It’s become increasingly rare for me to post a write up following a convention. This is partly because there are several conventions that are a part of my regular schedule and there are only so many things I can say about those, such as the MCM events, before I just end up repeating myself. By this point, I think we all know what we’re getting from things like MCM and you can take a pretty good guess at how the event went.
Similarly, a lot of conventions do feel very similar to one another. While I visited Thought Bubble for the first time at the end of 2014, there wasn’t much to say about the weekend that couldn’t be said for other, similar, events. That’s not to say Thought Bubble doesn’t have it’s own identity but it certainly wasn’t different enough to warrant a blog post.
Weston Super Sonic, on the other hand, was a convention like no other. It was a smaller, more intimate, event with around 200 attendees throughout the day. I’m finding that the smaller the scale of these events, the better the atmosphere. Weston Super Sonic and Melksham Comic Con have this in common. They don’t see the same footfall as the MCMs but people have the time to stop and talk. Everyone’s very enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter and you really get to connect with the community. Lower numbers seem to lead to more personal experiences, which is fantastic!
Of course, a major contributor to that atmosphere was the fantastic staff. They genuinely cared about putting on the best event they could and had no interest in turning a profit, as proven by the fact that tickets were free when any other gathering would charge an entry fee, even if it’s solely to cover their own costs. Everyone involved had a very active role and were visibly working their butts off to make sure the day ran smoothly.
Another major difference is that Weston Super Sonic was a celebration of a specific franchise. No points for guessing that franchise was Sonic the Hedgehog. Normally, the conventions I attend cast their net wide to appeal to the biggest demographic and get as many feet through the door as possible. I understand why they do that, but it dilutes the population as there are people in the room who might like video games, sci-fi, anime, comics or cult TV shows yet have no interest in the other elements of the show. It actually caused the following exchange at MCM Birmingham between my table neighbour (who shall remain nameless) and a convention attendee:
Table Neighbour: “Hi, can I interest you in my comic?”
Attendee: “Oh, I don’t read comics.”
Table Neighbour: “What? You’re at Comic Con!”
Having one franchise to celebrate meant there was a concentrated, shared, interest. Everyone in that room had something in common, a love for Sonic the Hedgehog. Immediately, you have at least some connection to everybody else in the room and it boosts the sense of community to levels I didn’t think possible.
It also meant that every event had the attention of the entire crowd. It was scary how quiet the floor went each time someone took to the stage. The fantastically thought out layout of the room also meant that you could see and participate in anything from anywhere. I could see the main stage, the games tournament and all of the other stalls from my table because the organisers made the best use of the space available to them. They had everything, a Q&A with a ton of the people behind Sonic the Comic (a series I sorely miss), a live video call with Mike Pollock, voice actor of Dr Eggman, there was a 2 part trivia quiz that made me sweat and included questions such as “Which eye does Sonic wink with during the ending of Sonic Spinball?” (his left, in case you were wondering), a speedrun contest for the fastest time on Sonic Adventure 2’s City Escape, and a gaming tournament where the game being played was randomly rotated from a selection spanning Sonic’s entire history! Yes, all of this in one room, without anything interfering with the other, plus the tables for sellers like me and more tables for official guests.
Oh boy, the guest line up. Focusing on one franchise meant they could get a line up that pleased everyone. Often times, I have attended a convention and had to read the event guide to know what half of the guests have worked on (again, the dilution issue mentioned previously). This was different, if you were a Sonic fan you knew who everyone was. I got an original pencil drawing and a signed A4 print from Duncan Gutteridge. If you grew up during the 90s, trust me, you have seen his work a hundred times over. I also got to meet a lot of the team behind Sonic the Comic, including Carl Flint, Ferran Rodriguez, Deborah Tate, Nigel Kitching and Richard Elson. The last two, in particular, were especially awesome to finally meet.
Humour me while I gush for a moment here, I grew up reading Sonic the Comic and my favourite stories were always the ones written by Kitching and drawn by Elson. They were, without a doubt, the first comics I ever read and I think they started me on the path to picking up a pencil myself. Without these two, I wouldn’t have gone to art school, without art school I wouldn’t have been badgered to attend my first comic con by the friends I met in class, that first comic con was where I met the woman I’m now engaged to, have been living with for over 6 years, and is the mother of my children. I’m also quite confident that neither Arcadia nor Joe Cape would exist without the early influence of these two creators. I owe them all of that and meeting them was a huge deal to me as a result.
I am very pleased to say they were two of the nicest people I have ever met. They are very passionate and enthusiastic about their craft and they were happy to talk to every single attendee at length with genuine smiles throughout the whole day. It’s amazing when your heroes surpass your expectations and if you’re not familiar with their work, make it a priority to hunt it down.
One last thing, the entire day was broadcast live by The Sonic Show so that those who couldn’t make it in person could still enjoy the proceedings. That’s a first. Again, I understand why other conventions don’t do this – they want to cover their costs with entry fees for physical attendance and having a livestream would probably cause a large number of people to just stay home instead of making a trip. Still, I thought the livestream for folks who couldn’t be there was an amazing gesture and really encapsulated the energy and passion behind the entire convention. The broadcast is now on YouTube, in full, for you to watch back at any time.
Overall, I had some of the most fun I have ever had at a convention and it’s certainly an event I want to continue being involved with in years to come.