My First Con Experience

He’s lovely!
From Em-Con’s website

Until today, I’d never been to a convention. I’ve been to music festivals, helped organise Can’t Stop the Serenity charity events and participated in many historical re-enactments, but this is a flavour of geekery I’ve been dying to try out for years now.

When EM-Con was announced, Nottingham’s first convention, I couldn’t resist. Red Dwarf Cast! Game of Thrones folk! David frigging Warner! Straight to the website, early bird tickets please. Only had to wait 4 or 5 months, as ever more guests were announced.
I considered dressing up, but my track record with that isn’t great. I tend to specialise in ‘X Character gone horribly wrong’ with clothes of entirely the wrong colour. I don’t tend to have the time or money to invest in dressing up. Tonks slapped a Bajoran nose-piece onto her face, got hold of some thematically appropriate clothes and cut/dyed her hair. BOOM. Major Kira cosplay. She already had the jewellery because OF COURSE SHE DID. She’s something of a Trek nerd. I wore a coat with a brownish colour, my be-goggled stetson and a Firefly/Star Wars mashup shirt. Suitably nerdy, I think/
I crawled out of bed at around 0815ish, later than I’d intended. Doors opened for early-bird holders at 10:00 so I knew we’d need to get there soon. Tonks put her nose on (not a phrase I say often) and we left.
At the bus stop, I began to feel the all-too-familiar pangs of anxiety. What if there are too many people there? What if nobody else looks weird? What if there’s a secret code of con ettiquette that I’d breach and then all the guests would glare at me horrified and then stafff would come up to me and tell me that my crime was so heinous I should just go before they have me escorted from the building?
Well, I certainly didn’t have to worry about no one else being dressed weird. There were all sorts of cosplayers of all sorts of levels of quality/effort. There were Judges (mostly Dredd, but there was a lady judge who was possibly Anderson), Ghostbusters, Jedi, the 501st  legion Stormtroopers (with assorted rebels), a 70’s-BSG Cylon complete with eye light and the humming noise – AND ALSO JAWAS at least one of which was clearly a tiny child and was adorable.
We stood in the queue relatively near the door, glad we’d come early enough. We’d be gladder of this later. We had arrived for about 09:30 more or less, and they didn’t start letting folk in until around 10:30, so we’d queued for about an hour or so. We were the lucky ones.
We went in, got wristbands slapped on us and were suddenly faced with the dread and terror of not knowing what the hell we were doing or where we were. There seemed to be some people sat at tables, so we followed the tables around and realised that actually these were the guests. They were just sort of lined up on tables, sitting there with photos and water bottles and looking like real people. Who told celebrities they could be real people?!
We went on a brief tour of the tables, clocking who was sat where. I did have a bit of a flutter when we passed David Warner’s table, then again when we passed Kristian Nairn’s. I made a beeline for a friend’s dealer table (Last Line Publishing, steampunk fiction, check them out!) before we made another round to get some autographs.

From EM-Con’s Website

Kristian Nairn was lovely. I was very nervous (first con, no idea what I’m doing), but his casual chatter set me at ease quickly. He complimented our outfits (which was nice as I hadn’t even dressed up particularly) and loved Tonks’ nose. We got some autographs and moved on.

David Warner is a legend, and he was such a genial man. I was almost tempted to ask for a hug. Instead, I asked for a signed photo of Chancellor Gorkon. Tonks had a chat with him about his Cardassian character in TNG (“How many lights do you see?”) and between them they managed to remember the character’s name. He was absolutely lovely.

We checked out the merch and gawked at David Prowse (he’s even tall while sitting down), before deciding we needed some fresh air and food. On the way I swung by the Red Dwarf tables and Robert Llewellyn convinced me to get a signed copy of one of his books – as he put it, they’re same price and there’s a lot more words for my money. I agreed; normally it’d just be his name and my name! Bargain.

I wanted to meet more of the Dwarfers but I didn’t get the chance. I did get to hold the bathroom door open for Mac McDonald and witness Norman Lovett clambering over his table to escape.

Wait, what? Norman Lovett’s a 67 year old man, couldn’t he just get up and walk away from the table?


About that.

Here’s where I start to feel guilty for the good time I had. When I said earlier that we were lucky to have arrived when we did, I meant it. Many others were not so fortunate. Many, many others. See, EM-Con seems to have suffered from … organisational difficulties. There are reports of 2+ and 3+ hour waits in the queue, and a very real probability that many have missed the panels they primarily booked tickets for. There are reports of demnds for refunds.

On the one hand, if you go to an event like this you expect a certain amount of waiting if you don’t camp out early (first-night movie releases and music festivals taught me that one). On the other hand, a friend of mine states he joined the queue at 11:10 and was still nowhere near the entrance by 14:00. That’s an unreasonable wait. He gave up in the end. Many of my friends did. They too will join the ranks of refund-requesters.

I would suggest that the problem stems from them underestimating the level of interest – they booked a venue that is perhaps a bit too small for this type of event, then perhaps sold rather too many tickets, reportedly resulting in a one-in-one-out policy. Either way, what I can state with certainty is that the venue was packed. We were shoulder-to-shoulder at times, and the thoroughfares were not wide enough to accommodate queuing and walking. That’s why Norman Lovett did his mountain goat impression just to leave his table.

In the end, the press of people was too much. We were tired and (problematically) there didn’t seem to be anywhere indoors to sit. When I asked if, were we to leave to the outside square as we were told we could for food/rest, we would need to queue to get back the marshall said “I have no idea, you’ll have to try your luck.” It didn’t fill us with confidence. We ended up going home without going to any of the Q&As, which is a bit disappointing, but there were people outside to consider, and there will be other cons.

This was EM-Con’s first event, and I’d like it to not be their last. They have a bigger venue booked for next year, and if they learn from their mistakes they’ll be in a stronger position. I’d like to see them succeed because Nottingham isn’t exactly a thriving geek metropolis, and it’d be nice to have a local homegrown con we can be proud of.

If not, well, there’s always Collectormania.

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