Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Event Review - Wales Comic Con 2015

April 2015 hosted my fourth Wales Comic Con event – my sixth convention total – and it was the first time I held a more expensive ticket. I knew we were in for a good day, but it wasn’t quite what I expected.

Upon arrival we were shown straight into the venue, an amenity guaranteed by the VIP ticket. Signing in took minutes and before I knew it we were walking across the campus to the vendors hall and signing area, determined to get a few autographs before everywhere – and everyone – got too busy.

As always however the vendor’s hall was over crowded, and between the amount of people in there even at just gone 9am and the amount of tables filled with collectibles, it was hard to see exactly where each signing queue started. I was prepared for this though and simply asked the end of each line who they were queuing for. When it comes to conventions, communication is key. What surprised me however was to then be asked by a WCC staff member who I was wanting to get in line for. Replying that I was there for Supernatural’s Mark Sheppard, he ushered me forward into a smaller queue that I had not seen.  It seemed WCC had learnt from previous years and had staff on hand to ensure queuing went smoothly despite the space.

Photo-op with Mark Sheppard

The day seemed to get better from there. WCC always make a fantastic use of the space they have, and this year was no exception. Transformer cars in the parking lot, with a roving Dalek. The Iron Throne ready for pictures in a side hallway, opposite the machines from Robot Wars. Everywhere you looked there was something else to see or do. Fantastic guests headlined the event, and I was lucky enough to walk away with photo-ops of me with four of my favourite actors. The stalls were filled with everything you could possibly want to buy, and the selection of Q+A’s on offer, spread over two rooms, were not to be grumbled about. In a way, there was very little that WCC could have done to make the event better.

The VIP ticket itself was an experience, having a separate line for Q+A’s and photo-ops, usually only a few people long, ensuring that we got in first and – for photo-ops – got out quick. It was a brilliant system and allowed us to get around a lot more than we would have done had we bought only a general ticket.

But nothing is perfect, and there will always be room for improvement. While the ticket was handy, WCC always suffers from organisational and communication issues. It’s a known fact at conventions that anything scheduled from around 12pm onwards is prone to ending up late. But when that happens, so effective communication also needs to happen. Pass-holders have paid to come to the event, to experience all that is on offer, and so – seeing as the event is only on for around 8 hours – they don’t want to spend a chunk of that time waiting. It’s fair enough if you’re in a slow moving queue, but having to wait for something to simply start, and not being given an estimate of when that may be, is not really acceptable.

My homemade cosplay costume

My example is this.

As said above, waiting around without being given any estimate of when a panel may start isn’t really acceptable. People could easily waste half an hour waiting and then realise they don’t even have time for the panel, as we did. When you’ve paid £99 for a ticket, the amenities of which are about not having to wait around, it’s even worse. As it was when we finally did get into the Primeval panel, we realised that we would have to leave early to make our next photo-op. Being me, that meant I spent half of the time we were there checking my watch. That’s not really value for money. Furthermore, part of what you pay for in the VIP ticket is being able to have a seat in the front three rows of any talk. This however is not good value if there are no staff members around to ensure that those with general tickets are not sitting there, as also happened here.

From there we had to go straight to a photo-op, held 25 minutes before our fourth and final one. Upon leaving the photo studio though, we decided to get some food, having planned to have some after the talk, before the photo-op we had just attended. Unfortunately at such a large event it’s easy for things to take longer than you think, or to get side tracked, and we ended up 5-10 minutes late for our photo-op. Usually this wouldn’t be an issue; there would be so many people with tickets that the shoots usually take at least half an hour. Apparently though, there hadn’t been that many people and they had wrapped up within five minutes and sent the actor back to the signing hall.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s the complete opposite to what happened at the panel, and that’s great, but at the same time you’d think that if they knew certain panels/events were running late that they would give pass-holders a little extra time to get to their shoot. Apparently not, and the excuse we were given was flimsy and without apology. Basically, we should have been there on time, and had we not been waiting for half an hour when they were running late, I might have agreed. But you can’t in all seriousness expect paying pass-holders to wait around for however long is necessary when an event/panel is running late, but expect them to be at pre-paid photo-ops on the dot, and not give them any leeway. The relationship between a proprietor and a customer is a two way street, and sometimes at WCC I feel that the street is full of potholes along one side. Luckily for us, the actor was happy to have a photograph with us at the signing table.

Star Trek's own Garrett Wang (Harry Kim)

In short, Wales Comic Con lacks communication between staff, guests and pass-holders. It’s happened in other years where we have left a talk early to attend a photo-op, only to be told it’s running late and then not given a time for which to come back. ‘About half an hour to an hour’ is always the usual response. That doesn’t help when you have other panels, etc, that you don’t want to miss.

A better communication system would have helped by far. Rogue Events use a computer system to alert pass-holders who are in the guest talks that their photo ops/ autographs are being held. This allows them to make full use of the day, rather than hanging around at a pre-printed time, regardless of whether the schedule is running late, in order to ensure they don’t miss what they’ve paid for. Also simply allowing a little more flexibility with regards to the guest talks would work wonders. Again, Rogue Events keep the doors open at all times and simply have a staff member on each door to ensure only pass-holders enter. If that isn’t possible though, my suggestion would be to hold the event over two days. A little more expensive, but much better value, whatever ticket you chose.

I would definitely recommend Wales Comic Con to anyone. It’s always a great day out and never fails to provide some unique, fun memories. With actors like Stargate: Atlantis’ Paul McGillon already announced for later this year, I am definitely considering going again. I would however say to be aware of the limitations of each ticket, no matter how good they may seem, and think before booking too many other pre-paid amenities.


Have you ever been to a convention? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

Holly @ TheArtsShelf

Twitter: @The_Arts_Shelf

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