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Newcastle Film & Comic Con 2014

It began with a conversation, one of those out of the blue remarks: “Did you know there’s going to be a comic convention in Newcastle at the beginning of March?” As it was, finger on the pulse and all, I had no idea. I logged on, checked out the site and – in what was, for me, a daring moment – applied for a Press Pass. The wait was an eternity (two whole weeks), but finally I received the email granting my request; I was in.

And so, on the morning of March 8th 2014, I set off to attend my first convention. That’s right; although I passed 40 a couple of years ago and have loved genre fiction in all its forms since I’ve been able to read, I’d never been to such a gathering before. Armed with pad and pen, camera and an audio recording device (who knew who I’d get to speak to with my magic badge?) all in my trusty satchel, I drove across the river Tyne and gazed down at the venue, the Metro Radio Arena.

StormtrooperI have to admit, my heart sank when I saw the line of people waiting to get in. It snaked around the venue, stretching towards the back of the car park, and beyond. Still, I managed to find a space, parked behind a Jedi Master and next to Bananaman. As I walked to the entrance, my nerves increased – what if I couldn’t get in, even if I was armed with my official email from Showmasters, the event’s organisers?

There was, of course, nothing to worry about. I was shown with great courtesy and efficiency to the desk where I received my press pass, hung around my neck like a mystical amulet. I was in.

As were many more.

Fans of all ages filled the large foyer, those in civilian dress mingling with others in costume. There were Imperial Stormtroopers, Ghostbusters, Judges, Indiana Joneses… the list could go on forever. All were united in their love of the genre; if the costume was something that cost hundreds of pounds for its authenticity or was an ill-fitting superhero costume from a fancy dress shop, It didn’t matter – each and everyone had made the effort to stand up and say ‘look, this is what I like’. I’d only ever seen photos of cosplay before, so to be in the presence of it was quite awe inspiring. It was like attending a sporting event, but with everyone cheering the same team, creating a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Buoyed by this, I entered the main arena.

It was packed, almost too much so.

Newcastle Show Floor

Hit by the huge amount of merchandise on offer, I was reminded of my once favourite comic and book shop, the former now pushed to the back of the store, while the latter dwell in a few shelves in the basement, all in favour of tie-in toys and action figures. Understandably so, as that’s where the money is and the genre has to survive financially, but I was saddened that I felt as if I’d stepped into a shopping centre with Sales Now On.

Fortunately, that feeling quickly vanished as I merged into the crowd, taking my time to peruse the stalls. As well as the items previously mentioned, there was memorabilia such as autographs and posters, along with clothing, badges, printed canvasses, bags and t-shirts. Back issues of comics were available, many of which brought a fond wave of nostalgia (still no sign of my favourite Detective Comics cover, featuring Batman and Etrigan as drawn by the great Norm Breyfogle), as well as writers and creators themselves, names both recognisable and up-and-coming.

Shopping

Then, at the far end of the arena, sat the stars of screen, cast members of various TV shows and movies, including some from Doctor Who and Star Wars. It was here that nerves got the better of me; if I was to get an interview, what would I say? Would I talk a load of nonsense, give away the fact that I’d never interviewed anyone before? Panicked, I left the arena, bought myself a cup of coffee to calm down. As I drank it, I saw Klingons sharing refreshments with Ghostbusters as more people poured in. What was I afraid of? I was on my own, but never felt out of place; while I wasn’t amongst friends, the gathered masses felt companionable, nonetheless. Steeled by this, I went back inside.

2014 APR Newcastle Con - Bryan TalbotWhen I reached the actors and actresses, the lines for each one were huge. I’d missed my opportunity. With slightly dampened spirits, I wondered what to do next. As luck would have it, comic book writer and artist Bryan Talbot was chatting about his work, something which I’ve admired since he drew Nemesis the Warlock for 2000AD in the 1980s.

Bryan’s talk was inspirational and, as he’s done through his graphic novel Alice in Sunderland, told me things about my home town that I’ve never known. Sadly, time ticked on – as it does – and I grew more tired – as I do – so I headed home for tea, eagerly awaiting the next day.

This time, I would have company. Sunday saw me accompanied by my good friend Paul Green, who would provide an invaluable second pair of eyes and ears, as well as take photographs that could include me. We set off earlier than the day before, having heard that people had been in the queue for up to three hours; I know, we had our press passes sorted, but that worry always remains…

Again, there was no need – again, we were treated brilliantly by the staff. Being earlier, it was much quieter than the previous day and I was able to get a couple of brief interviews with Doctor Who stars Sophie Aldred and Nabil Shaban, both of whom were extremely generous company in the short time I had with them. Following that, I was unable to avoid any Imperial entanglements as we walked out and I was promptly arrested by Stormtroopers. (I must look shifty, as a Mega City Judge would do the same later, although for what crime I’m still unsure).

Arrested!

My sense of awe still remained, although it was at a more healthy level than the day before. Great conversations were had with Bryan Talbot and Gary Erskine, the latter giving a fascinating insight into the workings of the bigger comic publishers, while the former was generous enough to show us work from his next graphic novel.

Yet, these two days weren’t just about the recognisable names and faces of comics and screen. Amongst it all were independent creators, those who’ve started from scratch and self-published their work. Special mention must go to Jeremy Biggs – co-creator and publisher of Metal Made Flesh – and Jenika Ioffreda, creator of Vampire Free State; two completely different bodies of work, yet united by the enthusiasm and vision that neither have compromised.

As the day before, the time came when some sort of recovery was needed. This came in the form of a much-needed sit down, listening to the mellifluous tones of one John Rhys-Davies, who will forever be Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark in my eyes. As well as talking about my favourite film, John spoke of his time on Lord of the Rings, as well as hinting at future projects he’ll be involved in.

All good things come to an end, and it was all-too-soon time to leave; I returned home with my purchases (I’ll have to start saving now to get what I want next year) and a head full of enthusiasm and inspiration. I’d expected a good time, but what I hadn’t counted on was a great time, spent in the company of like-minded people, all there to simply enjoy themselves. We all made the local news a day later, too, the headlines stunned by the massive attendance; it’s good to know there are so many of us around.

Two weeks on, I’ll still enthuse and say ‘inspirational’ to anyone who’s willing to listen. This isn’t the article I intended to write – that one was going to be much more restrained and less personal – but I’d had such a good time, I couldn’t help myself. Thanks must go to everyone I’ve previously mentioned, for filling my mind with ideas and the knowledge of the power creativity can have, as well as to Paul for the photos, and Starburst Magazine (who I was representing) who graciously gave me permission to write this article for a site other than their own. And finally; massive thanks and congratulations to all the staff at Showmasters and the Metro Radio Arena for arranging the event in the first place and being extremely helpful to a rookie member of the press.

So, with around fifty more weeks to go, I’m already looking forward to next year’s convention. This one gets full marks, and then some!

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
Newcastle Film & Comic Con 2014, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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One Comment

  1. AKAPaoloVerdi says:

    Really nice article, Alister. It totally encapsulates the event and the general good vibe it gave off.
    And I’m not just saying that because you blogged me a pres pass!

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