Fans of sci-fi and comic creations were left delighted and dismayed after Blackpool’s debut comic con.
The event drew in thousands of ‘conateers’ – as people who attend comic conventions are called – to the Winter Gardens on Saturday.
While many enjoyed their experience, meeting stars including Blackpool’s own Jenna Coleman, who plays Clara Oswald the doctor’s assistant in Dr Who, and Mini Me Verne Troyer, thousands of angry visitors have posted their views on social media.
Stars from film and TV franchieses, including Harry Potter, Star Wars and Game Of Thrones, as well as famous wrestlers, were all in attendance.
The event was the first of its kind at the Winter Gardens, with 12,000 tickets sold out ‘well in advance’ of the day, according to a spokesman for the venue.
The official Blackpool Comic Con page on Facebook, where many complaints had been posted, was deleted on Sunday, but posts can still be found on other event pages on the socal network.
The guests were courteous but obviously were as fed up as us. My son and husband hardly saw anything of the con, also my son has cerebral palsy so was in pain and tired with not a lot to show for it.Jane Bott
Lengthy queues, of several hours, saw many families give up and go home before even entering the venue, with a figure of eight queue reportedly looping right around the complex, and then extending along Abingdon Street, Clifton Street, Corporation Street, Church Street and into Birley Street.
Conateers were also concerned at the number of tickets sold for the event, claiming it was overcrowded and dangerous, while staffed with volunteers who were lacking in vital, basic information – such as where key events such as guest panels and photo shoots were taking place.
As a result, people have claimed they missed pre-paid highlights for their visit.
Attractions which had been advertised on the Blackpool Comic Con website were also not at the event, including Batmobiles, the Ghostbusters car and Bond vehicles.
Abby Mooney, 25, from South Shore, attended the event with her boyfriend, spending £110 on tickets and photo opportunities with wrestling star Mick Foley and Game Of Thrones’ Robb Stark actor Richard Madden.
She has hypermobility syndrome, which means her joints can dislocate and bones break with ease, and uses a wheelchair when long distances or crowds are involved.
Although they were not caught in the lengthy queues, once inside the Winter Gardens, Abby says it was ‘clearly massively, massively overcrowded’, and she ended up ‘having a meltdown’ in panic.
“I had to keep my hands folded in front of me the whole time, I couldn’t self-propel my chair,” she said.
“People were falling into me because they couldn’t see and where parents were carrying their children I was being kicked.”
She said she’d spoken to some volunteers, who said they’d been recruited at Blackpool and The Fylde College the day before, and had been given no training or guidance over where events were taking place in the Winter Gardens.
“When you spoke to the staff and said ‘do you have anyone we can talk to?’, they said the organisers had left,” she added.
Jane Bott went with her husband and sons, aged 12 and nine – one of whom has cerebral palsy, and described it as ‘horrendous’ getting in after a two and a half-hour queue, with no one taking their ticket at the door.
They ended up trailing wrestler Mick Foley around the venue for their pre-booked photo, being given ‘rubbish directions’ for the time and place of this, eventually getting it almost six hours after the scheduled time slot.
“The organisation was non-existent,” she said. “Staff had no clue and some – a minority – were rude.
“The guests were courteous but obviously were as fed up as us. My son and husband hardly saw anything of the con, also my son has cerebral palsy so was in pain and tired with not a lot to show for it.”
She added that in the last half hour, as the venue was emptying, they were able to look around and talk to guests ‘just what the whole day should have been like’.
“There were some high points; the guests, cosplay, traders and some staff were amazing and friendly,” Mrs Bott added.
Casee Leigh also contacted The Gazette about her concerns, after attending Saturday’s event, having travelled from Accrington.
“It was insane; I queued for two hours and was there for about half an hour,” she said. “It was far over capacity and I couldn’t keep my son’s life at risk.”
The event was launched by Chester-based self-confessed gaming and sci-fi geeks Luke Williams and Paddy O’Hare, as their first comic con, after attending other conventions around the UK.
A statement from The Comic Con Co Ltd said: “The event went ahead on Saturday, September 12, the legal capacity provided by the venue was not breached.
“We are hearing from numerous sources that expectations have not been met.
“The accounting process of the event has not been finalised, therefore no other comment can be made by the company at this time.”
A Winter Gardens spokesman said ‘overall it was a success’, adding that although it was sold out ‘large numbers of people still joined the queues in the hope of buying tickets on the day despite there being clear announcements advising that the event was sold out’.
“This certainly slowed down the flow of people with tickets entering the building and by 3pm there were no queues and the event ran until after 6pm,” the spokesman said.
“We have had many favourable comments from those attending the event and those who attended in full costume certainly animated the town centre and were happy to pose for photographs with members of the public.
“We will be undertaking a full debrief with the organisers about what can be done to improve the overall experience for everyone involved in future.”