Wow – it’s THAT time of year again.
It’s been a whole thirteen months since I attended my first SciFi Weekender and to tell the truth, I still can’t believe anything THIS cool would be right on my doorstep in the furthest reaches of North Wales.
Click here for last year's adventures.
After the good times we had last year, it was inevitable that a return trip to one of the UK’s biggest conventions was on the cards, and that the bunch of friends Steve and I had made last year would be gathering once more to experience what I can only call a geekgasm. Except this time, making her sci-fi convention debut was my daughter Tiffany.
We like to hit the convention site early – it is, after all only a couple of miles from the house and it would seem rude not to. Last year, we were surprised by the laying on of an early bird quiz. Our team of Zombies Inc did quite well last year, coming second. This year, the stakes were higher and at the end, we found ourselves joint first, but we (that is “I”) faltered on the sudden death tie breaker question. Damn it all to hell! I misjudged that the time traveller in George Pal’s Time Machine had in fact travelled 800,000 years in the future. My gut instinct reply of “5000 years” sounded tepid even to me as it came out of my mouth. My opponent said “8000 years” and he was the closest to the correct answer. Well played, sir. Well played indeed.
Still, there was a very nice package of books and DVDs which our triumphant team of Zombies Inc won as a second prize – which included, to my delight, Frankenstein – The True Story, the made for TV two parter of the mid ‘70s which I’d enjoyed back in the day, so I left happy. (Even surviving an encounter with Judge Dredd.)
Day 1 – Friday, March 28
It was like Christmas morning – we were up early, alert, ready to go. This is when I realised that one of the biggest pleasures, among many, would be seeing Tiff’s reaction to everything we would see and hear for the next two days. We had tried to prepare her, but at the Weekender, seeing really is believing. (Seeing her surprise and delight at the event was probably the best indication to what I must’ve been like last year when it was my first time there.)
Friday is when things really start at the Weekender, and we were prepared for ANYTHING that we could possibly encounter. Actually, we were ready for none of it because like life, you never know what’s around the next corner and when you’re in the company of several thousand like-minded geeks, the sky, literally is the limit.
At events like this one, I really like to scope things out in the merchandise hall, get a feel of what’s what, what I want to buy and how much it’s all going to cost. As ever, Forbidden Planet were in the house with tables groaning with graphic novels, there were t-shirts, photos, figures – and there was an old friend. Ryland & Ann Smith were in attendance selling high quality signed photos under their SBTS banner. SBTS (as in Signed by the Stars) are my go-to for autographs, and have been responsible for obtaining some of the hardest to get and treasured items adorning the study wall – Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie, Tom Savini, George Lucas, a double signed Kill Bill photo signed by Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino….. I added to my collection on Friday, and this one topped them all.
A publicity shot from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) which was my computer wallpaper for the whole of that summer – hand signed by the legendary Stan Lee. As soon as I held the photo, I was reluctant to let it go again….ever. I mean, this guy formed my childhood, my teens, my twenties, thirties, forties and I’m still enthralled by his work in my fifties. Sealing the deal was not only the gentle coaxing of Ryland, but Tiffany telling me I should buy it, otherwise I’ll be bitching about missing the opportunity for years to come, and my friend Gary on the other side announcing that if I didn’t buy it, he would. Really – my bank account never stood a chance, did it?
As I write this piece, it’s a week later. It’s framed and in a place where I can see it from my desk and I still can’t believe I have Stan “The Man” Lee’s autograph.
On a high, we went to the main auditorium to attend the Opening Ceremony. If there’s a better way of opening a sci-fi convention than with the girls of Area 51 performing a fire juggling dance routine – I don’t know what it is.
So, with the festivities well underway, it was time to get our geek on!
As we were wandering around, one of the first people I saw outside the main auditorium was Dez Skinn. Dez is a legend in UK magazine publishing, having created, among others, House of Hammer, Warrior, Dr Who Magazine – and a little thing you may have heard of entitled Starburst. He also ran Marvel UK for a number of years. The first time I encountered any of his work was when I was sixteen years old in 1976 and I bought issue #3 of House of Hammer to read on a long, lazy afternoon in the summer. Had you told me then that I would eventually meet the publisher with the snappy “Sez Dez” editorial on several occasions, to the point we’d randomly meet up in sci-fi conventions and be on first name terms, I would never, ever have believed you. But that’s the way my life has gone and that’s why I love every second of it.
Back to the trader’s hall – I stopped by Forbidden Planet’s tables. They had a stock of the collected edition of the four DC Comics/2000 A.D. crossovers which teamed Batman up with Judge Dredd. I had bought the first three on their original release but never even knew there was a fourth. Purchase made at the cover price of £17:99. Purchase value doubled seconds later.
Just around the corner in the Strip Club (relax, it’s what they named the comic book artist and writers area) where the artist of one of those stories was sitting, happily working and chatting. This is where we met Simon Bisley and watched him draw The Punisher from scratch.
We spent about 20-25 minutes chatting with him as he worked. I’ve been an admirer of his work ever since I saw that first crossover and it was a rare privilege to watch him at work, while asking Tiff about her college art course and future plans. And yes – there was a geeky thrill to have him sign the book I’d just purchased while he critiqued and poked fun at the cover drawn by Hellboy creator Mike Minoglia. That cover will never look the same to me again.
We caught the tail end of Royd Tolkien’s interview while we were waiting for Spencer Wilding’s to start. (Thankfully, Steve didn’t make good on his promise to pass some notes to Royd Tolkien on how his great grandfather’s works could be “improved”.)
So, Spencer Wilding, he’s an actor and stuntman and is just huge and intimidating when you see him – apparently 6’7 in height, but genial and fun when he gets talking. (Bless, Tiff had her photo taken with him on the Saturday and was about elbow high to him.) Spencer talked about his role as the Ice Warrior in the past season of Doctor Who and even answered my question of how he prepared for the role. (Hey, once an interviewer – always an interviewer.)
Of course, his highest profile role yet will be in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy this coming summer. As we had waited for the Q&A to start, we had seen the trailer, which features Wilding as the prison guard who’s using Starlord’s iPod. I had covered his Doctor Who role – it was up to Steve to ask how it felt to be now a part of the Marvel Movie Universe.
The next Q&A we attended was with Lewis Macleod, the Scottish voice actor who voiced Sebulba in Star Wars Ep 1: The Phantom Menace. He is a hugely talented mimic, and was one of the funniest performers we saw, or probably more accurately, heard. He did uncannily accurate impersonations of Brian Blessed, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Tom Baker, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama. But my favourite line of all was when an annoying audience member in a green skin tight motion capture suit and a Jar-Jar head kept running to the front of the auditorium waving his arms and running back again. On the third time, Macleod growled in his native Scottish accent: “Hey, my character decked yours, so piss off”.
We caught sci-fi author Robert Rankin’s game show skit. Rankin is one of the true characters of the Weekender, a true British eccentric who had earlier signed a copy of his latest book, Alice on Mars, for Tiff.
I’ve mentioned that you never know what you’re going to see around the next corner, so it was that we encountered the Clown Prince of Crime, whose attention was immediately caught by Steve’s Joker t-shirt and by Tiff’s Batman symbol tattoo – resulting in more photo ops.
We were packing in as much as we possibly could as you can probably tell – but the most unexpected meeting of all was just about to happen as the three of us walked to the restaurant bar on the site and asked for a table for three. As we perused the menu, I could see from the corner of my eye, someone take a seat at the table next to us. Glancing over, I found myself looking straight into the face of the Weekender’s star guest – Rene Auberjonois. The star of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was literally about four feet away, smiling. I smiled back, he nodded, so we shook hands and had a chat as we waited for our food. He struck me as a pretty deep and thoughtful man.
Having eaten, we bade our farewells, leaving me not only incredibly happy, but also bewildered. As a long time Trekkie, I literally could not believe that we happened to be in that room at that time and were lucky enough to experience that brief encounter. I mean, really - what are the odds on having dinner on a Friday night with Deep Space Nine’s Odo – in Pwllheli, North Wales?????
The first day of the convention features the big evening show, a Victorian themed extravaganza that pleased the Steampunk crowd who seemed to outnumber even the Doctor Who lot this year. If I had a pound for every top hat and goggle wearing person I saw, I’d have a wall full of Stan Lee signed pictures. Sadly, following the show, the Blastermind Quiz didn’t see our team at its best this year. Despite having bolstered our literary sci-fi expertise with authors Wayne Simmons and David Moody, the organisers threw in an entire round of Manga and Anime questions. The silence from Zombies Inc was deafening. Our only strategy was to answer “Akira” to everything, but it didn’t work out so well.
Never mind, there’s always next year!
Saturday March 29.
A fine day – unseasonably warm, spring was kissing the North Wales coast. It seemed to me that there was a bit of unbalance in the festivities. Friday had seemed over brimming with events, leaving Saturday a little lighter – but having said that, we had a busy morning planned with attending a panel called Comic Book Writing – How To Shape a Story in Words and Art with featured speakers Dez Skinn and Simon Bisley. Tiff and I particularly were interested in this one because we plan, one day, on launching our own online comic, which I will write and she will draw. I bumped into Dez, who told me that due to illness one of the panel members was unable to attend and the panel had been cancelled. Too bad.
Any disappointment was quickly evaporated as we made our way to the main hall for Rene Auberjonois’s Q&A. He delighted the crowd with stories of his forty plus year career, spanning not only Star Trek in three different roles, but also Boston Legal with William Shatner, Disney animated films (he voiced the chef in The Little Mermaid) and several others.
The lines to have his autograph were immense all day long – so I didn’t venture there. I thought that the chance meeting and talk the previous day was way better than standing in a queue for hours.
Much of the day was spent wandering around – the cosplay people were out in force with their screen accurate costumes, as well as those with homemade Transformers suits made out of cardboard boxes. Special kudos to the lady walking around with a homemade cardboard Loki helmet, similarly, a tip pf the hat to Galactus.
Yesterday’s Joker was today’s Austin Powers – though to be fair, he had warned me what he had in store for the Saturday. Every mannerism and a dead on voice. Oh, and for your information – HE suggested I adopt the Dr Evil pose in the shot below.
There’s something that I had never done before. We had decided that in the evening, we’d descend on the last night of the event as zombies.
Okay, in the interests of full disclosure, we had originally considered that maybe an option would be to buy some costumes and go as some DC characters….but sense prevailed and I realised that there was just no way I would look anything less than comically ridiculous in a Batman, Flash or Green Lantern suit. Even the padded type we’ve seen them wear on The Big Bang Theory – but hey, I can on occasion look half dead. Some skilful application of stage make-up would certainly take care of the other half. The only question is, was I a zombie geek a.k.a. The Fandom Menace, or was I just me as a zombie, a.k.a. (wait for it)…………………………Rob Zombie?
This was the result. Note Steve is the only zombie in history whose glasses survived the apocalypse intact.
That was an incredible amount of fun to not only do – but for the reaction we got from the other revellers. Okay, maybe the lady behind the counter in Burger King may never be the same again after I stared her down and slowly tried to clamber over the counter mumbling “braiiiiiiiiiiins” and lunging (from a safe distance) while I waited for my Coke, but it was all in fun.
And that was the essence of it, the whole weekend. Fun. Fun among like minded individuals. The type of person who’d walk up, see my Flash logo t-shirt and offer a high five because he was wearing the logo on a hoodie. We’re all the same tribe, this was our party and we were going to enjoy it.
Speaking of enjoying....there's room for one more photo with Area 51....
Roll on next year, same location. (But before that, there’s a horror convention in October called Scardiff. More on that in the coming months.)
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