It was always an aspect of this culture and fandom I was loathe to embrace, the communal celebration of a pastime and lifestyle that in truth has no tangible or objective measures of success or fulfillment beyond a rudimentary base level. This year, for a number of reasons both personal and practical I decided to change, to challenge my viewpoints and premise and attend a series of conventions in and around London. In May I attended my first convention at the MCM Comic Con at the Excel in London. In contrast to this weekend my motivations at the time were a little sketchier beyond a basic desire to push myself outside of my comfort zone and enjoy the experience for what it was. I enjoyed it for the most part, there were some memorable and enjoyable moments and of course a great deal of things to buy but on reflection given the size and scope of the event I was a little overwhelmed. Whilst in general it is a welcoming and inclusive area, for a new soul to the convention scene when you are on your own with the size of crowds and the enormity of the event it can take you awhile to climatise. And as I’ve come to learn and appreciate, in these circumstances a high degree of preparation and organization significantly reduces the stress and sensation of loss and regret through missing out.
I’ll admit I had no real intention to attend another event this summer having only recently attended Comic Con in May and with the shadow of Destination Star Trek on the horizon in October. There was one determining factor, namely the original Captain James T Kirk himself, Mr William Shatner who was confirmed to attend the event this past weekend and wouldn’t be at the Birmingham show in October. With various prices and costs to compare it was a simple of choice of who I wanted to see, this does lead me to accept the next time Star Trek returns to the UK it will be a priority but for now, with the Captain himself on my doorstep it was a simple choice and one I made quickly. Looking into the event it does seem to have a greater variety of guests to meet and greet in contrast to the MCM show which opted for more merchandise to buy. Which isn’t to say I didn’t indulge myself somewhat and buy a few items but certainly the contrast between the two were fairly obvious. No Forbidden Planet, no official corporate stores or stands. This was very much about the guests I felt and for that reason, with a wide variety of stars covering the small and silver screen from a variety of genres you were well catered for depending on your predication. For me, it was very much the stars of some of my favourite science fiction shows and series.
The convention took place over the course of three days, as with other events of this nature there are often timed or limited availability panels and discussions. Unlike other more specific conventions such as the aforementioned Destination Star Trek which has very specific panels and talks on set days there didn’t seem to be a huge differentiation on the schedule with the exception of some guest availability. Thankfully everyone I wanted to see was in attendance on one set day and allowed me to book a days entry ticket to attend on the final day on Sunday. I’m yet to be convinced of the necessity of attending over a series of days for a convention of this nature despite my enjoyment especially when you live in the host city and can attend relatively easily. It was held in the Kensington Olympia, a slightly smaller and older venue in London in contrast to the Excel, as a result somewhat more intimate I would imagine with larger crowds but on the final day it was tolerable enough. When I arrived, despite the entry hall being set up for large crowd control this was by passed entirely due to the levels of attendance at that time of day which was a blessing. What I couldn’t account for was the stifling heat and lack of air conditioning in the venue, for the reduced numbers I was extremely grateful as I would probably have had to have left on the Friday or Saturday. Portable fans were in place in limited locations and of course for the guests, for those standing in lines it was the case of being still and trying not to expend to much energy.
The event’s app was a blessing and extremely easy and intuitive to use. Allowing you to see the full schedule for the day and allowing you to customise and create a schedule to stick to meant taking in and enjoying a number of panels I hadn’t factored into originally. One of my slight, annoyances of MCM which I’ll readily concede came from my own lack of planning was just how overwhelming the experience was, but also due to the size of the Excel, despite prominent posters there was never any clear direction to what was taking place and where. With the app I was able to quickly navigate between talks, using the layout to plan my route, it was a real blessing. I found myself zipping from the second stage to the autograph areas, the main stage and photo sessions with ease whilst taking in the array of merchandise stands. One aspect I really enjoyed about this convention was the mixture of paid and free talks available for guests to enjoy which I’ll discuss in detail later. I hadn’t intended or planned to watch these side panels, only the paid Shatner talk so to have some content to enjoy during the day that allowed me to rest my feet and listen to some of the stars of the shows I have enjoyed over the years was such a treat. In contrast at MCM I managed to attend one panel on the day from a variety that were on offer and whilst I spent a great deal of time walking around I probably missed a great deal of content. In contrast on Sunday I managed to to see three panels, meet a variety of guests and have my photo taken with those I had paid in advance to do so and of course spend some time visiting the stands and picking up a few treats.
The heat was uncomfortable at times, especially when waiting for the photo sessions and autographs. I had with some foreplanning remembered to pack a change of shirt and a roll on deodorant to ensure I didn’t come away feeling entirely disgusting at the end of the day. Also, and because I am that way inclined I did feel it was appropriate to wear a Star Trek shirt to meet and be photographed with Star Trek actors, just the small things that make me happy. With the various photography sessions scattered through the day, through good fortune I never felt I was rushing between locations or obligations so could enjoy the odd panel, sit for a while to rest my feet before carrying on. I don’t tend to eat a lot at these types of shows, its a personal preference but through bad experience I just find I don’t trust foods and ingredients I don’t know. By the end of the day I was fairly famished and dehydrated but thankfully in London you are only every a stones throw away from a sandwich or coffee shop so this was quickly resolved. There was sufficient content for a day, I could probably have seen more and met more guests and actors on the day, though of course you have to factor in the cost of all these photos and autographs and there ‘value’ to you as an individual. Equally I missed one panel I wanted to attend purely because it clashed with a photo session I had booked previously however honestly, I don’t imagine I could have spent three days attending and gained much more from the experience. Events such as this and MCM to the same degree seem catered and designed to ensure no one is penalised or misses out from attending one day or three to any great degree. Compare this to San Diego Comic Con where there are very specific days and events such as the Marvel Studios day or the Star Trek day and you realise these kind of shows are run a little differently. I probably would attend a multi day convention but for now, I’m content to visit and sleep in my own bed with my tired feet at the end of the day, personal preference.
The one panel I was certain I would attend, the Q&A session with the Captain himself. The queues, despite being a paid entry event, were immense and honestly slightly overwhelming the staff on the day with the organization and entry of quests. With no queueing system it did feel like a slight free for all to get in when entry was permitted, being somewhat on the larger side you do create a bit of a berth around you as you move so I managed to get in fairly swiftly but that was more good fortune. The discussion itself was fun, the man himself opening with a ten minute monologue covering a variety of topics including his new show launching in America before moving onto the question and answer session. This was enjoyable and surprisingly covering a lot of his earlier and varied career beyond Star Trek although there was a fun anecdote around his time as TJ Hooker and a scheduling conflict on the Star Trek 3 set. With filming due to commence on his contractually obligated show and pick up work on the third Trek film the brave Captain as recalled, grabbed a fire hose to put out a small fire on set to ensure there was no delay in filming. It was a lovely little aside and just somewhat surreal sitting in the venue and presence of a screen icon I have grown up with and idolised to an extent over the decades. His style of delivery and vocal inflections are so well known there was a certain good humour in listening to him talk and share his memories from span of his career, its staggering to realise just how long he has been performing for and the variety of shows he has appeared on beyond Star Trek.
One of the free panels held in the second stage, I knew he was in attendance earlier in the day but through some quick planning I was able to pop down to the hall and listen to his talk. He’s an actor known primarily for his appearance on the spin off title Stargate Atlantis as the leading star of the show appearing in all five seasons. The legacy of the series is perhaps best known for being one of the earlier breakout rolls for Jason Momoa before his appearance on Game of Thrones and as Aquaman. But there was a certain laid back charm about both the actor and character of Joe Flanigan that made me want to attend and listen to his panel. Unlike Shatner this was a reduced timed event, lasting a little over half an hour and honestly I could have listened to him talk for longer as there were a number of questions from the Stargate fan base and quite a few left unanswered. Naturally given the association with Momoa there were a number of questions about the relationship between the two, a fun story about how Jason had shaved his dreadlocks off between seasons having started surfing with Joe during the mid season break between series of Stargate Atlantis and being required to go in early onset to shoot to have the saved locks put into a wig to wear. I’ll admit to having a certain fondness for the Stargate franchise, I was always more partial to Trek however there was a self deprecating and good humoured tone and nature to the series in contrast to the more serious nature of Trek at times that made it a natural series to transition to for sci fi fans. The fate of Atlantis always felt like a victim of MGM’s bad fortunes and circumstance at the time, the studio purportedly unable to finance two concurrent series and so opting for the grim portrayal of Universe over Atlantis. A shame but I did appreciate the opportunity to listen to these insights from the series for however brief a time it was.
As one of the Marvel shows recently cancelled from Netflix I was a little unsure how this would run or whether the actors would be receptive or open to talking about the experiences of working on Iron Fist. Firstly, I have to say it was a lot more loose and casual than I had expected, especially as all three leads on the show were British which of course meant they ‘felt’ at home as opposed to the cultural barrier that exists on either side of the Atlantic. When you hear the Immortal Iron Fist make reference to Nandos (a cheap chicken chain in the UK) you knew you were in for a fun time. The actors were open and honest about the impact of the cancellation and the natural disappointment, Finn Jones had his son with him on the day who sat with his co-stars and was a little ball of energy and as a result a few occasions where language had to be, restrained for obvious reasons and one instance where it wasn’t. It was perhaps the one instance where you felt there was a little bit of, resentment or bitterness to the nature of cancellation and the impact on the leads. Those in attendance were a mixture of Iron Fist and of course Game of Thrones fans and as such a number of questions were directed to Finn about his experiences on the show. Thankfully he was open to talking about both with little restraint or courtesy. You had the sense the atmosphere relaxed and changed when a German fan, before asking her question expressed genuine gratitude for their effort on the show. Whether this was communicated or realised before hand I can’t say, all I will observe is whatever tension existed evaporated when the guests realised they were amongst a friendly audience and could talk openly about the positives of the show, regardless of the critical reception it had received on times. I would like the stars of the shows to return in some form, and it was enjoyable to watch the panels and hear some of the anecdotes of such a recent shows I’ve enjoyed.
Autographs and Photographs
There was a great temptation to expand my remit and be care free with my purchases on the day but as my cousin observed there is a dangerous temptation to spend more money and allow the opportunity to overwhelm you so I was adamant to myself I would stick to my guns and view this event in London as my own personal Star Trek event if I wasn’t going to go in October. There were a few other Trek guests present however I had decided beforehand who I wanted to meet, two of the original remaining cast members and an actor from Voyager who I had known before his tenure on that show. I will preface the actors and pictures with an observation it was extremely warm and humid inside the location, with large crowds and lines for the more famous and known actors no one was looking their best when it came to their turn. I had wisely opted for a change of shirt after the MCM event to freshen up during the day as a personal choice, even so I generally loathe pictures of myself when I’m active or tired. Still, generally some happy positive memories to take away.
The man I have idolised since childhood, the original Captain of the Starship Enterprise, the main appeal and draw of attending this convention was to meet this gentleman. I wasn’t sure what to expect, they do say never meet your heroes, certainly there have been stories around his behaviour with his cast mates but from my sole experience he was a welcoming and genial individual. There were different tiered packages available to purchase and opportunities to experience, a Captains Chair photo for a little and this traditional staged photo. I opted for the latter but it was a long wait in a crowded and hot room, as a consummate professional the queues were managed swiftly and your brief interaction was swiftly over but I don’t begrudge the actor this approach. As I was queueing for his autograph in the morning one of the event staff did observe he is known for being a prolific autographer and this was evident with the queue quickly managed. During the long wait to meet him I was having a brief conversation with two other fans of the actor who had noted in recent years he had become slightly less talkative during these occasions, whether through age or a change of attitude who can say. For an actor who has met hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans over the course of his career, one slightly obsessed fan from North West London wasn’t going to change his outlook in life. I won’t try to put words to the notion of fandom or the influence of meeting your idols. Like anyone I imagine they can have good and bad days and perhaps someone had a bad experience once. For me, he was a perfectly agreeable gentleman, imbuing a sense of humanity to an individual who for a long time had been nothing more than a character and name on a credit. I’ve got no intentions in life to meet all the Captain’s of the Star Trek franchise, but should the opportunity arise it would be interesting to meet just once, and where better to start than Mr William Shatner.
One of the highlights of Star Trek Voyager was the character of The Doctor brought to life by longtime actor Robert Picardo. Whilst written as a more acerbic individual in the early seasons, over the course of its seven year run he had the opportunity to relax more into his role and shone through as a character and individual in contrast to other stars of the show who faded more into the background. This wasn’t my first exposure to this individual having encountered him earlier in his career, as a fan of Gremlins 2 and InnerSpace, he was cast as an entirely secondary character, the corporations boss in the former and the legendary Cowboy in the latter. I never understood ‘the joke’ or why he held an almost legendary status in that film but it was always a source of good humour how people referred to him in such high regard and mythic status. During these conventions when you approach the signing desk there are usually an assortment of pictures you can choose to have signed or the opportunity to bring your own item if you so wish. Of course there were an assortment of Star Trek pictures, and I do love this character as well as a great still of him being, courted by the female Gremlin. For me of course there was only one image to go for and that was ‘The Cowboy’. It made my day when he signed it as ‘Cowboy Jack’. He was the first individual I met in the day, to finish my day co-incidentally he was also the last photograph I had taken and was a thoroughly nice guy who appeared to appreciate my ‘Make It So’ T-shirt.
There’s a certain, bittersweet feeling seeing Walter at these conventions when the actor who depicted a younger version of his most legendary character passed away tragically a couple of years ago at such a young age. In contrast to Shatner who had stretching queues, from what I observed when I passed his table on a couple of occasions his seemed a little quieter. You do hope he’s in good health or has a number of years ahead of him but it did make me realise just how long these actors have been performing and that time waits for no man. I brought my ticket and photo and approached one of the pioneer actors who brought a friendly ‘Russian’ face to an American audience that were still recovering from the spectre of Nuclear conflict at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis a few short years ago. I always felt that, though quite rightly Nichelle Nichols gained plaudits for the portrayal of a person of colour in a position of authority on a US vessel during the height of racial tensions in American society, equally Walter’s Russian operations character expanded the international cast to bring Gene’s vision to life of humanity coming together and setting aside old tensions and prejudices to go into the frontier. On the day he was a more quiet and reserved individual to meet, exchanging a few pleasantries before I left. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet him even just once.
Just For Fun
One of the joys of my last convention, which I’ll accept doesn’t scream non-conformity and independent thinking was the presence of the corporate brands and the various promotions in place. I enjoyed the IT ballon promotion and the X-Men Dark Phoenix green screen photo opportunities that were there, all free and bringing the audience closer to the brand in a fun engaging way. The absence of these large companies to any great degree was noticeable on my first occasion with this particular convention but I didn’t feel the event necessarily suffered. There were still event photography centred around shows and films to partake in however these were at a cost. Given the seeming cost and expense of setting these up, understandable I suppose, it would of been nice if they were there for free and to allow you to indulge in you pastimes, but nonetheless some interesting settings and areas to be photographed in. I opted for two on the day, firstly the classic Iron Throne pose, a staple of any convention of this type. As ever I had my trusty travelling buddy at my side, Leeds Bear who shamefully has now seen more of the world than I with his various holidays and adventures. It was fun, the buzz of the series has of course subsided with its inclusion, and as someone who is hesitant to believe the books will ever be finished by the author you do have to draw whatever satisfaction from the final series that you can. Still, its always a fun shot to capture when the opportunity presents itself. Presumably it was set up for photos with Charles Dance who was unable to attend at short notice. In the same spirit there was a presidential desk on the ground floor for Martin Sheen photos and a Delorean from Universal Studios with Bob Gale. Speaking of which, as a fan of Back To The Future I chose as my second fun photo of the day, and sadly banished any dreams of staring in an English casted remake of the films. They really are quite low down and not designed for those of a, slightly taller disposition. Under the advise of the gentleman minding the car I crouched down beside the vehicle on the lisp of the door, almost capturing that iconic one leg out shot I would have enjoyed but you have to take what you can get. As ever Bear was by my side to get his moment in the sun.
In the absence of as many merchandise and sellers as other conventions I wasn’t hugely tempted to part with my hard earned money. There was probably one item I was a little by that I entirely forgot to return to later but of course it wouldn’t be a convention without a new addition to my T-Shirt collection and it was fun to discover a new company and style of shirt I could see myself going to again. I happened to spot them by chance as I stepped out of the way to allow Finn Jones to go ahead of me up the stairs after his panel. It was a little strange but as I was looking idly around they were close by. Billed as selling original and quality film and tv merchandise, Unit 13 Originals has an impressive array of shirts and designs based on classic and iconic movie franchises. I’m vaguely aware of certain designs that tend to be copied quite often, some of these shirts were quite original and there was one that caught my eye. This was my final choice, even I have to admit the reference was on the obscure side but as a big fan of this film in particular I thought it was an apt T-Shirt to pick up. For now if you can guess the film without googling, bonus kudos points from me. I’ll reveal its inspiration at the end. Beyond an assortment of posters, autographs and figures there wasn’t a great deal more I found although certainly there were enough stalls to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. My final pick was a small addition to my flat in the form of some
gaming themed coasters. Given my historical predication to this particular series you can imagine my delight when I came across this stand when crossing the two main halls. It may have been the day or time of my purchase but they didn’t seem to be advertising their brand or company which I found slightly odd but were the only stockist of these rather cool slate coasters with a variety of themed logos both gaming and movies. The pair I picked up were from the Zelda franchise with the iconic Majora’s Mask on one and on its companion, the legendary Triforce symbol. I loved the colour and finish of the items, and a great price so overall, whilst I did indulge a little more than I had factored in with my autograph collections I was able to be a little more restrained in my purchases and come away with two new pretty awesome additions to my collection.
I enjoyed the convention, it had a different atmosphere and vibe in contrast to the MCM show. I liked that to, more perhaps for the bigger commercial aspect and the exclusive merchandise and items available from the companies such as the limited T-shirts at the Forbidden Planet stand and the autographed Manga books I picked up there. This show was definitely more centred around the guests and actors they had attracted from a variety of genres and shows. It fulfilled my intention of meeting a number of Star Trek stars this year in addition to attending and enjoying the various panels, an added bonus. I do have to say the heat and organization left something to be desired, whether it was the age of the facility or just a general issue over the weekend it was unbearable at times and given expected crowds I’d argue more could have been down for the comfort of those in attendance. Certainly if I had to choose between the two, the facilities and atmosphere at MCM were far more comfortable. In addition the queue control and management were efficient in some aspects and missing in others. Entry to the Shatner talk seemed to overwhelm the scattering of staff admitting guests which did detract somewhat from the experience for those queueing patiently and suddenly having to push forward to get in on time.
Whilst there we no large official corporate sponsors companies or stands, beyond a large advertising campaign and display for the new Fast and Furious film, it did mean a number of small companies and organizations had the opportunity to target those in attendance without competition from the bigger franchises and stores. I love my new shirt and coasters from stands in all honesty I would probably have missed. I did find getting to Kensington Olympia a little more straight forward from where I was coming from and with the venue only a single stop from Westfield, White City certainly transport and connections weren’t an issue. Would I go again, probably not in so short a space between the larger MCM convention in London. Certainly it afforded the opportunity to meet a few of my idols and those memories will last far longer than that of the heat and humidity in the venue which was stifling but did subside later in the day with a few open doors and windows. Perhaps somewhat of a bleak attitude but I can’t deny the feeling that the original cast of Star Trek will diminish even further and faster in the next couple of years and it truly felt like circumstances aligning to afford me the opportunity to attend and meet these individuals. It still makes me smile today, I met the legendary first captain of the starship Enterprise in person. the Doctor from Voyager and listened to some great panels and talks from a number of shows I’ve enjoyed. So in the end I suppose it depends what your intentions are and what you want to achieve from your experience, for merchandise then I would argue MCM, its just bigger and can attract those companies and corporations. But for an opportunity to meet your heroes and idols, I couldn’t fault this convention, one very warm Saturday in July I was fortunate to meet three of mine.
(The answer to that awesome shirt, Trading Places.)
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