Comic Con 2 – The sequel
‘This time it’s personal’
Written by Penny

‘WAIT, STOP!!!’.
I turned around to face the 5 foot nothing middle aged man with a large camera who seemed to be looking at me expectantly. I wasn’t sure why although I can appreciate I can be imposing as a 6ft female with a love of extremely colourful eye makeup. He made a small wave with the camera and I pointed at myself – ‘who me?’.  He then ran past me and planted himself in front of a 20 something bloke dressed like a steam punk pirate – with complete fake handlebar moustache. ‘Please mate, I’ve got to get a pirate selfie with you’ he said and the pirate nodded and grabbed him by the shoulders with an obligatory ‘grrrr’ into the cameras lens.
I then smiled to myself and remembered the words that I often use to describe a great Comic-Con event – unique, nostalgic, strange, fantastic, fun and community. Everything a girl like myself needs to have a good time and feel at home.​A thought on sequels…..

So when I was offered the opportunity by the good folks at Dark Cleo Productions to make a return (a sequel if you will) after attending last year – one would hope that it would turn out like Aliens or even be my Empire Strikes Back. I was filled with definite glee I had high hopes that it would be something that would take all of the beloved moments of my own original and improve it beyond measure.

My visit to the ‘Con was exactly what I had hoped for. It could have been my Aliens.
So with the above in mind – before I begin I’d like to thank Dark Cleo’s CEO Becky & Manager Dave for inviting me to the best event of the season and asking me to write this account. My thanks also go to Showmasters for putting on a cracking event.

….but I digress.

I fully believe that the first thing you see in an event like this sets the pace for the entire weekend. You can tell immediately what the environment will be like and know how things will go from there. On this occasion it was five men and women wearing inflatable cartoon T-Rex costumes, wearing Hawaiian shirts, straw hats and following each other in a dinosaur conga line. I remember grinning, looking around and thinking (in a Schwarzenegger voice of course) ‘I’m back’.

​Friday morning was quite an experience – as I arrived early before any of the regular visitors with the other members of Dark Cleo.  As everything was being set up I got my lay of the land and went to satisfy my curiosities. I found that everything had been set into several zones including; Cosplay, Unplugged Gaming, YALC (YA Literature), Guests (Film and TV), Talks, Stalls, Comics, Manga and Virtual Reality. Each zone had a dedicated team of Showmasters associates and volunteers to help everything run smoothly – and this year was certainly extra special for Dark Cleo. Excitingly they had been asked to not only assist with the running of their own gaming zones, but to run Cosplay as well. When catching those rare moments with pit-bosses Becky and Dave on their breaks- I knew that they felt quite privileged to have been given the opportunity and I was curious to see what they had up their sleeves. I would not be left disappointed, but more on that later.
​​After suitably ‘geeking out’ with the Bat-mobile at the front of the Olympia, I prepared myself to dive into the stalls and spend my hard earned cash. It was very much a kid in a sweet shop situation and I do feel ashamed to say that I had to limit my funds or I would have purchased everything. CEX had their own stall this year – with a gigantic inflatable shark (which I called dibs on) and one employee got into the spirit by dressing up as some sort of red Wookie. There was an entire stall dedicated to weapons from the films, many Funko Pop sellers (of course), independent comic book creators, unique handmade jewellery and a lady that made posters out of entire popular sci-fi novels – which was rather impressive. Other than Her Majesty from Aliens – my other favourite alien creature was also plentiful at many stalls – Tribbles from Star Trek. Although they are little jiggly balls of fluff – I find them quite endearing. A few vendors were also selling delicious things such as superhero themed cupcakes – but my best food find was definitely a stall entirely filled with oddly shaped and multi-coloured fudge.

 That’s the thing about this convention – you really never know what you’ll find and I love it.
Rather randomly I also found myself in front of a stand that sold exclusively fluffy plush alpacas. While I fought the urge to buy a tiny one (I have no idea why, but I wanted it) I then found a stall where a lovely lady made her own owl shaped cushions – in the guises of superheroes. Try as I might but I couldn’t turn away and decided to purchase a little one that was made into a Darth Vader Owl. He is currently proudly on my sofa – and I named him Darth Hooters. I also found a stall that sold ‘zombie experiences’ and was handed a leaflet by a startlingly realistic female zombie who was taking some much needed time off from dealing with Rick Grimes. I waved at her – but she grunted and shuffled off. Awesome.

​My quest through the stalls brought me past many more weird and wonderful things. The sellers seemed to enjoy being there as much as I did – not necessarily due to making the sales but enjoying the atmosphere, talking to people and showing off their wares. After having a serious word with myself to resist buying a clock made out of a PlayStation 1 I looked around and saw I seemed to be in an autograph section. After talking to a few vendors I found out that many of them do this for a living – managing to get rare meetings and signatures from the most elusive of stars. Each stall was more impressive than the last and I ended up purchasing a recent signed picture of Karl Urban for my friend at work. The vendors were only too happy to discuss how they get them (often a slight harmless stalking in hotels after premiers) and that all could be verified as genuine. On a slight tangent – when I gave it to her as a present later that day she went red and made a sound of glee that I can only describe as a cross between a frightened rabbit and a snorting walrus. Safe to say she liked it then – kudos points for Penny.
​Shopping done (I’m a girl ok?) I made my way over to the Virtual Reality section. I knew it was likely to get busy due to the Oculus Rift almost ready to grace the shelves – so I went in and had a chat with the guys running the demo section. I’ve worn a VR headset only once, not long ago when visiting the Game of Thrones event in the O2 arena. I was put in a wooden box shaped like a rudimentary lift to go to the top of Castle Black. Once wearing the headset and headphones I was pummelled by freezing air, then was encouraged to walk forward to ‘the edge’ where virtual characters below waited to lob massive balls of fire at me. When I heard a woman next to me trying it out and screaming – I knew this was my new favourite thing to play with.
On this occasion the fellas showed me several demos to choose from. They had their first willing victim – a small, bald gent who didn’t know what he was in for. I watched the monitor and saw that he was walking down a large hallway that looked a little like a museum. He was able to crouch and do a 360 in the graphically impressive environment.
Suddenly a large hungry T-Rex (bit out of context in a stately home but I’m going with it) rounded the corner and tentatively approached him. It bent, sniffed him and slowly opened its jaws. I can only imagine the sight of looking down a cavernous maw – but his obvious masculine bravery won out and he stood his ground as the screen faded to black and ended.
 I saw a dude stand up to a T-Rex – just another enjoyable moment from the ‘Con.

​Nostalgia was next on the agenda, so I headed to see the different movie vehicles on display. Other than the Burton Batmobile, there was the Nolan Bat-‘Tumbler’, the Delorean and the ‘Mutt-Cuts’ shaggy dog-mobile from Dumb and Dumber. Like most of us – I grew up seeing these vehicles in their original iconic film glory so as you can imagine it was something else to see them up close. I remember also backing up to fit them into a picture and then tripping over a teenage girl splayed on the floor dressed as Captain America. Her shield would have broken my fall but I steadied myself and averted disaster. Whilst nursing my dignity I did the only thing I could think of to equate the incident – and then planted myself into the Kings Throne from Game of Thrones. I also had to do the Geoffry finger pyramid of contemplation whilst on there and it certainly made me feel much better – other than thinking that an owl cushion wouldn’t go a miss.

I then headed to a Showmasters exclusive – the main costumes used by the cast of Suicide Squad. The display was pretty impressive and complete with large men in black suits who made sure I didn’t run off with the Joker’s coat. Upsettingly though  –  it did shatter my dreams of somehow ending up with Jared Leto as I now had irrefutable proof he is around 5 ft 9 – which simply won’t do for a tall gal such as myself.
On a side note – I have seen Suicide Squad recently and I’ll let you know that the critics who are slating it are most definitely wrong to write it off. It certainly wasn’t the best superhero film made but I enjoyed it and would recommend it for those who want to make up their own minds.

At times like this I realised why most attendees of the ‘Con make sure to buy tickets for two or even three days. The venue is so large and there is so much to see/do that I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete my journey on the Friday – especially as I then had to work all evening after my visit. So reluctantly I had to pause my quest here to head to work elsewhere in London. However I would return and would be mightily prepared to experience everything the event had to offer.

Sunday the 31st was an entirely different beast and this was mainly due to the fresh intake of visitors. I was greatly impressed by the majority of people who had made so much effort in making costumes – so without further ado I present to you my favourite visitors costumes in this handy top 5 list:

  1. Two men dressed as a plush dog and rabbit on the literature floor. I got off the lift to see these two deep in some kind of karate dance fight with onlookers. I had my thoughts on who would win, but it turned out to be an even and most epic tangle for the amusement of others.
  2. A bloke dressed as a convincing Deadpool exiting the bathrooms on the ground floor and sorting out a wedgie for at least a minute. Any longer than that and I know I would have become concerned.
  3. The guys dressed as Judges from Judge Dredd on the first floor – posing with more vehicles from the film. Had to stop myself from shouting out ‘I am the Law’. Ironic considering my job…
  4. The guy walking around topless with unnaturally white skin, red blood splotches and a questionable looking apron. I stopped him to ask what he was – he then went to the corner and picked up a large pointed helmet and rusty looking sword too big for any person to carry with ease. I realised then he was one of my favourite characters from Silent hill – Pyramid Head. Advised him to wear the helmet and shuffle awkwardly to make me happy – to which he obliged.
  5. The tiny girl dressed up as Elsa from Frozen – holding hands with an adult version in full length blue dresses. It looked like the most adorable ‘Mini Me’ situation you’ve ever seen.
​On this day I wanted to focus more on Dark Cleo, YALC, guest talks and Cosplay so I then set to finding the floor with the Guest Zone. In the past, Showmasters and Dark Cleo have contributed to my nerdy dreams coming true. One year I met Corporal Hicks himself – Mr Michael Beihn – and I have a barely contained ‘Oh My God’ moment picture with him. He also signed a Terminator book I have and wrote – ‘Machines don’t feel pain, but I do’ on the inside cover – making it one of my most prized possessions. Last year managed to narrowly top that though. I had my picture taken with a complete replica of the Power Loader from Aliens, and also met Bill Paxton (Private Hudson). Just before taking a picture with him I made a funny face. The resulting photo was taken as he looked away from me and was starting to laugh – it’s brilliant. Both men were a pleasure to meet and I treasure the experience. I almost got to meet Ripley herself – Ms Weaver, but missed my opportunity and I had to be eternally jealous of my Dark Cleo colleagues. I keep re-iterating the point that it could have happened – and this is all that matters.

Expecting nothing less than amazing – Showmasters again had an impressive number of special guests on their roster including: Jeremy Renner, Famke Janssen (my favourite Bond girl), Rutger Hauer, Mads Mikkelsen and Dolph Lundgren. Ron Perlman unfortunately couldn’t attend due to a shooting schedule but fingers crossed for next year. Also present were various stars from Star Wars including Kenny Baker, David Prowse and Peter Mayhew – as well as several guests from Game of Thrones (HODOR!!), Sons of Anarchy, WWE, Power Rangers, comic book authors/illustrators, literary authors, graphic artists and many more. There was such variety that to list them all here would (further) destroy my word count. Be assured that if you attended this convention there would definitely be at least one person you would probably jump over tables to meet. Mine was a very special man who I had admired for many years. My mother showed me Blade Runner when I was ten and this was another profound filmic experience for me – so when I learned that Rutger Hauer was going to be present I had to at least try to lay eyes on him. When I did and our eyes met whilst he was signing autographs. I ended up embarrassing myself again and giving him an odd look combined with a sheepish half-wave. He started back and raised one godly eyebrow as if to say ‘what on earth is she doing?’ and this was enough for me. I can imagine many happy visitors meeting these guests and being as ecstatic as I was at that moment.

Writers Note: I did have the honour of meeting and greeting the late great Kenny Baker at the convention two weeks before his death. I feel honoured to have finally done so and he will always be a huge legend to me. He will continue bringing smiles to many new generations to come for the foreseeable future – including my 4 year old niece who watched A New Hope with me for the first time last week.

​I managed to also catch the end of a talk that Tobin Bell was giving as the day progressed. Although he portrayed one of films most original villains (Jigsaw) he struck me as a thoughtful and charismatic man – who took the time to answer questions from his fans. Ultimately his advice was that anyone who had the same dream as him to make it in film – would be to never give up and put yourself out there as much as possible. A bloke to enjoy a cold pint with I think.
I regret missing out on the chance of meeting Jeremy Renner but I hear his good spirit and enthusiasm for meeting his fans extended into his photos. I saw Dark Cleo’s Dave in one with Renner grabbing him by the shoulders – the two with matching toothy grins. Just what you need on a weekend like that – being put into a headlock by an Avenger.  I’m sure many would enjoy this immensely.
​The literary floor was next and I knew it was going to be Potter fever up there. The stage play of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was to be released on Sunday and courtesy of Waterstones – everyone got a copy at a decent price directly from their stall at the event. There was a sea of young readers with their noses in yellow books which pleased me as I do very much like to see kids finding enjoyment out of reading. I was not surprised to see that Comic-Con had dedicated an entire floor to literature and young adult fiction along with an area with used props from the Harry Potter films for fans to peruse at their leisure. Many authors were there to sign books as well as giving regular scheduled talks about their works so I sat in the talk involving Phillip Reeve and Tanya Landman – which was quite insightful. As a fellow writer their opinions on how their origins began in writing were invaluable – and as Landman quoted, my ‘tribe’ was indeed in there with them. I also saw a welcome surprise in realising that Malorie Blackman’s new novel was out. I reviewed her first novel for a science fiction and fantasy website and will be looking forward to reading this one in the near future.
​I then ventured happily into the games area directly below – where all gaming fans could enjoy the best titles on offer from the last 20 years. As a lover of all things PlayStation I almost skipped down there as I knew that the lovely guys and gals from Replay Events would have all four Sony consoles up and running. There were Xboxes, Dreamcasts and GameCubes (oh my), but I found my gaze automatically going to the arcade machines next to me. A couple of companies offered bespoke machines and I remember cursing for the twentieth time that day and wishing I had increased my already limping funds budget. I tore myself away and viewed the other goodies on offer for me and my eager hands to try. As more of a modern console gamer (yeah I know, I’m sorry) I currently own a PlayStation 3 and 4 – but I do have a Sega Megadrive that I can’t bear to part with. Retro gaming is certainly on par with owning records, with the best always on offer on a preferred format. If I had the time I would have sampled the demos of every single system on offer to me – but alas I needed to leave other people to their enjoyment and catch up with Dark Cleo in table-top gaming.
​Dark Cleo’s origins as we all know began in table-top gaming. My colleague Sam told me years ago that CEO Becky and her group of friends would set up the game version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a night – making me wish I lived further north to join in. It sounded different from what I was used to but it held a lot of intrigue so that is what I aimed for when I joined their section on the first floor. The people playing at the tables were either people like me or fans of gaming in general – but all were immensely enjoying themselves. In my opinion, table top gaming is much easier for a layman to join in and become a fan – rather than say VR or console gaming. It encourages personal interaction with others in a more intimate setting instead of lone gameplay. It conjures up two images in my head of me in my room on my own with a console or around a table with others enjoying a more sociable gathering. Both are different ways of gaming and while I certainly enjoy playing Resident Evil four and being surrounded by chocolate digestives on my bed (yes, it gets messy) – there is a certain appeal to be more included in a gaming session with others of like minds.

So that’s what I saw here. I had a chat with the gaming Pit-Boss-Aidan- and he told me that everyone that walked by them showed interest over the three days and then came back out of curiosity. Many went away fans and engaged with a lot of enthusiasm. Like my earlier comparison – table top gaming will likely remain in the gaming community like a good Beatles record that never goes out of fashion – and like seeing kids enjoy reading this also pleased me to see. I’m glad to see that there is such variety in the gaming world and there has to be something said about the quality of the games on offer. All very impressive and another thing to enjoy trying at the event.
So we come to the finale of our sequel, the coup de grace, the big kahuna. The team at Dark Cleo had their work cut out for them at being asked to oversee one of the more popular sections of Comic-Con – the Cosplay Zone. A place where anyone regardless of culture or creed (Assassins or otherwise) could come together from all over the UK (and the world) and be someone else. Be it a character from their favourite film, TV show, book, comic – or even one they had dreamt up themselves – the only thing to limit how far people could go was their own imagination. The cosplay section had a few events scheduled including ‘Blind date’ and masquerade competitions for community and professional visitors. Some people spend all year preparing their costume and some were nothing short of amazing. So on Sunday I got my ‘star treatment’ and the best seat in the house for the competitions – to see those who had signed up to win 200 pounds as a community visitor or 1,000 pounds as a professional competitor. Not knowing much about the scene – I was looking forward to seeing what visitors had put together and have a bit of fun as this is what cos-playing is all about. Those involved were very welcoming and open to a novice such as myself. If I am to be invited back next year I’m going to finally live out my dream of being Morticia Addams. Yes – it’s going to be done and I feel inspired, although last year I wanted to go as Maleficent. The most I’ve ever done is don questionable stockings and red lipstick for a Rocky Horror showing earlier in the year and even then I felt under-dressed.

​​Showmasters had invited stars of the professional cosplay circuit to be involved and answer fan questions about their stellar work. Guests involved this year were: Calamity Cosplays, Van Helen Cosplay, Exeter Cosplay, Kerry Cosplay, Calypsen Cosplay and Sawyers Mess Cosplay. Most guests alternated in being judges for the masquerades each day so with their unique knowledge they were well equipped to make the impossibly tough decisions of who would be the cream of the crop. I got up close and personal with a complete replica of Dante’s weapons from Devil May Cry by Calamity Cosplay and I must say I was both equally impressed and a little intimidated.

​The community and professional masquerade line-up was frankly a hoot – most people were comfortable enough to not only dress as their character but to embody them and showing off enviable acting skills. We got treated to a Batman Vs Joker YMCA match on the stage which got everyone up. My Pyramid Head was one of the winners and very well deserved it was too. I realised though what a difficult job the judges had as each person had obviously put in momentous amounts of effort into the end result – be it intricate sewing, 3d printing or specialised makeup – it was all worthy of a prize. We were treated to several different versions of Harley Quinn, a tiny Hawkeye with a well placed plastic arrow into the judges table, witches from Wicked, zombies from the Walking Dead, the Green Lantern, an eight foot tall Darth Vader and Old Biff. There was also a brilliant guy who wore his Baymax costume (massive and certainly very hot inside) just to make young kids happy. I spoke to some of the contestants afterwards for the community masquerade and all gave positive feedback – all saying it was something they all had fun with. They all expressed interest in signing up next year as well.
It was surreal, it was funny, it was enjoyable and it was pulled off with precision. My sincere congrats and thanks to Dark Cleo and all involved for making the event what is was – something that everyone would remember.

So ends Comic-Con 2016 and this mammoth review. I hope that you all loved it as much as I did as you all are the ones that make these events so successful.
I look forward to seeing all of you next year for part three of my epic trilogy and journey into the weird and the wonderful.

Game Over

​Official thanks to Becky, Dave and everyone at Dark Cleo Productions. To Sam at Lastly my thanks go to Showmasters and the belief that one day I’ll get Michael Fassbender at a future event. Fingers crossed.

You can watch the professional masquerades here below