Mark Searby: For the third year running, Walker Stalker Con returned to London’s Olympia, bringing with it a whole host of THE WALKING DEAD actors (dead and alive – the characters, not the actors, you understand!), some non-TWD actors from genre shows such as SONS OF ANARCHY and THE 100, and also Bruce Campbell. Not so much a show, per se, but simply the man, the myth, the legend himself, in all his glory.
In its two previous years, Walker Stalker Con has run smoothly without any major issues. In fact, I had previously said that a lot of the British conventions could learn a lot from how James Frazier and his team run their events… [record scratch] Oh dear. Not so this year! I had a Saturday General Admittance ticket and it was the worst set up I have seen at any nerd convention in a long time.
Even before the doors had opened to General Admission, there was a couple of thousand people in line, stretching from the front door across to and under the dilapidated outhouse, and beyond. The line was occasionally shuffling forward – ironically, like the zombies featured inside – but it never felt like there was big movements. By 11am (thirty minutes after doors had opened), there was very little in the way of movement. When asked, event security didn’t know what the hold up was; occasionally, a staff member from Fan Fest (the organisation behind Walker Stalker Con) would come down the line, asking if anyone had a photo op in the next thirty minutes and if so to come out of line and follow him. This continued several times and more and more people were getting agitated.
image: ashtonjade.co.ukBy 11:30am, I had made my shuffle over the road and within sight of the entrance, but still the lines moved incredibly slowly. I spoke to a security guy to say I had a photo op at 12:10pm and asked what is the chance of making inside before that time. He suggested waiting ten minutes and seeing how far I got before giving him a shout. Ten minutes went by and movement was still slow, so I looked for the security guy only to discover – shock, horror, surprise! – he was nowhere to be found.
Suddenly, the line moved and I was inside the door at 11:50am where, expecting to find what the hold-up was, it turned out that there was no line inside but only three people handing out wristbands – that was what was slowing down the process! Ridiculous! (Also, the increased bag checking didn’t help matter.) One thing I did notice was that one of the Fan Fest upper management was stood in the doorway, watching everyone file in and seemingly oblivious to the problems they had outside.
Once inside, I had to race to the photo op area to make sure I was in line for my long-awaited photo op with Bruce Campbell (ten years in the waiting – hail to the chief!). I show them my QR Code print out and am then told I must go into another line to exchange my bit of paper for a token which will then get me in line for the photo op. Fifteen minutes and counting – the pressure is on the clock is ticking… Now I know how Kiefer Sutherland felt in 24!
As it happened, the line for the photo ops token was a complete mess. There was no organisation structure in place that I could see and people just crossing over the rope fences in-order to get there quicker. Finally, at the front it was a case of scanning the QR Code and be given a token. Now, why couldn’t Fan Fest eliminate the token stage and just have staff at the photo op areas with QR readers? Zap! You’re in! The additional stage of getting a token seems pointless in this digital age.
Finally, I’m through and in the line for the Bruce Campbell photo op – bare in mind, this is my third line of the day and I’ve been there over three hours already. Fortunately, the photo op line moved quickly and proficiently and, by the time it was my turn in front of the camera with the man himself, I was fired up and ready to go. I asked Bruce if, for my pose, he would straighten my tie for the photo; he obliged, we had a brief chat, then I’m hoiked out the back door. The whole thing may only have been a minute in there, but Campbell knows how to play the convention game and makes each person’s experience individual (unlike some others). I couldn’t complain.
With my one priority achieved, I took the time to explore. Walking around Walker Stalker Con, I noticed that there was a lot of guests, not at their tables signing. Turns out that most of them had all gone to lunch at the same time, leaving fans wandering around with very little to do apart from look at some of the vendors on display. But even they were sparsely populated and with very little of any real worth. So, vendors on the limited side and guests all gone for lunch there isn’t much else to do at Walker Stalker except wander aimlessly.
Making a note of where Bruce Campbell would be signing (as I wanted him to sign my picture we just had taken in that special, special moment), it became obvious that people were already in line for his autograph. In fact, Bruce’s line was already in the second overflow area, so I decided to jump in and wait. Bruce was due in thirty minutes. The line chaos from outside returned with a vengeance. VIP’s & Gold’s had their own area, all well and good, but General Admission all started to mingle together with it becoming very difficult to find where you were in the line.
Suddenly, a staff member arrived with tape to put on the floor and organise some routes. However, it then became plainly obvious that after putting some bits of tape down, they didn’t know where else it should go and confused themselves as to what their original goal was in the first place. I watched one Volunteer move three times and, by the time he was on his third move, he was back to where he was stood originally. Not only did this create a bit of chaos, buy it also brought about the wrath of a volunteer who started shouting at people, “WHY ARE YOU STOOD HERE??”, to which the collected response was, “That staff member told us to!”. Bedlam! And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the person who was meant to be covering the final zig-zag path to Bruce Campbell simply up and disappeared, leaving the GA line open for people to just walk into. Several times, those in front of me had to go and tell people joining the line that this wasn’t the back of the line, in fact you had to go all the way around the overflow.
One hour and twenty minutes of confusion and frustration later, I was finally at the front of the line to meet Bruce, again. To be fair, his management ‘handler’ was absolutely on the ball when it came to explaining what Bruce would and wouldn’t sign, keeping the flow moving quickly but not too quick. And, at the end of the day, regardless of your experience getting in front of him Bruce is Bruce – ever charming and incredibly entertaining. We had a little chat about the photo and my outfit (I was wearing a suit and tie), before he wished me well and off I went.
With the time now rolling up to 3pm, I simply couldn’t take anymore lines – I’d had enough – so decided to head home. If it hadn’t had been for meeting Bruce Campbell then this year’s Walker Stalker Con would have been an absolute disaster. From line management – oh, did I mention there were still hundreds of people in line outside at 1:30pm? – to needlessly additional tokens, from Special Guests all off for lunch at the same time to there being no buzz around the venue, to crucial miscommunication between management, staff and volunteers… all in all, Walker Stalker Con 2018 was simply a shambling corpse of a convention. I needed an event like this like I needed a baseball bat to the head.
Leonard Sultana: Hi there! This review post is a re-post of Mark’s take on Walker Stalker Con, originally put up shortly after the event. However, thank to a delightful glitch on WordPress, it was devoured into the void, along with all of the attached images… Curses! The text has been recovered from cache but, in the absence of photos – which I just can’t seem to find from our archive – we have relied on the generosity of a couple of images not only from other site but also from a contributor on the excellent Facebook group, The Con Network. Thanks to Wayne Pillai for the photos… and check out The Con Network for all of their superb updates for cons both in the UK and abroad: https://www.facebook.com/groups/391643971197675/