LFCC – A Beginner’s Guide

We’re now not too far away from London Film and Comic Con 2015. I’ve been doing these events a few years now, and thought I’d share what I know about the weekend to help newcomers enjoy themselves with a little less stress. If I miss anything out (or get anything wrong…) please feel free to comment below…politely.

LFCC 2015 is run by Showmasters, and will be taking place over the weekend of Friday 17th July to Sunday 19th July 2015. It’s being held at London Olympia this year as the usual venue (Earls Court) has been shut down. The space inside the new venue is huge, and there’s plenty of natural light coming through the glass roof. I always found Earls Court a little stuffy, with zero natural light, so we’re heading to a much better venue overall. There’s a whole lot to do at LFCC. It’s not just about getting autographs, although that is a big part of it for most attendees. If you’re a geek of any kind (or even if you’re not) there’s something for everyone. It’s about managing your time right to try to fit in as much as you can.

PLANNING IN ADVANCE

If you want to get the most out of LFCC you must absolutely plan your trip in advance. There’s no point arriving on the day ticketless and hoping to get everything you want. It just won’t happen. First, make a note of this link: – http://tinyurl.com/nt82w35 – this is the Showmasters LFCC 2015 forum. All announcements on guests, date changes, events, features and opportunities will appear here first. I find myself checking it at least once a day normally. Most of the info you need will available there. If it isn’t, just post on the forum. Don’t worry about asking about anything you’re not sure on. There are plenty of fellow attendees and forum moderators who will be happy to help. If you’re on Twitter, follow the @showmasters account, which will update you on all announcements. The official website for the event is http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com. The forum will keep you updated as to which guests will be in attendance, which days they’ll be attending, and how much it’ll cost to get an autograph/photograph. At the time of writing, Showmasters are not pre-selling autograph tickets, but I’ll come to this later. Photoshoots on the other hand should always where possible be bought in advance. There may be limited photoshoot tickets available on the day, but this is never guaranteed, and you’d have to join a big queue at the ticket desk inside when you arrived at the venue. Stress. Stress which is easily avoided by buying in advance. You can buy your photoshoot tickets at any time from the Showmasters store. This is now found on the Eventbrite website and a link to the correct page is here – http://tinyurl.com/l948t69. Just be extra careful when you’re making your purchases – tickets for all Showmasters events across the country are sold in this store. Make sure you’re buying the right ticket, for the right day, for the right event. You don’t want to turn up to LFCC with a photoshoot ticket for the wrong event, as that would be rubbish. A change from the older store means that with Eventbrite you will be able to print off your own tickets. Convenient for most, and it also means that you should be able to buy tickets just before the day of the event. The Eventbrite site is relatively easy to use. Just add the tickets you want to your basket, and click ‘Order Now’. You’ll then have 8 minutes to complete your order. Just fill in all the details, and ensure that you agree to BOTH waivers and click on the £2.50 validation fee box in the ‘additional items’ section. If you don’t click on this your order won’t be valid. Do also ensure you buy an entry ticket for the day(s) you wish to attend as well as your photoshoot ticket. The photoshoot ticket does not include entry. If you turn up on the day without an entry ticket, you ain’t coming in – and it’s highly unlikely you’d be refunded.

This year Showmasters are debuting the ‘Diamond Pass’. This is a ticket solely catering for fans of a particular guest. Each guest’s Diamond Pass includes a selection of activities with that guest. As an example, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) has a pass which includes:

1 photo shoot with Robert in full Freddy Krueger make up (unique to Diamond pass holders)

1 in-person autograph with Robert Englund

1 seat in a talk with Robert Englund and make up artist Robert Kurtzman

1 exclusive print

1 exclusive T-shirt

All this together is £135.00. Something worth considering if you’re a Freddy Krueger fan. A few days before the event a photoshoot timetable will be put on the forum. Download this, copy it, print it out, anything. This is your friend. There will be copies around the venue over the weekend but it’s well worth having your own. Or, be a bit of a nerd like me last year, and make your own:

IMG_1777

So that’s who I was meeting, when, which location – and the last number is my photoshoot number. I’ll go into more detail on photoshoots later. There are normally at least five or six separate photoshoot areas, so it’s worth getting an idea as to where you’re going and when.

VIRTUAL QUEUE TICKETS

These have their own section because it’s important to be aware of the nature of Virtual Queue tickets. Chances are that if you’re attending LFCC you’re probably after at least one or two autographs. Chances are that if the guests you want to meet are particularly well known, a great many others will be wanting to meet them too. To stop the possibility of a thousand people standing next to a guest’s table, we have the virtual queue system. Think of it like a deli. Near each guest’s table there will be a Showmasters volunteer holding a stack of tickets. These are free. Every individual who wants an autograph from the particular guest needs to take one. These will have numbers on them, which is your ‘virtual’ place in the queue. Throughout the day, there will be a whiteboard up near the guest with the VQ numbers allowed to join the queue. So, if your number is 78, and the board says 1-100, then you can go up. If your number is 124, then you need to wait until the board says 1-200. You can’t miss your time – VQ number 1 for example can go up later in the day if they want. It’s always 1-100, 1-200, 1-300 and so on. This all means that you don’t have to wait around for your time if you have a high VQ number. It means you can wander off, do what you like, and you can come back sporadically to see where they’re up to. Some guests do take longer than others, so be aware of that.

CANCELLATIONS

Before we get too excited about who you’re going to meet at LFCC you should be aware that guests do occasionally cancel prior to the event. Some guests cancel pretty much every time (I’m looking at you, Ray Park and Temuera Morrison). This is something that you should prepare yourself for.  As exciting as it is when a guest you really want to meet is announced, it’s equally disappointing when that same guest has to cancel. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, mainly due to work conflicts. Remember, many of the guests who appear at conventions are actively working, and such is the nature of TV or film work that huge amendments can take place to their shooting schedules. It’s not going to happen that often (unless you’re really unlucky) but it can happen with any guest at any time. I remember attending a convention a few years ago where Alex Kingston – Doctor Who’s River Song – had to cancel the day before the event started. Another involved Danny John-Jules – Cat from Red Dwarf – cancelling on the actual day of the event. It’s disappointing, but it can’t be helped.

With that in mind it’s wise to head in to LFCC with a backup plan. If you’re travelling a long way in the hope of meeting one particular guest then you may end up wasting a lot of money if they have to cancel.

But, if you’re lucky enough to have plenty of guests to meet, you’ll need to come equipped.

WHAT TO BRING

A wallet. A big wallet. Stuffed full of cash. Seriously. LFCC is an expensive business, and you don’t want to be caught short. There are cash machines on site, but the queues are large all the time, and there’s always the danger that they’ll be bled dry by mid-afternoon. I’ve seen it happen. Try to bring as many £5 notes as you can, they’re very useful.

A bag. I always carry around a secure over-the-shoulder manbag. Aside from being the height of fashion, you’ll need something to carry all your stuff in. Don’t wander around with a suitcase though, there’s not enough space.

A watch. As I’ll cover later, you need to be able to keep a eye on the time. There can be a lot to do at once and you don’t want to lose track.

Comfortable footwear. You’ll be on your feet a lot over the weekend. There aren’t very many places you can sit down with much comfort, so you’ll find yourself walking, and walking, and standing, and walking some more. Rubbish shoes will knacker your back in.

Water. Do not arrive without some water. Walking around LFCC is thirsty work. It can get very hot (especially if the hall is full to capacity) and you don’t want to be spending half your budget buying bottles of water for £3 a pop at the venue. Just take your own.

Something for the guests to sign. This is optional. Showmasters (or the guests) provide plenty of images for each guest for them to sign, and these are included in the cost of the autograph. There’s a large selection for each, so you’ll more often than not find something you like. There’s always a risk though, so have a backup – bring your own print or a poster or a DVD. At least you’ll have something for the guest to sign. There are also plenty of stalls selling good quality prints for most of the guests in attendance.

Plastic autograph wallets. These have been my saviour for years. You don’t want to collect an autograph from one of your heroes and then get home to find it smudged, bent, or ripped. These plastic ‘toploaders’ are available from many of the stalls, but they’ll cost you around £1 each (or more, depending on the size). I bought a stack of them online a couple of years ago, and they’ve served me well. They’re also useful to carry your photoshoot pictures in – you don’t get a cover with the photo. Try not to keep the autographs in toploaders for too long though, you don’t want to damage the ink.

A poster tube. Not essential, but I’ve found them hard to come by at the stalls at past events, and if you’re buying a print/poster you want to be able to keep it safe. These are really cheap from B&Q or Staples, or places like that.

A mobile phone. Fairly obvious this, but very useful for many reasons. If you’re separated from your group (say, following a photoshoot) you might need to find them. Based on the crowds last year, think ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’. On that note, always have a meeting place sorted out with your friends to meet up if anyone goes missing.

Most importantly, have a budget. I cannot emphasise this enough. It’s very easy to get over-excited at LFCC. You will be faced with non-stop geek product temptation for three days – make yourself a budget before you go, and stick to it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve spent far too much on things I didn’t really need simply because the money was burning a hole in my pocket. Enjoy yourself, but don’t bankrupt yourself while doing it.

TRAVEL

Travel to Olympia is really pretty simple. If you’re arriving into London Euston take the Southbound Victoria line down to Victoria station, then change to the Westbound District line which will take you straight there. To be honest, by the time you get to any of these stations you will more than likely have a trail of cosplayers to follow all the way there. They’re not hard to spot. Remember the scene in Thor 2 where Thor rode the underground? That happens for real on LFCC weekend. If the District line isn’t going to Olympia, get off at Earls Court and walk from there. It’s a 20 minute walk, and again, you won’t struggle finding your way there. Just in case, here’s a map.

map

If you’re taking other means of transport (bus, train, taxi etc) there are plenty of ways to find your route online. I always use the underground, and – touch wood – I’ve never had a problem.

ARRIVAL

Things have changed a little this time round. Usually there are three queues. One for the Gold Pass holders, one for Early Bird entry ticket holders and a third for people paying on the day. This year however Showmasters are not selling Early Bird entry tickets, and they are not allowing people to pay on the day, certainly not on the Saturday at least. As a result of the changes, everybody who has a ticket will be allowed in at the same time (9am). The Gold Pass holders will be given priority and will enter first. Everyone else will follow. For reasons which will become clear, if there is a guest you absolutely have to meet, or you are limited with time on the day, you should make sure you arrive at the venue very early. I’ve arrived at 8am in the past and had to join a queue which has already snaked its way right to the back of Earls Court. That’s a long queue. Turn up at 9am on the dot and you’ll be at the back of a huge queue. If you’re not that fussed about meeting any particular guest, try arriving at say 10:30-11am. By then everyone else will be inside and you’ll more than likely be able to walk straight in. Do remember though that the set up this year is new, so this may not be entirely accurate. If you’re having trouble on arrival just look for the signs or just ask. There will be a lot of people happy to help. The queue is a good place to take a look at some amazing cosplayers. Seriously, some of them could have just walked straight off the cinema screen. By all means talk to people. I always find that folk near me are just as excited as I am, and it’s great to get to know new people. One little thing though, if you’re a smoker, have some consideration for others if you want to light up. Just leave the queue and stand a distance away so nobody else is affected by it. I smoke myself, and I don’t like forcing it on non-smokers and children nearby.

ENTRY

At 9am the doors will open. At this point the people who are prepared will have a plan of action for the first half hour of the day. Here’s how I do it, and I’ve never had a problem yet.

Step 1: Calmly enter the building. Don’t go running – this is poor form, and not only will everyone think you’re a buffoon, you’ll also be told off by the crew. You could injure yourself, or others, and there’s absolutely no need for it.

Step 2: Virtual Queue tickets. Collect these straight away. Find the tables for the guests you’ll be wanting to meet (these will be clearly signed) and politely ask the volunteers holding their VQs for one. If there’s a chance a guest will be very popular an early numbered VQ could be key.

Step 3: Get your bearings. It’s unlikely that the majority of the guests will be at their desks at opening time, so unless you’ve got a photoshoot straight away you may as well take the opportunity to work out where the toilets are, where each of the guests you want to meet will be stationed, and where your photoshoot areas will be.

Step 4: If you see a guest you want to meet at their station, and there’s nobody in the queue (and no VQ), go and meet them. Sometimes opportunities come up where you won’t have to queue for something you want, certainly early on. Take that opportunity. It could save you loads of time later on.

Step 5: Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to miss a photoshoot because you weren’t paying attention. I remember at my first LFCC (2011) I was about to leave the venue to head to the pub for a pint when I remembered my Sophie Aldred photoshoot was about to start. It’s surprisingly easy to do, certainly if you’re a bit of an idiot like me.

AUTOGRAPHS/MEETING THE GUESTS

The fun bit. Or the terrifying bit, depending on your point of view. Meeting the guests is very simple indeed. When it’s your time to join the queue, go to the back of it and start getting your items/images ready. Also get your money ready – you don’t want the person ahead of you to move on and have the guest sitting there watching you fiddle about with your wallet. Pay the assistant your money and choose an image. Now, I’ve been doing this a few years, and I still get a little nervous when I meet the guests, but I’ve developed a bit of confidence since I started out. I had no idea what to say for my first few cons. There’s nothing wrong with just saying hello, asking how they are, and asking them to sign your piece. For the less busy guests you might have a good opportunity to talk to them for a bit, but do be aware of the people around you. If there’s a huge queue it’s unfair to stand there talking to them for 45 minutes, keeping everyone else waiting. The majority of guest encounters I’ve had have been relatively brief. The very busy guests will often have no time except to say a quick hello. Don’t be disappointed if this is the case – they have a lot of people to get through and they just don’t have time for much interaction. Do bear in mind also that the guests are human beings – they can have ‘down’ days like the rest of us. Some can be a little grumpy, and some can be incredibly talkative. Most guests will personalise autographs for you if you want them to. Some guests will insist on it, and others will simply have no time to personalise at all. In these cases they will have a sign up at their station clearly stating ‘no personalisations’. If this is the case, please don’t ask. There could be many reasons why this has been decided, often due to the guest themselves requesting it. You try signing your own name AND someone else’s name 750 times in a few hours without your hand going numb. A lot of guests will allow you to have a free photograph with them at the table. This is very unlikely with the more popular guests, but does happen a lot with others. Again, if there’s a sign up saying ‘no posed photos’, don’t ask. There is normally a good reason for it.

PHOTOSHOOTS

Check the map and timetable to work out where you’re supposed to be at what time. Head over to the correct area and listen to the crew members. They will call everyone in for your shoots in stages, ordered thusly:

1: Old store tickets by number.

2: Non Batched e-Tickets

3: e-Tickets by batch

4: Tickets sold on the day by number.

I’ve lifted the above order from Showmasters’ own FAQ section on their forum. Each ‘batch’ is 100 tickets. It should state the batch number on your ticket. If it does not, then you will be called with the non-batched e-Ticket group. In the meantime, if you are not due to enter the photoshoot area for a while, you do not need to wait around just yet. One of my main bugbears of photoshoots is the number of people who gather in a throng around the photo area despite not being due to be called for a good half an hour. Just bugger off and have a wander – the space around these areas can be crowded enough without 500 people all trying to join the same queue. Once your number is up and you’re called in, you’ll be directed to the back of the queue by a crew member. Again, listen to their instructions and do what they ask – they’re trying to make it easier for everybody. As you get near to the front of the queue you’ll enter the photo area (still in a queue) and you’ll see the guest standing there in front of a backdrop. You can drop your bags and coat here with the volunteers at tables. One by one the people in the queue will be motioned forward and will have their photo taken with the guest. You will be stood next to the guests for about five to ten seconds, maximum. As soon as the photographer gives you the OK, move on and wait to collect your photograph which will be printed off immediately. If there’s anything wrong with the photo and you’re not happy with it (eyes closed, blurred image) refer to a crew member and they may ask you to rejoin the queue for a re-shoot. I find my main issue with photoshoots is the reflection of light in my glasses. I’m constantly going back for re-shoots due to that. Some guests are happy to hug you for your photo. Some are happy to pose how you want (within reason) with props. Please do respect their personal space though. There are large bodyguards often stood mere feet from you who will immediately get involved if you try anything unpleasant…you don’t want to get your head kicked in, so behave (you won’t have your head kicked in, I assure you). Once you’ve collected your photo, move on out of the area as quickly as you can.

TALKS

Many of the guests in attendance will be taking part in talks through the weekend. Many of the talks are free, however some are paid. Check the forum for details regarding this – paid talks are only accessible to ticket holders. The talks are normally entertaining enough, although they do tend to be more Q+A type affairs, which of course is absolutely fine if you have a question to ask your heroes. Entry to the talks is on a first-come first-served basis. Gold pass holders will be at the front.

SHOPPING

Where do I start? The majority of the floor space at LFCC is taken up with stalls selling absolutely everything you could imagine. There’s…(deep breath) posters, action figures, t-shirts, American sweets, pre-signed autographs, DVDs, books, comics, vintage consoles, teddy bears, lightsabers, mugs, shoes, anime, craftwork, paintings, jewellery…oh I could go on and on. You will not be short of things to spend your money on, folks. I don’t really need to tell you how to shop, though, do I.

COSPLAYING

One of the best things about LFCC (and most events like this) is the folk who dress for the occasion. Prepare to be astounded by the level of skill and effort these people put in to making outfits for conventions. You’ll see Spider-men, Jedi/Sith, anime characters, every Doctor (and most of the companions), Thor, Captain Jack Sparrow, and countless Deadpools, amongst others. The cosplay community is well catered for at the event, and if you’re considering doing it but are maybe a little nervous, worry not. I only wear civilian clothing for the event and I’M the one who feels a little out of place. Cosplayers in the main will be more than happy to pose for photographs, either of just them, or with you. Please, please please however – ASK THEM FIRST. It is considered incredibly rude to just take pictures of cosplayers without their permission, and given that you’re much more likely to get a great photo if you ask them to pose for you, you should either ask, or put your camera away. I have also heard horror stories from cosplayers regarding the things they are asked (“have you got underwear on under there” for example…) or ways they have been manhandled. Yes, some of their outfits can be ‘revealing’ – this does not imply consent to touch anyone up. Don’t treat anyone differently or invade personal space simply because they’re cosplaying. Many cosplayers are in attendance at these events on charity business, raising money for various causes. Perhaps donate some of the wodge of cash you’re carrying, help them out. They’ve made real effort to be there, doing what they’re doing.

SOCIALISING

There is a strong sense of community at LFCC. Normally the sun is shining, fun things are happening and everyone is in a good mood. If you’re reading this some time before the event you have plenty of time to get to know new people. I’ve met loads of new people through attending these events, but mainly through Twitter. Start off by following @Showmasters, and as we get closer to the event, check the #LFCC hashtag – you’ll meet some great people. If you’re happy to settle for average people, follow me on @djdarrenjones. I’m forever going on about LFCC on there. I also enjoy meeting new folk. Introduce yourself.

FURTHER READING

If you’ve read this far then you’ll hopefully have a good idea as to what to expect from the event. As I’ve said, I’ve been doing these events for a few years, and I’ve picked it up pretty quickly, but there are plenty of other, more experienced attendees who have plenty of information to help you. Just do a bit of a Google search and see what’s around.

Try @Bunny_Summers blog, Unconventional (http://unconventionalblog.co.uk/category/guides/). Her guides aren’t solely limited to signing events such as LFCC. She’s a con-goer with huge experience and knows her way around these things. You’ll hopefully find answers to anything I’ve forgotten about plus everything else on her site.

Well, I hope this all helps. Generally speaking LFCC is a lot of fun and very simple as long as you’re prepared. So prepare!

Latersville.

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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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Con Season

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.

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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.

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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:

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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!