I don't really deal terribly well with crowds, but after going to the UK Games Expo earlier this year, I decided to be brave and got a Saturday ticket for LFCC. I went for an Early Bird ticket to try and get in before the really big crowds and keep myself calm and enjoy it.
Well, I have never experienced anything like it. I got to Earls Court tube around 8:30, and the queue (well one of them) was already past the front of EC1 (the hall directly in front of you when you get out at the tube station). There were a couple of EC staff, and they directed ticket holders to keep going round the side of the building towards EC2.
I trotted slowly round, past the entrance to Brompton Hall and managed to find the queue for ticket holders. It wasn't really very clear where the queue for standard ticket holders was and the one for early birds. I never did see it. The queue i was in, which was for Early Birds as it turned out, went round three sides of EC2, double-backed on itself on all three sides, out back to Brompton hall, double backed on itself again and then went back towards brompton hall again.
It was 10am before I made it into the Hall. There was so much queue jumping, it was unreal. People literally walking from one part of the queue to another where it was double-backing onto itself. There were few members of EC staff or volunteers and no signage. I saw one sign which was on the side of EC2, but not in any position where you could see it, unless you were near the front of the queue about 10 meters from the doors.
When i got through, the took my ticket. No lanyard or wristbands were issued, or the ticket kept (although i did see some people had their tickets on them in the hall, which suggests that different volunteers were doing different things), but instead i got a red triangle stamped on my hand. I would have liked to have kept my ticket, i'm not sure why you couldn't, considering there were perforations to pull of and leave a stub for the door staff.
Given how hot it was inside EC2, which was very, it's no surprise that i sweated off the red triangle pretty quickly. This did worry me a little, but as they were using a totally different handstamp for pass outs, i'm really not sure what the point of the red triangle was.
Anyway, as soon as you were through the entrance doors you were met with some sort of skull thing (i think from Game of Thrones, i don't watch it so i'm not sure) which really crowded and meant that there was a big scrum which you had to fight your way through right at the beginning. I knew I had about 25 minutes before my one and only photo op, so decided to try and find a friend of mine who works on Subversive Comics. The rows of stalls were heaving with people and even though it was so early I felt really quite overwhelmed.
I gave up trying to find my friend, and headed back to the photo area. I grabbed a virtual ticket for an autograph and got a decent enough number, considering it was 10:30am.
Then it was on to the photo shoot.
I then joined the queue for the photo. It was managed very well, and went down quickly and was pretty stress free. The photo came out well!
I feel obliged to point out that David Hewlett doesn't have a strange hunch, he's actually sort of crouched over as I am very short. Next time, i'm bringing a box!
I then went back and braved the crowds to find my friend. I found him and got persuaded to buy a novel with graphics on his recommendation, and got it signed. And a sticker! By this time the ticket holders for standard entry were now being left in. It was chaos. The queues for buying photo ops and talks on the day was huge and trying to fight your way through the crowds was awful. I did however find a stall that had a copy of Saga vol 1, and i eagerly bought that. At around 11:40 I decided to sit down being the Sherlock display and have an early lunch.
No dice. Even people who had already gained entry weren't being readmitted. The people behind me started pushing and shoving, many getting angry because they had photo shoots and talks that they had paid for and now couldn't get back in. The door staff didn't seem to know what to do.
I managed to get back in, thanks to my ninja skills, but really i kind of wished i hadn't. A quick check of the virtual queue and my number hadn't been called yet, so i went back to my spot by the Sherlock exhibit and sat down again. It was about 1pm at this point. I used the free wifi at Earls Court to update facebook and check a few emails.
Then on to more shopping. Another stall had Sandman Vol 1, which i really wanted as i lent my original copy out many years ago and never got it back and Sex Criminals. The guy serving me commented that Sex Criminals was really good (which i knew from reading issue 1) and suggested I get Rat Queens. He described it as SITC meets D&D (i'm assuming the SITC means it's about a group of female friends, rather than being about shopping and fucking) which intrigued me, and i'm never one to pass up a suggestion.
In fact, it was at this point that I was struck by how many girls and women there were there, and how friendly (despite the crush and the heat) people were. I didn't feel like there were any gatekeepers at all. However, I really cannot overstate how busy it was.It felt like a scrum at some points, and was very unpleasant. There were clearly far too many people in the hall for the type of layout that was used. Maybe some sort of one way system would have been better?
Moseying around again, i found a stand for a comic called The Pride. I was drawn in as issue 2 had a rainbow on it, so I assumed it must have some LGBT themes or characters, the stand was seeling that and a zombie one called Stiffs for ?3.50. SOLD. I had a lovely chat with one of the writers and the booth "babe", actually a fella, before heading off.
I then went to get my photo signed. This ran very smoothly for me, although i have heard of craziness at the lines of the more obviously popular guests. David was really polite and friendly, and i started off his dice collection. I mean, if he's going to play AD&D a dice collection is absolutely necessary!
I then decided i wanted to try and get into some of the free talks and displays. I then realised that if i wanted to see the cosplay masquerade, i would have to go to the other hall. So i ventured out of EC2.
i#m not sure what time it was by then, maybe 2:40, and the queue to get into EC2 was still just as long. It was really unclear how to get into Brompton Hall, it was only because I saw some people going in through one door, which was behind a queue of people to get into EC2 that i realised I could have easily got into there on my first venture outside.
There was a lot of more space and air in here, and it was here where the video games and cartoonists were. I wished i had come a lot sooner. I found the super stage and settled into to watch the cosplay. It was a lot of fun, and I was impressed at the quality of some of the costumes. We even got an on stage proposal, which was very sweet. Of course she said yes to her boyfriend!
I then had a good wander around the cartoonist stalls, and got "Flimsy's guide to modern living" (i'm a sucker for a cat) by Rachael Smith, who did a beautiful little sketch inside it.
By this time it was around 4pm and I had had enough. I had been walking virtually the entire day, i was really sweaty and gross from EC2 (honestly the Slave Girl Leia cosplayers had the right idea!) and wanted to go home. Getting out of Brompton Hall i was shocked. The queue to get into EC2 was still going! It stretched to about 100m from the entrance to EC1. I mnean seriously, those people were never going to get in, but I had to admire their belief and faith.
I was glad i bought an early bird ticket, and next time I would think about going Gold Pass, just because the queues were bad. I would also try and get to some of the the talks as i really did want to go to The Walking Dead and BSG ones, but was just too overwhelmed to even think about it. I was prepared and bought lunch, drink and a snack. I wished I had brought more water, purely because i was so hot I was losing a lot of water through sweat. Although this had the upside that I didn't actually need to use the loo. But i really felt for those people in the queue for tickets, i think on-the-day tickets need to be a thing of the past. Also air con was completely needed, and access to the toilets really needed to be better. I would go again, and i wished i had spent more time in Brompton Hall. Over all, a rather mixed experience.