Monday 1 August 2016

London Film & Comic Con 2016

Once, A Con, A Time

London Film & Comic Con 2016
Showmasters at London Olympia

It was 4.05am on the morning of Friday 29th July 2016 when my Starship Enterprise alarm clock started proclaiming it was time to “Beam us up, Scotty” and making energiser sounds at a volume designed to rob a person of precious sleep. Time for me to get up, get dressed, have breakfast (while checking Twitter, naturally) and pack my bag for the opening day of this year’s big event, the 2016 edition of the London Film & Comic Con. I’ve written about three of these cons previously on my blog and, if you’d have read the previous editions here, here and here, then you would know that my affection for what was once my favourite annual treat has somewhat soured over the years, as it’s become more popular and ‘corporate’, for a number of reasons. You might wonder, after my conclusion to last year’s review, why I actually bothered to go back there again and... the answer to that is Friday.

For a few years now, LFCC have been opening their doors for just a couple of hours on a Friday evening as a preview to the show but, for the first time this year, they have added the Friday as a full day and decided to put the two hour preview on the Thursday instead. Now, as it happens, they cancelled the Thursday evening at short notice but the fact that the event was a day longer and, also, a few weeks later in the year than when it is normally held, made me decide to pre-book tickets for myself and a few friends, based on the idea that it wouldn’t be so crowded and that the numbers would be further cut down by people going on holiday more around this time of year. So I took the Friday off of work, booked my ticket and, as you can see from my previous paragraph, got up extra early to try and get the jump on the various queues for different kinds of ticket holders.

Let me say that, overall, the event this year was a much better show, at least in terms of lack of stress and ease of use. The people at Showmasters have exceeded my expectations by actually listening to what went wrong with the past few years and finally come up with a workable solution which made for a pleasant day. I can’t speak up for how the Saturday and Sunday went but the Friday was a pretty big success. It was a bit of a double edged sword in that they couldn’t account from the fall out of stallholders expectations this year, and I’ll get to that in a little while, but overall the organisation of the show was a whole lot better.

I arrived at Olympia just before 7am and managed to find my way to the right queue... delighted to find that there were maybe only less than 60 people ahead of me. Gone are the days when I would turn up for the show a half an hour early and start the queue off myself but... yeah... no use wallowing in nostalgia, I guess. This year the queue was moved into the building after only ten minutes after my arrival where, I’m delighted to say, there was a proper bag search and a big screen showing new movie trailers for people who got there early. The down side to this was that my two friends, who arrived at different times, were forced to queue separately as there was no way anybody could effectively save a place for people in the queue. I spent the next couple hours in the company of two charming ladies in the queue, Barbara and her daughter Jenny (pictured above), both of whom were in some way working in the entertainment industry and who regaled me with stories about meeting up with the likes of Sean Connery and Richard Harris. It was a pleasant couple of hours and I managed to slip two of my favourite jokes into the conversation. Barbara was a fan of Judy Garland and so I managed to get my “weigh a pie” joke in... and Jenny was a fan of Disney’s Stitch, so I managed to get my ‘difference between Robbie Burns and Walt Dis’nae’ joke in. So my work there was done.

When the show was officially open, the queue moved like wildfire as we were all just quickly scanned in and allowed to enter. I’ve not seen the hall that devoid of people in a good few years and it was nice to be able to wander around without accidentally recreating the Marx Brothers stateroom scene from A Night At the Opera. The organisers had really got the stalls and other entertainments on offer organised right by opening out into two halls (and upstairs for celebrity signings) and there was a hell of a lot more space to be able to get to look at everything properly this year. So well done, again, to Showmasters. Not something I was expecting to say about them but they really did an exemplary job this year... on the Friday, at least.

The stalls were great and this is the one show I see various different bits and pieces on offer that I wouldn’t normally see at the likes of the regular Westminster and Camden Film Fairs and it was good to see entire stalls devoted to pin badges, colourful shoes, weapons and props etc. That being said, there were hardly any DVD stalls this year and the majority of the few I found were overpriced... apart from one of the stallholders I know who always gets a good deal for people on the stuff he brings in and who brought me along some nice filmic treats in the form of the US Blu Rays of Belladonna Of Sadness and a Chesty Morgan triple feature. So thanks to Jason for that and thanks to the gentleman giving away free, signed copies of the first issue of comic book Trippers, which you can find more information about on the facebook page for Dark Dell Comics (I don’t do facebook myself but the first issue is well written so it’s probably worth a look).

My main reason for being here this year was to buy the three sets of vintage Topps Star Wars cards that weren’t available in this country in the 1970s... the yellow, green and orange sets. Alas, for the first time in a while, there wasn’t an abundance of dedicated trading card stalls (I think there were only two or three) and these particular cards were not something anyone had. One guy didn’t have any vintage cards at all although, I did manage to pick up the first three sets of Topps The Empire Strikes Back cards and the set they brought out for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, from the early 1980s, from another trader there. I also bought a preview mini set of the upcoming British Horror Film cards and was jammy enough to find a rare, hand signed, autograph card by Paul Stockman... he who played Konga in... erm... Konga.

However, while there were a lot of stalls at the show this year,  my one big criticism would be that there wasn’t nearly enough ‘old stuff’ for people like me on the stalls... mostly newly produced merchandise and, for the most part, a lot of the different stalls were interchangeable with a fair few specific types selling the same things as each other. Now, one of my stallholder friends had warned me that almost all the regular stall holders, bar two, from the Westminster and Camden Fairs, had flatly refused to attend this year because of the absolute disaster of the previous two years and... yeah... this really did show. I wanted to get some pre-Ecceleston Doctor Who DVDs and... really? Nobody was selling them here this year? That was somewhat unexpected.

The other thing I noticed, but I think this is purely because it was a Friday, rather than the Saturday and Sunday shows, was the small amount of cosplayers at this year’s event. Now there were some but I didn’t see battalions of Star Wars stormtroopers or Mega City lawmen that I usually see at these things. Nor did I see an abundance of Doctor Who cosplayers which was a big surprise. There wasn’t a fez in sight. I expect they were all there for the Saturday and Sunday shows, though, and if that’s the trade off for coming on a Friday... I think I’ll stick with the Friday show, thanks.

That being said, there were some wonderful cosplayers there and I am kicking myself for not asking the lady dressed up as Rey from The Force Awakens for a photo. The most unusual cosplay I’d seen in a while was the two ladies dressed as the twin girls from Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining... which was cool. Also saw a couple of people dressed as the Victorian Cybershades from the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special, The Other Doctor. So stuff like this was nice to see. However, I did see an abundance of ‘professional’ cosplayers wandering the halls with assistants holding a hat out. They were charging people money to take shots with them and, I dunno, this seems to be a little counter to what the spirit of cosplay is about but, hey, it’s up to them what they do. Free enterprise and all that.

My one negative experience this year was booking the tickets and that’s the one thing I can positively say was the fault of the organisers. I had to book for myself and two friends and the online ticket booking is on a timer. Unfortunately, it also wanted to know all the details (address, email, date of birth and such like) of everyone attending and, let me tell you, when you’re on a 15 minute timer... that’s not long enough. I had to try this twice and I only just beat it by about three seconds. So booking tickets wasn’t the most positive or practical experience in the world, it has to be said.

Even so, despite the lack of DVD and card stalls and the ticket buying woes, I have to say that this year’s London Film and Comic Con, for me and my two friends @cultofthecinema and Doctor Rob, was a resounding success and, though maybe a shadow of its former self in terms of ease of use and range of goods on display, a much better experience than it has been over the past few years. Lets hope Showmasters continue to learn and do good things in this arena and maybe they’ll win back some of their old stallholders, with any luck.

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