Fan Fest or Fright Fest?
Back before Christmas my wife dropped some not so subtle hints that she’d seen an event that she would like to go to. My dearest has been a fan of nearly all the DC universe series which are currently airing (with exception to Legends of Tomorrow which she “just couldn’t get on with”) which includes the Arrowverse and Gotham. She was particularly excited to the fact that Stephen Amell was in the UK in May and was really interested in having a photo taken, undeterred by the £70 photo shoot price. No stranger to a comic con I naturally snapped up the chance to frequent this one, fueled by the fact I get to show my wife what all the fuss was about.
Now an incident of unfortunate timing pitched the event a week after the recent Manchester bombing incident. Certain to be noted in history as a terribly tragic event that is was caused ripples throughout the country and had a profound effect on all large events (13,000 of which were planned for the bank holiday weekend across the whole UK I’m told). It’s certainly not my intention to make light or play down the tragedy, however it’s a noteworthy factor in what I’m going to explain in the following article and one which the organisers clearly cannot be accountable for.
The attended event was the Heroes and Villains Fan Fest. Not a comic con albeit similar in nature. The onus here was on the Guests, being the bulk of the DC TV show universe and Family(?)…apparently.
The event took place at the Kensington Olympia conference hall which is located in Kensington, Chelsea. This is a fine location for this type of event and transport links were great as a special service runs on the tube on the weekend. What with the wife in tow (and having the delightful job of offloading my 2 year old sprog) I didn’t actually arrive until midday which was around an hour and half after the event opened. Little gripe, after walking passed an empty queue railing to the front door I was told we had to enter through the side to get our ticket which involved going back outside, around a queue railing and back in a side door which ended up being the same room I would have gone in through the front door…literally no one else was queuing at either entrance…
Once I finally was granted access we were welcomed in the grand hall and was accosted by a cheerful gentleman who was very excited about my Dragon Ball Z T-shirt (sporting a similar one himself), a couple of selfies and a friend request later and on I went with a proud swagger and embarrassed spouse.
Now, probably owing to the previous weeks events, the hall was surprising sparse. Not just in regard to the size of the crowd, but the number of stalls/vendors and in relation to any decoration. Signposting was also a bit lacking as you had to go to a “Will Call” (nice guy by all accounts) stand to grab photo op tickets separately and that was across the venue from where the map said they were. Going back to the decor, a lot of plain white stands littered the hall with maybe a flag or similar draped over top. The venue is also very tall with a balcony which allowed you to “peep behind the curtain” so to speak and see that not much effort had gone into the decoration at any part of the event.
Looking at vendors - disappointment here again. A couple of vendor spots were empty out of the 30 odd that attended but the wares on offer here were not much in addition to your local comic book store or Forbidden Planet. 1 shirt stand, 1 weapon stand, 3 poster stands and the rest all comics and collectibles. Distinct lack of plush toys and high quality ornaments which you normally see. It was a very independent vibe rather than the usual Tokyo Toys set ups I was used to but with that came limited stock and over expensive Pop Vinyl’s (£15 is too much, they’re all available for £10 online!!).
I had prepared my wife to be impressed with the cosplay offering at these events, she was quick to point out an impressive Harley Quinn and Arrow upon arrival and I scoffed and said, “wait til we really get in there”. And when we did we saw a few more Harley Quinn’s and some Poison Ivy’s and the odd Riddler…but that was about it other than an impressive Negan sporting a full on swagger and Lucille (available for purchase). To be fair it was more fool me on this front, a full on Comic Con was taking place across London and that was going be the weird and wonderful world I was used to. Here were a lot more general TV show fanatics rather than the full on internet geek brethren. As a result the cosplay didn’t live up to the hype that I was expecting. Clearly some people had made the journey across town as I saw Mortal Kombat’s Raiden pottering about but sadly he looked a bit out of place and got a couple of stares which is a shame.
Something that didn’t disappoint, despite last minute pulling from Super Girl Mellissa Benoist, were the Guests on site. A large collection of fan favourites from the aforementioned DC universe including (but not limited to!); Stephen Amell, Michael Rooker, Sean Pertwee and Brandon Routh. All guests (with the exception of Amell) spent plenty of time at their standing doing all sorts of meet and greet, autographs and selfies. Unlike other events, they weren't tucked away behind a curtain or barrier, they were literally just there for the world to see and interact with.
A careful queuing system ensured that anyone who was waiting got to speak to their idols. Jumping back to Stephen Amell briefly, he was clearly the headliner at the event and it was a shame as a result that he was unable to spend much time mingling. He couldn't help that to be frank but whilst we were waiting in line for the photo shoot (another part of the event which was surprisingly well organised and straight forward) my wife encouraged me to watch his recent charity Ninja Warrior run (impressive stuff). When we got into the booth and the man himself said hi I quickly mentioned what i had just watched followed by my wife saying how very impressive it was he replied with a genuine "Aww, thanks guys". His response was such that I kind of felt he wanted more interactions with fans, he certainly seemed sincere to me (but he is an actor lol!). Walking past his stand later on there was a note saying he'd be back for signings at 17:50...the event finished at 18:00 so clearly wanted to give everyone a chance to say hi! The one other which surprised me, and sadly not in a good way, was Micheal Rooker Aka, Yondu/Merle. Sitting at his booth with a decent queue he was beret'ed with shades and there was a simple sign; Autographs £50, No Photos, No Selfies. Don't forget why you're famous Merle. Otherwise, top drawer stuff for giving you the opportunity to get so up close and personal with your favourite stars.
When I was reading about the event online I saw some testimonials which included comments on an Archery booth and climbing/obstacle events. beyond the guests I was looking forward to so entertainment and experiences. However London had nothing. That's a lie actually, there were 2 things featured on the schedule (other than panels), the "Family Activity Area", in reality this was a rough looking velcro wall and one of those inflatable surfboard simulator, kind of a bucking bronco thing but a surf board, again bit rough/well used. No one was using the is and it sat sadly in the corner of the photo area looking like a disappointing birthday party. The other part was a rather amateur photo booth/green screen which gave the appearance that you were either surrounded by Zombies (not a huge connection to the event as Micheal Rooker was the only cast member from Walking Dead and he was sat in front of a Yondu flag) or a comic cover type frame which frankly looked like it had be done on paintbrush.
There were several panels scheduled. The panel area was open planned in the centre of the hall and had seating but encouraged people to stand at the sideline or on the balcony too. The set up was good except the speaker echo'd terribly from the outside and you had to rely on the speech to word display to understand what was being said. There were 3 panels each day but sadly the Supergirl panel was reduced to a single cast member (as they otherwise had pulled out last minute as mentioned) and a TBC slot which went to the chap who played Constantine in the TV show which was canned after a season (like 2 years ago). The one panel worth heading to I have popped some photos off. A good chunk of the Gotham cast were present and by all accounts appeared to be having a great time (especially Drew Powell who played Butch in Gotham).
To sum up the experience in as single word I would use Underwhelmed. Despite the horrid events of the previous week, which resulted in a reduced crowd mainly, there simply wasn't enough to do or look at. We managed to spend 3 hours before calling it a day. Admittedly if you were to visit more of the stars you could stretch this by another hour or 2 but your budget would need to stretch with that. In all you'd be looking at spending something like £300 (cash on the day) to get your photo taken and get a handful of signatures. Admittedly this is London Chelsea but most guests weren't local!
I was excited to get the missus involved in part of my world but we both walked away disenchanted. Being constructive I would encourage the organisers to maybe not compete on the same weekend as another Comic Con and try a bit harder to give people more to do rather than hoping that they queues will be long enough to entertain us for a day! Gaming corner, Statues to pose with, more vendors!, smaller panels for smaller crowd drawing events, projectors with TV shows or other interesting prerecorded interviews etc. and for the love of god decorate the place better!
Can't say I'd attend this one again in the current format, just have to keep saving for San Diego I suppose.