06th Dec2018

Wales Comic Con Dec 2018 – Convention Report (aka Queue-Con 2018)

by Phil Wheat

Now in it’s tenth year, Wales Comic Con takes place at Glyndwr University in Wrexham – apparently chosen for its excellent transport links (the university is literally next door to Wrexham railway station) and NOT for it’s compatibility for hosting a comic con! Yes, it’s a case of another convention outgrowing its “local” status, mainly because of the excellent guests the organisers have managed to secure, and the growing popularity of geek culture.

This years guest line-up was one of the biggest yet – with stars from The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Doctor Who, Star Wars, WWE and more all packed into a handful of university buildings. This year also apparently saw the addition of a marquee (this was our first year at the convention and can only go off what other attendees told us), with more guests and more vendors. Based on our experience with this years set-up, the marquee was MUCH needed – the main signing hall was rammed all the time, with signees running around the hall walls and a selection of vendors in the middle. And that was the problem – imagine having to force your way through queues of people waiting to get a signature and selfie JUST to look at whats for sale!

But that wasn’t the only issue with that particular signing hall. In fact it’s main issue was the biggest issue Wales Comic Con had overall. Queues.

Now we all know that if you’re willing to pay to be a VIP or get an Early Bird ticket that queuing to enter an event is not a problem. But what happens when the majority of your attendees get the standard ticket, then you sell out and then you add more standard tickets to the event? You get HUGE queues. 1-to-2 hour long queues. In the rain. Families, cosplayers, kids and more… Queues that snake around the entire front of the university building all the way round the side and almost round the back of the building. A huge university building. In the end the crew came along the queue outside the building scanning peoples tickets and then getting people into the building as fast as possible – giving them wristbands to put on themselves as they walked in the door rather than the slow process the had been doing of scanning and wristbanding attendees AFTER they came in the door. Oh, and what happened as a result of that? They ended upo with a queue to get OUT of the entrance building to the rest of the con, creating a bottleneck of attendees before they even got in!

Speaking of the back of the building… Dear god. There has to be something done about the parking and how it relates to the layout of the convention. Despite some claiming they had no issue with parking (early-bird ticket holders no doubt), those arriving for the 11am general entry found themselves with nowhere to park. Cars were abandoned on grass verges, cars blocked in other cars, in the end a lot of attendees parked down the street on a small housing estate, no doubt annoying those living there. And the parking that was available was at the BACK of the university – with the entrance at the front; meaning that attendees had to walk the entirety of the university campus, through the actual convention to get INTO the convention (well get the all-important wristband). Utter madness. Why not have entrances/wristband collection on both ends of the con?

Because they were under-staffed that’s why.

Part of the issue of the queuing system was the lack of signage and a lack of direction and/or knowledge from members of the convention crew. In fact in the case of the photoshoot area if it was not for ONE knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and most of all resilient crew member (the dreadlocked Jane, who was doing a SUPERB job under immense pressure from attendees), I think the photoshoots would have ground to a halt. Even though there were issues with them nonetheless. The issues? Queues. Again.

But back to the staffing. Each building seemed, at times, to only have one crew member staffing the area – couple that with a lack of signage and it meant a lot of confusion, and probable harassment for said crew. For example: the main signing hall, on the official map, was marked as signing hall and vendors. OK. But who was in that hall signing? Damned if most people knew! You had to queue for, at its worst point 30 minutes, to get into a building to find out if the one celebrity you wanted a signature from was actually in there! The only hall with confirmed guests (i.e. the crew member knew who was in there or was going to be in there) was the Sons of Anarchy-specific signing zone. Both the signing hall and the marquee were not signposted and the crew were unable to confirm who was in attendance when asked.

The lack of extra crew on the ground, and a seeming inability for a lot of the crew to contact those in the know (i.e. many of the crew were not walkie-talkied into a central “hub”, something that ALL cons of this size typically do) meant a reliance on the terrible “map” and a reliance on just waiting around in queues to find out what was happening. Hell, we queued for a photoshoot and were asked on numerous occassions who we were queuing for as there was no one else around to ask! And as for the photoshoots… Don’t get me started on the ridiculous notion of, having had a photoshoot done, queuing for 45 minutes JUST TO COLLECT YOUR PHOTO! Why? Especially why when there were THREE photoshoot halls/rooms, with guest of varying popularity, but only ONE queue for collection! I’ve never, and I do mean NEVER, had to queue for a photo collection… 99% of the time you collect your photo on the way out of the door. Not join another queue, to get into another building, to get a photo that was LITERALLY dumped in a pile of photos on a table. It’s not like you even had to talk to anyone to get the photo – you were directed to an “area” designated for your “hall” and were left to your own devices to find your photo!

 

Of course it wasn’t all bad. There were the guests.

And it was undoubtedly the guests that made the convention. Depsite the over-crowding and huge queues, the celebs in attendance made each guest feel like they were the only person there – posing for selfies, chatting with their fans, and going out of there way to make everyone feel special; some even going as far as recording video messages for fans on their phones! You can see the love between the guests and the fans in the huge amount of praise for each and every guest on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. No one seems to have a bad word about the guests. Just the convention itself.

The other plus for Wales Comic Con is the pricing. At less than £35 for two people (with booking fees etc.) Wales Comic Con is ridiculously cheap, especially given the guest line-up. It’s local convention pricing for a large-scale convention – whether the balance between cheap-pricing and convention size had become too much, and the organisers are struggling to cope with demand is not for me to say; but based on what attendees said at the event and online afterwards it definitely seems that way.

So in short…

The Pros:

  • Great guest line-up
  • The cost of entry
  • Good Q&A’s

The Cons:

  • Queues
  • Lack of signage
  • Too many attendees
  • Poor layout
  • Lack of communication

So would Team Nerdly go again? Would *I* go again? Possibly. If changes are not made based on how this past weekend went it would take a “grail” like celebrity to attend Wales Comic Con for me to consider going again. And if I did go again, I would probably go JUST for said celebrity and leave straight after. Given the shambles that was the organisation of the official photoshoots I’d rather have paid for a table selfie and been done with it – something I’d definitely do in future. If… If… I went back again another year.

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