CONVENTION REVIEW: Wales Comic-Con

Last weekend I jumped in my car and traveled over 500 miles from Glasgow to Wrexham and back, for my first ever visit to Wales Comic-Con. I had booked my tickets at the end of the year, impressed by the number of big names it had managed to attract.  You expect to be able to meet genre A-listers in London but North Wales?

I think this was the reason that over 5,000 people had the same idea and turned up to Glyndwr University for this one day event.  The caliber of the guests was excellent with Buffy alumni Nicholas Brendon, fan favourite Robert Picardo, a large selection of Game of Thrones cast including Mark Addy, Ian Mcelhinney and Gemma Whelan and six members of the Red Dwarf cast.

Housed over various halls at the University, the con included a dealers room, 2 Q&A halls, photo shoots, autographs and various other side attractions like a KITT car, the Supernatural Impala and a display from the local Owl Sanctuary, where I made friends with a very feisty owl called Gandalf.

I would say that the thing that worked best in the whole event was the Q&A sessions and this was where we spent most of our time.  I was lucky enough to get a seat for the talks with Robert Picardo, Nicholas Brendon and the Game of Thrones cast.

Robert Picardo was first to appear in Hall A for his talk, which saw him reading out his own fan fiction and managing to steer the discussion on to hologram ‘rude parts’.  He was very engaging and obviously a total pro at working a room, keeping everyone laughing.  It was just a shame that he was on so early to a half empty hall.

An extremely jetlagged Nicholas Brendon was the next session we managed to catch.  Always entertaining with a good line in self-deprecation, he fielded Buffy questions with the ease of someone who has been doing these panels for years.  And yes, the fans were treated to the Snoopy Dance!  There were a lot of 30-something women who walked out of the room with a smile on their face (myself included) after being so close to their teenage crush.

The last session of the day was with the Game of Thrones cast.  I always find it strange when actors, whose profession it is to stand in front of a crowd or cameras, seem to be very reserved when it comes to speaking at conventions.  Some of the panel were excellent and kept the energy up (in particular Eugene Simon) but a couple seemed almost bewildered by the whole thing and didn’t have much to offer in way of answers.  That aside though, the panel was excellent and played to a deservedly packed out hall.

My only criticism of the panels was that they were purely audience Q&A.  The MC on stage with the guests seemed very personable and quick-witted and I think the audience would have gotten more out of the sessions if he had had a chat with the guest first before opening up to the floor.

There were a few things we had to miss.  I had really wanted to check out the Red Dwarf session but the queue was smegging huge so we took a wander around the dealers room instead.  There was an excellent selection of items, the usual comics/toys/DVDs along with some more unusual Welsh selections like dragons in the style of your favourite sci-fi character.  There was also the chance to get an autograph with some of the other guests including Warwick Davies and wrestling legend Mick Foley.

At the end of the day, I managed to catch up with one of the organizers of the event, Dave Wolburn.  I’d seen him rushing around all day and wanted to make him a cup of tea and let him put his feet up but instead I asked him a few questions:

So tell us a bit about the history of Wales Comic Con, how did it start?

Jaime (Milner) is the mastermind who started it off 6 years ago now.  He started it up all on his own, no contacts, and managed to somehow break through agents and it’s slowly grown over the past few years.

Was it just a small event back then?

Yes, that’s exactly how it started.  It started off with just a couple of names. Before the reboot of Red Dwarf series there was Danny John-Jules, Gareth David-Lloyd is a loyal follower of us as well.  It started off with a few names like that and slowly word has travelled.

How many people do you think were here today?

I’m estimating, we are literally at the end of the event, probably 5,000 minimum.

How do you see the event moving forward?  Would it go to a 2 day event?

There’s a lot we need to talk about, as with any growing event like this there’s hiccups and there’s things that go really well.  It’s a learning curve for us.  Some things we need to work on, some things went really well and we’ll do them again.  So in the future, watch this space.

How do you feel today went?

We’ve had some very, very happy people.  A couple of the crew had said there were people in tears after meeting their heroes, so I hope those were good tears!

Wales seems to be a hotspot for geek activity, why do you think that is?

I think, geographically, we are in the middle of everything.  In London, it’s just the south.  In Manchester you are only catering for the north.  Here in Wrexham, it’s close for everyone.

How did you get the coup of the Red Dwarf crew together?  That must have been a logistical nightmare!

It’s grown over the past few years.  We had Robert Llewellyn and Chris Barrie last year they proved a big hit, absolute gentlemen.  They enjoyed themselves, the’d heard about it from Danny, he was one of the first guests we had and in fact I think they helped us get a hold of Craig.

So obviously, they came, had a great time……

……and recommended it to their friends.  That’s what everyone should do!

What are the plans for next year?  Is it going to be bigger? Better?

It’s what we strive for, every year needs to be bigger otherwise we are going backwards.

With our quick interview over and a cheery wave, Dave was off to help with the break down of the con.

Starting the 280-mile journey back home I reflected on the day. While I’m sure the location has been adequate in the past, if Wales Comic Con continues to grow they will need to take a serious look at their accommodation and invest in some way of being able to communicate with attendees.  With photoshoots running nearly two hours overdue there was only one poor guy trying to field an endless barrage of questions.  Something as simple as a chalkboard for next year to keep people updated with regards to photoshoots could have helped ease peoples minds.  You don’t mind if the time has been moved back as long as you are told about it and don’t have to hear about it third-hand.

Overall impression of Wales Comic-Con?  There is obviously a thirst for this type of event in Wales and the organizers have clearly made excellent in-roads in building relationships with agents and stars but it feels that the level of organisation now needs to match the high caliber of guests.

Reviewer: Geek Adventure

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