An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear.

One of the long-term plans for the Birmingham Horror Group when it launched in December 2015 was for members to host an old-style horror event in the city, as opposed to the soulless, commercially-orientated merchandise and autograph fairs which have proliferated since “geek culture” became fully monetised. After all, what’s the point in hanging out with friends in a pub, discussing old episodes of Doctor Who or your favourite comics, when you can stand in line to pay £45 to be photographed next to John Barrowman (£10 extra if he wears his “Captain Jack” overcoat) or buy five versions of the same superhero reboot with different covers but the same identical Manga-style interior art? In fact, why even hang out with friends in the first place, when there are thousands of “friends” willing to give pretty much any passing comment a ‘like’ on Facebook?

Well, I believed there was still life in the original concept — and boy, does it look as though I was wrong. Running the monthly group has long ago ceased to be the fun it should have been, the erratic turn-out proving most “fans” are now only willing to show up if there’s some kind of gimmick, like a guest speaker or a free screening, and prefer to scurry back to the warm glow of their computer screens as soon as that part’s over. As for the Birmingham FearFest, ticket sales have been embarrassingly lack-lustre, and we’re currently facing the very real likelihood of having to pull the plug on its incubator. It’s been suggested to me that it could simply be postponed until later in the year, allowing a new round of publicity, but I’m not convinced I have a sufficiently deep reservoir of energy or optimism.

A little over thirty years ago,so many people turned up at a Novacon I chaired in Birmingham that we ran out of programme books, and we’d printed more than 500. These days, I find myself quite literally unable to run a party in a brewery. The world has allegedly evolved, but I’m not sure whether I want any part of this latest mutation; it clearly wants no part of me.

Updated 4 May.


11 Replies to “An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear.”

  1. Sorry to hear this is not going well. It’s a real shame, and there’s nothing I can add on this I suppose, particularly as it’s not an event I could attend. But if it’s worth anything, there’s still people who respect and value what people like yourself have achieved across careers that encompass looooong periods of time when horror, or sci-fi or whatever, were not ‘cool’ but genres you were into because you were compelled. For some, myself included, that means something. Just a shame when you’re trying to do something interesting none of that sells tickets. Anyway, I hope things turn around.

    1. Thank you, James, your support is sincerely appreciated. There used to be a saying within the science fiction: “It’s a proud and lonely thing to be a fan.” There’s certainly little of that now, when anyone who watches Doctor Who every Saturday, or catches the latest Marvel / DC cgi-fest at their local cineplex, considers themselves a fan. But not enough of one to attend a celebration of the genre for which they profess such affection, apparently.

  2. Yeah, it’s becoming another lifestyle choice these days, or forum for people to argue out their ill considered opinions (on the internet of course). For some it’s just more confirmation bias or echo chamber nonsense – it could be politics or football just as much as Doctor Who. Everything is money these days sadly and everyone knows everything and nothing at the same time. Nothing takes actual commitment anymore. But still, even if this doesn’t come off this time I hope you know your work and support of genre entertainment has connected with people and continues to do so and is respected.

    1. Whilst I remember with fondness those occasions — many of them at the Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester — when I’ve sat in a bar or restaurant and chatted with actors about their careers, I can hardly blame some of them for turning a role on a popular telefantasy series into an income stream. After all, it’s not the most financially secure of professions, and few will have been able to invest in a substantial pension plan for their senior years.

      On the other hand, clinical capitalism taints both sides. I recall John Landis explaining how he used to sign film posters or stills without a second thought, until the day he spotted one of these autographed items in a collectables store. From then on, he would still sign souvenirs for free, so long as he could personalise them to that particular fan; if they wanted it left blank, he’d charge. Similarly, I have no problem buying a signed photograph, since I’m essentially paying for the photo and getting the signature for free.

  3. This is a shame, Steve, and your efforts are to be commended. But the world is a very different place from 30 years ago. I don’t think it’s anything to do with SF/horror becoming mainstream culture or the evident market for large, commercial events. The simple fact is: small, largely social conventions used to serve a purpose. 30 years ago I went to cons because it was the only way I could interact with like-minded people (apart from the odd newsletter or fanzine). Now that interaction is available 24-seven so the major selling point of such events has disappeared. And even those of us with a nostalgic attachment to the idea have to accept that we’re older and have professional/personal commitments that didn’t bother us when we were mad young things with student grants and young person’s railcards. Time was when I would go to maybe three cons every year. In June, Lazlar Lyricon 3 will be the 5th one I’ve attended since Thomas was born 13 years ago. The world changes and so do we. This is not a reason to stop trying, but even a fan-run event has to operate within the existing market.

    1. Trouble is, Mike, such ‘interaction’ is largely digital; the difficulty I’ve had getting the Birmingham Horror Group off the ground is indicative of the reluctance people now have towards engaging in a traditional social setting (it might be that many older fans now have domestic commitments, as you do, but the majority of younger fans just don’t seem to see the point).

      I’m guilty, too: Novacon 47 will be the third in a row I’ll have missed, but that’s largely because a three-day event in Nottingham isn’t easy to justify when you’re on a low income, even without a single-room surcharge. The Birmingham FearFest is only one day now, of course, and may not even make that.

  4. Preview going up at Birmingham Wire shortly, be on Twitter too. Hope this helps.

    1. Thanks, Giles. I’m not on Facebook, but I understand the FearFest has been plugged heavily by both the venue and assorted friends. So far as I know, however, not a single ticket has been sold as a result of this promotion.

  5. I’d like to echo the above that these events are fantastic to do & everyone involved has to be commended.

    You should see what it was like trying to fill an event that was free we did once. Even then we had difficulty filling seats too. Everyday we were on it, inviting people, promoting it, making updated banners for the event. It was exhausting. But we tried, sometimes that’s all you can do.

    Keep going matey.

    1. As you know, Dave, the Birmingham Horror Group meetings are free, but getting a double-figure turn-out is akin to squeezing blood from a brick. Without one of those gimmicks I mentioned, I doubt it would be possible.

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