• Nicholas Brendon (Xander Harris from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Emma Caulfield (Anya Jenkins from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”)
• Mick Foley (Wrestler)
• Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas (Wrestler)
• Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk)
• TJ Thyne (Jack Hodgins from “Bones”)
• John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from “Lord Of The Rings”)
• Ian McElhinney (Ser Barristan Selmy from “Game Of Thrones”)
• James Cosmo (Lord Commander Jeor Mormont from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Tom Hopper (Sir Percival from “Merlin” & Dickon Tarly from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Dominic Carter (Ser Janos Slynt from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Brian Fortune (Othell Yarwyck from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Fintan McKeown (Ser Amory Lorch from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley from “Harry Potter”)
• Gideon Emery (Anatoly Ranskahov from “Daredevil” & Deucalion from “Teen Wolf”)
• Matt Ryan (John Constantine from “Constantine”)
• Emmett Scanlan (Jim Corrigan from “Constantine”)
• Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom”)
• Justin Lee Collins (Presenter)
Two quick notes before we get started...
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As we were heading home on Sunday afternoon, I was still on a different plane of existence, blissfully reliving the tremendous weekend in Wrexham. Suddenly, in the passenger’s seat, I sat bolt upright...“Oh no!”, I thought. “With ‘Wales Comic Con’ now perfecting the photo-printing, does this mean I’m going to have to start paying for digitals?!”
Before starting, a huge thank you to Kayte, Amy, Emma, Gareth, and Howard for allowing me to use their pictures and videos as part of the review. You can find Howard's entire 'Wales Comic Con' photo collection here.
‘Wales Comic Con 2017 Part I’ took place over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of April, at the usual venue of the Glyndŵr University campus. This was my 7th straight ‘Wales Comic Con’ event, which also means that this is my 7th straight review. Having written six introductions to this event before, I was struggling for anything new to say before diving into the actual review and the play-by-play of the weekend, so I thought I’d take a few paragraphs to explain why ‘Wales Comic Con’ means so much to me. More than any other event on my ridiculously-full convention calendar.
People who have read my reviews of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’ will know quite a lot about my backstory and my previous battles with depression, social anxiety, and using alcohol as a crutch back in my early-20s. I was never an alcoholic, but I was definitely using alcohol multiple times per week to mask some internal shit that was going on. I think most people that have met me over the last 5 years wouldn’t ever use the words ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’ to describe me, but for the longest time I was the awkward kid in the corner of the classroom. I was co-voted ‘most shy’ for my tutor group at the end of secondary school awards, which isn’t exactly the most flattering one to win. I wasn’t even popular enough to win it outright! I co-won. Talk about insult to injury. In short, I hated school. I was bullied relentlessly, I didn’t fit it, and while I had really good grades, I never belonged. Transitioning into my early teenage years, I started wrestling and mixed-martial arts (which was more commonly known as ‘cage fighting’ back then) in order to try and fight back against the bullies and give myself some much-needed self-esteem. On my first day of wrestling, I met Luke and Christian. Within weeks, we were best friends. Myself and Luke, in particular, were inseparable. The bullying stopped, life improved, and I went to college and started to blossom. Three weeks before my 18th birthday, Luke was hit by a car in London and passed away. I was crushed. Devastated. To be brutally honest, I don’t think I’ve ever truly recovered from it. Five months after this, while still struggling to keep my life together, Christian also died. In front of me. We were at wrestling training and he just dropped. Evidently, he had a heart condition he was unaware of and it just gave out. I gave him C.P.R., I travelled in the ambulance with him, but he was ‘dead on arrival’. In a lot of movies, you see people die in someone’s arms. That literally happened here.
Suffice to say, the next 5 years sucked. I was battling severe depression, I was numb, I didn’t think happiness was remotely possible again. This all culminated in an attempted suicide on July 20th 2011 (ironically, July 20th is Robyn (my girlfriend)’s birthday, but I didn’t know her then). I took around 50 painkillers, washed them down with whisky and vodka, wrote some goodbye notes to some people, and laid down on my bed waiting to die. More than anything else on this topic, the question I get asked is, “how could you be so selfish?! Didn’t you think about your friends and family?!”...the honest answer is ‘no’. When you’re that deeply entrenched in depression, it’s like you’re living in a bubble. You can have the odd good moment, you can still love people, but most of your time is spent inside this bubble and the only thing in there with you is your thoughts and feelings. It didn’t even enter my head that other people would be affected by my death. Miraculously, I woke up two hours later. No medical intervention, no vomiting, it just happened. I’m pretty sceptical when it comes to religion and I usually have to see things for myself to believe, but I don’t have an explanation for how I survived. I just did. After that, I decided I was here for a reason and somehow found the will to live again. Over the course of the next year, I righted all the wrongs, fixed my life, and have been entirely depression-free since mid-2012.
What does any of this have to do with “Wales Comic Con”? Allow me to explain.
Ever since losing my two closest friends, I’d always felt like an outcast. Like I never truly had a place in the world where I belonged. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great friendship circle here in Gloucestershire, but that sense of camaraderie, of unitedness, of belonging, had never been replicated. Until April 2014. From the first moment I stepped into ‘Wales Comic Con 2014 Part I’, I fell in love with the place. The venue, the atmosphere, the guests, the crew, the attendees I spoke to...everything. Over the course of the past three years, those feelings have only strengthened. I can’t even put my finger on why I love the place so much, I just do. For the first time in a decade, I feel as though there’s another place in the world where I truly belong. Everyone seems pleased to see me, many of the crew and guests have transitioned from acquaintances to friends, and subsequently to family. I don’t feel anxious there, I don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable, I just feel happy. Really happy.
Suffice to say, coming into this event, I had high hopes. ‘Wales Comic Con 2016 Part II’ was the strongest outing the team had ever put on (in my opinion) and I thought that if they could master the photo printing aspect of the event, this could be the closest definition you’ll ever find to a perfect signing event of this kind. If you go back and read my review of WCC2016PII, you’ll note that I had full faith in both Jaime’s team and Kayte’s team to deliver on the photo printing this time around. After spending “more than a house deposit” on new printers and with everyone determined to prove themselves, I can happily say that they kicked ass. Seriously kicked ass. I would have been perfectly happy if photos were printed 10-15 minutes after the session ended. It would have been a huge improvement over the last two events and everyone would have gone home happy. Alas, Jaime, Kayte, and everyone else involved weren’t content with that either, as all nine studio photos I had over the weekend were printed within 30-120 seconds. Legitimately. It was as fast as Showmasters, the only difference being that while Showmasters print it out in the same room as the photo was taken, it’s just outside the room at ‘Wales Comic Con’. I cannot overstate how impressed I was. It was easily the best photo-printing in WCC’s history. To the entire team in that area, from the team leaders to the photographers, from the crew inside to the crew outside controlling the lines, take a bow.
If anyone is missing, blame Kayte. She shared the picture....sorry, Kayte (not sorry).
Coupling the printing with the fact that ‘Wales Comic Con’ already has the best photographers on the convention scene (in my opinion), you have an unbeatable formula. The photos have always been great, but now they’re printed within a minute of you leaving the photo hall too. You could tell how pleased Kayte was because whenever Gareth would tell the attendees that they could collect their photo just outside the room right after leaving, Kayte would turn around and say, “yeah you can!”, mid-photo session or not. Best photographer on the circuit, ladies and gentlemen. By far. Unbelievably talented, extraordinarily charismatic, and now she’s got an efficient printing recipe too! Also, a big shout-out to Dave, who had the unenviable task this weekend of trying to control the photo area (I believe). You kicked ass. As did you, Gareth...and everyone else too! I’m not going to name everyone because I’ll forget someone and feel bad.
That's the photo building at 5:30pm on Saturday. Ordinarily, the room would be packed with people waiting for their photo to be printed at this time.
The only downside to this edition of ‘Wales Comic Con’ was that three guests upped their autograph prices from £20 to £30 over the course of Saturday morning. Unfortunately, Jaime and the team have little control over this from what I believe and I’m sure that Jaime will do everything in his power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Whether that’s an amended contract wording or something else. I know personally that Jaime wasn’t very pleased with the prices going up as he told me! I feel most sorry for the people that were already in the autograph queues when the prices suddenly changed. It’s just really bad form. The person in front of you pays £20, then suddenly you’re paying £30 for the same thing? That’s not fair whatsoever, and I know first-hand that it put many people off getting the autograph. At least 11 people that I can recall told me that they were going to get Emma Caulfield or Nicky Brendon’s autograph, but either decided against it or couldn’t afford it when they realised that it had transitioned from £20 to £30. It just reeks of money-grabbing. A lot of people that attend conventions don’t have a huge amount of free money. They save up for the convention and they plan their budgets according to the prices listed on the website. Yes, the website does say that they’re subject to change and down to the guest and/or the guest’s agent, but it’s so rare that autograph prices change, people just assume the prices on the website are 100% accurate. I would be furious if I’d travelled to WCC just to meet Nicky, Emma, and Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas, with £60 in my pocket, only to arrive there and realise I needed £90! In my opinion, zero blame here is on Jaime or the ‘Wales Comic Con’ team. They had the advertised prices up on the wall behind the guests, but the guests took it upon themselves to change the prices as they saw fit. The way forwards, in my eyes, is iron-clad contracts that prohibit this, but I must admit I don’t know enough about WCC’s specific pricing system in order to give an opinion with all of the relevant facts.
Finally, before jumping into the play-by-play, I must note two additional things. Firstly, the organisation was flawless. Every panel and every photo session I attended started on time or just after the advertised time, which is perfectly acceptable. It’s known as ‘con time’, ladies and gentlemen. It’s basically a 10-minute grace period. Furthermore, the entry queues were let in on time and everyone entered the venue swiftly on both days. Lastly, a huge shout-out to Jaime. Not only is he the most honest convention promoter around (or certainly has been in my experience!) and a genuinely good guy, but he’s tremendous at listening to constructive criticism and changing as necessary for the next show. Case in point: some of the vendors were moved out of the main autograph hall and into the marquee, meaning that there was less of a bottle-neck and congestion during peak signing times. Granted, there was still a little congestion – there always will be in that venue, but it was vastly, vastly superior to the previous shows that were this busy. Jaime, Ash, and everyone that crewed or was associated with helping out with the event, including security guards, assistants, and local police, should be proud of themselves. Everyone was polite, everyone did their job to a high-standard, and I have not heard a single instance of a crew member being rude or snappy, even under extreme pressure and hot weather conditions. You all did yourselves and Wrexham proud. Once again, I will mention very few names as I don’t want to miss anyone out.
Myself and my friend John left Gloucestershire at 7:15am on Saturday morning. The single greatest thing about getting press passes, without a doubt, is the ability to enter the venue as doors are opening. No queuing necessary. It means I can leave home a couple of hours later, save myself some stress, and potentially save myself some horrific outside queuing weather conditions. On this occasion, the weather was beautiful all weekend. It was definitely the best-case scenario weather. We arrived at the campus at 9:40am, giving us time to go inside, say “hi” to some people, collect our press passes and head to the autograph hall. The agenda for this weekend was relatively easy by my standards, but there was still a lot to accomplish, particularly as so many people want to come over and say “hi”, etc., at WCC (the feeling is mutual!). I needed to get autographs from Mick Foley, Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas, Brian Fortune, Tom Hopper, Fintan McKeown, Gideon Emery, and TJ Thyne, plus one from Emma Caulfield for my friend Jodie. In addition to that, I had three studio photos on Saturday (Emma Caulfield, Game Of Thrones group & John Rhys-Davies), plus a further six on Sunday (Nicky Brendon & Emma Caulfield duo, Mick Foley, Amy Dumas, TJ Thyne, Lou Ferrigno, and Gideon Emery). If I could also find the time to chat to some of the other guests I know quite well already, then that’s all the better! Plus, I also wanted to squeeze in the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Game Of Thrones” panels on Saturday. The intention was to get all the autographs on Saturday, meaning that Sunday was solely dedicated to photo sessions, chatting to people, and having the time to catch up with everyone. I can happily report that I ticked everything off the list and even a little more. The only sour point was that Kevin Nash had to pull out last-minute due to hundreds of flights being cancelled on the east coast of the United States as weather conditions were shitty. Not literally. Speaking of unpleasant smells, even though the weather was hot and sticky all weekend, I only had one person all weekend violate my nostrils with body odour! That must be some kind of record! To my fellow attendees, bravo. Your anti-perspirant use and the ability to hold a bar of soap and rub it on your body was much appreciated. If only the same could be said for some other conventions. I’m mostly looking at you, ‘LFCC’!
Within minutes of entering the autograph hall, I’d made up my mind that I’d get Mick Foley and Amy Dumas’ autographs first. Mick was probably going to be the busiest guest of the weekend that I needed an autograph from, so it just made sense to get that one done first. Before joining Mick’s autograph queue, I went to Grant Perkins’ art table in order to purchase a Mick Foley print for £10. Not only is Grant one of the best comic artists in the U.K., but his Mick Foley print was particularly well done. It contained Mick’s three greatest wrestling personas – Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love, in addition to Mick Foley himself...and even Mick dressed up as Santa Claus! For those unaware, Mick is a Christmas enthusiast. He has a Christmas room in his house, he dresses up as Santa Claus over the festive period, and he’s even written a book that is Christmas-centric and been the focus of a Christmas documentary. Christmas Day is my favourite day of the year, but even I don’t love it as much as Mick does. Bless him.
Mick Foley: After chatting to Grant and getting a general feeling for the layout of the hall, we headed over to Mick’s queue. By this point, early bird ticket holders had been let into the venue, so I was about 10th in Mick’s queue. No matter! Once the Mickster arrived, it would be a relatively swift process to get to the front. Mick, known for his professionalism and his frugal nature with money, was one of the first guests inside the hall. When I got to the front of the queue, I put the art print on the table for Mick to sign, and he was thoroughly pleased with it. He’d never seen it before, so it created an instant ice-breaker and unique talking point. I told Mick about Grant and mentioned that Grant intended to show Mick the print himself later in the day, so he needed to act surprised. Mick loved the print. To the point where he ended up signing it five times for the price of one autograph. When Mick was wrestling as Mankind, he had a signature specific to that character. The same goes for Cactus Jack and Dude love. Obviously, he has a real signature for himself, Mick Foley, too. Finally, for the ‘Mick Claus’ section of the art print, he signed it ‘SANTA!’ I was so busy talking to Mick, I didn’t notice he’d signed it five times until he said, “I probably won’t do this later in the day because my hand will be so tired, but this is such a cool print I feel obligated to sign all of them!” It was definitely appreciated. I asked Mick, given that he’s such a friendly and jolly gentleman in real life, where did he find all that aggression during the course of his wrestling career? For the non-wrestling fans amongst you, Mick might be the most insane, crazy, barbaric human being to ever step inside the squared-circle. He dived off 16-foot cages, his front teeth were knocked out and one of them was lodged in his nostril, a section of his ear was torn off in a match, he’s been through flaming tables, slammed face-first onto thumbtacks (read: drawing pins), and generally been a complete lunatic. Mick said that a lot of his wrestling promos and interviews that were intense stemmed from real-life feelings, just with the volume turned way up. For instance, he once saw a sign in the crowd that said ‘Cane Dewey’. Dewey was Mick’s then-four-year-old son. Mick held on to that feeling for months and unleashed it in a promo. As far as his intensity in the ring goes, he said his desire to have a memorable match overrode any fear he may have been feeling, so he would stubbornly do anything he needed to do in order to succeed. In an industry that is predominantly occupied by body-builders and chiselled athletes, Mick was a chubby 300-pounder. He needed a way to stand out and he took it. Plus, Mick looks great these days. He started DDP Yoga a year ago and has subsequently lost 100 pounds (7.2 stone).
Finally, I was listening to Chris Jericho (another WCC alumni)’s podcast with Mick a couple of weeks before ‘WCC’ and Mick mentioned that Vince McMahon originally wanted his character to be called ‘Mason the Mutilator’. Oh, damn. I can just see that selling out Madison Square Garden, can you? That would have been a career-killing gimmick. Mick said that he can do two impressions – 1) ‘Yo Adrian, I did it!’ from “Rocky”, and 2) Vince McMahon. So Mick took us back to the meeting he had with Vince McMahon. Vince: “We’ve had ‘crushers’, we’ve had ‘destroyers’, but we’ve never had....a mutilator!” *insert tumbleweed here*. Mick knew that his career was over if he said ‘yes’ to this gimmick and he’d been working on a character himself, Mankind. He encouraged Vince to change the gimmick and the name to ‘Mankind the Mutilator’, so that’s actually on the Titantron for his debut match in WWE (then ‘WWF’)! By the second match, it had been shortened to ‘Mankind’ (much to Mick’s delight) and his career flourished soon thereafter. A selfie with Mick was £30(!) if you weren’t buying an autograph or £10 if you were. As I had a studio photo with Mick booked for the following day, I decided to save the £10. Mick is relatively unique in that he was a ‘big guest’ that I had a decent conversation with. I’ve decided to split the difference and label him a ‘responder’, as my time with him was quite limited, but he still made the experience and conversation a memorable one. Guest Type = Responder (Big Guest)
(Regular readers, you can skip this section)
“Shangel, what’s a ‘responder’?”
I’m glad you asked. Many years ago, after attending numerous conventions, I devised a system whereby to categorise my experiences with guests and their level of interaction in order to compare the quality of my experiences across conventions and time. I have O.C.D., shut up. The following three types were found :-
· The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you comment on something, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. These are the most common type of guest, and this is what you expect when meeting someone at a convention. This is a great category to be a part of.
· The Groucho/Big Guest: There are two aspects to this category. Firstly, you have the groucho. The groucho is there for monetary purposes or is generally just having a bad day, or is a bit of an ass. If you meet enough people, one of them is bound to be an ass! The grouchos aren’t interested in conversations above a few words. They’ll say ‘hi’ (sometimes they don’t bother with that), sign, say ‘bye’ (sometimes), and you’re on your merry way. Of course, in certain situations this is relevant and expected, which brings me to the second part of this category, the big guest. Some guests are going to be insanely popular. Such as Stan Lee at LFCC ‘14, who had an entire building to himself basically. When you get a huge queue like that, the guest can’t take a lot of time with everyone. If they did, many people would go home disappointed at not getting to meet them at all. Therefore, the convention company and the guest want to get through as many people as possible. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute with them, which is perfectly fair.
· The Conversationalist: This is easily my favourite type of guest. They’ll answer your questions with a smile, ask you questions in return, and are happy to chat for an extended period of time (extended = above 2-3 minutes), regardless of where the conversation leads or how long you’ve been talking. Obviously, there has to be some cut-off point if there is a queue behind you, but you leave the experience feeling euphoric and like you gained a lot more than just the autograph you queued for.
Feel free to let me know your experiences with guests in the comments below or on social media!
Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas: I have to keep writing “Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas” as she wrestled most of her career under the name ‘Lita’, but her real name is ‘Amy Dumas’. For the remainder of this review, I shall just call her Amy. No more Lita. That’ll simplify the situation a bit. Having met Amy at ‘LFCC 2014’, I knew from experience that she isn’t the most talkative person. She does talk, she does respond, she’s really polite, but she’s not naturally someone who’ll carry a conversation in a convention setting, which is fine. Some people are shy. Not a problem whatsoever! As long as the guest is polite, gives you a little eye-contact, and doesn’t brush you off, I’ll leave happy. Even so, I was a huge Lita fan growing up. I would easily label her my favourite female wrestler of all-time. While still not the most talkative person in the world, Amy was chattier than she was in London nearly three years earlier. To be honest, I was just happy she managed to get to Wrexham! I was fearful that Amy and Mick might have similar flight problems to Kevin. Ours was more of a general conversation for the most part – Wrexham, Wales, conventions, flights, etc., but we also discussed the new female wrestling revolution that has been transpiring in the WWE over the past year or so. Amy admitted that she would have really liked to have had the lion’s share of her career in the WWE of today, as they’re able to have longer matches, more creative freedom, and more exposure than the female wrestlers were able to back in Amy’s day. Nevertheless, Amy loved her career and I don’t think she’d change a thing ultimately. Much like Mick, it was £10 for a picture with Amy at the autograph table if you were getting an autograph too. Once again, I had a studio photo booked for the following day, so I decided to skip it and save the money. Gotta be frugal, ladies and gentlemen! Guest Type = Responder.
I was on a roll! Two down within 30 minutes, ideally 4 or 5 more to go before the Buffy talk at 1:30pm.
Tom Hopper: I mentioned to Tom that the last I saw him was at ‘Film & Comic Con Bournemouth’ in September 2016. He was covered in long, thin balloons and was sword-fighting with Ray Park. It was the end of the day at that particular convention, so Tom, Ray, and the wrestlers had all descended into teenagers and were running around attacking each other with balloons. It was hilarious. Tom had a chuckle about it as he remembered everything that happened, before we started talking about his imminent role in “Game Of Thrones”. The first thing Tom said was, “how does everyone know about this already?! I thought it was still a secret!” It’s not. It was announced a couple of months ago. However, I’ve known since about August last year because someone on the cast told me. Mwhahaha! For those unaware, Tom will be taking over the role of Dickon Tarly, Samwell’s brother, from Freddie Stroma (Cormac McLaggen from ‘Harry Potter’), who was unable to return for season seven after being cast in ‘Time After Time’, where he is portraying H.G. Wells. To be fair, Freddie is the lead in ‘Time After Time’, so he couldn’t really turn that down to play a secondary character in “Game Of Thrones”. Tom mentioned that he couldn’t say much about “Game Of Thrones” (which I knew before getting to Tom’s autograph table), but that it was a real pleasure to be part of such a massive franchise. The budget is huge, so the actors are very well looked after. He said the catering was particularly great. Gotta feed those muscles! He also said the security was quite extensive too. HBO make sure that the actor’s passwords are as strong as possible and that their phone and email’s security settings are as high as possible. He echoed what Indira Varma said to me the previous month, which is that whenever he tries to access his emails from a new computer or I.P. address now, he has to pass through a load of security questions and verifications before he can get to his emails. Sounds like a right pain in the ass, but it’s perfectly understandable considering the show and the amount of surprises it contains. Finally, we chatted about “Doctor Who” and what it was like filming on the show. Tom said in many ways it felt like recording a pilot episode, only that this pilot episode had 50 years of backstory and affection. Tom appears in “The Eleventh Hour”, which was Steven Moffat (as Showrunner), Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill’s first episode. It was almost like the ‘reset’ button was pushed after David Tennant and Russell T. Davies departed. Tom was, without doubt, one of my favourite guests of the weekend. Really chatty, didn’t need to be prompted to tell stories, and came across like he was having a blast being at ‘Wales Comic Con’. Definitely on the recommended list if you were ever in a position to meet him. I also got a picture with Tom at the autograph table. Great guy. Guest Type = Conversationalist.
Fintan McKeown: Continuing down the ‘Game Of Thrones’ list, next up was Fintan. I’d actually seen Fintan before at ‘Film & Comic Con Cardiff’ in 2015, but due to a lack of funds, I was unable to get his autograph. ‘Wales Comic Con’ gave me the opportunity to correct that error. Fintan was the perfect definition of a ‘responder’ guest. While ‘conversationalist’ is the best and my favourite type of guest, ‘responder’ is also great. I don’t want people to read ‘responder’ in relation to someone and feel disappointed. When you attend a convention, ‘responder’ is what you should be expecting. Very few guests are rude or dismissive (thankfully) and ‘conversationalists’ are an unexpected bonus. In the case of Fintan, he was a nice guy. He would happily answer any questions and was giving great eye-contact throughout, but he wouldn’t carry the conversation or burst into long, detailed stories without prompting. We talked about his time on “Game Of Thrones”, which he looks back at with fond memories. His only regret (other than being dead on the show) is that Amory didn’t die the same way on the show that he did in the books (mauled by a bear in a fighting pit). Fintan’s autograph was just £10, plus a picture at the table with him was free, once again proving that ‘Wales Comic Con’ is usually the cheapest convention around. At some other U.K. events, if an actor has so much as sneezed in an episode of “Game Of Thrones”, their autograph is £15 by default. Fintan was a nice guy! Definitely worth the money, particularly as the ‘selfie’ (bleaugh!) was free. Guest Type = Responder.
Brian Fortune: ‘Wales Comic Con’ was Brian’s first ever convention appearance, so there was a part of me that was expecting the ‘deer in headlights’ scenario. Thankfully, that was not the case. Brian seemed a little nervous, but largely at ease with the day’s proceedings. The first thing I asked Brian was what had made him decide to finally take the convention plunge. Brian said that he’s friends with Emmett Scanlan (who was also at this WCC event) and Emmett had been trying to convince Brian to attend one for years. A combination of Emmett’s encouragement and the fact he was asked gave Brian a prime opportunity to try out the convention scene. I think he had a great time, so I’m sure he’ll pop up at a few more soon! I know he’s scheduled for ‘Crown Con 2’ next month and has been for some time, so likely this is just the beginning. The unique thing about Brian is that his acting career didn’t start at all until he was in his late-30s. While that’s certainly not old in lifetime terms, in acting terms it’s pretty damn late to change careers and become an actor, almost from scratch. It’s cool to see how much his career has flourished and if I were in my 30s and thinking about becoming an actor, I’d definitely look to Brian as encouragement that it can be done. Brian appeared in “Game Of Thrones” seasons 1, 4, 5, and 6, so I asked Brian if he noticed any differences between the first season and when he returned in season four. Brian said he instantly noticed that the production budget had gone up as everything was suddenly first-class – amazing catering, a weapons training area in Belfast, incredible special effects, etc. I asked Brian if he knew how big of a moment Jon’s stabbing was going to be when they were filming the scene. Brian said he did know. He thought it was going to be the most shocking moment on television anywhere since Game Of Thrones’ ‘Red Wedding’ a couple of seasons earlier. The internet response to Jon’s “death”, particularly at the hands of his own men, was enormous. It filled my Facebook newsfeed for days afterwards. Brian said it was an honour to be a part of such an iconic moment in television history, but the downside was that he knew Jon (or someone) was going to kill him off in revenge quite soon afterwards and he didn’t want to leave the show as he loved working on it. He expected to be killed in episode one of season six, so at least he was around for a couple of episodes more than he expected! Logistically, he said Othell (his character)’s hanging was nerve-wracking during the first take because even though the hanging isn’t real, you’ll still get that feeling of your legs giving out from under you and the feeling of being suspended. By the 20th take, all nerves were gone and he was ready to finish filming. Hilarious! Brian was a delight. Once again, the autograph was £10 and the picture at the table was free, so it was a bargain compared to some other places. Brian also referred to me by name throughout the conversation and when I was leaving. Always a nice touch. Great guy! Guest Type = Responder.
Ian McElhinney: Right next to Fintan and Brian, sat Ian McElhinney, who I’ve affectionately labelled ‘Granddad Ian’ to my friends. I think this was my 6th time meeting Ian, so I didn’t need an autograph or anything, but as his table had just gone quiet, I thought it would be okay to have a chat and get a picture with him. The crew member seemed fine with it, Ian greeted me like an old friend, so I proceeded to chat to Ian for about 10 minutes. Ian is, without doubt, a top 10 guest of all-time for me. He’s always super friendly, he always has a thousand stories to tell, and he legitimately enjoys interacting with the fans and attending conventions. Plus, he’s a big fan of the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ book series (the books ‘Game of Thrones’ is based on), so he’s a great person to talk theories and ideas with. In fact, in 2014, it was Ian I first told my theory about Jon’s parents to. Turns out, I was right. Boom! In addition to being an amazing convention guest and human being in general, Ian sounds just like my grandfather, who passed away a little over a decade ago. Talking to Ian is like having him back for a few minutes, so it’s just as exciting on an emotional level as it is on a fanboy one. As we’ve talked about “Game Of Thrones” so, so extensively before, this time we chatted about ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Zoo’. Since I last saw Ian in November, ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ has been released. Ian has a small, but fun role in the movie. I asked Ian what it was like filming on ‘Star Wars’ and how it compared to other large franchises he’s appeared in. Ian said that working on ‘Star Wars’ is obviously a bucket list item, but he preferred ‘Game Of Thrones’...and not just because his role is much bigger. He said that on ‘Game Of Thrones’, they tell you exactly what they want and exactly what they’re trying to convey. On ‘Rogue One’, they were trying to figure out the tone of the film as they went along, so Ian didn’t know how they wanted him to act in certain scenes. Whether he was supposed to feel confident, nervous, overwhelmed, etc. So, he tried a few different performances during the multiple takes and hoped they’d choose the one that fit with the tone they ultimately wanted to go for. He said that the anthology ‘Star Wars’ movies were probably way different, but as ‘Rogue One’ was standalone, it was unique in tone. I mentioned that from a fan perspective it was a weird feeling, as going into the movie you assumed that all the main characters were going to die as they weren’t in Episode IV.
Soon after, we talked about ‘Zoo’, an upcoming film starring Ian, as well as Toby Jones, Penelope Wilton, Game of Thrones’ Art Parkinson, and others. It’s about a 10-year-old boy who fights to save ‘Buster’, a baby elephant, during the German air raid bombings of Belfast in 1941. Ian talked about filming the majority of the movie in Belfast, but also travelling to India to film scenes with a real baby elephant! Even as a baby, it was the same height as Ian. Ian said he was initially worried that the elephant would have a tantrum and flatten him, but in reality the elephant was really well behaved....barring one moment when his feet started to scrape the ground and he looked as though he was going to charge. That must have been a ‘shit yourself’ moment. Ian mentioned that he had no idea that elephants have little hairs all over their body, so stroking an elephant isn’t quite as rough as you’d imagine it to be by looking at them. I want a pet elephant now, who’s gonna buy one for me for my 28th birthday in June? Anyone? I wished Ian good luck for ‘Stoke-Con-Trent’ the next day (no, that’s not a typo, that’s the convention name), he gave me a hug, we took a picture together (free ‘cause press), and I left. Guest Type = Conversationalist. Always go and meet Ian. Every time.
Gideon Emery: By this point in the day, it was 12:30pm. I was on schedule, I was having a great time, and I was killing it with the guests at the autograph table. At some conventions, I’m not so talkative with the guests. I always try my best, but sometimes I leave thinking, “hmmm...you could have done better there.” At this particularly ‘WCC’, I felt as though my conversational juices were flowing and I’d entered a decent rhythm. Just Gideon and TJ left before the Buffy talk at 1:30pm! Seems pretty doable to me. Alas, there were 2 things I didn’t count on: 1) How slow TJ was signing (I mean that as a positive, more on it later), and 2) How talkative Gideon was. When I look back at this past weekend, lack of sleep and brain-fog included, I think Gideon ended up being my favourite guest. I already knew that the likes of Ian and Chris Rankin were awesome. I already knew I’d have an amazing time. It’s the unknowns that throw up the question marks. I hadn’t met Gideon before. I didn’t know what to expect. Gideon was amazing. Absolutely amazing. His autograph price was £20, pictures with him at the autograph table were free (rare for £20 guests), and he was giving away a free CD or DVD of his if you purchased 2x autographs or more. He’s one of those actors that everyone knows, but some aren’t sure where they know him from. He’s had a lot of guest roles in big franchise shows, he’s done a lot of voice-over work, and he’s narrated a lot of audiobooks. This, naturally, gave me a lot to talk about. I know Gideon predominantly from “Daredevil”. I love his work on the show, so I started by telling him that. I also asked how it was filming his character’s death scene in the show, as it’s quite gory. His head gets repeatedly smashed in by a car door. Gideon mentioned that he did all his own stunts on the show, except his death scene. After fighting Vincent D’Onofrio (Wilson Fisk) for most of the night, he didn’t really have the energy to film the death scene. Particularly as it was quite a risky stunt. There was a wedge in the car door to stop it from slamming on Gideon’s head, but it’s still a real car! There is the potential for bits of metal to come sticking out or for the wedge to fail, etc. After one look at the setup, Gideon said ‘no thanks, the stunt-double can do that one, please’. The way Gideon told this story was hilarious as he stood up to start acting out the door slamming and how he walked off after saying the stunt-double could do it. He’s a natural storyteller. I can see why he gets so many audiobook narrating jobs!
Speaking of narrating, I also asked Gideon what the processes were like for recording video game voice-overs and narrating audiobooks and how they compare to each other. Gideon said that audiobooks are great because they’ll let you keep reading until you ‘fluff up’ (we all know what word he meant there). He can usually go for 4-5 hours and then he needs a break. I told him that I’ve been reading a lot of my Master’s degree books out loud recently and I need a break after one chapter, so five hours is fine. He also talked about video game voice-overs, where you have to keep saying the same line a hundred different times in thirty different ways so they have a lot of material to choose from. I bet that gets repetitive after a while. As Grimm’s final episode aired last week, I felt obligated to ask Gideon about ‘Grimm’ too. I love that show. I have given Jaime the contact details for one of the strongly recurring cast members (the person in question has become a friend of mine), so hopefully a deal can be reached at some point to bring them over to a future ‘Wales Comic Con’ or ‘Fanatic Expo’. That would be awesome. In ‘Grimm’, Gideon plays a Wesen made of fire, so Gideon said it was a unique role as it’s not often he gets to run around on set in just his underwear, while on fire. Sounds like a standard Saturday night to me. I cannot overstate how awesome Gideon was. The free CD or DVD and the free ‘selfies’ just enforced how damn cool he is. Hugely talented, really friendly, a natural-born storyteller, and definitely worth your money if you’re attending a convention where Gideon is a guest. Jacqui has all the coolest guests on her client list. Guest Type = Conversationalist.
Myself and John headed over to TJ’s autograph queue, which was still rather large. We had virtual queuing #24 and they had just started calling up to 25. Great timing! It was now 1:00pm. TJ had to leave for his photo session/lunch at 1:15pm. During the first 10 minutes we were in the queue, we moved forwards 2 spaces...because two people left. We could see that it was an impossibility to get to the front before we needed to head to the Buffy talk, so we bit the bullet and decided to come back later. Made absolutely no difference to me as we were there all day, so why not? The crew member controlling TJ’s autograph line, whose name I don’t know as I believe it was her first time crewing, was tremendous. Mav, definitely bring her back! She was genuinely apologetic that the line was moving so slowly, so I told her it was fine. I’d rather wait an extra 30 minutes and have an unforgettable experience than rush to the front and leave a little disappointed. I’d take the wait every single time. It just meant that TJ wanted to spend time with everybody. He wanted to make sure every single person left his autograph table glowing with happiness. When he attended ‘LFCC 2014’, he was definitely the overwhelming majority of people’s favourite guest that weekend. Thus far, it seems to be the case at ‘Wales Comic Con’ too. Not only did he chat to everyone for ages, but pictures at the autograph table were free (once again, rare for a £20 guest) and he was giving everyone a little goody bag with every autograph, which included 2x ‘Bones’ pictures, 1x mini magnifying glass, and 1x little plastic insect. If you’ve seen “Bones”, you’ll understand all of that. It also looks as though he fronted the bill for the ‘Bones’ pictures himself, as the back of the pictures shows that that were printed via a website in Phoenix, Arizona. What an incredible human being! I’ve never, ever met a guest that put so much effort into making sure everyone had a good time meeting him. Ever...but more on TJ later.
Next up: the ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ talk. Highlights from the panel include :-
● Sadly, Nicky Brendon is definitely off the sober bandwagon at present. Back in Nicky’s old drinking days, he’d trash hotel rooms and show up drunk. He did none of that here (as far as I’m aware), but he was definitely drinking the night before this panel at the very least. I’ve met Nicky many times. I’ve had some really deep talks with Nicky about our respective battles with depression and with his alcoholism. Hell, I once arranged for people from all over the world to send me cards and presents to give to Nicky when he was really battling to stay sober in 2015. The point is, I know Nicky well enough to know when something’s not quite right. I’m sure 99% of the people at the convention noticed nothing, but I noticed the hand twitches that aren’t usually there, I noticed the red eyes, I noticed the abnormal comments and hyperactivity. One of my friends met Nicky at ‘Sci-Fi Weekender’ the weekend before ‘Wales Comic Con’ and she mentioned to me that Nicky had a pint of beer in his hand then. Alas, I assumed it was non-alcoholic beer. I love Nicky. A lot. I’ve had deeper talks with Nicky than any other main cast member of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, my favourite ever franchise (with the potential exception of James Marsters), so I hope this is a temporary blip and he’s all good again soon. Again, to reiterate, he wasn’t unprofessional, he didn’t stink of alcohol, he was very pleasant all weekend, and I’m sure that everyone who met him had a great time, but he was definitely no longer on the sober train.
● Ed, the host of both the ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Game Of Thrones’ panels I attended, was tremendous. You can tell he’s a fan, he’s engaging, he’s energetic, but he doesn’t make the panel all about himself. Excluding the introduction, the ending, and when the crew are running around with the microphone to get the next question, Ed largely plays the role of interviewer. I’ve seen too many instances of hosts making panels a platform to promote themselves, so thankfully Ed was professional throughout both of them. Great job.
● Nicky came out on stage in ripped jeans (by design) and mentioned that he only bought them a week ago. Funny. Even though Nicky was not his usual self (see: above), he was hilarious throughout this panel. Perhaps a little inappropriate in places considering there were kids in the room, but nothing you wouldn’t hear at your average ‘Torchwood’ panel. Nicky is Xander. Exchange ‘carpenter’ for ‘actor’ and make the humour a little more risqué, and you’d have the same person.
● It was Emma’s birthday, so everyone sang ‘happy birthday’ to her.
● Nicky announced that he was entering gender reassignment treatment. I’m fairly certain he was joking.
Emma: “What are you talking about?!”
Nicky: “I’m chopping my penis off. It’s not like I’m using it anyway...plus, it keeps dripping.”
● Nicky’s hyperactivity was clearly annoying Emma at some points. She yelled “SHUT UP!” to him three times and said, “God, you’re so annoying!” She later mentioned that she loves him really.
● Nicky tried to get Emma to sing by serenading her with “I’ll Never Tell”. Eventually, she caved and joined in briefly. That was a cool moment.
● Someone asked Nicky what his favourite season of the show was....
Nicky: “The first three because she *points to Emma* wasn’t in it.”
Ouch. He was kidding, but ouch. Also, the fanboy in me has to say that Emma was in season three.
● Nicky made a Special Olympics joke in relation to Buffy. The general intention was to highlight that there was never a bad moment on the show because the writing was so good that even the bad moments were great. However, the analogy he used was, “What’s better than being in the Special Olympics? Not being in the Special Olympics.” Oh, Nicky...
● He followed this up with another joke – “What’s the best part about fucking 24-years-olds?”...“There are 20 of them.” It’s impossible to write that joke correctly grammatically as the whole joke is based on wordplay, but I’m sure you know what the joke was just by reading it.
● In an odd twist, we transitioned from a paedophile joke into Emma talking about a little boy she met earlier in the day at ‘Wales Comic Con’. The boy is called ‘Leon’. Leon has Cerebral Palsy and needs £80,000 in order to get the treatment he needs. Emma asked if a collection bag could be placed at the door before the end of the panel so that people could donate to Leon’s treatment funds if they so wished. It was a classy move on her part. Emma has recently had a child of her own (her first), so I’m sure this touched a nerve for her personally. In fact, whenever Emma saw a baby this weekend, she would run over to cuddle it. Even in the middle of a photo session! Bless her, she was clearly missing her own child. To Nicky’s credit, he echoed Emma’s words and said that he’d perform the ‘Snoopy Dance’ at the end of the panel under the condition that people contributed to Leon’s fund. For anyone who can spare a little money, here is Leon’s Just Giving account link - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/leonsfirststeps - As of writing this, they have raised £53,204 of the £80,000 needed. Every little helps!
● Nicky and Emma were talking about their favourite characters on “Buffy” and then Nicky mentioned that he hated Riley...and Dawn...and Angel. Emma told him he needed to stop talking before he got himself into trouble. LOL. Think that train might have left the station at ‘Special Olympics’, Emma.
● Someone asked Emma if she’d have liked Anya to be a vampire in the show, whether it was a dream sequence or an alternate reality, or as part of the show in general. Nicky said Emma would look the same with the makeup as she normally does. Buuuuurn. They have such a brother-sister, love-hate relationship going on.
● A young girl asked Nicky and Emma who their favourite Slayer was. Nicky and Emma both invited the girl to sit with them on the sofa on the stage in order to ask the question there. Very classy move. She must have been in Heaven...or terrified...or both. Nicky joked that his favourite Slayer was Kendra and he did an impression of Kendra’s accent, which was hilarious. He said his favourite Slayer was Buffy, but then whispered to the girl that it was secretly Faith, but that she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. Very cool moment.
● The Head of the W.B. once told Nicky that he should host his own talk show.
● Nicky and Emma were both scared of the Gentlemen. Nicky would often have cigarettes with the actors and actresses playing the ‘Monster of the Week’, but the Gentlemen creeped him out too much to do that.
● Nicky said Angel isn’t a monster, David Boreanaz is. He said that a few times. I think he was joking?
● A baby started crying during the talk. Nicky asked if the baby needed feeding and then offered his own milk, grabbing his chest.
● Emma likes bunnies. Sorry to disappoint you all.
● Emma is terrified of sharks. She finds them fascinating and spectacular, but she’s terrified of them. So much so that she almost never goes in the ocean, and the few times that she has, she’s been too anxious to stay in for very long.
● Joss Whedon told Nicky at the recent EW Buffy Reunion that he’s aging really well – “Like Carrie Grant”. Then Nicky and Emma both joked that they’ve aged the best of the Buffy cast because they were both ranked in some Australian magazine’s ’25 hottest people’ after the reunion.
● Nicky performed the ‘Snoopy Dance’, as promised, to close out the panel. He even pulled a crew member on stage to do so (the crew member with the collection bag for Leon). The crew member looked horrified, but at least avoided having to do the dance itself.
Right after the Buffy panel, it was time for the ‘Game Of Thrones’ panel, consisting of Ian McElhinney, Fintan McKeown, Brian Fortune, Dominic Carter, and the always-loveable James Cosmo. Highlights! :-
● Ian said that there’s no way to please every fan with who ultimately ends up on the Iron Throne, so Westeros should just be blown up entirely by dragon fire. Personally, I think the Iron Throne will be melted down for Valyrian Steel during the battle with the White Walkers.
● Ian attributes the success of ‘Game Of Thrones’ to the surprises that the show consistently puts out, but he also noted that this brings about additional pressures as they always have to try and top themselves.
● Fintan noted that he watched the first season after being cast in the second one. He was instantly ‘enthralled’. He mentioned that advancing virtual effects runs the risk of real drama disappearing, so you need real, gritty characters in order to succeed now, which is what ‘Game Of Thrones’ has.
● Someone asked the cast to play ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid: Westeros Edition’. James Cosmo amusingly noted that his character is celibate, so he couldn’t possibly partake in the snogging or marrying.
Ian: “I’m glad you mentioned that, James! Mine’s celibate too!”
● It was unanimous amongst all five actors that they want Littlefinger to be the next villain to die on the show. Cersei isn’t going anywhere until the final season.
● Someone asked them which character they would bring back from the dead other than themselves. Ian semi-cheated and said he always wanted The Hound to be brought back...then he was! Brian offered to bring Lord Commander Mormont back if James would bring Othell back. They started making deals. Hilarious.
● James was really fulfilled by Lord Commander Mormont’s death. He died protecting a lady and went out swinging...“I wish they weren’t drinking out of my skull quite so quickly afterwards...”
● Ian was glad that Ser Barristan got a decent fight scene before being killed off, especially as he was built up as the greatest fighter in Westeros. Ian did joke that he wished Barristan had won a few more fights on screen. Ideally, in his vision, Ser Barristan, would have died in battle right at the end of the series.
● Fintan reiterated that he wished Ser Amory had died on screen like he did in the books. He described the battle with the bear in explicit detail, which got some big chuckles.
● James Cosmo joked that ideally, Lord Commander Mormont would have been found dead from exhaustion, with six young ladies surrounding him, and for the audience to discover that the celibacy was just a front.
● James has not read the books, but after he was cast on the show, a friend of his in America used to tell him of his survival chances each season as he was reading 1x book for every 1x season – “I’ve got to the end of book one, James. It’s looking good! You’re still alive!”...“I’ve got to the end of book two, James! It’s looking good! You’re still alive!”...“I’ve got to the end of book three, James! You’re dead!” It was a great story.
● Ian read the first five books (all that are currently out) after being cast on the show. For a long time, the book was on a shelf in his dressing room for the theatre performance he was in. The size of the book put him off. Eventually, he decided to start it, loved it, and couldn’t put it down for another 2 hours. The only downside is that because he’d read the books, he was looking forward to Ser Barristan’s expanded role for the fifth season (Ser Barristan becomes a point-of-view character, so gets way more time dedicated to him). When he received the scripts, he was disappointed to find out that Ser Barristan was being killed off halfway through the season and they were going in a different direction in Meereen than in the books.
● Brian joked that he couldn’t read the books because after it was announced that the show would be primarily filmed in Belfast, there were no copies of any of the books left in Ireland as every actor had bought them to try and get on the show!
● Dominic Carter was contemplating reading the books. He filmed a scene with Peter Dinklage early in season two and asked Peter if he’d read the books. Peter said, “no!”, so Dominic decided he wasn’t going to bother either.
● Someone asked the cast if they thought Jon and Daenerys would end up together. Ian said no because it’s too obvious and the show always goes against that. Plus, Ian noted that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt. James didn’t know this as he hasn’t watched much of the show since leaving, so he made a funny noise of derision. James said that he’d just imagined getting with his own aunt and it scared him. Amazing way to end the panel.
With the ‘Game of Thrones’ panel finishing at 3:00pm, it was time to head over to the photoshoot building for my back-to-back-to-back photos with Emma Caulfield, the ‘Game Of Thrones’ group photo, and John Rhys-Davies. As I mentioned earlier in the review, the entire photo building team nailed it all weekend. As Emma’s started a liiiiiiiittle late, it clashed with the ‘Game Of Thrones’ group photo, so while I was queuing in Hall A waiting for Emma’s session to start, Gareth took me next door to Hall B, as the ‘Game Of Thrones’ group photo was coming to a close. He then put me back in the same place in Emma’s queue afterwards. Awesome! Right after coming out of Emma’s photo session, it was time for John’s. John was in high spirits throughout. He was joking with everybody, laughing as someone handed him a real axe to use as a prop for their photo (a security guard oversaw the whole ordeal as the axe was real), and then he joked that the axe was heavier than he thought it would be. Tremendous man! Three photos down within 30 minutes, 3 photos collected almost instantly afterwards.
It was now 4:30pm. This gave me 90 minutes to get TJ’s autograph, get Emma’s autograph for Jodie, and say “hi” to some people before heading to the Premier Inn to rest up and rehydrate.
TJ Thyne: I cannot oversell this man. One of the loveliest, most charming, most interesting, genuinely nice people I’ve ever met, whether at a convention or out in the real world. Just a class-act through and through. Gave everyone a little goody bag, free pictures at the autograph table, gave everyone a lot of time to talk to him...phenomenal! At these signing events, as we’ve discovered, the guests and their agents have a lot of sway over the autograph prices and selfie charges. In fact, they basically dictate the prices themselves. While some people were upping their prices, TJ was making goody bags. While some people were charging £30 for ‘selfies’, TJ’s were free. While some people needed the guarantee of a mini-fridge and six massages in order to step on the plane and come to ‘Wales Comic Con’ (I won’t say who as I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to know), TJ stayed for 90 minutes after closing on Sunday in order to make sure everybody who wanted an autograph got one (this was verified to me by crew members). Just glancing around an autograph hall, you can usually tell who’s there primarily for money and who’s there primarily to meet the fans before you’ve even spoken to the guests. You can see it in the prices, the amendments, the hand-written notes on the wall. I’ve never met a guest before that has gone all-out that much to make sure everybody had a great time. Legend. I mentioned to TJ that I’d briefly met him before in London, getting an autograph for my girlfriend, Robyn. At that time, I’d never seen “Bones”. Fast-forward 3 years later, I’ve seen every season because of Robyn. I love the show. TJ loved the story and was genuinely excited that I’d seen the show now. Not only that, he wanted to know my opinions on certain things as well!
We also discussed “Angel”, as TJ appeared in three episodes of the fifth and final season. I asked what it was like to work on “Angel”, etc. TJ loved his time on “Angel”, particularly as his career was still in its relative infancy. Certainly when it came to cult shows like “Angel”. He singled Andy Hallett (Lorne) out as being particularly gracious and fun to work with. We miss you, Andy! He asked about my Master’s degree, he asked where I’d travelled from, he asked about the blog. For every question I asked, he asked one too. Absolutely tremendous person. £20 for a long conversation, an autograph, a goody bag, and a free picture with him at the autograph table. What more can you ask for? He’s the consummate convention guest. If you’re an organiser, book him. He’s going to give every attendee everything he has. If you’re an attendee and TJ is at a convention with you, for the love of God go and meet him. You won’t be disappointed. Guest Type = Conversationalist.
Emma Caulfield: I will admit, the price hike stuck in my gut a bit. Even though it’s for someone else and they’re paying, I don’t like price changes while the day is already underway. Even so, I really like Emma. I always have. A lot of people who met Emma at ‘Vampire Ball’ weren’t so keen, but she was really gracious to me. After the event was over, she made a point of tracking me down, hugging me, and thanking me for all my help. I met her fiancé that weekend too. 3 years later, she’s married (yes, the same man) and has a child. To be fair to Emma, her father passed away a couple of weeks ago, so there was a part of me that was expecting Emma not to come at all as she’s clearly still grieving. Emma showed up, made her commitments, and all the interactions I had with her over the weekend were positive. I got to Emma’s autograph table just as she was packing up. Emma saw me and said she was happy to sign it now. I said it was no bother to come back and do it tomorrow if she was leaving, but she graciously insisted in getting it done there and then as I was already at the autograph table. We reconnected, caught up on life a little bit, and she made a point of personalising the autograph a little more too, telling Jodie that she was sorry she couldn’t be at ‘Wales Comic Con’. Even though Emma was clearly exhausted and has suffered a personal tragedy of late, she was still friendly and engaging. Fair play to her! Guest Type = Responder.
Every autograph was collected, every studio photo was completed. After having a brief chat with Ke Huy Quan and getting a picture with him (free ‘cause press), myself and John headed back towards the car park to go to the hotel. On the way, we bumped into Chris Rankin, his sweetheart of a girlfriend, Vanessa, and photographer extraordinaire, Kayte, outside the photo building. Chris called over that he was most aggrieved I hadn’t been to see him yet, so I went over and chatted to Chris for a while. I told him my Master’s degree was ending in 60 days, so we chatted about that. We chatted about his future convention appearances, we chatted about getting him to ‘Gloucester Comic Con’, my home-city event, and Chris and Vanessa’s two imminent trips to Florida this year. Chris also filled me in on how work was going for him. The cool thing about Chris, like Ian McElhinney, is that I’ve met him so many times it feels more like catching up with a friend than it does meeting a celebrity at a convention. It’s a very relaxed experience. Definitely a ‘Conversationalist’, that man. If anything, he over-shares. The first time I met Chris, I mentioned to him that I missed him at the previous event because he left a little early and he said, “Yeah, I had a bad kebab the night before.” Oh, the visual.
Day one: Over.
Day two: Commence!
As I’d accomplished so much the day before, Sunday was going to be a piece of cake. In fact, it was so relaxed that we didn’t even get to the venue until 10:30am. This has never happened at ‘Wales Comic Con’ before. All I needed to do was look semi-presentable for 6 studio photos (or what passes as ‘presentable’ for my impressively average face), go and say “hi” to some people, then head home at 4pm. Easy! My review of Sunday will therefore be waaaaay shorter than my review of Saturday. No autographs, no panels.
While it’s fresh in my mind, I wanted to thank everyone that came up to me to talk about my writing and the blog. Some were friends, some were people I’d never met before, some were people I’d never interacted with at all before, but were fans of the blog. Getting to talk to anyone at a convention is cool. Getting to talk to someone who is complimenting your work is incredibly humbling and amazing. I’ve never, ever been stopped so many times by people I don’t know! People wanted to chat, people wanted pictures...I felt like a bonafide Z-List celebrity. Another reason why ‘Wales Comic Con’ is the best convention in the world. Oddly, many friends that I’ve seen at conventions for years wanted pictures with me this time, even though they’ve never asked before. Am I dying and nobody remembered to tell me?
After chatting to some friends and perusing the merchandise stalls, myself and John headed over to the photo building. First up, at 12:15pm, was Nicky and Emma’s duo-photo. As the session was starting, Nicky made a little announcement. As Emma has a baby at home, she can’t really get sick, so there would be no close, deep hugs with Emma. Putting your arm around her, etc., was fine. It was just the tight, intimate hugs that were off-limits. Nicky would still tightly hug anyone. A guy in the queue asked Nicky if he would tightly hug the guys too, to which Nicky replied that he would. He would also offer the guys handjobs. Cover your ears, kiddies. When I got to the front of the queue, Nicky gave me a hug, I said “hi” to Emma, and Nicky said, “I’m gonna give you a handjob”...“Ummm....okay, Nick”. The picture was taken, but the photographer said he needed to take one more. As both were printed, I later realised this was because Emma’s eyes were closed in the first attempt. I actually prefer the first one as Emma’s closed eyes and facial expressions scream “I left my child behind in America to watch Nicky imitate wanking people off in Wales...fuck my life....” It’s absolutely hilarious. My response to the re-take was that I needed a few minutes to reload, but Nicky said he’d work extra hard. He then mimicked spitting on his hand. Lovely. Amusingly, the second photo turned out pretty great too. I’m fairly certain Emma didn’t know where to look.
This was the first picture. Yes, I added in Emma's thoughts. Yes, I think they're accurate.
Right after the duo photo, it was Mick Foley. Right after Mick Foley, it was Amy Dumas. All three photos were printed within a minute or so of them being taken. Un-frickin’-believable!
After a short gap, during which I chatted to Howard, Bunny, Gareth, Charley, and another Gareth, it was time for the final three photos of the weekend, starting with TJ Thyne. TJ was his usual lovely self. After the photos were being taken, Kayte would check they were okay and comment on them – “that’s great!”, “lovely!”...After mine with TJ was taken, Kayte said, “It’s alright, I suppose”....thanks, Kayte! I might have to take back some of those compliments earlier in the review. She said, “I love you really!” right afterwards, but I still flipped her the bird on the way out...the cheeky...
Gideon Emery and Lou Ferrigno’s photo sessions were taking place at exactly the same time, so I jumped into Gideon’s, swiftly followed by Lou’s. Gideon loved my tie. He said so at the autograph table the previous day. He wrote it on my autograph too. When I got to the front of the photoshoot, Gideon asked if I wanted him to wear his sunglasses and hold his cane from ‘Teen Wolf’. I told him it was entirely up to him – “I think I need to. I need something to match that tie so I don’t feel inadequate.” The charmer. Lou was also really friendly and interactive with the attendees in the photo session. I don’t know about others, but I consider Lou a legend of the superhero genre. He was one of the first larger-than-life characters to permeate the small screen. Getting a picture with him was a bucket-list item for sure.
It was now 3:00pm. One hour before the show officially closed. Myself and John headed back to the autograph hall to say our goodbyes to some people. Along the way, I stopped to talk to Justin Lee Collins, Matt Ryan, and Emmett Scanlan. I got pictures with all three of them too (free ‘cause press). Just to clarify, I’ve been to two Wales Comic Con’s now as press. Whenever I’ve gotten a cheeky table picture, I have always, always offered to pay the ‘selfie’ charge if there is one listed on the wall behind them. Nobody has charged me yet. Emmett was awesome....with a helluva handshake! A few attendees over the weekend had a serious case of limp-wrist during the handshaking process. I wasn’t sure if I should shake it or throw it back in the ocean before it died. That wasn’t the case with Emmett. Dude left my hand vibrating, I love it! Catching up with Matt Ryan is always great. He’s a treat to talk to. Really charismatic, really engaging, and even as a straight man, I’ve got to admit the guy is frickin’ dreamy. A word I will never use again as long as I live. Justin Lee Collins wasn’t announced as a guest, probably because he’s had a little bit of backlash when he’s been announced before. Justin’s had a few problems over the years, like we all have, so some people feel it’s inappropriate to have him at a convention, evidently. I can only speak from my personal experiences with him and he’s always been amazing. One of the best guests I’ve met. He’s so legitimately enthusiastic about everything! We talked about the wrestling show from the previous night, as Charley mentioned she was going with Justin and his family. Charley, Justin also mentioned that both he and his children adore you...thought you should know that. I’m of the opinion that everybody deserves a second chance and, like I’ve said, Justin has always been a delight to talk to. I’ve met him three times and he’s always awesome.
All that remained was the ‘goodbye tour’. I said goodbye to all the crew I knew and could see in the autograph hall, I said goodbye to Chris Rankin and Vanessa, I said goodbye to the attendees I knew that were still around...I even went to the photo building to say goodbye to everyone. By 4:00pm, myself and John were back on the road, starting the 2.5-hour drive back to Gloucester.
A lot of people have said that this was the best ‘Wales Comic Con’ yet. I have to disagree. Not only was this the best ‘Wales Comic Con’ I’ve attended, this was the best signing event of this kind I’ve ever attended....and there’s been more than a hundred! The organisation was flawless for everything on my schedule, the photo printing was better than even I thought it would be...and I’ve been an advocate of Kayte and her team the whole time. My interactions with the guests ranged from ‘good’ to ‘amazing’, with no stinkers in sight. My nose was violated only once over a warm weekend, the venue is second-to-none, the atmosphere is electric, and the show continues to go from strength to strength. A couple of years ago, I referred to ‘Wales Comic Con’ as the ECW of the U.K. convention scene. It’s not one of the ‘big two’, but it’s got the most passion and the best experience to offer. With the inaugural ‘Fanatic Expo’ in September, it’s only a matter of time before Jaime, Ash, and the rest of the team are bringing in 100,000+ like Showmasters and MCM. The little engine that could has become one of the big players, that doesn’t happen often. At most events, I consider myself blessed if I had one great experience or conversation with a guest. Here, I can think of at least five.
Jaime, you should be damn proud of yourself. You deserve that KFC and Pepsi Max, brother. Take some time off to chill, relax, and recuperate, then come out swinging for ‘Fanatic Expo’ and the next instalment of ‘Wales Comic Con’. The only downside is that you’ve set the bar to almost-impossibly high standards, so topping this show will be tough. In addition to Jaime, everyone should be proud. From Ash to the team leaders, from the crew to the University staff. Everyone was flawless. Also, the tannoy announcements for the virtual queuing in the autograph hall worked great. It’s another example of ‘Wales Comic Con’ continuing to grow and improve. Best crew, best atmosphere, best venue, best experience. The photo printing and the great interactions with the guests were just the cherry on the cake (I hate cherry, but you know what I mean!). For my money, a flawless signing event. The one issue I had was outside their control, so I’m not knocking any points off for that.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
This is the first time I’ve ever given a signing event of this kind a 10/10 ‘final score’. The ‘Wales Comic Con’ franchise continues to prove why it’s unparalleled in the U.K. and why many of its competitors still have so far to go to catch up. Flawless. Epic.