Wales Comic Con

As I recently blogged, con season is upon me at last, and my long wait was finally ended with a trip to Wrexham’s Glyndwr University to attend the annual Wales Comic Con on Sunday 28th April. This is a long post, but then, so was the day….

This event is notable as being the first proper convention I’ve managed to drag my long suffering wife along to, mainly because a) it wasn’t very far away and b) I think she wanted to get an idea for herself as to what exactly I manage to spend hundreds of pounds on every year. As an added bonus two friends of ours, Tony and Viccy, came along for the ride, as our shared love of Red Dwarf, paired with their interest in Game of Thrones, meant that there was something there for us to really get our teeth into.

In the lead up to the event I’d made a list of the guests I’d wanted to meet. On this occasion my list comprised of the following: –

Warwick Davis (he of Star Wars, Willow, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad fame, amongst others)
Frazer Hines (Jamie from classic Doctor Who)
Paul Blake (Greedo from Star Wars)
Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf)
Craig Charles (Red Dwarf)
Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf)
Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf)
Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf), and finally –
Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf).

On arrival at the venue, around half an hour before opening time, there was still plenty of parking, so my initial fears that we’d be running around trying desperately to find a space were alleviated immediately. We parked up and made the small walk over to the already sizeable queues gathering outside the main hall. After joining the early entry queue we were able to chat for a while and have a gander at the myriad outfits and cosplays on show from the attendees. As usual the queues were packed with Doctors, Stormtroopers, Avengers, and er……Gamers of Thrones (?), and the effort which had gone into each one again blew my mind. Cosplaying is something I’ve always toyed with in my mind but never ended up getting round to it – partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that I don’t want to be dressed as a character when having a photoshoot with a guest, something I generally end up doing, say 99% of the time.

After a bit of a wait the doors were opened and the four of us entered the main hall. Central to the hall were the stalls, selling the usual canvas prints, jewellery, t-shirts, mugs, action figures etc. As Wales Comic Con is still a relatively young event, there were not a huge amount of stalls to browse through, and after around half an hour or so I think I’d seen pretty much everything at the stalls I’d wanted to see. I’m sure that will improve over the next few years and the vendors will increase in number and variety.

Around the walls of the main hall were the guests, and a great many of them there were – immediately to our right as we entered we spotted Warwick Davis, who already had an impressive queue five minutes in. I wanted to chat to him early doors as I had a feeling he would only get busier as the day went on. He was being assisted at his desk by his lovely family, and it was an honour to (briefly) chat to them as he signed my recently obtained gold ingot Star Wars Saga poster, which will be a long-ongoing project of mine. After signing, and having a brief chat about Life’s Too Short (I’m a fan……!) Warwick happily posed for a photograph with me at his desk, which I’m willing to bet he was doing a great many times throughout the day. Warwick has always been a highly regarded actor through his career but his recent projects certainly seem to have seen his stock rise.

Moving onto my next guest, I went over with Zo to meet Paul Blake, who played Greedo in the original Star Wars. I’ve met Paul once before, briefly, at another event – but as I was relatively new to ‘graphing’ back then, I tended to just approach the guest, quietly ask them to sign something and then thank them before walking away. Nowadays my confidence has grown exponentially and I feel much more comfortable chatting to guests. I don’t tend to talk about their roles or past work, I always end up talking about myself, or my posters etc, but I suppose these guys are so used to being asked the same questions about past roles (“Did Han shoot first or not?”) that they probably enjoy talking about something else. With Paul, we discussed the vast array of poster tubes now strewn around my flat, full of posters which will probably never be framed and on display as I’ll always be looking for new signatures on them. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you’ve never met Paul, I highly recommend you head over for a quick chinwag. He’s a lovely fella and he clearly enjoys meeting people to talk about these things (or whether Han shot first – which he DID, by the way).

After our chat with Paul, we had a bit of a scoot around the rest of the hall to see where all the other attendees had headed over to. We soon realised that an entire wall (and corner) of the hall was devoted to the Game of Thrones cast and arguably the ‘headline’ guest of the day Billy Boyd (Pippin from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit), who are extremely popular currently. That end of the hall was essentially a no-go area for me, as although I wasn’t intending to meet those guests, virtually everyone else was……! The queues for Billy Boyd were consistently long, for good reason, and I’m willing to bet that his writing hand was aching by the end of the day. Because of signatures, I mean. Tsk.

I finished up my guest encounters in the main hall by meeting Frazer Hines, who I wanted to sign my other ongoing project, a Doctor Who TARDIS poster – this poster is being reserved for signatures from either actors who have played the Doctor, or ‘legends’ from the history of the show. Frazer played Jamie McCrimmon, a companion to the second Doctor, and this meant his inclusion on the poster was more than warranted. Sadly, I forgot to ask Frazer to sign the poster in silver, which I’d wanted everyone to do, and he ended up signing it in black – a mistake I only noticed when it was too late to stop him. Not the end of the world, though, it’ll look great when it’s finished (if ever) either way. Previously I’d only had Matt Smith sign it, but this will be vastly improved upon at the end of May, when I’m meeting numerous legends and Doctors from the show at another event.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet three of the main cast of Red Dwarf before, in London – sadly Danny John-Jules had been unable to attend that day so my photoshoot with the cast (Lister, Rimmer and Kryten) was only improved due to the presence of a scale model of the eponymous craft joining us in the shot. This time, all six of the main cast were there, and it was a delight to meet each and every one of them. I’d headed over from the main hall over to a separate signing area in the Catrin Finch centre. The six Dwarfers were all situated in there – separating them from the main hall being a great idea due to their obvious popularity. Entering their signing area it was clear that Danny John-Jules (Cat) had the longest queue. This could be down to his rarity at recent events in comparison to his colleagues, but also possibly down to his tendency to wander off for a chat with the rest of the cast while his queue grew……..! It was all taken in good humour though, Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) reminding him to get back to his duties getting him back on track.

I met Robert first. I found him a very affable chap, but I didn’t expect anything less – Aside from Red Dwarf, I have followed much of his work throughout the years, not least his online interview/driving hybrid show ‘Carpool’, in which he collects interesting passengers (celebs and non-celebs) from a chosen location and gives them a lift in his car, into which he has fitted cameras and microphones. During the trip they chat, not exactly in an ‘interview’ format, but through general conversation. The wit exchanged during these conversations, and Robert’s infectious enthusiasm for his guests’ stories help to make the show very watchable indeed. I discussed the show with Robert as he signed my Red Dwarf piece, and he explained that this was something he set up entirely on his own, including the cameras/microphones, and he finds himself making phone call after phone call to arrange each guest. It’s a lot of work, but clearly something he really enjoys doing. He was proud to say that he had over 27 million views of the show on his website, and online was where he was intending to keep it in the future, despite Dave TV picking up the show some time ago. Robert seems to be one of those chaps who tends to have a smile on his face all the time, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting the guy.

I moved on from Robert over to Chris Barrie (Rimmer), a comedian/actor who’s been making me laugh since I was a nipper. I was always a huge fan of Spitting Image as a child, regardless of my total ignorance of the world of politics at the time, and it transpires that Chris was a regular voice on the show. I had also seen him doing some stand up early in his career, on what I believe was a Saturday night comedy show hosted by Ben Elton, the name of which I can’t recall. He’s also very well known for his turn as Gordon Brittas in The Brittas Empire, which, despite being a sitcom almost entirely populated by people I would ordinarily dislike, was hilariously written and acted throughout, certainly for the time. Red Dwarf of course is what Chris is most known for, and I would have to say that Rimmer is one of my favourite television characters of all time. So meeting him was quite a big thing for me, and although it was relatively brief, it was a delight to finally shake his hand. He asked about the image I was having the cast sign – a lovely hi-res image of the Red Dwarf logo on a black 12×16 background which a fellow grapher, Mark, had sourced for me a few weeks earlier. After signing the piece, Chris nicked one of my lovely brand spanking new silver pens (accidentally of course…..) but I can forgive that. Chris comes across as one of the more introvert of the crew of the Dwarf, very humble, and indeed I understand from the aforementioned Mark who spoke to him the day before, that Chris had admitted to him that “the longer this goes on, the more we realise how lucky we are”.

Sitting next to Chris, and surprisingly waiting without a queue at the time, was the lovely Hattie Hayridge (Holly MkII), who barely looks any different to how she did back in the early nineties, with the exception of a touch of cherry red lipstick (and of course, not being a disembodied floating head). Hattie was approachable, smiley and chatty – again, we didn’t head towards the subject of her career, and instead focused more on the subject of the parking at the venue…….as you do….but we had a chuckle for a couple of minutes and this time I remembered to retrieve my pen, which was a bonus.

I spotted Craig Charles (Lister) about to head out for smoke, so I thought I’d quickly leg it across the room to catch him before he disappeared. Luckily I caught him just in time, before almost showering him and his selection of images laid out on the desk with silver ink, as my pen broke in my hand. Craig took the image and signed it quickly, probably to avoid being inked, before zooming off for his fag out the back. I didn’t get a chance to really chat to Craig, which is a shame as I’d liked to have spoken to him about his work on the Funk and Soul Club he runs regularly at Band on the Wall in my hometown of Manchester. Still, Craig isn’t a rarity at these events, so it’s always possible I’ll get another chance in the future to have a proper chat.

Norman Lovett (Holly MkI) has always been one of my favourite cast members – I’ve always been a huge fan of his deadpan delivery of some of the best lines in the show’s history, and again, meeting him was quite an honour for me. I wasn’t able to chat to him for a long time, as it was one of the more brief meetings, in which he signed my image and while he did so I picked out one of his stand up DVDs, to watch upon my return home. Still, Norman is a lovely guy. Unassuming and still incredibly deadpan in real life, you’d think he barely needed to act at all to become Holly.

Finally I joined the still very long queue to meet Danny John-Jules. This was the moment he’d chosen to wander off for a natter before Robert ushered him back to his desk. I have to admit, after his cancellation of a number of previous con appearances, I was concerned that he would be one of the less enthustiastic guests at a signing show. How wrong I was – he was very funny, all smiles, up on his feet the whole time (he explained he didn’t want to sit down to sign as he felt like he was doing a thousand squats a day…..) and more than happy to share a joke and a photo with each of his happy punters. He was another guest to be interested in where I’d sourced the image he was signing. From their reactions I got the impression that they were mainly signing their own photos or copies of DVDs through the day, so being presented with something a little different made the whole thing a little more interesting…..!

After I’d met the whole cast, and in doing so completing a fully autographed piece approximately twenty minutes after starting it, I hurried back to the car to carefully store the finished product. I didn’t fancy carrying round a relatively flimsy piece which I’d just spent close to £100 getting signed. I’m delighted to report I got it home intact, and I’m now on the lookout for a decent frame for it. Ikea, here we come!

Post-lunch came the time for my photoshoot with the Red Dwarf folk – it was still unclear at this time as to whether the whole cast would be joining in for the shoot, but I was not to be disappointed. I had a photo taken with Chris, Robert and Craig last year, and although I’m very proud of it, it was always certainly lacking without Danny. This time all six took part, which was fantastic – and at £25, extremely good value for money! The one gripe I had throughout the day was the fact that something went wrong early doors with the photoshoots, so they ended up delayed by around an hour. This had a knock-on effect on the talks, as it turned out, as the plan was for the guests to head straight over for the Q&A immediately after finishing the shoot. Regardless, the Dwarfers were having a great old time during their shoot, and I enjoyed very much being amongst them.

After the shoot we headed over to the Q&A hall for the Red Dwarf talk. This was a beautiful, comfortable modern theatre, and the almost capacity 1200-strong crowd greeted the cast onstage in a manner very reminiscent of the much bigger San Diego Comic Con crowds I’ve seen (on YouTube only, sadly!). The talk itself, as generally seems to be the norm, was less a ‘talk’ than a series of questions from the audience – although the cast tended to allow the initial answer to develop into a more “In Conversation With….” type of discourse, which was consistently hilarious throughout. My only criticism was that Hattie tended to get drowned out by the rest of the cast, and as such we never really got to hear much from her. Chris was a little quiet at the outset but eventually found himself on an equal footing with the others, which was no mean feat, given Robert, Craig and Danny’s outspoken nature.

Once the talk was over there was little left to do except pick up the photoshoot images from the collection table. Luckily mine came out pretty much immediately and as such I collected it with little trouble – although my long-term gripe with these events is the frankly ridiculous people who surround the photo collection table before they are even put out to collect. They just make the whole thing a million times more difficult and awkward, and they don’t speed anything up for themselves or anyone else. I can only put it down to being new to cons, although even when I was new to these things I had a little more consideration for other people. I guess you just can’t force people to see sense.

That little gripe doesn’t even slightly put a dark mark onto Wales Comic Con 2013 – for a young event it was very well run and an enjoyable experience. As the event progresses in the future all the little issues will be ironed out, the guests will get bigger and better and it’ll be a welcome addition to my regular convention calendar.

And finally, it’s all got me into con season mode at last, and I’m looking forward to the next one in about four weeks’ time. Smashing.

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