Comic Conventions, like most things, come in all shapes and sizes. And it seems in recent years they are becoming something of a regularity in smaller venues and locations.
The Northwest Comic Con team run three main events in Wigan, Southport and Bolton through the year and we headed over to the first of the year in Bolton on the 27th January 2018.
Value for Money (5 out of 5)
"website and facebook pages would benefit from a cleanse and streamlining"
If you are heading to a larger UK event like MCM then you will be paying around £25 for an adult ticket. The smaller events attract a much smaller ticket price which for me still has to be consistent with the "things to do" and "things to see" at the convention. Bolton set me back £7 for an adult ticket and £5 for a child.
For me this equates to a couple of hours entertainment and I was happy at the end of the event vs the price I had paid. The tickets were easy enough to order via Skiddle, with further options of ordering your wrist band in advance from the NWCC team. After 11am you could also rock up and pay on the door.
I must state at this point that the information available for the con is quite poor. The website is out of date and showing the 2016 information and guests and the facebook isn't the most informative. There is a lot of cross promotion and old info on the facebook page which leads to confusion - for example an image of Greedo and the quote "Paul Blake signing" which turns to to be from 2015's event.
Venue (5 out of 5)
"not sure why BWFC didn't make any of the car parks available"
The Macron Stadium, home to Bolton Wanderers, is close to the perfect venue for an event like this. It sits just off the M61 motorway and has a train station within walking distance. Parking is plentiful and the adjacent retail & leisure park means plenty of places to eat and shop before and after.
I've attended a few events here including a regular Barry Trotter fair, and parking is not an issue - until today when the Football club seems to have failed to open any of the parking at the rear of the stadium despite the banners for the event at each car park entrance. We ended up parking on the retail park and walking down.
We arrived as the doors opened at 10am (first hour is ticket holders only) and were in and through the ticket check and wrist band issue in under 10mins. Special mention to the Security team on the door who were talking to the kids and were organising the lines really well. Inside the venue is a well laid out and roomy convention floor with plentiful toilets. There is a fast food counter with seating and the only criticism I can throw is the lack of a map or signage and it took us a while to find the upstairs balcony section.
Activities (2 out of 5)
"Not enough to keep you there for more than an hour or two"
The bulk of the convention floor was turned over to stalls, but around the perimeter were some other activities to keep you and your minions occupied.
On arrival there were two R2-D2's from the UK droid builders scooting around and interacting with the attendees and kids - even letting the kids have a go with the controls. Round the back we also had photo opportunities. The first was for Doctor Who with a TARDIS, Davros and 10th Doctor in cosplay. To the side of this was a Star Wars section with a droid lineup (R2-D2, Chopper, BB8 and R5-D4) and an Endor Speederbike. The guy here was lovely and he had prop sabers to hand and was very good with the little ones. You did pay £1 for a photo using your own camera, or could pay £3 and they'd take and print one for you.
Gaming fans had a retro arcade downstairs and upstairs a retro gaming area where old people like me could dust off their skills and play on an original Atari 2600 or Master System. For me the games might have been better served downstairs in the section with the cafe - that way kids big and small could play the games while refreshments were sought by the mums & dads.
The only other exhibits were a Batpod with what appeared to be the NECA foam 1:1 models of Batman, Deadpool and Harley Quinn. These were cordoned off and you couldn't have your photo taken with them. We then had a 1977 Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.
I will cover the ReAction Expo in a moment....
What always makes a con like this is the Cosplay and we had some belters in there today - special mentions to Deadpool, the Stormtrooper who took up as a chaperone to the R2's and the Predator who was great with the kids. I also loved the Orc from Lord of the Rings and the Newt Scamander who we'd seen, complete with case, in McDonalds having his breakfast (and quite possibly slipping some to his Niffler).
Stalls & Traders (3 out of 5)
"not a bad selection, no over the top pricing evident"
The stalls and sellers were amongst the best I'd seen at a smaller con like this with a good selection of merchandise although nothing particularly rare or brand new. Interestingly Hasbro Star Wars and Marvel Legends were least represented, but there was a lot of NECA items and quite a bit of Diamond Select. Lots of stores were focused on Funko Pops and there was also a spattering of Flego (fake Lego). Prices were reasonable, NECA & Select figures were averaging £25 and I even found a seller with McFarlane Stranger Things at £20 each (I have these pre-ordered so left them reluctantly).
Higher end collectors were pretty well served with a few Hot Toys and some Kotobukiya items. There wasn't a lot of vintage stuff other than in the cheaper end loose figures in those under the table tubs.
The other stalls were a good mix of comic books and quite a few artistic stalls with a big emphasis on Harry Potter. We got some lovely handmade Potter coasters from a great couple who also had a Niffler and case of treasure with their stall.
And of course there were the fudge & cup cake stalls for those who have a sweet tooth.
Guests (2 out of 5)
"changes from original line up"
The original line up for Bolton had Christopher Biggins, Rosie Jane (Dr Who) and Andrew Potts (Primeval). Only Andrew was in attendance, and the other recognizable name was Colin Spaull (Doctor Who). Sadly this section was very quiet and I wonder if there is some fatigue over the same guests being at every con in the area time after time.
We rarely go for the guests and autographs so I can't really comment any further on the guests having not interacted with any of them, although Andrew and Colin looked to be having a good natter with those that did venture over to their tables.
Reaction Expo (4 out of 5)
"they need a better display cabinet, but otherwise lots of fun for action figure geeks"
The final thing I want to talk about was the much publicised Reaction Figures Expo. This was described as "Reaction Figures Exhibition featuring rare and exclusive pieces, original prototypes, test shots, artwork and proof cards."
Now being so widely publicised it seemed a shame having this sat upstairs - which as I mentioned earlier wasn't well signposted. I hope people did manage to find it and didn't leave without checking it out.
The Expo was small but perfectly formed with very well presented wall panels taking you through the ReAction line from its initial return in 2013 with the Alien figures to the He-Man line and then to the wider range of figures now available. Art work and background info accompanied each panel.
In the corner was a display cabinet containing a lot of samples and prototypes including Nightmare Before Christmas and Street Fighter. Sadly the cabinet was not the best for showing off the figures and for the kids they couldn't see the top shelves.
The Expo was hosted by Fhlostan Paradise Collectibles and they were selling a wide range of figures in the booth and they also had an exclusive - which I think is a first for a small UK con - with a black and white Batula from The Worst.
This was a unique inclusion into this smaller con format and as an Action Figure geek I enjoyed looking round the displays. You could even get your picture taken with a human sized He-Man ReAction backing card.
This is my second Bolton Comic Con and my fourth at a NWCC event. We spent about 2 hours at the venue, mainly around the stalls. I think you'd struggle to spend the day there unless you were in cosplay and it was a shame to see they'd dropped the stage and presentations we'd seen at a previous event - probably due to a lack of guests.
For £12 I felt it was money well spent to keep me and the Minion busy for 2 hours on a wet January Saturday. My only issue, as I learnt a couple of years back, is to probably give the next couple of NWCC events a miss as the team quite often block book the same guests and traders so the events always end up very samey if you attend them all.
Well done Bolton Comic Con, see you next year