Saturday 19th of November, a day when a number of big conventions were having their last events of the year. Birmingham, my home town, was hosting the final MCM, Newcastle had the last Showmasters Con. To finish off my convention season I decided to give both a miss and headed to chilly Whitby for the Sci-Fi and Comic Con.
I had been eager to check out Whitby Sci-Fi Con after coming across the event late last year and hearing positive things. The event is run by Outpost 31 a geek merchandise store teaming up with the Geek Asylum, a huge Facebook group for fandom. Whitby, famous for Vampires (Bram Stoker took inspiration from Whitby when writing Dracula), is a very cool place, lots of quirky shops, super friendly locals, great food and interesting sights to see. I’m eager to return in the new year as there’s lots I didn’t get time to see and do.
The Con took place at the Whitby Pavilion, a big complex on the cliffside overlooking the beach. I arrived a little before 10 and joined a small queue for early entry, we were allowed in quickly and promptly. The convention took place over two floors; the first floor contained the main hall and a cafeteria by the hall entrance. A second smaller hall was located on the floor below. The whole event was well signposted, easy to navigate and timetables were up around the venue. A big pull-up banner with the event times at the main stage would have been beneficial.
The main hall housed approximately sixty stalls, Star Wars photo opportunities, the visiting guests, horror walk through, prop stand and the main stage. The lower floor contained another 20 traders, a live zombie display, another photo opportunity, animal display (a bit like the animal man at school) and prop stand.
From the moment I arrived there was a fun atmosphere. The event crew were friendly and welcoming. The first few stands were a quiz, raffle and a tombola, all raising money for Cancer Research. As much as I love attending conventions, they occasionally feel like a celebration of money making. People madly buying mystery boxes full of things they don’t really want just for the sake of it. This felt good, that besides being a day celebrating shared interests, it was all for an important cause.
As I made my way down the first isle I could hear the Star Wars theme playing. In the weeks leading up to the Con the event page had put a call out for music requests. A small touch that really elevated the atmosphere providing a suitably geeky vibe. It took just under an hour to look around the halls. The dealer stands were a refreshing change to those found at the larger conventions. I find the stalls are often the same at each convention, with a lot of repetition in the products they offer. There was a very diverse mix of wares for sale, lots of unique crafts and art work. A couple of stands offered the usual mix of pop vinyls, t-shirts etc.
For anyone looking to capitalise in the future, a sweet stand would have gone down well. I did check out the restaurant, it was standard junk food, sandwiches and hot drinks. There were long queues for the cafe, a cake stand or a vendor selling snack food would have been perfect. I sampled a hot chocolate which was really good, sweet and chocolaty, it may have been made almost exclusively out of sugar!
While I enjoyed my hot chocolate I watched the next wave of visitors arrive and join the general entry queue. The turn out had so far been modest, the queue for general entry was huge, the Con really began to fill up (never to the point it was unenjoyable). There was a big mix of different guests, lots of families with children and tonnes of excellent Cosplay!
When I reentered the main hall I headed for the seating opposite the main stage. This is where I spent much of the day. The program ran from 11:30 till 5pm with a one hour break for lunch. There was a mix of Cosplay talks, guest Q & A, Combat display, Leg Waxing and Cosplay Masquerade. All the panels were ace. I particularly enjoyed the combat display. This was hosted by Ravenwolf Cinematic Combat, and it began with a talk about swords through the ages. It was really good, I’ve never considered swords interesting, mostly I just like seeing people hit one another with them. This was next on the agenda, we were treated to a variety of different choreographed fights by members of the Combat Club hitting one another for our entertainment.
After lunch Colin Baker (the sixth Doctor, my Doctor), Paul Blake (Gredo from Star Wars) and Neil Grainger (From the BBCs Hebburn and motion capture from tonnes of different video games) took the stage for a short Q & A. This was a great panel although a little disappointing that it wasn’t a bit longer. All three could have individually hosted a panel. They clearly enjoyed being on stage telling tales from their careers and stories of misadventures with Christmas light switch on’s.
The afternoon continued with a charity Legwax which felt a bit like it was descending into a torture core horror movie. There was clear disappointment displayed by the leg waxer, audience and a huddle of squealing children at the stage side with the lack of discomfort shown by the legwaxee. The audience as far as I could tell wanted some serious suffering, maybe blood. The leg waxer was joined on stage by Batman. Thanks to the combined efforts of the legwaxer, Batman and the yelling children a sweet spot for pain was uncovered, a slow wax to the inner thigh. Most of the room seemed satisfied, although I think some of the children would have liked to have seen the torture taken up a notch, maybe have him strapped to a rack and given a good stretching!
The day culminated with a big Cosplay Masquerade, first for adults, then children. The format was slightly different from Masquerades I’ve watched before. There was no pre sign up, everyone who wanted to participate was invited to queue at the stage side and take a turn to show off their costumes. Two wardens from the Geek Asylum hosted the show, taking it in turns to interview the entrants. This felt more personal than reading out a name as they walked on and off stage. Each person was asked who they were, where they were from, who they were cosplaying and other fun questions as they came to mind. There was no judging panel, instead each entrant was given a raffle ticket and the winner was drawn at random. I really enjoyed the interviewing of the Cosplayers, each time a local came on stage everyone cheered which was cool.
After the cosplay contest the hosts thanked the attendees for coming and everyone involved. They posed for photos, inviting the organisers and the crew to the stage for group photos. All the current Geek Asylum members and potentials climbed the stage for a big group photo. This was really nice, inviting everyone to feel a part of the event and recognising everyone’s contribution.
The day had been extremely enjoyable and with no major negatives. Although if you had come for comics you may have been left disappointed as they were in short supply. There were only a couple of small press tables and no dedicated comic book dealers. If you are interested in lots of fandoms rather than just comics this is a definite must for the convention calendar. A big positive for the day was the use of the main stage. A real focal point for the day and used to really accentuate the atmosphere around the hall. From playing music, the hosts interacted with the audience, advertising what was coming up, talking to the dealers and promoting the different parts of the convention. They made sure that no one missed out on anything and really felt like hosts for the day rather than just the stage. As an attendee, it made me feel a part of the convention’s community, rather than just an audience member; a very inviting group. If I could add anything to the day it would be an after party, either at a local pub or in another part of the venue.
Overall the Convention was well organised and clearly put together with love and passion for both its subject matters and the good cause. Whitby Sci-Fi and Comic Con was an excellent event, one that I planned to go to as a one off but will now be looking to attend again next year.