pull out. We were all so bummed. Particularly Jaime. Kudos to the man for pulling Hayley Atwell out of the bag a handful of days before showtime. Gareth had to rejig the entire photo schedule at least three times….which meant I had to proof-read it and check for errors or spelling mistakes at least three times too. That close to a show, you don’t really want to be messing around with rejigs, but Jaime wanted to give everyone a strong replacement or two for the cancellations. Most cons wouldn’t have done that so close to showtime, I assure you. Cancellations included Sean Astin, Val Kilmer, James Marsters ( </3 ), Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Alanna Masterson, and Manu Bennett. James’ cancellation struck me particularly hard – like a frozen fish around the face – as I’d been waiting twenty years, literally, for that Spike/Dru duo. These things happen though. I did see someone complain that guests shouldn’t be able to pull out of conventions and that they should turn down work if they already have commitments to conventions…guess what? If that was in their contracts, nobody would ever sign up to one. Ever. Work has to come first. It just has to. Cancellations do suck for everyone. But it’s just the nature of the beast. Would you rather get the opportunity to meet your idols and heroes, but run the risk of a few pulling out or not get the opportunity to meet them at all? I know which scenario I prefer.

The bag searches appeared to go much smoother this time and it didn’t seem to impact upon people getting into the venue too much at all. The more stringent bag searches started in December and the new process did cause some delays for people entering the venue in December because it was new! The security team seems to have mastered the art of bag searches and new security measures within one show, so massive kudos to them.

So here’s the big question? Has “Wales Comic Con” outgrown the Glyndwr University campus? I’ve heard both sides of this debate a lot over the past couple of years. On the one hand, take a gloss over the autograph hall at 1:00pm on Saturday, and an argument could certainly be made that the demand now outweighs the space available. I legitimately didn’t even step foot into the autograph hall on Saturday. Whatsoever. It simply looked too crowded and I can’t be dealing with all those people on a hot day #AngryGoth. “Wales Comic Con” has grown vastly. Entry tickets sell out consistently now. VIP and early birds usually sell out within a week or two. So there is definitely a demand for the product that exceeds the capacity available at the campus. However, there is a counter-argument. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I love the venue. Love the atmosphere. It’s second-to-none. Love the layout. Love the lecture halls used for the panels. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass trying to move the cupboard that Chris Rankin and Mark Addy hibernate in between shows. I personally think that the magic would be reduced if the venue was changed. The campus is home. The campus is where all of the memories were created and the friendships were forged.

Three final things before diving into the play-by-play of the weekend….

1)       A “Wales Comic Con” attendee, Dave, created a custom Pop of myself as a “thank you” for helping him get photography access for “Gloucester Comic Con” last year. It is arguably the greatest present I have ever received. I love it so damn much! So a huge, huge thanks to Dave! You can check out his Facebook photography page here too. The Cosplay photos in this review are his. He's super talented.

2)      I was very humbled over the weekend. Hundreds – literally – of people came over to say hi or offer kind words, or praise my writing for the blog, or to get a cuddle or a selfie, or have a chat about everything and anything. It was so very humbling. In fact, for the first time ever, I had to sign autographs and 10-year anniversary posters! Which was bizarre and a little confusing…but very humbling. I legitimately didn’t even possess a signature! I mean, I have my ‘real’ one for documents and such, but I didn’t have a ‘professional’ signature for things of this nature. When I signed my first poster, Susie gave me the great idea of adding a little crown above the ‘K’ in ‘King’, which is now probably my favourite part! Thanks, Shushan. So many people came over to chat, that A) I didn’t get as many autographs as usual because I knew my time to do so would be halved at best, and B) Susie, Hayley, and Hannah started turning it into a game whereby I had to drink shots for every 10 people that came over to say hi to me. We were up to, like, 70 shots (700 people) by the end of the weekend….which I did not do. I would have died.
3)      “Wales Comic Con” is always a special weekend for me. In many ways, it’s the place on Earth I feel the most comfortable and loved, and respected. It is home. This event was even more special to me because of the people I surrounded myself with. I got to see my former housemate, Hayley, again and socialise properly for the first time in a while. I got to see Hannah again for the first time in months after she abandoned me and moved to London! I got to meet some great internet friends that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting face-to-face before (I won’t name names in fear of forgetting someone, but you all know who you are). Finally, I got to spend 3 days mulling around Comic Con and Wrexham with my bestie, Susie.

Six pages in, everybody ready for the play-by-play of the weekend? Let’s dive in…

Myself and my friends Hannah and Hayley left Gloucestershire at 1:00pm on Friday. I was excited. It was the first convention I’ve attended in years where I took more than one rucksack’s worth of belongings. I had a secondary bag – a bag for life – containing nothing but alcohol in order to play “never have I ever” with Susie on Saturday night. How adult of me! Speaking of, I had my 10p eyes with me virtually all weekend – two bags for life as I never get any fucking sleep! Ba-boom-boom-tsh. After a relatively painless two-and-a-half-hour journey from Gloucester to Wrexham, we arrived at the gloriously average Wynnstay Arms. Hayley and Hannah – collectively known as ‘Double H’ - went to their beautiful family room, while I went down a separate corridor to my twin room with Susie, A.K.A. Shushan. Couple of “nice to see you” shots later, it was time for dinner. Fast-forward to midnight, where we’re giggling and singing “The Greatest Showman” songs together. It’s not like I have 15 photos the next day or anything…is it?

Saturday morning. 09:15am. The four of us pull into the Glyndwr Uni campus. I’m home. I can feel that familiar sense of excitement, adrenaline, and sweat in the air. Seriously, guys. Anti-perspirant. For the love of God. Keep yo’ funk to yo’self. We moseyed on over to the main entrance to collect press passes for Double H and Shushan, and a crew pass for myself. Oooh, fancy. With 15 photos to plough through today, I wanted to get some of the autographs completed first. Because once the photos started at 11:15, I would basically be stuck in and around the photo building for the vast majority of Saturday. Priorities dictated that we went to the Buffy building first. I’ve met Clare Kramer many times before – I’d met all of the main Buffy guests before actually - so I didn’t need to get an autograph. I would say hello a little later into the weekend as things calmed down a bit. Blucas didn’t arrive until about 11:30. I’m not even sure why! I personally think he decided to walk to the venue from the hotel, got lost, adopted some local sheep, and had a grand old time before eventually finding his way to the campus. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. This left Tony and Juliet. For total transparency, Juliet and her husband, Deverill, are dear friends of mine…friends I hadn’t seen face-to-face in four years, but spoke to virtually every week or two within that four-year period. I utterly adore both of them and they are people I consider to be extended family. So it was an absolute treat to bump into them just outside the Buffy building at 09:30. They both gave me a cuddle, greeted me warmly, and we had a lovely chat. Caught up on our lives. It was so bloody (get it…because she played a vampire?...Nevermind…) lovely to see them both again. Soon enough, myself and Susie would be at their autograph table too!

Anthony Head: Tony is one of my all-time favourite guests to meet. He was the first person I ever met at a Comic Con, he’s someone I’ve met many times since, and he’s always a great laugh. It had been nearly two years since I’d last seen Tony, which was the longest time I’d gone without seeing him since I started attending conventions in ‘09. Suffice to say, I was excited to see Tony again. In preparation for this reunion of sorts, I bought a really nice bottle of tequila to give to Tony as a gift. When I saw Tony a couple of years ago, he mentioned to me that he doesn’t drink a lot of alcohol overall because alcohol is a downer…with the exception of tequila, which makes him giggly. Tequila it is! A lot of people thought that Tony was a last-minute replacement for James Marsters, but in actuality Tony was first approached about coming to Wales Comic Con again around January time. Tony is a very busy man. When he’s not filming something, he’s on stage. So Tony wouldn’t know if he was free or not until a week before the con. He wouldn’t commit to WCC before that as he hates having to pull out and disappoint people. Even though he needed to be in London by Saturday night ready to promote his new BBC show, “The Split” (watch it, it’s great), on Sunday morning television, Tony still agreed to come to Wales Comic Con on the Saturday. That’s the kind of guy Tony is – any free time to give back and meet the fans, he’s there. He’s a total class-act through and through.

Tony was very grateful to receive the tequila! We exchanged pleasantries and caught up on how our lives have been for the past couple of years since we last saw each other – Master’s degree completed, helping with the guest side of things for Wales now, “The Split”, theatre, etc. As I’ve got enough Tony autographs to wallpaper a wall of my house, I decided to get an 18th birthday present autograph for my sister. Next up was Susie. And hilarity ensued…as it tends to when Susie is around. Susie presented Tony with her Sideshow Giles figure to get signed. Tony opened the front of the box and had a look at his former character…complete with a wonky foot that had fallen out of the section of the case that contains it. Tony laughed at the foot and asked if he could annotate the autograph to Susie, paraphrasing a famous Giles quote (“the Earth is doomed”) with “the foot is doomed”. Duh-eye-ing. It was great to see that Tony was offering table pictures for £5 too. He could have charged £15 and basically nobody would have complained that it was too expensive in the UK con scene in 2018, so kudos to Tony for being a stand-up gent. 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!

With Marc Blucas still off daydreaming or picking daisies, or whatever he was doing, we headed over to Juliet next.

Juliet Landau: Honestly, there’s not a whole lot I’m going to write about here because a lot of the conversation was catching up with two old friends (Juliet and Dev), so the talking points were less Q&A/autograph tabley and more personal. So I won’t share that stuff. However, Juliet and Dev are still working on their definitive vampire documentary – which I have helped promote in the UK over the past couple of years – “A Place Among The Undead”. You can still donate to the Indiegogo here. The line-up for the documentary is staggering and includes vampire royalty such as Joss Whedon, Gary Oldman, Tim Burton, Willem Dafoe, Anne Rice, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Charlaine Harris, David Slade, and Robert Patrick. Will definitely be worth a watch when it’s all finished. Juliet and Dev have also been finishing off producing their first feature film, which will be coming over to the UK for festivals very soon. I’ve been invited to attend one once they’re all finalised…how exciting! Juliet and Dev are two of the nicest, most engaging, most caring people I have the pleasure of calling friends. It felt like a lifetime ago when I last saw them and it was legitimately a huge pleasure to see them face-to-face again. After the autograph was completed for Susie and the appropriate level of catching up properly was concluded, Dev took a picture of myself, Juliet, and Susie together in order to share it on their social media pages. Aww! You know, it’s got to be said, I live a very privileged life. Eight-year-old me discovered “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” while season two was first airing in the UK. My parents had recently separated and Buffy became my weekly dose of escapism. If you could go back in time and tell eight-year-old me that in 20 years, I’d have met most of the cast and a large percentage of them would go on to become legitimate friends, I’d have thought you were crazy! It’s bizarre. In the best possible way. I don’t take it for granted at all. I love my life. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

While we were getting our Buffy autographs, the rest of #TeamShangel were in the main autograph hall, collecting autographs for my sister’s 18th birthday and a family friend (Amber)’s 18th birthday. Amber is a huge Pokemon fan, so I bought her some very cool autographs from Veronica Taylor and Eric Stuart. Veronica even annotated the autograph to say “happy 18th birthday” around the Pokeball in the picture! She’s so lovely. I also bought a David Anders autograph for my sister. Two autographs each for their 18th birthdays…can’t say much fairer than that!

Time for my dashing around section of the day! As I intended to drink on Saturday night, I wanted to get all my photos completed during the day on Saturday so I could look as rough as possible on Sunday without fear of photographic evidence…forgetting about the selfies attendees wanted to take with me on Sunday…unlike other cons, I have very little fear over my photos turning out shit at WCC. Not because I suddenly get less ugly, but because I have faith in the photography team to make me look less ugly than usual. It’s quite the gift they possess to reduce my 10p eyes and bump my face up from a solid 4/10 to a respectable 6.5/10! Between 11:50 and 13:50, I completed 10 professional studio photos. It’s quite a weird experience to take that many photos in that short space of time because there’s a lot of running around, then waiting for it to start, then running around. So you have these adrenaline and energy peaks and falls, which makes you rather exhausted by the end of the day, even though, in actuality, you haven’t really done that much. My photos included David Anders, Erin Richards (complete with a new pixie-cut hairstyle, which made her unrecognisable for a few seconds…to the point where Kayte whispered to me, “is that Erin sat behind me?” and I had to slyly glance over and confirm it was), Eion Bailey, Tony Amendola, the Gotham duo (Sean Pertwee and David Mazouz), Paul McGann, Tyler Mane, Juliet Landau, Anthony Head, and Alexandra Breckenridge – all of whom were lovely in their photo sessions, particularly the engaging Eion Bailey and Tony Amendola, who made a point of having a little chat with everyone when it was their turn to get a photo.

We all sat down for half an hour to unwind and then it was time for Marc Blucas’ photo! I hadn’t seen Marc in two years and had only actually met him once (it was a three-day weekend in June 2016). But as soon as Marc entered the room, he singled me out, pointed to me, and said hello. Very flattering…and very cool that he remembered me. Soon after Marc’s photo session concluded, it was back around again for Andrew Scott’s (who cried when he was petting a cute doggy of an attendee) and Frankie Muniz’s photos. Frankie is tiny in real life. Really approachable and friendly, but tiiiiiiny. Soon afterwards, we bumped into Chris Rankin and his lovely other half, Ness. Chris gave me a shoulder massage. What a surreal life. Much appreciated though! I must admit, I didn’t get much time to talk to Chris and Ness over Wales weekend because of all the zipping around and people wanting to chat, but thankfully I got the opportunity to catch up with them properly a couple of weeks later in Nottingham. It’s always amazing to see them. I rarely talk about ‘personal’ stuff from outside of the con setting, but after the friend I mentioned at the start of this review committed suicide, Ness sent me a message and told me that herself and Chris are my family, that they love me, and that their door is always open. It meant so much to me. Still does. That’s the kind of people they are – open, caring, generous, loving, wonderful.

The final two photos of the day were Amy Jo Johnson (also TINY….like, 5’0”) and Billy Zane. Amy was my first ever crush in life, much like she was for an entire generation of children. It also meant that I’d completed meeting the original MMPR line-up (excluding the deceased Thuy Trang)! I was always taught that if you have nothing good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not gonna talk about Billy Zane. However, unrelated, here is a picture of a tit…

15 photos down, 5 autographs down, taking selfies and chatting to hundreds (literally) of attendees all day…I. Was. Knackered. In the best possible way because I’d had an amazing day, but I. Was. Knackered. There was only one cure I could think of – shots! Myself and Susie drank shots and talked until the wee hours. I messaged Hayley and Hannah at 11:00pm to see if they wanted to join us, but, alas, the lightweights were already asleep! Amateurs!

Theoretically, Sunday was going to be much smoother than Saturday. I had a few autographs to get (Marc Blucas, Eion Bailey, Tony Amendola), a couple of panels to attend (Once Upon A Time and Buffy), and hopefully find the time to say goodbye to a few friends, such as James Mackenzie, Juliet Landau, and Dev. Easily achievable. I could do that with my eyes closed…which they almost were because of the lack of sleep and the drinking the night before. If only it was sunny enough to wear sunglasses outside for the day so people couldn’t see the hangover and eyebags lingering behind them…oh, wait, hello, twenty two degrees! The downside, of course, is that I have Irish blood in me. So if I spend more than 130 seconds outside in the sun, I turn red…and then back to white again a couple of days later. Don’t be jealous of my tan. Some people are just born with these gifts.

We arrived at the campus ready for doors to open at 10:00am on Sunday morning. We went inside, had a peruse of the merchandise stalls…then quickly left the autograph hall because it was getting mega busy already! Instead, we headed to the merchandise marquee in the car park. I bought some badass Buffy and Defenders posters. After a little time chillin’ in the shade and looking around the merchandise stalls some more – which was oddly relaxing as I have never had time to properly shop at Wales Comic Con before – we headed over to Hall B (the smaller hall) for the 13:30 “Once Upon A Time” panel with Eion Bailey, Tony Amendola, and David Anders. Highlights! :-

·         At the start of the panel, Eion and Tony entered the room and took a few selfies with a child that was waiting for them by the door. So cute! David Anders was nowhere to be found. Not sure if he was late due to signing or lunch, or whatever, but there was no sign of Mr. Anders as the panel started. No matter, we still have Pinocchio and Geppetto to keep us company. David Anders joined the panel about halfway through.

You know, ladies and gentlemen, I am so used to typing up comprehensive notes on panels. Then I remembered that I saw a video of the whole fucking panel floating around YouTube. So here is the full “Once Upon A Time” panel! You’re actually not supposed to record these, guys…but it is useful for a blogger like me. I have no idea who recorded this so can’t give a shout-out, but I assume they uploaded the video to YouTube in order for it to be watched, so I’m sure they’ll be fine with me embedding it as they still get hits. The OUAT panel starts at 04:00.

Literally just saved me about two pages of writing, so thank you!

After leaving the “Once Upon A Time” panel, myself and Susie queued up for the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” panel, while Hayley and Hannah went off elsewhere. Even though myself and Susie went to the Sunday panel (which was the same line-up only without Anthony Head), I’m gonna share a video of the Saturday panel below instead. Firstly, this is because a lot of panels tend to centre around the same topics and questions, so I’m sure a good 50% of the Sunday panel is contained within here already. Secondly, more importantly, I couldn’t find a video of the Sunday panel, but I could find a video of the Saturday panel. Massive shout-out to my friend, Richard Orr, for this video.

Just in case a few good things from Sunday’s panel were absent from Saturday’s, here are a few additional notes from Sunday’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” panel :-

·         The panel consisted of Juliet Landau, Marc Blucas, and Clare Kramer.
·         Clare noted that she is nothing like Glory and Marc coughed very loudly. It was hilar.
·         Speaking of Marc, he’s tremendously funny and captivating on stage. So underrated comedically.
·         Juliet Landau mentioned recording Kendra’s death scene with Bianca Lawson and when it came to the dramatic nails-across-the-throat death, Juliet’s fake nails kept flying off. Oops.  Must admit, takes the sting out of the death for me. Next time I watch it and feel sad, I’ll just remember flying press-on nails and crack up laughing.
·         During his time on Buffy – his first “proper” acting job – Marc Blucas wasn’t always the greatest when it came to stunts. While recording “The Initiative”, during the fight scene between Riley and Buffy in the corridor, Marc accidentally uppercut Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stunt-double, Sophia Crawford, badly. During the next season, while filming “Out Of My Mind” on a basketball court, Marc accidentally elbowed a stuntman in the face and split him open…no wonder Riley barely won a fight. Clare Kramer then jumped in that while filming Buffy’s “Shadow”, she accidentally knocked out a stuntwoman too. The stuntwoman needed smelling salts and everything. Marc then chimed in very quickly, “yeah, yeah, I knocked her out too!”
·         A few attendees had to leave the panel halfway through in order to go to a photo session. Marc asked them who the photo was with and they said Billy Zane. Marc remarked, “…another fight lost…”, which cracked the entire auditorium up.
·         Someone asked Juliet what her favourite episode of Buffy or Angel was. While Juliet was thinking, I turned to Susie and said, “She has three. She’s going to say them in this order – ‘School Hard’, ‘Surprise’, ‘Reunion’”…I was right. Even the right order. I felt sooooo smug.
·         Towards the end of the panel, someone outside banged on the wall. Marc quickly said, “BILLY ZANE CAN WAIT!” It was an amazing way to end a very enjoyable, hilarious panel.

In what felt like the blink of an eye, it was 3:15pm on Sunday afternoon! Only 45 minutes to go until closing! HOW HAD TIME GONE SO QUICKLY?! You ever been stuck in a boring meeting or watching a shitty film at the cinema? And two hours feels like a week? Why can’t time move that slowly at “Wales Comic Con”?! I waited four and a half months for these two days and it was almost over already – and the next turnaround would be seven and a half months! Eff. Emm. Ell.

So with 45 minutes to go, we charged into the autograph hall. I still needed autographs from Marc Blucas, Eion Bailey, and Tony Amendola. It was actually really nice to see that a lot of guests stayed beyond the official closing of 4:00pm if they still had people that wanted to meet them. Technically their contracts finish at 4:00pm, so they would be within their rights to head back to the hotel or whatever. It just highlights once again that some of the guests are there to meet the fans and give back. Yes, the longer they stay, the more autographs they sign, potentially the more money they make (not always the case), but I like to think that in most cases the guests stay longer because they don’t want anyone to miss out…and that makes me feel all tingly inside.

Marc Blucas: Like the Juliet autograph table chat above, this was more catching up with a friend than your general autograph table experience, so I won’t go into too much detail. One thing I love about Marc is that he has no barrier. When I first met Marc in 2016, I was the first person he spoke to during the first activity of the weekend at his first ever convention, so technically I popped Marc’s con cherry. When I met Marc in 2016, he had no barrier because he’d never been to a con before. I assumed that like many people, after going to a few, he’d develop more of a professional barrier, by which I mean that he’d keep a little bit more emotional distance between himself and the fans. He’d be more “work Marc” and less “real Marc”…but that’s not the case at all! Marc is exactly the same now as he was two years ago. Unfiltered, undiluted, 100% Blucas. Which was really cool to see. Marc is also really perceptive. I won’t go into specifics, but Marc asked me a question at WCC. I gave him an answer that wasn’t entirely truthful (it was a personal question)….and he picked up on it right away…perceptive bastard. It’s always a pleasure to see Marc. Based on his popularity and how much the entire team seemed to fall in love with him as a person – Jaime included – I don’t think it’ll be too long before we see Marc back at WCC. I really hope that’s the case. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

Eion Bailey: Ladies and gentlemen, I am a straight male. With that being said, GOD DAMN EION HAS CAPTIVATINGLY BLUE EYES! I felt like every female in Wrexham was swooning over Eion all weekend and I was a little bit like, “I don’t get it?”…then he gave me loads of eye-contact during our autograph table encounter and my mind quickly changed. He can make straight males swoon a little bit too. It’s not just the eye colour either…he gives a lot of eye-contact. To the point where I wasn’t sure if I was a little uncomfortable or a little horny. Plus, he’s just the nicest guy ever. Asks questions about you. Wants to get to know you. Will have a decent conversation with you. I first saw Eion act during Buffy’s debut season – 1x06, “The Pack”. I was eight years old when I saw this episode for the first time, so I’ve been an Eion fan for 20 years. He didn’t disappoint. We discussed how the weekend had gone for us both, discussed Buffy and what it was like filming for the show right at the beginning – where they filmed the entire season before anything ever aired, making it unique to the Buffyverse in this regard. We also discussed his professional directorial and writing debut in “Hero. Traitor. Patriot.” from a few years ago, which was a short drama piece about Edward Snowden, Michael Hastings, and Chelsea Manning – a hero, a traitor, and a patriot, some people would argue. Eion said that he directed the piece with his wife and that they are still together afterwards, so it must have been a positive experience. LOLs. What a great human being. He has a warmth and energy about him that just radiates out and makes people want to be around him more. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

Tony Amendola: Tony knew me as two different people, but didn’t realise that they were both me. Sound confusing? It is. Let me take you back, gentle readers. June 4th. 2014. I wrote my review of Angel’s “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been?” – A startlingly beautiful episode of the show. Flawless in fact. Some of Tim Minear’s finest work…and I’ve always argued that on “Angel”, Tim Minear was the greatest writer on the show. Including Joss. Tim just knew the characters and their voices so completely…it’s my favourite show ever, I’m allowed to fanboy. I swear, I’ll finish those Buffy and Angel episode reviews one day. There aren’t enough hours in the day the past couple years! Anyway, after I finished the review and uploaded it to this very blog, I Tweeted it out and tagged a few of the actors in it, including Tony, who portrayed the Thesulac Demon. Tony, very kindly, read the review and then sent me a lovely message afterwards praising it. It really meant a lot to me at the time. Tony also knew me as part of the guest booking team for Wales. But he did not know that the guest booker, Shane, was also the same Shane that wrote that review.

During our conversation, at first, he knew me as part of the guest booking team and was thanking me for a great weekend, and was talking about what a lovely time he’d had…then he looked at me for a moment and said, “I know you…why do I know you?” and without prompting, he remembered the review from four years earlier. It was a particularly gratifying moment for me that an actor from my favourite ever show not only read my review and messaged me about it, but remembered it four years later. Damn. Of course, this naturally led into a chat about “Angel” and his experiences working on the show. We then talked about “Dexter” and what it was like to work with Michael C. Hall, just the two of them, all day, in a bar, fighting and conversing. After signing my 8” x 10”, Tony said, “I actually have a special “Dexter” one in my bag that I think you’ll like! He got out an official “Dexter” print that wasn’t available from his autograph table and he signed it for me, personalised, for free. What a gent! I have so much love for Tony, even after only one meeting. Like Eion, he just has this warmth to him that you can’t help but get enamoured by. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

Goodbye tour, commence! I tracked down as many crew and attendees, and friends, and family as I could at 4:00pm. I wanted to say goodbye to everyone I could. Wish them well. Tell them it was wonderful to see them. My last three goodbyes were to James Mackenzie (which was also a hello as I hadn’t had the time to see him all weekend before then), Juliet Landau, and Dev. James came to my local Comic Con, Gloucester, last year, where I serve as head of the crew. During my time with James there, I said I’d try to arrange something for James for Wales because he’d be a great fit. Eventually all this panned out, so it was really nice to see James so happy at Wales and doing so well because I felt like a proud papa that had helped him get his place at the WCC table. Little moments like that really do make me feel so honoured to be a part of this wonderful company. Saying goodbye to Juliet and Dev was bittersweet too. On the one hand, it was amazing to see them and catch up, and share some great moments and memories together. On the other hand, I don’t want to wait four years to see them again, so I’m going to cling onto this festival circuit invite like Augustus Gloop with a chocolate bar…man, that’s a dated reference.

To conclude, “Wales Comic Con” is in a new position this year. While they’ve steadily been growing and getting stronger and stronger line-ups of guests for years now, they really stepped up for 2018 and the anniversary show. The guests have become ‘next level’. With the likes of Hayley Atwell, Sean Astin, and Val Kilmer announced for this one, and with the likes of John Barrowman and Ron Perlman already announced for Part II (plus so much more to come, guys. You have no idea how incredible December is going to be if it all pans out). You have next level guests at the same venue. A venue that has frequently been selling out (or close) for a couple of years now. Has WCC outgrown Wrexham? I hope not. Because “Wales Comic Con” is so much more than a convention to me now. It’s the shabby Wynnstay Arms hotel that has a certain elegance to its subpar aesthetics. It’s the campus grounds. The memories that have been created there. It’s the big Tesco on the roundabout that offers me Red Bulls when I don’t have the energy to open my eyes. It’s the crew. It’s the locals. It’s the venue security. It’s the Catrin Finch building. It’s the spectacular lecture halls for the panels. I’d be devastated if “Wales Comic Con” were ever to leave Wrexham, personally. Another question arises – next level guests = next level queues and prices….are the “Wales Comic Con” attendees ready for that? I think they are. I think 95% of attendees would prefer bigger names but with an increase in prices (as long as they are reasonable) than not being able to get the bigger names at all. Time will tell. But Part II will be phenomenal either way.

My reviews always end with a “final score”. It’s a barometer of my own personal perspective on the event, mixed with the median perspectives of the comments I’ve read through the social media pages and groups (removing the extremely positive and negative comments from a handful). Overall, for myself, the event was a step up from December. December was great too, but this one had an air of being more organised, running smoother from a scheduling perspective, the weather was great, and the guests I had proper conversations with were all amazing. This sentiment seems to have been shared by attendees overall too. The handful of complaints that popped up in the group (complaints arrive first, then praise, it’s always the way!) centred around the weather, the Buffy building queuing on Saturday, and the autograph hall being too crowded. Now, the weather…that can’t be blamed on WCC at all. The Buffy building queuing? Can’t see that being an issue again. I think it was an anomaly. The queuing for that building was perfect in December when “The Walking Dead” guys were in there and I expect it to go back to that for Part II in December. In regards to the autograph hall, I’d personally recommend less vendors in there for Part II so that there is more space for queues and moving around, and, you know, air. I’m not sure on the logistics or cost at all and this is purely speculation on my part, but perhaps a second marquee near the first would work wonders from a layout perspective for the main hall.

Overall, for me, “Wales Comic Con” was, as Jaime would say, ‘epic’. If I were to make a parallel to previous WCC’s, I’d put it on par with the two 2016 shows. 2017 Part I is the only signing event I’ve ever given a 10/10. It was as close to flawless as you’re going to get. The 2017 Part II show was still amazing – all WCC’s are for me – but had a few issues, such as photo session delays. Somewhere between those two sounds fair. I had an amazing time. For my money, “Wales Comic Con” is still the best signing event I’ve ever been to – and I said that long before I was involved with the show. I shall miss the campus over the next 7 months. I shall miss the atmosphere. The vibe. My friends. My family. The adrenaline rush…Hell, even the exhaustion. The heart and love, and adoration that pours out of the show across the board is magical. Simply, it’s home.

Stay strong, stay safe, and stay happy!

-        Your Friendly Neighbourhood Shangel


1 comment:

  1. Great review. Thanks for sharing. I also really enjoyed the convention. I reported for a website. It's the best convention I've been to and I'm recommending it highly to anyone who is interested. Thanks for your personal, honest and heartwarming report. I'll be sure to arrange to meet up with you in December if I'm invited back. Very best wishes to you. Kevin - you can find my report on should you wish to read it.