Review by Mark Potter.
The London Film and Comic Convention is the biggest fan event of the year in the UK. Held each summer at London’s Earls Court Exhibition Centre, the weekend long event features the opportunity to meet some of the biggest stars from the world of film, television, sports, comics and more.
To the uninitiated the world of convention going must seem like a peculiar hobby conjuring stereotypical images of socially awkward nerds gathering en masse to worship at the feet of their idols. Well maybe some people are like that but the majority are about as far from the cliché as you could possibly get.
LFCC (as we shall refer to the event henceforth) was the first event I attended when I started convention going in 2009 and thanks to the wise teachings of friends I like to think I have gotten it down to a fine art. So here for your reading pleasure is my personal experience of the 2013 event.
In the last couple of years LFCC has also held a Friday night preview which opens for a few hours but having only limited funds meant I would have to restrict myself to attending just Saturday and Sunday which I’m sure my bank manager would be thrilled to hear. Luckily travelling from sunny Sussex to London is fairly easy but knowing we have to arrive early to beat the queues my convention going buddies and I rendezvous at the train station with bleary eyes at 6am. We arrive at Earls Court at about 7.30 after some less than enjoyable cross platform sprinting antics while trying to catch the connection at Clapham Junction.
Showmasters are the company that run LFCC (and other events throughout the year) and they offer early bird or pay on the day tickets. Knowing we want to get in quick to grab our virtual tickets (a numbered ticket to say when you can go and get a guests autograph, the lower the better) we always plump for early bird. The wait for the 9am opening seems to go on for ages but even waiting outside there is still plenty to see with assorted cosplayers arriving and even a few guests coming past, including Game of Thrones star Lena Heady frantically waving out of her taxi window at the crowd!
So the doors finally open and the dash to collect tickets begins, guests are always located at the back of the venue past the merchandise stands and talk areas which greet you on the way in. This may sound like a potential health and safety nightmare with a tsunami of geeks falling over themselves to get to the guests first. Nothing of the sort happens though as the superb crew monitor people and allow brisk walking but banish anyone attempting to run back to the main entrance. In all the events I have been to I have never witnessed a single person have an accident.
Virtual tickets in hand the business of photo shoots is next on my list. You can have your photo taken with a guest by a professional photographer and the photo is printed out instantly for you to collect. Some guests will allow a photo with them at their signing table but this is entirely at their discretion so to be safe it’s best to buy a shoot ticket. Tickets can be purchased online in advance or on the day at a sales desk. The queue for the sales desk is always huge particularly on the Saturday morning so I always tend to book in advance.
My first shoot of the day is with Hollywood legend and star of the Lethal Weapon movies Danny Glover, luckily my ticket has a low number (thanks again to online booking) so I am one of the first to go in. Danny walks in and is every inch the star but also incredibly warm and friendly greeting everyone as they step up for their picture. Once that shoot is done I step from the photo area back into the heady swirl of the convention hall. It’s not even 10am and the place is packed.
My second shoot is at 10.20 so to kill a bit of time I browse some of the merchandise stalls which is always dangerous as I love merchandise like a fat kid loves cake. Showing surprising amounts of restraint even after spotting a replica Blade Runner gun prop I head back for shoot number 2.
My second shoot of the day was with Peter Dinklage who is currently wowing audiences with his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones. This was his first appearance at a UK event and he was one of the headline guests of the weekend. Once inside the shoot area we await his arrival and when he walks in looking cool as you like wearing shades indoors he pauses and raises his hands to see if we are awake. The queue responds with a huge cheer. The man is a star and we lap it up. I was sporting a t-shirt with a familiar “S” logo and he greets me with “Hello Superman” which might just go down as one of the best things to happen all weekend. Shoot 2 done its back into the thick of it and the autograph hunting begins!
Showmasters supply photos of the guests showing them in the various television series and films they have appeared in. You can also take along your own items and while I mostly tend to go for photos I have also started to get DVD’s and blu ray’s signed lately. Con goers will go for all sorts and I have seen people getting posters, books, props and lots of other stuff signed.
The first guest I go to meet is Waris Hussein who directed the first ever Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child in 1963. He is an absolute gentleman and signs my DVD of said story. The cover is already signed by Carole Ann Ford who played original companion Susan so I am feeling rather pleased to have the directors signature alongside hers.
Next up is Jeremy Bulloch who played the coolest character in the history of Star Wars, yes I am talking about bounty hunting bad ass Boba Fett. He appeared in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi though not for long enough but that’s a story for another feature.Having met Jeremy a couple of times before I knew already what a nice chap he was and my Empire DVD now looks much cooler with his signature adorning the cover.
After all this I decided a few minutes tranquillity were needed, I had heard in advance that the famous Ecto-1 car from Ghostbusters was going to be on display and I had passed it on the way in so now seemed like an opportune moment to go and get some snaps of this most beautiful of movie cars. Upon returning to the vehicle I saw a camera crew standing in front of it and who were they interviewing, none other than David Hasselfhoff! While I knew he was going to be at the show I never expected to end up with a photo of him stood in front of such an iconic vehicle. Only at conventions do you see this kind of thing.
Still showing admirable levels of restraint I bypass the merchandise section again and head back to autograph city. Frazer Hines who played Doctor Who companion Jaime back in the 60’s and also appeared for many years in soap opera Emmerdale being my next meeting (for the former obviously). Frazer as anyone who has met him will tell you is a real character and great with his fans. He also had a joke with me about my Superman t-shirt. If you want to engage a guest in conversation, wearing a cool t-shirt is a good place to start it seems!
After quickly grabbing an autograph from Danny Glover I stumble across an incredible discovery, a huge display of props from the movie Blade Runner. Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic is one of my top five movies of all time and I had no idea this was going to be on display so I entered crazy fan mode and took pictures of absolutely everything they had including models, crew jackets and costumes. I had seen nothing about this on the website in the weeks leading up to the convention so it really blew me away.
Having a while to wait until I could get my next autograph I made my way to the Artists Alley. Showmasters get plenty of top comic artists to attend their events and many of them are happy to sketch for their fans. I purchased a sketch from artist Lew Stringer whose work I had admired from my childhood as he has drawn for The Beano, The Dandy, Action Force, Transformers, Viz, Sonic the Comic and many more. A sketch is a great thing to pick up as it is totally unique.
Heading back to the autograph area I manage to spot another guest being interviewed. Norman Reedus is currently starring in The Walking Dead and this was his first convention appearance in the UK and he was a huge draw with tonnes of people snapping away while he answered the interviewers’ questions. The fact he did all this while sipping a beer just made him even cooler. Still my business was with another star and my ticket number was finally ready so I stepped in to meet Peter Dinklage. The bigger guests tend to be hidden away in their own little signing booths and this really helps with the organisation of things as fans can get to them quickly and easily. This is another thing that Showmasters does very well and should be applauded for.
My last star to meet for the day was a long time target. Ray Park has in recent years appeared in many big films, he played Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and was surely the best thing about that movie. From there he appeared in the first X-Men movie, television series HEROES and recently the two big screen G.I. Joe movies. He was incredibly friendly and being a real martial artist I clocked him at one point doing a few moves while standing behind his desk!
With the last autograph secured I was free to enjoy the rest of the day and wander around to make sure I hadn’t missed anything else. A convention can be a lot to take in so it’s best to plan your day and give yourself plenty of time to just mooch about and see what else is going on.
Special mention must be given to all the cosplayers that attend conventions. Most costumes you see are superb and many of the cosplayers are happy to pose for photos so don’t be afraid to ask them. Plus some even get into the spirit of their costume and it’s always rather sweet to a young fan encountering a bunch of Storm troopers or Darth Vader! I came across Judge Dredd and a gang of fellow law enforcers who happily stood around threatening fans with clubs and blasters providing great photo opportunities.
Conventions also stage talks where a guest(s) will go onstage and answer questions from the fans. Some of these are paid for but the majority are free. I caught a little of Charles Martinet who is the voice of Super Mario and many other Nintendo characters and he drew a big crowd which will hopefully lead to the appearance of more voice actors in future as not many have been seen before.
So day one drew to a close and we stepped out into the heat of British summertime. Though weary and sore of foot we laughed at the fact we were going to do it all again tomorrow. Suckers for punishment!
The sun rose on Sunday morning and we once again found ourselves back at the train station for 6am with our arrival at Earls Court scheduled for 7.30. Thankfully we did not have to engage in any cross platform sprinting and the journey went smoothly. It was possibly even hotter though and the wait outside becomes a bit of a slog but the adrenalin pulls us through especially as 9am approaches. Always remember to take plenty of water with you to a convention!
Having done my photo shoots on Saturday and already secured the signatures of the headline guests I wanted Sunday was to be a quieter day. The venue while still very busy is nowhere near as packed as Saturday and the atmosphere is definitely more relaxed.
I circulate amongst the guests meeting classic Doctor Who stars including Lalla Ward, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Special mention to Sylvester for showing up even though his leg was in plaster, an absolute trooper!
I also finally get to meet Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario. His queue was huge on Saturday so I make a point of getting to him early on the Sunday. Am really pleased I made the effort as well. He was absolutely hilarious covering the pictures and games I got signed with dialogue quotes and spontaneously bursting into character voices without even being asked. If you ever get the chance to meet this brilliant man then I recommend you take it!
After the surprise find of the Blade Runner props the day before I wondered if anything else could come close and while not anywhere near as vast, a display of props and costumes from Terminator 1 and 2 was still fantastic. It’s really incredible to see things in front of you that you have only seen in movies before and gives you a real appreciation of the hard work the people behind the scenes put in to bring these things to life. With displays like this you can spend a whole day wandering around just spotting interesting stuff if meeting the celebs doesn’t grab you.
Earlier I mentioned the cosplayers and while there are many individuals wandering around it is the groups that offer a truly special sight. Bunches of Storm troopers, Colonial Marines from Aliens, Ghostbusters and many more wander the hall in their costumes which are as close to screen accurate as you can get. Many of these groups are supporters of various charities and ask for a small donation if you want to photograph them. This is a great way to raise money for a good cause.
Special mention to the Aliens group UK Colonial Marines for also having a display of props and the UK Ghostbusters for their replica Vigo painting from the second movie. And yes of course I posed in my best Bill Murray style in front of it!
I also bumped into a fantastically accurate Batman and Bane and after contributing to their chosen charity came away with a brilliant picture of the two of them attacking me. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have a minor (OK major) obsession with Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy so this was a special moment for me and to have it captured on film left me with some great memories.
After all this I had one final guest to meet, the delightful Catrin Stewart who has appeared in several recent episodes of Doctor Who. This was her first appearance at a convention and she was absolutely charming and I’m hoping I didn’t swoon too much in front of her!
So the day wore on and after my friends had wrapped up their last shoots we took one final wander around and then made the decision to head home. All of us were completely shattered but had a great weekend. Not just meeting the celebs but catching up with friends we don’t see often enough. One final piece of advice to give you if you are thinking of dipping into the world of conventions book the next day off to so you can catch up on your sleep!
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into how much fun a convention can be. You can check out future events by Showmasters at their website www.collectormania.com
I also recommend you join up to their forum where you can engage in conversation with fellow fans who are always welcoming to newbies with plenty of experienced people to answer any questions you may have.
With the recent decision by London Mayor Boris Johnson to knock down Earls Court it looks like LFCC will have to find a new home next year. It’s a shame it will be moving as the venue holds a lot of happy memories for me. Goodbye Earls Court, we loved you!