A Convention Review
Well, I can safely say that Sci Fi Weekender the convention I attended on the first weekend of March in North Wales was a resounding success for Wizards Keep. There was a lot of interest in Worlds End and everything sold very well indeed.
The show itself was unbelievable and must have taken an enormous amount of effort to organise and to manage.
The week prior saw me working almost around the clock to accommodate the event, whilst keeping everything in order here at the Keep. The week of the convention saw me inside a Primary school on the Wednesday and the Thursday, which meant I would leave and head straight to Wales from the school on the latter of the two days.
I was making good time too until we saw the flashing motorway signs telling us there was an accident ahead, which added about two extra hours to the journey.
The weather was clear until about thirty miles out from the venue at Hafan Y Mor, the Haven holidays camp, when it became increasingly foggy. Then, almost as if by magic, it disappeared and I found the Sat Nav indicating a left turn. I started down what appeared to be a small lane, which quickly became very small and path-like – and I remember wondering whether there might be someone at the end of it with masks and chainsaws. I needn’t have worried however and I soon found myself (again as if by magic) on a parallel road, which had bypassed the road works I had been told about. I arrived shortly before nine o’clock and once outside the car I realised just how cold it was. Looking up at the evening sky it was clear as a bell and the constellations looked magnificent above us.
I met up with Matt, one of the main organisers and then checked in, was given my chalet keys and made my way around to unload my stuff, before meeting up with Dez Skinn, Aniko and the gang, who were still en route.
I opened the chalet door – an eight berth caravan – all to myself and turned on the lights or at least I tried to. Nothing!!! I used the light from my mobile like a torch and looked about the place. I looked on the walls, in the cupboards and in the boiler cupboard at the back of the ‘van to see if I could find a master switch, but could still find nothing to turn on the electricity.
I made my way back to the reception area to await the arrival of Dez and the others. Not long after they arrived and once checked in we made a scenic tour of the place as everyone was dropped off in turn from their mini-bus to their respective chalets. I jumped out as we neared the gatehouse and I asked the security guy there if he knew where the box would be to turn on the electrics. He radioed another of the security folks and arranged for them to meet me back at the chalet.
It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes to get back there in my car, which was still laden with all my gear for the trip. The guy was waiting for me and well, I guess I should have known that the electric box would be at the very back of the ‘van (the furthest way away from the front door) in the master bedroom, inside one of the wardrobes, behind the multiple duvets – but alas I didn’t; expecting it to be in the master living area, where you first gained access. My mistake... LOL.
It was late, cold and I decided to put on the heating. The fire at the front of the ‘van worked, but the radiators didn’t and neither did the gas oven, so I checked the gas cupboard to see if I could see where the problem may lie. The pilot light was okay, but there was no way to check the radiators – as they were electric.
Anyhow, I was meeting up with Dez, Aniko and the gang for a drink and a chat – I decided I would sort this later, upon my return.
I met up with them at the Mash and Barrel for a drink and as it was so full of folks and so loud we decided to check out the movies area, which proved a much better option as that bar was quieter, the room was less packed and we could, almost, hear ourselves when conversing. The first film we saw the end of (and thankfully it was the end) was some type of bad B-Movie. It was followed by the latest version of Judge Dredd, which I hadn’t seen previously. The beginning was good and I was enjoying it, but the lack of sleep for a few days and the trek down here had begun to take their toll and I found myself drifting off. Dez spoke to me and I realised then, it was time for bed. He too was setting off to his chalet and so the two of said our farewells to his partners-in-crime and I was soon outside in the freezing air once more.
There was a brief interlude whilst we decided whether or not to have a mid-night feast. Upon reflection we decided against it. It was late, we were cold and there was a queue. Time for our beds we decided. I walked with Dez part way to his chalet, whereupon we met up with Will Simpson and a friend and so stayed for ten minutes or so chatting until once more the cold was upon us and we realised we still hadn’t reached our beds. Eventually bidding each other farewell until the morning, now only a few hours away we made our ways back to our respective chalets.
Well, as I say, it was late and cold and so I decided on getting some sleep. It was so cold (and I rarely feel cold unless I am ill) that I decided to keep my leather jacket and scarf on, at least until I warmed up. There was steam coming from my mouth and I was INSIDE the chalet. I decided would get this sorted ASAP when I got up for breakfast.
At 3:00a.m. I woke up, turned and got cramp in my left calf. I got up and stretched it until the cramp had gone, it was even colder. I got another duvet out of the cupboard with the electric box in it and got back into bed. When my face hit the pillow it was like lying on a bag of vegetables straight out of the freezer. Still I managed to get back over to sleep.
At 4:00a.m. I again woke up, this time with cramp in my right leg. It was obvious that it was so cold that the blood circulation in my body was wasn’t working because of the cold. I didn’t want to die of hyperthermia, so looked inside another cupboard for more duvets – I was determined to get warm. As I pulled out the duvets I saw a miracle – there in all its glory was an oil-based radiator and it was electric – YIPPEE!!!!
I plugged it in at the side of the bed and for a moment worried it may be too close to it. Then I decided it was too cold to have such thoughts and got back into bed still dressed in my leather jacket and scarf and shivering.
I awoke on Friday morning to sun streaming through the curtains and sweat dripping off me like I was in a sauna. It was now boiling – the radiator had done the trick. That would now be the first thing I did every evening upon returning to the ‘van.
I went for breakfast, which consisted of five items from the “fry-up” section (I later found out that there was a full English breakfast with unlimited brews) and was joined by Dez and Aniko. After breakfast had been eaten we were joined by Glen Fabry and Alan Mitchell. I have spoken to Alan a few times at conventions, but it wasn’t until this one that I realised he had written the issue of Third World War in Crisis magazine, which Richard Piers-Rayner had pencilled and I had painted - issue #23.
I took a look around the area and found where all the events were taking place. Everywhere was a hive of activity and sound checks. It was like seeing the preparation for a huge West End or Broadway show. It was amazing!
We were meant to have had the tables and signage ready by 9:00 a.m., so we could set up, but the organisers were so busy they had fallen a little behind, so it was closer to 10:00 a.m. before we were sitting at the tables with our stuff in place. The signs were still down and I overheard one of the guys, Andy, mention they needed some double sided tape to hold them in place. I offered them Velcro and they started to put them up using it.
Things were fine for a short while until the sheer weight of the signs brought some of them crashing down. So it was decided that it was safer to screw them in place.
Well, by this time, the public had been let inside the hall and we were off.
Throughout the rest of the morning we were witness to Daleks moving around the show, folks dressed up in Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Superheroes and many other characters costumes. It had a carnival atmosphere to it all. Outside two huge Cheese-Grater-styled Daleks trundled up and down between the “Voids” as the two main halls had been called.
The midday panel on Friday, chaired by Dez Skinn, entitled "Comics in the Digital Age: A Blessing or a Curse?" which I was a part of along with Neil Roberts and Glenn Fabry was light hearted and yet serious at the same time. The panel focussed on whether digital online comics actually help hard copy sales or not, and whether it is a boon producing work on computers whilst at the same time not having any originals to show and sell, etc. That said we covered quite a lot of ground looking at most aspects of digital and printed comics creation, production and retail methods. The audience asked some questions too, which hopefully were answered fully by the panellists. The time passed very quickly though and we soon found ourselves swapping voids again.
The rest of the time I was manning my tables, where I signed copies of the Worlds End – Volume 1 – The Riders on the Storm “Science Fusion” graphic novel, and Worlds End Colouring & Storybook amongst other related Worlds End and Wizards Keep products.
I also found myself sketching for and chatting to anyone that came along to the table. One of the guests, Chris Cross (a contortionist, escapologist and close-up card magician) came to the comic area and began performing card tricks for everyone, he was absolutely incredible.
One young 16 year-old lad, Dan Mccollough came by the table and asked for a sketch – he would later return the next day along with relatives to buy copies of the graphic novel and colouring and storybooks. He told me he wanted to work in comics, so I asked him if he had brought along any examples of his artwork to show to folks at the show. He told me that he hadn’t and so I suggested it might be an idea for him to compile a portfolio if he attended any future conventions, or festivals to see what people thought of his work.
The day continued and I did more sketching, chatting and selling and then low and behold the young lad returned with a series of character drawings, which he had produced upon my earlier recommendation of creating a portfolio. I was so impressed with his attitude that I signed a copy of the Worlds End Ashcan and gave it to him. A few days after returning from the event we received an email from him containing a new piece of artwork, which he had produced. It was a piece of Worlds End Fan Art, which is now on display on the Worlds End website here: Worlds End Fan Art.
Around 6 o’clock or so Dez and Aniko took me for something to eat. We ended up at the Fish and Chip shop. Eating Sausage, chips and curry sauce back at the table was one of the highlights of the day for me, as I was starving – having not moved except to go to the toilet all day, it was so busy.
It was a long day and lasted until 11:45 p.m. that evening. Usually the comic creator folks hang around after the shows for a few drinks and maybe a meal catching up, but I was the last man standing in the comics area – the others had all long since gone, so I figured I would catch up with them either in the bar or in the morning at breakfast.
I had taken the display down and packed away the books and other stuff I had with me for sale and was on my way back to the car with the last batch of them in tow when I was approached by a young couple, Franki and Damian who asked me if I was going to be there again tomorrow to which I answered yes. I asked them why and he told me that Franki wanted to ask me a few questions about the business. Much to their amazement I put the bags down and told her to fire away.
A discussion thus ensued regarding the ins and outs of getting hired as an artist. Franki is an animation student at University and was keen to learn as much as she could, so I offered her what advice I could, which is the same as I always give starting with the fact that there is no magic button, most of it is about luck – but we create our own luck.
Everyone had more or less gone by now and one of the security guys politely mentioned they were about to close the doors for the evening and so we continued the conversations for a further five or ten minutes outside. It was freezing (literally) and so as we were still mid-stream with our conversations I asked if they would like to go for a drink across in the other void, which was open until much later.
After a brief trip to the car and a drive back to the caravan to drop off the gear, I found myself, walking back to the voids, meeting up with the guys and then with drinks in hand discussing the merits of working in the creative fields. Damian told me that he writes and is in the process of preparing to train as an English teacher alongside which he would like to write professionally. Citing JRR Tolkien as just one such creator who had a writer/teacher career combination seemed to reassure him.
Well, the evening passed quickly and enjoyably over a couple of drinks. Outside, I wished them a good night and walked back to the caravan dreading the cold, which awaited me. The stars above were once again totally clear and as they twinkled down at me I wondered if in another part of the universe someone else was staring right back at me from the depths of deep space.
Inside the van the cold permeated around me like some supernatural fog, but this time I was prepared and soon found the much needed warmth, which had been missing for the early part of the previous evening’s shenanigans. This time I went to bed sans leather jacket and scarf...
Morning arrived and the sun sneaked in through the gaps in the curtains. The day repeated the run of things from the day before. I went for breakfast at the Mash and Barrel, where this time I went for a full English breakfast – a great start to the day. This time there were no other comics folks in attendance and I could only assume they had been partying hard the night before. Outside the low melodic sounds of rock music filtered through the early morning air and made one feel quite at home – it was almost like being inside the studio here at the Keep.
This was followed by me re-setting up the banners and display and then settling down to a second day of sketching, chatting and selling. Again, the carnival atmosphere could be felt all around the venue. The girls on the stilts arrived followed by the guys also on stilts from the previous day, mingling in and amongst the crowds of visitors having their photos taken with them. These were followed soon after by the girls in the astronaut suits from the Thursday evening stage show and a different robot on stilts again all having their photos taken with the folks there.
Chris Cross, the contortionist/escapologist/magician, came by again and this time dropped by for a chat and to ask for a sketch of him in cartoon form – to which I obliged. All the while I was sketching he was performing card tricks and getting folks to check out my sketch of him. For anyone wanting to find out more about this amazing young guy check out his website here: Chris Cross website.
All of the comics folks worked like me until around 9:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. and then we packed for one last time. I had arranged to meet back up with Will and go for a bite to eat in the Fish and Chip shop cafe. I repeated the repast of the evening before, as I had enjoyed it so much. Will and I were joined by Alan Mitchell and someone else that I was soon introduced to a guy called Seven and who was one of the key players in setting it all up. Seven is a music producer and nowadays an event manager or rather producer. Well, the conversation soon became lots of fun and our laughter became tearful at times – it was great. You can check out Seven’s website and see links to all the events here: 7PM Management.
Then, having finished our meal, we were taken back stage where we met up with Dez and his little gang of folks from Brighton and I was handed a humongous plastic glass of Jack Daniels with a little coke added and I mean a little, LOL.
It was party night and the crowd already dancing to the loud and wonderfully bass music, which vibrated through one’s body, where writhing with wild abandon to the warm up DJ as they awaited the arrival of the main DJ, Craig Charles – yes, he of Red Dwarf and now Coronation Street fame. Now I must point out that our Dez had quaffed more than his fair share of booze, having presented his and Robert Rankin’s quiz show as we ate our meal in the cafe. Robert had been dressed as “Fat Elvis”, whilst Dez had been and was still dressed as Pope Dez the first – having decided that the election of the new Pope, which was to take place any day was the “in” news item of the moment.
Robert had arrived for the quiz surrounded with a cohort of dancing girls, whilst Pope Dez had arrived by matter transmitter with the SFX of a big budget, Sci Fi blockbuster.
So it was that back stage, Glen, Alan, Will, and the rest of Dez’s Brighton gang and I chatted away with Dez in his gowns and mitre. Surreal - although not as much as will become apparent as you read further along. Well, with the music blaring away in the background, Dez decided it might be “fun” for Pope Dez to do a bit of “Dad dancing” (as he likes to call it) on the stage for the amusement of the punters – of course.
It was great and really funny to watch as he waved his arms about in mock (I hope he forgives me for this) rave dancing mode. It went on for an age as the booze obviously fired up his adrenaline to the extreme. So long did it go on that most of us behind stage began taking photos and one of the show organisers/stage hands began to video it all on his iphone.
Dez began to tease the crowd like all good rock stars, by going to the edge of the stage and interacting with the audience below. Then he would run back to the warm up man on the decks and then back to the audience and then back to the DJ. This was repeated several times and then he ran straight up to the guy videoing it all and seemed to shout something along the lines of, “This time I’m going!”
Then with a lithe twist of his body that would make any film version of a Super-Villain quake in their boots, Pope Dez the first became Pope Dez the last as, cape firmly grasped in hands and held out like Batman’s cape, he leapt out over the heads of the dancers below and into the audience – whereupon they promptly caught him. The crowd in front of the stage and from us at the back of it roared with cheering. He was carried out towards the middle of the dance floor and then back to the stage area where the stage hands helped the venerable one back onto the stage and another dance and then to us awaiting his return behind the curtains, so to speak.
Shortly afterwards Craig Charles arrived and then Will, Alan and I decided to go back out to the bar area, where we continued to chat, albeit having to shout above the noise of the music.
Not long after this I noticed Dez back out on the stage dancing as he waved his arms like an ancient windmill once more as he continued to “Dad dance.” Then almost without warning he leapt once more into the crowd – only this time it was like watching the Parting of the Red Sea. The crowd moved and Dez disappeared. I turned to Alan and asked if he had seen that. There was what seemed like an age and Dez had still not risen from the floor. All we could see from way back where we stood was a crowd of folks now no longer dancing near the stage. I turned again to Alan and asked if he thought we should go down and then as we both turned our attention once more to the stage Pope Dez was being helped up by the dancers and the stage hands once more to the stage.
Craig Charles raised the mike to his mouth threw back his head and pronounced “The Pope has risen.” As he was helped to the stage all we could see was Dez adjusting his mitre. Well, I placed the unfinished massive Jack Daniels onto the table in front of me – honest there was a regular bottle of it in my glass – the bottle it came from was the biggest bottle of JD I have ever seen. Both Will and I decided it was late, we had been working hard and were much in need of a bed and some sleep. So wishing each other good night we agreed to meet up for breakfast a few short hours from now.
The by now regular routine of getting the caravan warm so I could sleep ensued and then it was Sunday morning and I went for breakfast at the Mash and Barrel, meeting up with Will Simpson and Neil Roberts as had been arranged.
The place was quiet today and we spent a good morning conversing over breakfast. Of course Dez took centre stage in those conversations for a while and then we decided to move on. Will wasn’t due at the airport until later in the afternoon, but Neil was leaving as soon as possible, so I decided I would stay and keep Will company, seeing it as a great way to catch up – after all we hadn’t met up since early in the mid-nineties so we had plenty of catching up to do.
We joined Glen, Alan and Seven as they were finishing up their breakfasts. As we started to get ready to leave the restaurant, which was by now shutting as the show ran its final course, Seven gave one of his albums to Will. Alan suggested I may also like one, so I am now the owner of Union Black by Skindred, a rock, reggae, fusion album of songs and music. Well at such a nice gesture (after all I had only just met the guy the evening before) I decided to return the favour and give him a copy of the graphic novel – He asked if I could sign it for him, which I was delighted to do for him.
Then was we made our way through the Haven park towards the reception area we all went our separate ways, wishing each other all the best. I had already parked the car in the nearby car park before going for breakfast and so went to hand in my caravan keys and check out at reception. Will needed to move his gear and also check out, so we agreed to meet up again, once we had done so.
Several coffees and soft drinks later and the two of us having chatted the morning and afternoon away, discussing family, Will’s involvement as storyboard and concept artist Game of Thrones and all things Worlds End, parted to make our respective ways home.
The show is not the first one of its kind, but was the first organised by this group of folks. It was also my first time at this event too. Would I recommend it to anyone – I CERTAINLY WOULD, especially if you are a Sci Fi fan or have kids who are. It has something for everyone. I definitely look forward to returning next year.
Before I go I would like to say a few words of thanks.
Thanks firstly to Dez, who asked me along in the first place and for an unforgettable party night as Pope Dez the last and to Aniko for some of the great photos on display below (I forgot my camera for the first time ever – doh!). Next to Matt and the organisers for such a great event and the shows and carnival atmosphere they put on. Next to Seven for the album – it sounds great!!! To Glen, Will, Alan, Neil and the rest of the Brighton gang for the hours of conversation. To all at Area 51 for the great costumes. To all the folks working at the site, looking after us and serving us throughout our time there. And finally to all those folks that came by and asked for a sketch, spent time in conversation with me and more importantly remembered my past work and bought my latest books and products from me – your support, as always, is what keeps me able to continue to create them.
And now as usual with my convention review Blogs, some photos courtesy of:
Aniko Boholy Photography Brighton
Sci Fi Weekender FaceBook Page
Next up, some news of future events I will be attending this year and then some updated news on Worlds End – Volume 2 A Hard Reign’s Gonna Fall.
Until next time, have fun!
April 9th 2013
Leo Baxendale 1930 - 2017
2 days ago