04th Jun2019

Manchester Comic Con: For the Love of 80s – Event Report

by Phil Wheat

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This past weekend saw yet another of Monopoly Events’ UK comic cons take place at Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester. Billed less as an actual comic con an instead clumsily titled For the Love of 80s and 90s, the event followed Monopoly Events standard format – a handful of guests, including some marquee names, some of whom haven’t attended a UK con before (or in some cases merely a loooong time), a gaggle of set builds, plenty of props and displays and the usual selection of traders. And also, given the conventions ties to the 80s and 90s – a retro arcade filled with consoles and computers old and new for everyone of all ages to play.

We’d previously attended Monopoly Events’ For the Love of 80s event in Edinburgh last year and this new convention followed the very same format. Guests, traders, set builds and props, i.e. plenty of things to see and do, yet on a smaller scale than the big-name UK cons. Which is the real big plus point for Monopoly Events’ conventions. The smaller scale means less people, less over-crowding and – especially given the queue issues other conventions have had in recent years – everyone gets a chance to see the guests they want to without any issues.

For those who attended Monopoly Events’ Edinburgh For the Love of 80s convention last November, there was a very familiar feeling you got walking round the convention hall… A lot of the traders were the same as in Edinburgh, the props and vehicles on show were the same as Edinburgh. Even Johnny Five from Short Circuit (along with the builder of this AMAZING robot, Wright Robotics) put in an appearance – but as I LOVE that movie and that build I’m not too nonplussed about it! What’s commendable is the fact this con took place at the same time as both the UK Games Expo and Comic Con Birmingham and STILL had such a wide variety of traders, props and set builds. There’s a real risk of spreading yourself thin when it comes to con schedules but this didn’t effect For the Love of 80s and 90s at all. In terms of a difference between this and the previous For the Love of 80s con in Edinburgh was the guests – though there were guests in attendance that were also in Edinburgh too. No big deal if you didn’t go to their Edinburgh show but still, maybe some variety wouldn’t hurt, especially as people tend to travel to a number of conventions across the UK (I spotted some familiar fans from places like Edinburgh and Wales at this con too).

One of, if not THE biggest compliment I have to give this convention – outside of the guest line-up – is to the set building crew of HotPropRT. The duo of Kevin and Ben built a number of sets for For the Love of 80s and 90s: including a replica of the Simpsons couch, the Peltzer kitchen from Gremlins and the frontage of the Blue Oyster bar from Police Academy. All three of which were manned by crew: including a cop who didn’t mind a dance at Blue Oyster, a trememdous Gremlin puppet in the kitchen (and even a dead Gremlin in a blender!), and Homer himself on the Simpsons couch. The sheer amount of pleasure those three builds gave attendees can not be dismissed – to have something so interactive at a convention was actually a stroke of genius and there were literally queues of people lining up to get photos on the sets and more importantly with the guys interacting with the crowd. That’s one thing that stands out about Monopoly Events’ shows, the sets and prop builds. They provide a real welcoming atmosphere at these event(s), the sheer fact you’re allowed to interact with displays, get photos, and generally have fun is something that – I think – the company should definitely keep as a focus of their conventions going forward.

In terms of traders there were some familiar faces from other conventions but there were plenty of stalls to check out in the second hall, including a butt-ton of Pop sellers, the odd comic stall and plenty of independent artists: including one company who will customise your skateboards, leather jackets and hell, even iPhone cases, with hand-painted art on a wide variety of geeky subject matter. The highlight of ALL the traders though was, for me, Lamplight Design Co. whose pop-culture artwork mixes modern movie and TV characters with 50s style advertising and comic art. Definitely check out their Storenvy page for more info.

The event was not without its issues of course, cons these days seldom are… Though these particular issues are not only the fault of Monopoly Events but also the venue itself. Firstly, and this is a minor issue and one that plagued the Wrestling MediaCon we attended at the same venue last year, the stage layout/location. I get that having the stage open to the main hall means a better chance of catching people’s attention and having them sit down to watch the panels, but at the same time the sound quality comes across as, frankly, terrible. It’s hard for the guests on stage to hear the audience, and it’s hard for the audience to hear the guests over the rest of the convention floor ruckus… It’s a hard one to call though. Do you curtain off the stage (or move it to one of the smaller halls) and risk no-one coming to watch a panel? Or do you make the best of it and work over the noise problems? It’s a hard call so I don’t fault the organisers either way.

The second issue is the price. To attend ANY of the Monopoly Events conventions you’re looking at at least £20 entry fee for a “Early Bird” ticket (as everyone knows these tickets are essential for beating con queues). That’s not a bad price for a huge convention like and MCM or Showmasters event but for somewhere as small as Bowlers Exhibition Centre that is most-definitely a top-tier price. After all, Bowlers is essentially only three halls, three halls that can be walked around in about an hour and I doubt you’d miss anything. The main gripe about the cost though is not the fault of Monopoly Events – it’s the ticket handling company. A £2 per ticket fee AND a £1 fee to automatically email you PDF tickets? That’s steep. What made it  worse, this particular event, was that the doors for For the Love of 80s and 90s didn’t actually open at 9am and the queue was still standing around moaning 15 minutes later, whilst the organisers seemingly had a “pep talk” in the car park! Speaking of the car park, that was ANOTHER fee of £5 to park on what is a FREE car park for other events… Didn’t pay the fee? Well go find somewhere else on the industrial estate to park. Somewhere, anywhere, it would seem given the sorry state the place was in (in terms of cars parked EVERYWHERE and often parked dangerously) when we left.

On the flip side I can see why the high entry price though – to be fair to Monopoly Events they do get guests no one else does. Case in point for this event: they had three Baywatch guests; a gaggle of Police Academy actors including Steve Guttenberg, in a VERY rare UK convention appearance; Judge Reinhold AND Zach Galligan. Plus many more guests that regularly do the con circuit. Guests make any convention and they need paying so the attendees have to make up some of that cost. Plus there would obviously be a cost in bringing the aforementioned set builds to the show.

But, but… my biggest gripe and the REAL problem with this particular event – well actually this location – is the venue owners and their “security”. Security who were more concerned with admonishing guests for bringing their own drinks and crisps – including one teenager in the queue who’d dared to bring a bag with cans of pop and crisps with him. Why admonish the attendees? Because the venue sold pop and crisps and they needed to make money off everyone attending too (literally a comment one security guards/doorman said)! The queue was regularly held up for 3-4 minutes whilst the doormen argued over whether to take people’s food and drink off them every time they checked a bag! So attendees are paying through the nose to get in and then expected to pay over-inflated bar prices for pop and crisps? Ridiculous! And something I doubt will generate any good will between Monopoly Events and the attending fans, even though it was clearly NOT their fault, possibly putting future events at risk.

With plenty of conventions planned for the rest of the year, it will be interesting to see how Monopoly Events upcoming events play out; especially For the Love of Horror – which will be at the same location in October and is one convention we’ll definitely be attending; and their flagship event For the Love of SciFi, which is typically the companies biggest convention of the year!

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