Home Con News Con Recap: Sheffield Film & Comic Con, 30th/31st August 2014
Last weekend, on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st August, renowned UK convention organisers Showmasters and Collectormania brought their tonnage of experience and contacts past Watford Gap and towards the Steel City for Sheffield Film & Comic Con, a two-day celebration of pop culture, TV and movie celebrity, cosplay and everything nerdy… all done in t’ most Yorkshire way possible, of course, lad. Aye.
The North of England at the back-end of August was never going to be a blistering weekend – we’re just not that lucky in Yorkshire. However, while grey, filthy clouds threatened to soak the gathered nerds to the bone, the skies thankfully resisted throwing it down, a bonus to the couple hundred that showed up without buying tickets in advance.
Sheffield Film and Comic Con is the first event that Showmasters have held in the city, making the most of the full Motorpoint Arena on Broughton Lane. The venue is situated a little way out of the town centre and a short drive off the M1, meaning that you have to be actively drawn to the event – there wasn’t much in the way of passing trade here but those that had made the effort, turned out on their droves.
Jill Ubdegrove of Showmasters told us, “We have been looking at a number of cities in the past twelve months where we felt there was a strong desire for this type of event – once we saw the venue with its capacity and space, it really became a good option that we couldn’t ignore.”
As I hadn’t purchased my ticket for the event in advance, I made my way to the Motorpoint Arena a little later than I would usually do, in order to avoid any excess lines – as it happened, even at midday, there was a dedicated line of a couple of hundred people, waiting on one-in, one-out movement of the crowd inside. And thankfully, this line moved through pretty quickly which meant that fans were able to get inside within a good hour – plenty of time to see the numerous cosplayers doing the rounds.
If you’ve been to a Showmasters event before – such as Cardiff and Newcastle Film & Comic Cons – you know exactly what you’re going to get: plenty of money changing hands for merchandise, costumes, toy and, yes, comics (not as many comics stalls as I’d like but, still…); very sheepish looking actors and actresses that look vaguely familiar from that film/show you know from your mum and dad’s VHS collections, wrestlers (if you like that sort of thing) and comics artists, sat behind trestle tables, munching on their sushi; fantastically realised cosplay from enthusiastic, permanently grinning student-types… cosplay that doesn’t involve that much bare skin, mind. This is the North of England at the arse-end of summer, after all!
One thing I was impressed by was how Showmasters has utilised the space of the Arena – the venue is pretty basic in that it literally doesn’t have any bells or whistles, with an outer corridor featuring the celebrity table where you could meet a number of special guests, and the standing Arena area holding three rows of Merchandising Stalls – nicely cut into the corners of this area were two panel stages, with the Arena seating itself providing an ideal viewing vantage of the guests on stage.
Jill Ubdergrove, Showmasters: “When we have an arena as our venue, we do now utilise the seating [in this manner] – this was first implemented at our Glasgow event a couple years ago, I believe… it always goes down well and it means we can better plan the layout. We all [in the office] have a say in the layout and show content, but Jason Joiner, the owner of Showmasters ultimately decides the layouts and planning for each event, working with the exhibitors and guests we may have for each show.”
What I appreciated about this layout was the efficiency of it; if you felt you wanted to take a breather from the crowded merch booths, you could simply step into the Arena seating, look down over the whole melee and not feel like you had stepped away from the action completely, providing a comfortable respite from the claustrophobia on the floor. It also meant that, using the upper Arena walkways, you were never too far away from another distraction in terms of the choice of talk stages.
A view from the stands, with Chris Barrie & Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf) on stage.
And, of course, when they weren’t on their panel stages, you could find a number of famous faces in the outer corridor, plying their wares in terms of signed photos, or just to have a chat to fans: in attendance were Eve Myles and Burn Gorman (Torchwood), Robert Llewellyn and Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf), Chase Masterson, Armin Shimmerman and Kitty Swink (Star Trek), along with a whole host of Game Of Thrones actors and actresses who you could go and meet, once you’d gotten the obligatory photo op down on the Iron Throne itself.
The Star Trek: DS9 panel (Kitty Swink, Armin Shimmerman and Chase Masterson)
And, of course, regularly popular Showmasters draws had made their way to Sheffield, too – Anthony Stewart Head regaled fans with tales from the sets of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Merlin (“Who would I play if I wasn’t playing Uther? Nah, I think I was fine with the part I got – some actors were told to stand there and ‘smile evilly’, that’s it. I got to properly play with the darker elements – it’s good to be bad!”)
On stage: Anthony Stewart Head
Doctor Who was also healthily represented, in the form of some Who actors from the Classic Years – Bonnie Langford, Frazer Hines, Louise Jameson, Sophie Aldred, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and more, all looking very pleased to be there – and plenty of Who cosplay in force, too. A very encouraging sight to see for this older Whovian, if I’m going to be honest. History represent!
The Doctor Who panel: Paul McGann, Terry Molloy, Louise jameson, Dan Starkey and Bonnie Langford) (l-r)
I didn’t venture into the VIP Lounge, situated at the far end of the outer corridor, personally – it’s something that just doesn’t appeal, putting somebody through the performance of posing jovially with somebody they’re not going to get the chance to really talk to – and so, once I’d done my tour of the floor, performed a lap of the guest tables and seen a panel or two, the day threatened to wear pretty thin.
However, the interest was maintained nicely by what seemed like an endless parade of cosplayers over on the Masquerade Stage – this being a comic convention in England, it wouldn’t be complete without a host who had to combat the bizarre pronunciations of animes he’d clearly never heard of, and a crowd who wouldn’t ever learn them either, thanks to an intermittent PA system. The loudest cheer of the afternoon came for a small sprog of a Green Lantern who enthusiastically grabbed the mic and, with the thanks to the gods, got a nice clear radio mic signal for a full, shouty rendition of the Lantern Corp oath. Said with a lot more enthusiasm and conviction than Ryan Reynolds, it must be said. Well done, lad.
Like all good cons, the best attractions that I’ll take away were the things you found it in the corners of the room, squirrelled away – a comics retailer with an actual Avengers #1, on display behind a respectfully thick glass cabinet; a merch retailer selling a full collection Star Wars/Indiana Jones annuals which I hadn’t seen since my childhood (…my lord, I was incredibly tempted!); the legend which is Battlestar Galactica’s Dirk ‘Starbuck’ Benedict, for heavens sake… Cracking stuff.
And, above all else, the fantastic attendees who overcame their stoic British demeanour to transform a shell of a venue into a little slice of nerd in Yorkshire. Cracking stuff! I’ll be looking forward to when this event returns to Sheffield which it is scheduled to do so in 2015: Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th August, twelve months time. I’ll be here.
Things I’ll take away from Sheffield Film & Comic Con:
- Anime fans in England are really passionate about their love for anime – and boy, they’re young, too.
- One small observation about the panel stages: the stages themselves, being over the railings on the arena floor, could’ve done being raised just a touch to be seen by the crowd. Another foot or so, that’s all it could’ve taken.
- Speaking of panel stages: I’ve got a ace idea for a major one, right at the back of the stands. I found myself absent-mindedly sketching it while taking a breather for five minutes. It’ll only take some scaffolding, some line management… Let me get this website earning its keep and I’ll go in with you to sponsor it, Showmasters. I’ll get my people to talk to your people, etc…
- More staff on hand, generally, perhaps? Not those minding the invited guests – boy, there were plenty of those. I mean, ‘red shirts, wandering around and making a presence. (Then again, everyone was pretty much well behaved – if it wasn’t needed, hey…)
- Sophie Aldred cannot ever be not happy – ever. I suspect it’s not in her DNA.
- Paul McGann is strikingly attractive in real life. I mean, I’m straight but… Damn.
- Speaking of which: Chase Masterson looks really good for her age.
- Armin Shimmerman looks really, REALLY good for his age.
- Jeremy Bullock is a lying little tinker (I’d heard he was laid down low with the lurgy but, nope, there he was behind his table like a trooper. Well, like a bounty hunter. You know what I mean.)
- It’s official: we Brits are better at queuing than anyone else on the planet. Hardly news but it’s great to see smiles and chats occurring while in the straightest of lines. Bravo.
- Last but not least: why, oh, why, do I buy food and drink at a comic con, any comic con? Expensive, tasteless crap. Honestly, it’s like I’ll never learn…