THE CON SCENE – “It’s getting awful crowded in my sky”
Written by Wayne Talbot
Howdy Folks, strap in because this is going to be a long one. I am a 36 year old Nerd, I live in Dublin, Ireland. I grew up in the 80s and I can tell you now, as a geeky kid who grew up being shunned by the kids at school because I read comics, watched Doctor Who, Star Wars and Star Trek we have never had it so good. The culture has exploded over the last decade, comic book movies fill the cinemas, TV is filled with shows set in far off galaxies or on fantastic worlds. It really is a great time to be a fan of all things nerd.
The ultimate representation of the nerd or geek culture is the Comic Convention or Fan Expo, the term Comic Con has spread across the globe, is widely recognised and symbolises ever aspect of being a fan of all things nerd, even though the title would suggest it only represents the world of Comic Books, over the last few years Comic Cons have mutated into a much different beast, with the likes of San Diego Comic Con becoming more of an entertainment expo which showcases the next batch of Hollywood blockbusters as well as the next season of fantastical TV shows, other events are more like merchandising expos where retailers of merchandise from your favourite TV series, movie, book or Comic Book can be obtained, these expos tend to also boast an array of guests from popular shows and movies from today and yesteryear so the avid autograph seeker can meet and greet them (generally for a small fee) To give you an idea of what kinds of Conventions are happening in Ireland I’m going to talk about some of the ones I have attended over the years, they are varied in their content and fan base. These aren’t all of the conventions that take place here, just the ones I have attended personally. So lets get the ball rolling.
There is a downside to this boom in what was once a sub culture for so long, quickly becoming part of mainstream pop culture, everyone wants a piece of the action, and most of the time when that happens it’s for all the wrong reasons.The Con scene in Ireland is not a new phenomenon, we have had numerous conventions going for many a year, covering all aspects of geekdom. Everything from board gaming, anime, Sci-Fi and Comic Books have been well represented over the years by some fantastic fan run conventions. Of late though we have seen an upturn in the massive marketing machine, organisations like MCM are churning out roughly six to seven shows a year spread throughout England and now Ireland. Using a cookie cutter template for their conventions
MCM arrived last year with a Con in Belfast and Dublin and their main rival Showmasters will have their début show in Belfast this weekend, which I will be attending, and If I’m honest I am very excited about it because it has an array of Doctor Who related guests including my favourite Doctor Paul McGann.These massive expos have huge amounts of money pumped into them through marketing deals with distribution companies, I have never attended a Showmasters event before, this weekend will be my first time so I cannot comment on how they run their events, although I have heard nothing but good things about them. I did however attend this years MCM Dublin Comic Con in the RDS in April, I received a press pass through GeekPlanetOnline, the site that hosts The Irish Pubcast, and If I am totally honest I was not impressed with how the show was run. Its exhibition halls plastered with posters of films, some of which have nothing to do with anything remotely geek, posters for Mrs Brown the movie?! there were a some Godzilla posters which I am a huge fan of so that was fine, the right demographic was reached there, but Mrs Brown the movie was everywhere including being the main signage for the event, it felt like I was attending a Brendan O’Carroll appreciation society rather than a Comic Con. Another gripe I had was the fact that with a label of a Comic Con the smallest space of all its event areas was given to the Comic village, with big Comic Book names like Simon Bisley and Glen Fabry tucked away in a corner with no signage with their names on it (Bisley begrudgingly made his own), while a Rock Band and Just Dance station positioned right next to their desks aggravates them, A friend of mine summed up their disdain for the MCM events like this “Why would I want to pay money to attend what is essentially a big shop?”
There are panels with guests at these shows, some great some I haven’t got a clue about and that’s okay, there are many facets of geek culture that I have zero interest in, there weren’t any engaging events or games being put on for attendees, there was a live stream of some League of Legends, which took up roughly the same space as the Comic Village, and at no point was it filled to capapcity, The few good things that I personally took from MCM was that I was happy I got to meet Simon Bisley and Glenn Fabry as they were responsible for the art in a lot of my favourite Comic Books when I was growing up, other guests at this years event that I was interested in meeting, Danny John-Jules who was a total Gent and happily posed for photos and Warwick Davis who sadly was only there for the Sunday and I wasn’t, but I heard he was lovely and was great with fans, but the overall corporate feeling behind MCM turned me off the whole experience and I will not be going again next year regardless of a press pass or a guest list, coupled with the fact that the dates they have announced are smack bang in the middle of two of Ireland’s biggest Conventions, Dublin Comic Con and D.I.C.E. which is a bold and frowned upon tactic by MCM, who claim to not have any knowledge of these other two events and when they are being scheduled for in 2015. Both of these events are Irish run,and garner a huge crowd due to the line up of guests from around the world as well as hosting panels and talks which are always top-notch and fantastic to attend. Now since MCM announced the dates for next years event (nearly a whole 12 months before the event itself) they have been met with questions and queries about the date change (this years event took place in April), and why it is being sandwiched in between two of Ireland’s largest and most well-known home-grown conventions? Their response has been a strange one. Stating that any other convention that is happening around the same time as an MCM event is always boosted by the publicity yet any mention of either of these two events has resulted in the comments being deleted and if the questions or comments persisted regardless if they were well-meaning and polite the user was swiftly banned from commenting further. The outrage in the community has led to this article from ICN.
MCM will only accept people talking about events associated with them, Not the best PR approach really. The current feeling within the Irish community is one of anger, and that is mainly down to how the front facing part of MCM is handling itself. No attempt was made to reach out to any of the parties involved with any other Irish convention due to take place around the dates MCM have announced despite what they themselves are claiming. Another thing to note is that none of the revenue garnered by MCM themselves goes back into the local economy, they are an English company, they take whatever cash they make away with them, they do not employ any local staff, again regardless of what MCM themselves say about one of the organisers being Irish, the only money Irish businesses make is what local dealers that apply and pay for the privilege of attending the event make. If you haven’t guessed by now, I am not a fan of this type of Convention, more of a pay to get into a shopping experience and less of a fan event. Sure there were a few guests, and a small Comic Book village, but having experienced it first hand this is not the way forward for conventions, it isn’t the way Irish conventions have been run up to this point. Now maybe that is part of the problem I have with MCM, I’m used to a certain type of convention, one that is welcoming and caters for the attendees rather than trying to shake them down for cash and send them on their way, I can safely say that I know what model of convention I like and what model I don’t.
The Convention scene in Ireland doesn’t only contain the likes of MCM, it also boasts some of the most welcoming and open conventions I have ever had the pleasure of attending, everything from board and table top gaming, anime, Sci-Fi and its multiple facet fandoms, Comic Books and many many more. This weekend (24th – 27th of October) sees one of the best gaming cons I have ever ha the pleasure of attending, Gaelcon, a fantastic convention for gamers of all levels of ability, easily one of the most welcoming conventions I have ever visited. If you are interested table top gaming, board gaming, Larping, role-playing and card gaming then Gaelcon is the convention for you, it boasts a wide variety of games and events, open to all attendees. The first year I attended Gaelcon I took part in a Larp, I had never larped before so I had no idea what to expect. I admit I was a little apprehensive but the group were so welcoming and happy to help me get into the swing of it, and it was a great laugh, and if you ever get the chance to take part in a larp I highly recommend you do, its loads of fun.
Gaelcon also boasts a wide range of table top games which are again open to all attendees, massive areas are dedicated to table gaming, and seeing them all laid out and fully set up is a sight to behold. Role playing games are also a staple feature of the convention, I have rpg’ed at cons multiple times, some of the best games I’ve been involved in have happened at Cons like Gaelcon, and I put this down to the hard work and ability of the folks who run these games, they know what they are doing and how to wrangle a bunch of strangers into a solid group of adventurers. Gaelcon was one of my first ever cons, I will always look upon it fondly, and if you are interested in any of the events it offers and have yet to attend I highly recommend you do.
If I was to pick one convention that is just a pure celebration of what it is to be a Geek it would be ArcadeCon. Everything about this convention is just pure unadulterated fun. It is a hybrid convention, boasting great guests (past guests have included Pendleton Ward, Robert Picardo, Virginia Hey, Gareth David Lloyd, Twin Fools and Nova Vanderwolf and loads more), brilliant panels, role-playing games, a massive video game area, a varied and well stocked merchandise area that is separate from the rest of the event and does not encroach on the convention, which is something other major conventions could learn from. One of the great things about ArcadeCon is that while it does cater for all ages, once it hits the watershed there are events for the older Geeks, with adult themed panels and events, it is one of the few conventions that offers this. ArcadeCon covers so many bases when it comes to events and panels, everything from anime to horror movies to Comic Books, its a smörgåsbord or a convention with something for everybody.
I have attended Arcade Con three years running, the podcast I am a part of The Irish Pubcast host panels, Q&As with guests and also help host the closing ceremony’s charity auction. It is easily one the highlights of Ireland’s convention calendar,, and ArcadeCon 2015 is already underway with the dates for next years event announced for the 3rd – 5th of July and a shiny new venue as well, I highly recommend you try anD make it. The organisers of this convention run the geek website The Arcade which is also well worth checking out.
Dublin Comic Con is new enough con, it just had its second event this past August. It’s a big expo type convention boasting great guests, in their second year alone they had Kevin Conroy, Ernie Hudson, Alan Grant, Virginia Hey, PJ Holden, Stephen Mooney and Irish section of the 501st Star Wars group. DCC is a fan run convention, but the overall layout and structure resembles some of the larger conventions from the UK or America, the difference with DCC is the numerous groups that band together from the community to help and add to the con experience. The folks from the Arcade generously give their time and gear to the gaming section, numerous cosplayers and prop makers on hand with workshops and panels on how to make and design your own costumes. It is an all hands on deck event and it shows. The Irish Pubcast even got in on the act, running the panels and help host this years Charity auction. It is a huge team effort across the board.
Dublin Comic Con boasted an impressive amount of comic book guests this year. Top of that list was Comic Book legend Alan Grant, joining him was Ian Churchhill, PJ Holden, Stephen Mooney, and Ruth Redmond. There were also a load of small press groups like Lightning Strike and Turncoat press. So the scene was very well represented, and were prominently set up as part of the main guest area. DCC has come a long way in its two years, and only promises to get bigger.
Dublin’s International Comics Expo, or DICE for short is easily one of the best full on Comic Book conventions I have ever had the pleasure of attending. Organised and Run by the staff of The Big Bang Comic Book store in Dundrum it boasts an amazing line up from all facets of the Comic Book industry, from editors, artists, and writers. The guest list would require its own blog post to do it justice it’s that large, but basically everything is represented here from the big labels like Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse to independent press and individuals looking for the big break into the medium. Panels and discussions a plenty, covering everything from creating and writing your own Comic, to equality & representation within the industry. DICE has it all as far as Comics are concerned. The level of expertise and know how behind this Expo is second to none, with conventions outside of Ireland looking to it for inspiration on how to run a Comic Con.
DICE has gone from strength to strength each year, and this Expo has been responsible for a a lot of Irish talent being noticed by big Comic Book labels, folks like Spider-man 2099 artist Will Sliney now work in the industry because of exposure at DICE its that important! This years Expo saw Moon Knight and Deadpool artist Declan Shalvey joining as creative director which gave the event a fantastic boost as well as access to some of the top names in the industry. DICE is the only event of its kind in Ireland, the guest list is always impressive, and the guests themselves are fantastic and very engaging. If you have yet to check it out do yourself a huge favour and make sure you check it out in 2015.
There are loads of other conventions taking place throughout the year in Ireland, these are just some of the ones I have had pleasure and some displeasure of attending, other cons included Eirtakon (Anime Con), Octocon (Sc-Fi writers Con), Nomcon (Anime Con), Otakucon (Anime/Gaming Con), Warpcon (Gaming Con). I’m sure I’ve missed a few, there are that many events. There are also one-off events like comic book signings, film screenings, game launches, costume parties and may more Geekcentric events throughout the year. It really is a great time be a Geek in Ireland, we are spoiled for choice. If I was to offer some advice as to what to pick I would always say support your home-grown talent and conventions, attend signings of up and coming Irish writers and artists, we are a talented bunch of so and so’s and it’s always great to support what’s on your front door step. Engage with Con goers, organisers and events, you are the consumer after all, these events are for you to enjoy. When a convention is run with the passion of a fan that passion will shine through in the final product, yes Convention organisers have to make a profit (not all cons do) in order to continue and return next year, but a convention that is run purely for profit is not a convention is proper sense, it is soulless business that does not respect you as a fan, all they care about is you as a consumer, which is not the way Comic Cons should be run, no those are Cons of a different nature.
Wayne Talbot is one of the presenters of The Irish Pubcast. You can check out their Facebook page here.