14th Sep2015

Blackpool Comic Con 2015 – My Thoughts

by Phil Wheat

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As someone who has attended a myriad of conventions here in the UK for almost a decade - from small local events like Burnley’s Star Wars Fan Fun Day and Chorley’s Stars & Cars, to the big boys like MCM London, Manchester AND Birmingham and Showmaster’s events like the London Film and Comic Con – the article below on Blackpool Comic Con 2015 comes not from a place of hatred or anger, but from disappointment. Disappointment in the organisation, the handling, etc. but NOT in the event itself, which was ultimately redeemed by the atmosphere, spirit and resilience of the fans in attendance.

So what are my issues? Well…

  • The Queues: We arrived at 9.15 and were immediately placed in a queue. The wrong queue it turned out. We, like a LOT of other people had been stood in the queue for VIP and Early-Bird entry… The queue was not marked, there were no staff on hand to tell people where to queue. After 30 minutes we were all finally informed we need to join a second queue and directed to the top end of the Winter Gardens. Only that queue was now so large is snaked around the ENTIRE of the Winter Gardens building almost back round to where we were originally stood. And people were directed to walk round the building over and over – until that is the queue became so long that it had to go around a second building AND itself! What was the hold up? Only three members of staff to check tickets and give out wristbands at ONE entrance (Winter gardens has multiple entry points but more on those later). Three people and one entrance. For reportedly 10,000+ visitors. Sheer insanity. And did I mention the fact that once you were in you were IN. No going outside for a cigarette, or to get more money to spend. If you did that you had to RE-JOIN THE BACK OF THE QUEUE. I have never come across the “rule” in all my days of con attending. Maybe it was because the venue was over-booked?
  • Organisation (Or lack thereof): Without a doubt, Blackpool Comic Con was one of the most badly organised conventions – big or small – I have ever been to. Not only was the event under-staffed but there was a total lack of directions or signposting. Beyond the odd [small] sign pointing to the wrestling zone and the “Cos-topia” banner, there was a distinct lack of signposting. Which meant people milling round the entrance hall over and over trying to find where to go. And that entrance hall was small. So small that after an hour of us getting inside you couldn’t move in the hall for fear of smacking someone in the face with your elbow, rucksack, etc. Asking staff didn’t help. Many were as clueless as the visitors. And then there was the small case of locking the majority of the doors, meaning that once you were in you could [almost] not get out anywhere but the way you came in. Beyond the ridiculousness of trying to usher all attendees in and out the same entrance, surely locking the doors was a Health & Safety hazard? The one and ONLY time we experienced decent organisation was in the area that the wrestlers were housed – on walking in to the room we were warmly greeted by on of the comic con staff who ran through the prices of the guests (for autographs) and told us that one of the unavailable guests would be back soon from his photoshoot. Other than that, asking questions of staff at Blackpool Comic Con was, for many, like getting blood out of a stone.
  • The vendors: To be fair this comic con was in Blackpool, home of the knock off product, but some of the vendors at this event were truly fleecing the unaware con-goers. Selling unlicensed and/or bootleg products for extortionate prices. Or heaving HUGE mark-ups, bigger than those you expect at the bigger UK conventions, on to the RRPs. Funko Pops for £15-£30 anyone? The same POP! figures that sell in the likes of the Disney Store across the road and toy shops like Smyths for £9.99 each. As for those selling “LEGO”… I have, in all my days of con-attending, never seen so many bootleg mini-figures in one place. I thought MCM Birmingham earlier this year was bad but Blackpool takes the proverbial biscuit. And worst of all, all but TWO vendors were selling the Chinese knock-offs as LEGO claiming, despite being told point-blank the opposite, that they were officially licensed product. Props to the two sellers who marked the KO mini-figures as “LEGO compatible” and didn’t try to pull the wool over unsuspecting attendee eyes – or drain their pockets with extortionate prices for knock-off products.
  • Missing “guests”: I’m sure I’m not the only person who realised that there was not only one of the major guests missing, but also some of the much-publicised vehicles that were supposed to be at the event. And both facts were NOT very-well publicised. I don’t know any conventions that expected fans to check the website/social media etc., whilst at the event to keep up to date with what was going on (not that I could get a signal in the sea of people, or wanted to risk getting my phone out and having it accidentally knocked out of my hands). I’m sure there was more to some of the missing “guests” than has been made out, especially given the odd cryptic messages I’ve read on Facebook and Twitter from those that should have been there… Perhaps related once again to the poor organisation? Whilst we’re on the subject of guests – what also seemed odd was the choice to lump the well-publicised professional cosplayers on tables between vendors. I have no idea if this was a choice of the cosplayers or the organisers but given there was a perfectly good central room in which to house ALL the cosplayers in attendance, why wasn’t it used to the full potential? I overheard plenty of people wondering where the cosplayers – like Tabitha Lyons and Kristen Hughey – actually were!

Blackpool Comic Con 2015 was not all bad. Though honestly there’s little to praise… Kudos must however go to the cosplayers in attendance, who tried to keep the large queues of people entertained even before they’d got in to the building. Cosplayers who were all more than willing – amateur or professional – to pose for photos for a myriad of eager attendees. And the guests – despite hearing horror stories from a few of them on Twitter (mostly to do with lack of directions and no one to ferry them through the labyrinth that is the Winter Gardens, to and from photoshoots and panels) – still maintained high spirits throughout. And, of course, then there’s the attendees. Who, for the most part, managed to push past the problems of the con to try and make the best of a sub-par event. Even if many left disappointed.

Of all the responses I’ve read online to this event over the past two days, the biggest thing that has cropped up – at least in terms of defending Blackpool Comic Con – is the price. Tickets were only £10.50 each for adults. Which, fair enough, is a fantastic price. But even at such a low cost you expect to have a great experience. Smaller cons like Preston, Wigan and Bolton and do lower-priced, well-organised conventions,. Hell, even Stars & Cars 2, a FREE event, was better organised. So why couldn’t Blackpool get it right? Being cheap is not a reason to excuse such a poorly executed convention, which is what seems to be happening. But then isn’t that the British way – you expect to get what you pay for. So cheap price equals “cheap” convention and some people seem happy with that (why?!?!)

A new addition to the ever-growing UK comic convention calendar, Blackpool Comic Con 2015 is, given the publics response, probably going to go down as one of the most controversial – beating even the over-subscribed LFCC event which left people outside for hours last Summer. Even if they weren’t 100% responsible for what occurred – the blame has already been laid at the feet of Ticketline for selling too many tickets and the Winter Gardens themselves for not organising their staff better - I don’t see how the conventions organisers can come back from this event…

Not the worst convention I’ve ever been to – at least in terms of value for money and size of event – but it is a VERY close second. I know we won’t be going back until all the issues are sorted out, though given the backlash on social media I’m not sure there will be a Blackpool Comic Con 2016.

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5 Responses to “Blackpool Comic Con 2015 – My Thoughts”

  • Niki

    We queued for only about 30 minutes but the worst bit was we were directed in without having our tickets check so weren’t given wristbands only got mine after asking 3 people so I could comeback later to help pack up a stall for a friend

    Other than that we still had a fun day was my partners first time at a comic con thought he was going to hate it with how over sold it was but he still fully enjoyed it

  • Dave

    Totally agree with the issues you have highlighted, especially the queue to get in and lack of signage BUT me and my 10 year old still had a really good day. I think the hatred aimed towards this event by some people is overblown (not including your review which was fair and well measured). Once we did manage to get in there were many highlights: the guests were great, especially the GoT panel which was excellent, my daughter was thrilled at meeting Jenna Coleman and I had a really good chat with Michael Madsen about the forthcoming hateful eight. There were a few crap stalls (seriously does any one actually like those wobble heads?) but also lots of good ones, especially the local fantasy authors and comic book artists. The cosplay was brilliant. We liked exploring the Winter Gardens and were constantly discovering something new. Yes it was busy but we never felt uncomfortable or in danger. I think this con got too big too quickly and although I’m sure the organisers meant well, they got out of their depth. Better organisation with the tickets/queues and clearer layout information is all that is needed for next time. Overall we felt satisfied by this event and my daughter hasn’t stopped talking about it since! Would be a shame if it’s put off the organisers to do one in 2016.

  • I just need to point out that not all of the vendors were selling common funko pops at extortionate prices. My business does common pops at £10 and was at Blackpool.

    I understand all the frustrations people had with the event and yes it was poorly organised but when doing a review and picking on vendors (I know you used the word some) it may be worth while mentioning that some inside were not trying to fleece the customers and over charge for pops!

    • Phil Wheat

      The prices of Funko Pops was just an example of the over-inflated prices I saw in general, nothing was aimed at any particular vendor and no names were mentioned. My bigger issue was with the number of knock-off products at the event…

  • Francesca

    I got there at 9:20 and was in by about 10:15- I was lucky enough to be there when there was room to move.

    It was a very poorly organised event, but I can confirm that it was the guest cosplayers themselves that decided to place themselves among the vendors, so as to get more publicity. There were only 2 cosplayers – one of which being the wonderful Mistyy Cosplay- who stayed in their allocated places.

    The attendees were the ones who made the event a “success” but I’m not convinced that the organisers were concerned with how it was run, only how much money they’d raked in.