Last weekend I attended the first Em-Con at the Albert Hall in Nottingham, England. The convention was the first of its kind in the region. I enjoyed myself immensely.
However for many attendees, the day was beset by difficulties in even getting inside the con.
For a small convention in its first year, Em-Con certainly attracted a good amount of talent through its doors. Stars from Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Red Dwarf, and Star Wars were among those who came along to meet fans and sign autographs. A number of comic book artists including Andrew Wildman and Lee Sullivan were present, each working on commissions and signing prints, and a nice variety of stalls were on offer so everyone could afford to take something home no matter their budget.
One of my favorite things about any convention is watching the artists work and chatting with stall holders; everyone at Em-Con was welcoming and happy to chat to the point where I found myself running late for panels.
Throughout the day a number of talks were given in the main hall. Unlike at many conventions, these were included in the cost of entry allowing guests to fill their day without emptying their wallets. The Doctor Who/Torchwood talk featured cast from both shows including Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Caitlin Blackwood (Young Amy Pond), and Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), all of whom appeared in high spirits. We learned that the Torchwood cast are eager to reprise their roles for a fifth season and that both Caitlin and Eve would love to play a female Doctor.
The Game of Thrones panel was attended by Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy), and Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon) who dropped a few minor spoilers about the upcoming fourth season.The panel was disrupted slightly when a wandering Cylon distracted Gethin during one of his anecdotes much to everyone’s amusement.
The Red Dwarf panel was also subject to disruption by Cylon–one of the issues of having green room access at the rear of the main hall–and was thoroughly enjoyable even to someone like myself who has only seen a handful of episodes. The panel gathered together the entire core cast including Craig Charles (Dave Lister), Danny John-Jules (The Cat), Chris Barrie (Arnold Rimmer), and Robert Llewellyn (Kryten). Everyone had stories to tell about their time on the show, but a particular favorite was Robert’s recollection of standing in a Chicago elevator with a Klingon who told him how much he appreciated his work–through his interpreter.
The first panel of the day was given over to Cops and Monsters, a new Indiegogo-funded webseries set in Scotland. The show is along the lines of Torchwood and Being Human. Set five years in the future, it follows the Paranormal Investigation Team Scotland, a new branch of UK government tasked with keeping the peace among humans, zombies, vampires, and werewolves now that supernatural creatures have come out of their proverbial closets.
We were shown the eight minute minisode that has so far been funded, and heard from the large number of cast and crew who had come along to promote the show. We were even treated to an impromptu rap in the style of Batman’s Bane courtesy of series star Mark Harvey. The minisode has just been released to the public and you can watch it on the Cops and Monsters website.
Everything going on inside the venue was great. The building was filled with families; everywhere I looked were parents and grandparents with children of every age from babies to teenagers. It was possibly the most family-filled show I have ever attended and it was wonderful for that. I overheard a seven year old nitpicking with one of the comic book artists about his portrayal of Cybermen and saw a pair of young brothers in Torchwood Institute tees who were so excited to spot Eve Myles entering the panel that they could barely sit still.
However it was outside that the problems were mostly to be found. Queues stretched around the building for hours and hundreds of ticket holders were eventually forced to give up and leave before they even got inside.
Following the event’s hashtag on Twitter, I saw dozens of individuals talking about waits of four or five hours to get inside, meaning of course that they missed out on most of the event if they ever made it through the doors.
Those queuing with children were often unable to wait that long. Reading up afterwards, the core of the problem appeared to be that almost three times the venue’s capacity had been sold in pre-booked tickets, and more were being sold on the door before these people had even been allowed in.
Wandering around on the convention floor felt dangerous at times due to crowding and the police arrived by lunchtime querying understandable health and safety concerns. The organizers have issued a formal apology and have promised refunds but sadly the damage to their reputation has already been done. Not a great start for a brand new event on an already busy circuit.
Next year Em-Con is upgrading, moving from the small Albert Hall to the much larger Capital FM Arena. Hopefully this will go some way towards alleviating the issues seen this year but only if lessons are learned by all involved. For those of us inside the venue (and who don’t suffer from claustrophobia), this was a great convention and a lot has to be said for finally having an event of this sort in this so-far forgotten region.
But for those stuck outside in the cold with miserable children after having paid to get in, it will take an awful lot for them to risk it again next year. I can’t say I blame them.
Entry to Em-Con was provided by the organizers for this review.