Interview With Wales Comic Con Organiser Jaime Milner
One of the highlights of the convention calendar over the past few years has been Wales Comic Con. Starting out in a highly competitive market dominated by convention organisers who’ve been running events for years is a brave and bold move, but the team behind WCC have targeted an area that required some much needed attention and have grown a loyal and dedicated fanbase both at events and online.
Flicks And The City had a chance to speak to the man who has built up the event from day one, Jaime Milner, about all things Comic Con – from first getting into the convention scene, to growing his own hugely successful event over the years and what hopes he has for the future of WCC.
How did you first get into conventions and what made you transition from fan to event management?
I started going to events years ago now, almost a decade – I literally saw an advert in a magazine for a new(ish) event that was taking place relatively near where we lived and they had the cast of Lord of the Rings in attendance which for me was a huge thing as I absolutely adore the movies. I ended up rallying some friends together and we made the journey on the Saturday to the convention. It was more than I could have ever imagined – we all had a great day and spent far too much money. I was hooked from then and even ended up driving back there on my own on the Sunday just to get an extra taste of the excitement.
The transition from fan to organiser is still on-going – I think it’s one of those businesses where you’ll always be on both sides of the fence, you are of course a business and need to make the books balance financially, but of course the fan perspective is always fun when you work with some fantastic and wonderful people from all sorts of fields. If you’d have said 10 years ago that I’d be on the phone working with the likes of Jonathan Ross, Shane Richie, Warwick Davis and Mick Foley, I think I would have laughed… A LOT!
What do you think Wales Comic Con brings to the convention scene that other events don’t?
I think we bring a fresh perspective, certainly a younger one. There are a limited amount of people doing this well and they have been doing it for a long time now both here and overseas. We are young and still up and coming with all these fresh ideas that I think help everyone keep on their toes. I always try and think outside the box whenever booking a guest or convention activity at the event and I’m constantly thinking over different ideas day in, day out.
We haven’t created the event to replace anyone, we have created it to start out for the local people of Wrexham and the surrounding areas. Wales was often an overlooked country with very few success stories in terms of events over the years – I think we took that rule and threw it straight out the window from day one. I’ve always said we need to think big; don’t just dream it – do it and achieve it.
Is there a particular guest that you look back on and think they really put you on the map as an event to be taken seriously?
Every year we are improving and taking the direction with which we book guests into a completely new one. I think when we worked with Anthony Head, that was a turning point for us. Tony is great fun, a professional and such a gentleman also, that he worked wonders for us. That year was where we went full speed and spared no expense and had some great guests from overseas too, which was a big step for us especially as a one-day event – but it worked, it was our first time having a large amount of people attend and the queues were a wonderful sight to see. All the hard work had paid off after all these years of building; we were finally getting the reaction we had wanted.
Ever since then the names just keep getting bigger and we had the pleasure of working directly with the likes of Billy Boyd, Mick Foley, Robert Picardo, Mark Addy, Warwick Davis and the entire cast of Red Dwarf in 2013 amongst many more.
This next event is exciting for me personally as we have tried to piece together some panels and have invested in many more guests from overseas – to be able to work with the cast from Atlantis in their first year of being on the BBC is great fun for us and they are great guys too, so we are really excited to welcome them to our event.
How important has social media and interaction with your attendees been over the years?
Social media is the key to success it would seem these days – we had never really looked into it when we started the convention but now it is the biggest part of everyday life for us. Twitter alone has been a huge win for us and I truly believe it was the turning factor that worked with our guest line-up in 2012, we had never invested into it but once we did, the fans attended in their thousands!
It’s great to mix it up also across different sites, we use Facebook to give access with more images and detailed posts; Twitter is really quick and easy to access for updates to send out for fans; our Forum is somewhere which is more of a destination really and is creating a community.
Of course, there are plenty other platforms to look at – this year we are looking at uploading more to our YouTube channel and give that more content to keep fans happy especially with us looking at moving into the realm of gaming – many of the team are huge gamers so it makes sense for us to get involved.
What improvements are you looking at bringing to the upcoming event in April?
We have tweaked a few points: this year alone there are certainly going to be more activities, displays and content outside the venue to keep people entertained and occupied. Our biggest problem is the venue itself, not in terms of quality, but the size – we have outgrown it in the general sense of having an all-day access event which is why we have to limit the amount of tickets that go on sale for pre order each year.
The photo-ops is another section we have looked into heavily: last year we were let down on a number of points and we openly addressed the situation with the fans – you can never be anything but honest in this business because if you aren’t you will get caught out, reputation is everything and I think we have a great one and a great relationship with the fans. This time around we are getting a professional photo lab installed at the venue with two photographers in two studios next door to each other with on-site printing so they will be there to collect on the day. This is a big positive move for us, investing more money into it to make sure the fans have the best possible experience on the day.
How do you decide which guests to approach? Do you look to maintain a mix of popular current shows and ones that are neglected elsewhere?
I think you start out with a general idea or direction you would like to go in, but it never ends up that way, at least not when I do it. I know on average we touch base with around 300 guests each year to attend, and so many different factors can decide whether or not they actually make it to the convention, such as their schedules, health etc.
Of course, there are always certain fields that are my personal favourites that I enjoy working in, but you have to learn to say “no” to it all the time and work out what is best – I think we have learnt this the hard way, but again I always try and find something new and fresh from the way the industry is working currently.
Something that we try to achieve is a mix of new and classic guests also; our attendees are well educated and enjoy meeting the guests of course as it is a huge part of our event, but we are now looking at creating more panels to make use of our wonderful talk hall that we have expanded into this year just gone.
Absolutely – and I think I do it better than most, in honesty. But that is just my humble opinion and way of working and it has been hugely successful of course – on the back of the events alone we have set up a full-time Agency booking actors into personal appearances and now even theatrical work as we have just cast a number of characters in an upcoming movie that is being made in the UK and the Executive Producer on board was a director on Game of Thrones.
The world is becoming more and more accessible and with social media it is hard for guests to avoid it, so I think it makes sense to have that good working relationship whether it is close or not – good business is good for everyone.
We also branched out into social media management this year too where we are now working with several actors and musicians from all over the world.
If money wasn’t an option, who would your dream guest be?
Honestly, I think I would have to say Seth Green – it’s nothing to get into really, I was just always a fan of his growing up with his various movie and TV roles, and of course his connection to Star Wars lately through the fandom. I think it would be great fun to hang out. I actually work with the band that provided the music for his band on Buffy the Vampire Slayer also, so we would at least have one thing in common!
I also would love to work with someone like Ian McKellen, what a legend and a true gentleman.
One final question.: for the future, do you have any ambitions beyond Wales Comic Con, or are you completely focused on making that the biggest and best event it can be?
First and foremost, the events will always be the best to me and I think we have a loyal enough fanbase who would agree with me on that. Our aim was never to be the biggest, it is all about the quality and I think we are achieving that slowly but surely. The expansion into various other businesses stemming from the events speaks volumes alone – there are plenty of other options on the table in terms of what we would like to do.
I’ve seen so many wonderful things since starting these events that I just don’t think I could step away right now, so I hope to be doing this full time now forever more if the fans want me to that is.
Other than that I could always open a sweater shop – I love jumpers!
The next Wales Comic Con takes place on Sunday 27 April. Full details can be found on the website HERE.