Over the last few years I have discovered the wonder of being able to spend my hard-earned cash on travelling across the country attending conventions. It’s something I was only introduced to in 2011, and I have been hooked on them ever since. It feels like an eternity since the last event I attended, which was the Entertainment Media Show at London Olympia on a glorious October weekend in 2012.
I should clarify that although I tend to refer to these events as ‘conventions’, purists would tend to argue that what I have attended thus far are actually ‘signing events’, which is probably a more accurate name – however I sway toward referring to them as cons myself. The signing events I have attended have thus far been limited to those organised by Showmasters, however I am now beginning to spread my wings further afield. Strictly speaking, a ‘convention’ normally refers to a weekend event devoted to one (or maybe two or three) specific fandoms, such as Starfury events in Birmingham.
Con season is nearly upon me again, starting with the Mercury Promotions show ‘Wales Comic Con’ at Glyndŵr University, Wrexham, which is next Sunday (28 April 2013). I’ve never attended this particular event before, so I’m going into it blind, but generally speaking there is a certain format to these events which I’m sure will apply to WCC. Usually the build up to a con starts months in advance, with regular visits to the event’s forum online. Here, the organisers announce new guests on a drip-feed basis, tantalising us occasionally with “BIG GUEST ANNOUNCEMENT NEXT WEEK” posts, which both excite and frustrate in equal measures. Sometimes these guests will disappoint, when it’s a star you have either never heard of, or have little to no interest in, but it’s the times when a big guest is annnounced that really gets the excitement going months ahead of the event itself.
When buying tickets in advance (which is highly recommended, regardless of the event) you get a choice of either a standard entry ticket or an ‘early bird’. I typically go for the latter, simply due to the fact that you get to enter the venue generally about an hour before the standard entry crowds. This is worth the slightly higher price for said entry tickets, certainly if you want to ensure you meet one of the more popular guests. It’s rare that you wouldn’t get a chance to meet your guest, but the later you enter the venue, the longer you would have to wait.
I am attending Wales Comic Con for a few reasons. The entire Red Dwarf cast will be there – Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett – and although I’ve previously had a photo taken with Chris, Craig and Robert, I feel that a photo with all six of the main cast will be something I will be able to treasure for years to come. Also in attendance will be Warwick Davis, who I want to meet not only for his recent comedic exploits in Life’s Too Short, but also to be the first signature on my ongoing, long-lasting project, a poster for the original Star Wars trilogy (in which he played Wicket the Ewok). I understand that Paul Blake, who played Greedo (Han shot first!) will also be there.
In addition to the actors I want to meet, WCC boasts guests from various fandoms, including Game of Thrones – a show I have thus far managed to totally miss but is extremely popular with con attendees at the moment – and Primeval, from which the lovely Hannah Spearitt is attending. I would probably be minded to say however that the headline guest of the show is Billy Boyd, who of course played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in the Lord of the Rings films. Apparently there’s an aftershow party being held where his band, Beecake, will be performing.
These signing events work by charging attendees a sum for each autograph from a guest. This sum normally ranges from around £10 as a minimum, and depending on the event and the guest can rise up to anywhere from £50 and beyond. The higher prices are normally reserved for the big-name guests, such as Matt Smith (the current Doctor, at the time of writing) or Gillian Anderson from the X-Files, who I understand was until recently loathe to sign anything X-Files related.
The system of charging for autographs tends to divide opinion with a lot of people I’ve spoken to about conventions. Many non-con-goers consider the idea of paying an actor for an autograph is wrong, however I see it differently. The actor has been paid a fee by the organisers to attend the event – and that organiser then has to either simply make their money back through autograph or photoshoot sales, or indeed make a profit so they can book bigger and better guests at future events. I have no issue with paying for autographs, as anything is better than waiting outside theatre stage doors, something I have done myself once or twice.
Generally speaking, the actual act of meeting the guests, be it for an autograph or during the photoshoot, lasts a matter of seconds. Often (certainly with the more popular guests) you barely get an opportunity to interact with them at all, sometimes just handing a photo to their assistant, and telling them your name before it is passed to the guest for their signature in an assembly line style. This is understandable though. Although I’ve seen many complainants on social media whinge about having very little time with the guest, they have to realise that often said guest has to get through over a thousand guests in one day. I heard somewhere that Karen Gillan (Doctor Who’s Amy Pond) and Patrick Stewart did around 1500 autographs in one day at a particular event. Imagine having to sign your own name that many times in a day AND having to chat to each fan. I’m not too concerned with having a long chat to the guests. I very rarely know what to say to them, apart from the usual gushing praise, and I’m not really one for exclaiming “I loved you in Doctor Who” to Paul McGann or Derek Jacobi for example, who both have long and hugely varied careers away from Who to be proud of.
At the end of May I am travelling to Milton Keynes for Collectormania, a show run by Showmasters, who apart from the Entertainment Media Show (mentioned earlier) also organise the London Film and Comic Con, which was my first event back in 2011. I have always enjoyed Showmasters shows. The standard of guests is always consistently high and more often than not the range of fandoms catered for is so varied, there is generally something for everyone. Through Showmasters I have been lucky enough to meet Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Karen Gillan, a number of previous incarnations of the Doctor, John Barrowman, Alex Kingston, and indeed, Matt Smith himself:
The forthcoming event in Milton Keynes is going to be a busy one for me. It’s the first time I’ve been alone to an event where I’ve decided to stay overnight and attend both the Saturday and Sunday, mainly because there are enough guests over both days who I want to meet, but also because I want to enjoy the social side of these cons too. I’ve spoken on Twitter and Facebook to many brilliant people who share an interest in the same shows as me, and also attend these events. Some are cosplayers (they come in full outfits based on costumes from shows, books, films etc and they’re fantastic) and some are just fans who go for autographs. Everyone I’ve chatted to so far has been really friendly and I’m hoping to meet up with some of them while I’m there.
The main guest for me at Collectormania is Jenna-Louise Coleman, who of course is the current companion to the Doctor (at the time of writing). I’m very much hoping she doesn’t have to cancel (cancellations are thankfully rare, but incredibly frustrating if it’s one of the main guests you’re intending to meet). Even if she isn’t able to attend I still have a long list of guests I want to meet over the weekend, including Bernard Cribbins, who is a living legend.
Besides, at £35 an autograph for Jenna, it’ll certainly free up a few quid for other expenses!