This week, I’m going to be uploading a fair few posts, specifically about the experience of attending San Diego Comic-Con from the UK. I’m finally going to be polishing off my blog post ‘Putting The ‘International’ In Comic-Con International’ this week (I swear, I’ve been promising to post that thing for friggin’ months, I’d completely understand if you’ve thrown me a sideways look on any promise to see it in the next seven days!), I’m going to take a look at the highlights of the rest of the 2014 UK Comic Con convention calendar, there’s going to be another Helpful Hint coming tomorrow… Lots to see and read this week.
But first, I’m going to shine a spotlight on an amazing group of people and possibly the highlight of my entire experience of attending San Diego Comic-Con to date: the SDCC UK Attendees Facebook Group (The British Invasion: Spirit Of ’86).
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My first time out to SDCC was in 2010; I know, I’m still a relative newcomer to this thing! However, for a Brit, San Diego Comic-Con was still a pretty new thing to hear about – there had been a couple of articles in various UK magazines such as Empire and Total Film, covering film headlines and celebrity sightings but certainly not the blanket coverage that there is now in the popular media. In 2008, Disney brought a test reel for a sequel to a film I was a massive fan of as a kid: ‘TRON’. The impact of the screening that short reel sent ripples across nerd culture and bootleg YouTube clips of the audience reaction in Hall H just made me determined to make the pilgrimage to experience that enthusiasm and excitement for myself.
In June 2010, I got married to my gorgeous wife, Caroline, someone who easily holds her own when it comes to following nerd/geek interests. She primarily is interested into fantasy and genre television, such as ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’, and fantasy movies; I’m the one who was the long time comics reader since I was a kid, along with sci-fi and fantasy. So, when I approached her with the idea that we use San Diego Comic-Con as the centrepiece of our honeymoon, she was more than up for the idea!
Needless to say, one visit, we were hooked!
After one hell of a Con (in which we saw Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh and the first presentation of the entire Avengers cast, no less), we were determined to return – this was back when you could wander up to the Sails Pavilion and buy badges for the following year. At this point, I was quite the frequent poster and contributor to the Comic-Con International Facebook page, along with a number of other online resources, including the Friends Of CCI forum. (I even sounded quite convincing with the advice I dished out, like I knew what I was talking about. Quite the blagger, even back then!)
A couple of weeks after SDCC 2011, and still high on Con fever, I decided to see if I could corral together any other like-minded Brits, heading to SDCC. It was half three in the morning after getting home from a gig (I’m a DJ, for my sins), I was buzzing on a post-Con high, so I fired up Photoshop to knock up a quick logo (replacing the generic comic-book ‘eye’ from the Comic-Con International logo, replacing it with a close up of a suitable UK equivalent: Judge Dredd) and excitedly hit go, launching a Group on Facebook.
I named the Group ‘The British Invasion: Spirit Of ’86’, after the infamous invasion of comics writers and artists from the UK, such as Alan Moore, Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman, Dave Mckean, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Brendan McCarthy, Glenn Fabry, Steve Dillon, and Philip Bond. See, I told you it was an ‘invasion’ – I just intended there to be another one, this time of rampant fans!
That was back in August 2011.
One year later, in July 2012, on Preview Night of SDCC that year, at the San Diego Hilton Gaslamp Hotel, the fledgling Group came together in person for the first time. I had attended a number of show pilots that Preview Night which I wanted to see but promised everybody I would get down to the meetup as soon as I was able… I know it sounds like perhaps I had my priorities slightly mixed up but I was incredibly nervous about what I would find at the Fireside Lobby Bar, across the tracks from the Convention Centre – I stepped out through the doors confronted by a sea of faces that I would come to know as dear and close friends: the first ever UK Attendees Group Meetup. I was struck by an enormous wave of emotion at this collective that somehow I’d brought together, pretty much on a whim in the middle of the night, eleven months previously. That was one hell of a night, that Wednesday balmy evening in San Diego, one I’ll never forget.
A number of Group Members (lead by first joiners Erica Farmer, Sharon & Neil Williamson, The Hamilton-Fletcher Family amongst others) had downloaded the Group Logo and printed them on t-shirts for the trip – it was slightly surreal to see that hastily rendered logo, emblazoned on the chests of some very happy Brit tourists! Of course I had gotten one, as well. There was no way in hell I was going to hear that someone had printed up a Group Member t-shirt and not get one of my very own, too – that would’ve just been rude!
We all have our tales of bumping into each other over the course of that years Con, of sharing the excitement of a full blown San Diego Comic-Con and seeing a familiar and friendly face across a crowd. Meeting up in lines, having drinking company in the evening, getting into scrapes and adventures on both sides of the border (Duncan Thow and David MacDonald taking many wild tales back home with them, for example – thankfully, along with all of their organs!)… This little collective of Brits just made so much of their first con as one Group. Brilliant!
A year later, we found ourselves back at the Hilton Gaslamp, this time a little more cramped! We had grown by nearly twice over at this point and we filled every corner of that cosy Fireside Bar – the conversation was lively, the libations were flowing and everyone bonded in a way which I couldn’t have imagined. I’d also arranged a more organised and uniform set of tees for 2012 (with matching hoodies and caps!) and also commissioned 2000AD artist Leigh Gallagher to produce a headshot to include in the Group Logo as the years souvenir – he did a fantastic rendering of John Constantine, something which I’m even more proud of, now that a new NBC series about the character is in production.
So, to see so many people that night, coming together and bonding like they were, just left me almost speechless… Almost. I had so many new faces to introduce myself to, which I had only spoken to on the Group Wall. It was amazing!
And, in a move of total surprise, I was presented with a video on an iPad of pretty much the entire Group, thanking me for setting up the Group in the first place and bringing everyone together – I was completely blown away! Even more so by the Group, at the end of the video, singing line by line each, a rendition of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ from ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer”s ‘Once More With Feeling’! Thanks to C.L. Mountford and other half Sean Baxendale for the editing, to Dom Rand and Neil Williamson for organising my transformation into ‘Captain Tightpants’ and the entire Group of 2013 for putting that special moment together – easily one of the biggest highlights of my entire Con experiences so far!
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So here we are, three years later after setting up the Group: we now have over 230 members, resulting in plenty of lively chat on the wall, all getting excited about everything pop culture and Con-related; we still have the Badge Teams, working their hearts out to help out their fellow Brits (not as successful this year, with the introduction of the Random Session Allocation system, introduced this year but we did what we could); we have plenty of stories of expeditions to the rapidly growing number of UK cons; and, of course, we have plenty of planning going on right now for our Con trips in 2014.
I still have plenty of ambitious plans for the Group – and I think it deserves it, too, because it really has become something to be proud of. And I feel the Group simply doesn’t belong to me anymore and hasn’t done for quite some time: every member has claim to ownership to this family of friends and comrades, they all bring so much passion and flavour, that I can only see myself as a Group Member alongside everyone else.
I originally setup the Group to share as much information as possible, to pass on plenty of top tips and useful info to make a Con trip from the UK go that much smoother and more enjoyable. With Badge Teams doing so well to help each other land badges, with Group Members writing up docs to help with accommodation, flights and communication (Lee Snowden’s doc on SIM cards and mobiles in the US is pretty much essential reading), with bunches of Group Members coming together to find condo accommodation to share… I’d say it definitely served its brief so far. And I look forward to seeing everybody in San Diego again in July – I just have no idea where we’re going to put everybody! We may have outgrown the Hilton Gaslamp in 2014, chaps… Something I never expected to be saying, three years ago!
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If you’re planning on heading out to San Diego in July from the UK and want to join other like-minded Brits, either for this year or for SDCC’s in the future, you’re more than welcome to join us: we can be found on Facebook – The San Diego Comic-Con UK Attendees Group: The British Invasion, Spirit Of ’86!