Sci-Fi Weekender XV

A photo of a panel interview at a previous Sci-Fi Weekender in Great Yarmouth.

If you’re reading this blog post today or tomorrow, then I’ll be at Sci-Fi Weekender XV in Great Yarmouth, along with Christine and a large group of friends. As usual, I’m writing this in advance on a very old and wet Sunday – perfect blogging weather.

This is our seventh Sci-Fi Weekender event; the first one we went to was SFW 9 in 2018, near Pwlheli in North Wales. Our child was only two at the time so we went as a family, although that meant missing out on the evening activities, including John Robertson’s The Dark Room. It took us a while to work out why everyone was calling each other Darren and why there were so many pineapples everywhere.

Sci-Fi Weekender has moved around a bit over the years. The first event was in Pontins in Camber Sands on the south coast of England, but it had spent a few years in Wales before our first visit. SFW X (part I) was in Sheffield city centre, after changes to the site in Wales meant it could no longer be held there, and it’s been at the Vauxhall Holiday Park in Great Yarmouth since 2019 (SFW X part II). We’ve been to all of them since 2018, although after our first time we’ve had childcare in place. Not least because it’s a Thursday-Friday-Saturday event and it’s not a valid excuse for taking a child of school on the Friday.

Neil and Christine with Brian Blessed at Sci-Fi Weekender XIII

What is Sci-Fi Weekender?

Sci-Fi Weekender is perhaps best described as a residential science fiction and fantasy festival (or ‘Space Butlins’, if you will). It’s not a comic-con (like Thought Bubble, which we went to in 2014 and 2015), and there are usually only a handful of stalls. The main focus is entertainment, cosplay and interviews with actors and celebrities. It doesn’t tend to get many big names, although Peter Davidson (the fifth Doctor, and father-in-law to David Tennant) is the top-billed name this time. Previous SFW events have included Brian Blessed and Nina Wadia.

It tends to take place in holiday parks (the Sheffield years excepted) so that the majority of attendees can stay on site, and it also gives it a more intimate feel. Many guests stay the whole weekend, and some even mingle with attendees. Professor Elemental, who we’ve now seen seven times (eight if you include this weekend) always performs and usually gets involved in hosting a panel. We’re also looking to Madam Misfit‘s third visit.

Whilst the Vauxhall Holiday Park at Great Yarmouth is good, it’s a bit of a trek from Yorkshire. It’s roughly a four hour drive, and about the same by train but with three changes from Sowerby Bridge. We’re driving down as we’re offering a lift to some friends who are also going.

Also, don’t ask about the numbering. SFW X was delivered as two events, and then XI and XII didn’t happen because of you know what.

Thought Bubble 2015

Christine and I at this year's Thought Bubble

After enjoying it so much last year, Christine and I made a return trip to the Thought Bubble Comic Con at the Royal Armouries in Leeds yesterday. I wore basically the same steampunk outfit as last time, but Christine had to wear something rather different as she’s now seven months pregnant. Sadly, her octopus headpiece (called Derek) was not playing well with her and so it was left in the car this time.

As with last year, we spent rather a lot of money, although our most expensive purchase was a babygrow from Genki Gear, so technically it wasn’t for us. We also picked up a couple of books, some comics, some decidedly bizarre Christmas cards and a few small pieces of artwork that we’ll frame and put on the (still mostly barren) walls of our new house.

We saw some great costumes – the £4 entry discount for cosplayers once again acting as an incentive to get people to dress up. I saw at least three female Thors, suggesting that Marvel’s decision to pass Mjölnir to Jane Foster has been well-received, several Starlords and a small boy dressed as a TARDIS. There was also a Hogwarts cosplayer with an actual owl, although I understand she was a paid professional. And the owl later did a poo on the floor.

It was great fun, and I’m sure we’ll be back again next year – all three of us.

Thought Bubble Comic Con, Leeds

Photo of Neil and Christine pondering a trip to Thought Bubble, annotated in the comic book style

Yesterday Christine and I went to our first every comic convention, as part of this year’s Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds. It’s been running since 2007, and I’ve been aware of it since 2012 but this was the first time we’d been.

Running over two days, the comic con concludes the week-long Thought Bubble Festival which takes place across Leeds and celebrates comic art. It’s based at the Royal Armouries Museum, taking over the Royal Armouries Hall (recently renamed from the ‘Saville Hall’), the New Dock Hall, and a large marquee in the square outside, plus some small rooms for talks. There were hundreds of mainly independent comic book sellers, artists and all sorts across the three main venues.

Me and Christine, dressed in Steampunk outfits

One-day passes were £15, or two-day passes for both days – for die-hard comic fans who want to attend as many talks and panels as possible – were £24, and in both cases there was a £4 discount for cosplayers. So Christine and I dusted off our various steampunk paraphernalia and dressed up for the occasion. In doing so we spent more than the £8 that we saved on the entry price but we had a significant number of positive comments about our outfits – especially the octopus fascinator that Christine bought at a previous Leeds Steampunk Market. I’d say around 10-20% of attendees were in cosplay, some more elaborate than others. Kids under 12 had free entry so there were plenty of children around, many also dressed up. We saw a small Tardis, and a young, grumpy Hulk in a pushchair amongst others.

We followed the web site’s advice and made sure that we took out plenty of cash before we got there. The bigger stalls take cards but many of the exhibitors are regular people like you and me who just do this on the side, and the one cash machine nearby usually runs out of money on Saturday morning, apparently. And we spent most of the cash that we took.

Comic books bought at Thought Bubble

Here’s the point where I’ll admit to not being an avid reader of comic books, but you don’t necessarily have to enjoy reading comics to have a good time at Thought Bubble. It did mean that we knew very few of the exhibitors – Moo and Keo being one of the only major exceptions, along with Dr Geof whose Tea Museum has recently returned from an exhibition at the Cutty Sark in London. However we did come across the official Professor Elemental comics, about the steampunk-themed ‘chap hop’ rhymer, and James Chapman whose Soundimals comics I’ve come across on Tumblr and Facebook. We bought their books, the latter signed, with a sloth illustration.

Speaking of sloths, we also had a couple of commissions, or pieces of art drawn for us. The first was by Sajan Rai, who offered to draw you as a sloth – Christine volunteered, hence the octopus. And Lucy Bellwood drew us the beautiful red panda, which we’re planning to get framed.

Commissioned pieces - red panda and sloth

Leeds’ major comic book stores – Forbidden Planet, Travelling Man and OK Comics – were also there and we picked up The Oatmeal‘s book 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (sponsored link).

Part of the fun of Thought Bubble, for us, was simply people-watching. Obviously some of the cosplay outfits were amazing, although regrettably I only took one or two photos. But it was also fun looking at the bemused expressions of those who were on their way to the Royal Armouries Museum and weren’t aware that Thought Bubble was taking place – and were thoroughly confused by all the people dressed up. In Pizza Express, at lunch, we were one of two steampunk groups, with a girl on another table wearing a painted morphsuit showing all of the muscle groups in the style of a flayed corpse.

It was really good fun, and I can’t believe we’d never been before. We’ll be there next year.