The last weekend of July in the U.K. nerd calendar means only one thing – Showmasters’ prestige event, the London Film & Comic-Con, held at the Olympia Conference Centre in that there titular London Town.
While Showmasters are the brainchild behind a number of other events, LFCC itself is possibly the most widely known pop culture convention on these shores, and one that has a reputation of bringing high profile international guests, year on year, to their tent pole event. July 2017 was no different with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch (SHERLOCK), Kevin Smith (Director: MALLRATS, DOGMA), Alan Tudyk (FIREFLY, CON MAN), Alyson Hannigan (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Mads Mikkelsen (DOCTOR STRANGE), Pamela Anderson (BAYWATCH), John Cleese (MONTY PYTHON), Benedict Wong (DOCTOR STRANGE), Wil Wheaton (STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION), David Morrissey (THE WALKING DEAD), John Carroll Lynch (PAUL), Alicia Witt (THE WALKING DEAD), Tom Skerritt (ALIEN) and many, many more famous names.
In total, there were over a hundred TV and film guests, and over fifty comic book artists and writers also on hand, including the likes of Marv Wolfman, Andy Dingle, Lew Stringer, Kieron Gillen, Guillermo Ortego and Mark Buckingham.
As somebody who has been to one of these things before, and certainly if you’re thinking of coming in 2018, here’s a top tip for attending LFCC: Get there early, if you want to get to the more popular guests! Like, way before the doors are scheduled to open! While we’re not talking silly San Diego overnight-camping fever-pitch yet, I still arrived at 8.30am to find roughly about five hundred people in front of me, meaning that, when the doors opened, there would not be that many people lining up for autographs with most of the guests. Sure enough, as we were let in at 9am, everyone rushed upstairs to the guests signing areas. Lines formed for the bigger, more in-demand guests – Smith, Tudyk, Hannigan, Cumberbatch and the like. However, this meant that some of the other guests had no line at all, which means if your tastes are a little off the mainstream track, you can get to your favourites relatively quickly.
For example – and to be fair, this was a surprise to me – I made a quick hot foot over to Michael Madsen’s desk to find only three people in front of me, before I came face-to-face with the man who cut off a cop’s ear in RESERVOIR DOGS. For a guy who has made a reputation of playing abrasive and confrontational hard men, Madsen appeared in fine form, cordially chatting to attendees with his gruff voice and no-nonsense attitude.
The rest of my day was spent walking around the guests signing area to figure out the lay of the land – Showmasters does have a quaint tendency to change where people are located each day – and checking out who had the biggest lines. Beyond the big names, there was one other person who had an autograph line as long as Cumberbatch’s and that was legendary director Tobe Hooper. The helmer of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and POLTERGEIST was in high demand; sensing that his autograph line was never going to shrink, I jumped in and waited for my chance to ask him to autograph my POLTERGEIST blu ray.
I had read that Hooper tried to make a SPIDER-MAN film during the 1980’s with the infamous Cannon Films but it fell into development hell, so when it was my turn in front of him, I asked: what happened to his version of the webslinger? “We didn’t quite have the technology to make the actual webbing shooting from his arms work. The CGI technology was not in an advanced stage when we were trying to use it and it didn’t look right. Eventually we had cease pre-production on it because it simply wasn’t going to look right.” Intriguing. I wonder what that film would have turned out like if Hooper had pressed ahead with it?
While waiting in line for Hooper, at the next table was THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN & LOIS LANE‘s own Son Of Krypton, Dean Cain – and this is where a rather contentious confrontation took place. (Don’t worry, SUPERMAN fans, Dean is barely involved!)
As 11am arrived, one of the Showmasters staff cut Dean’s line off as he had to go off to do a photo shoot. However, a family slipped in behind everyone else and managed to see Cain – drama! When a fellow attendee pointed out to a Showmasters staffer that this family had pushed ahead of some people who had been turned away, a full-blown argument started. The attendee, who was stood behind me, pointed out what had happened to the event staffer, who then proceeded to scream at him, “THERE IS NO MORE. THE LINE IS STOPPED!” This outburst was in full view of guests and attendees. When the attendee behind me pointed out that a couple had been sent away only for the family to jump in while no one was looking, the staffer continued to shout: “NO ONE IS ALLOWED IN THE LINE NOW!” Eventually, the couple who were at the centre of it all were allowed back in the line to meet Cain – a ridiculous affair where, for once, the attendees of a con didn’t lose their cool at the situation but the staff did.
Off to calmer waters. Wandering the vendor’s stalls, it was clear that Funko POP’s were not a big draw on the floor this year; there were some stalls that were selling them but it was all the same products which can be bought from many other outlets on and offline, and for cheaper than some of the prices displayed and, therefore, there wasn’t the buzz around these stalls that one would usually expect.
Stalls were plentiful but the attendees simply weren’t reacting to what was on offer. There was the obligatory swords booth where you could buy any number of replica swords from your favourite fantasy film and/or TV show. Last year there was an “Exclusives” range of items only available at LFCC: this year, there was nothing. If a company like Funko, Hasbro or Mattel were to start selling exclusives at LFCC, then there’s the possibility they would be onto a money maker. This huge convention is crying out for an exclusives merchandiser. [adopts best Lex Luthor impression: “…and, of course, I want my cut.”]
Back to celeb hunting. Some of the guests were located up on the balcony area of Olympia, which made it easier to find them. I eventually lined up to meet Alicia Witt, an actress who had featured in the real time thriller 88 MINUTES with Al Pacino (the subject of a certain book I could heartily recommend) and I was interested to hear her experience of working with the great man. Witt was as delightful as you would expect. Cheery and constantly upbeat, she continued to talk to all without looking bored or uninterested – some high profile guests could take a few tips from Witt as to how to act around fans.
After further walking around the venue, I ended up near the green screen photo op area. Seeing that David Bradley was having photos taken with attendees inside the TARDIS, I thought I would snap a few pictures from a distance. Suddenly, an event staffer shouts over, not just to me but also a few others who had the same idea: “NO PICTURES! NO PICTURES AT ALL!” This seemed overzealous as the photos we would be taking featured a green screen in the background. It wouldn’t be the finished product that those who had paid for would receive. It’s half a photo effectively. Also, for anyone who had a friend or family member taking pictures of them meeting David Bradley, it meant they couldn’t take pictures either. A bit draconian on the part of the staffer who, I have to wonder, was just beefing up their own responsibilities or had been given their heavy-handed marching orders from higher up…
After talking to other attendees who were attending the whole weekend, it appeared that event staff with an attitude was an on-going theme of this year’s London Film & Comic Con. I saw one photo on a gentleman’s phone that had an event staff’s hand up in front of the lens to stop him taking a photo of one of the guests. I was also told that when Pamela Anderson arrived on Saturday, the event staff were concerned about how many people were taking long range photos of her so that they covered her autograph area so no one could see her.
Admittedly, Anderson didn’t exactly cover herself in glory over the weekend. Deciding not to arrive until after 11am on both Saturday and Sunday (in fact, on Sunday she didn’t turn up till after midday), and then leaving at 5pm on the dot, she flaunted quite the diva attitude which belies her current stature in the pop culture lexicon. She was also flanked by several of her burly bodyguards at all times which, on one hand, I understand from her point of view (the threat of stalkers, over zealous fans, etc), yet on the other hand, it can be very intimidating for attendees as well.
My thoughts of London Film & Comic Con, in conclusion: everyone must concede, it’s very difficult to put on the perfect nerd convention. The logistics and moving parts involved are immense, the pressure to please not only your attendees but also your special guests, your staff and the venue itself must be an absolute minefield. However, if a convention organiser brings to the table a wide selection of guests that will attract attendees from different walks of life, then half the battle is won and that is why Showmasters is still the number one convention production team in the U.K.. As the English summer fades into the distance, however, there’s still that grey cloud lingering over this years proceedings and I feel that some of the issues that I witnessed first-hand, over the weekend, will need to be addressed before next year’s event.
For more information about London Film & Comic Con, including the next event on their calendar, you can check out their Official Website at http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com/, as well as keeping an eye on their social media, including Facebook and Twitter.