I went to my first convention all the way back in 2013 and have been going a couple of times a year ever since, so you could consider me somewhat of a ‘con’noisseur (you have no idea how long I’ve been sitting on that pun). Usually I tend to go for the larger London cons, or even ones abroad, but this time I went for a smaller one. In this article I’m going to be sharing my experience of Portsmouth Comic Con 2023.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have particularly high hopes for it being anything spectacular at first. The main reason I was interested was the convenience of it being walking distance from me. I just couldn’t fathom that I’d get much enjoyment out of a smaller convention when I’m used to ones like LFCC and MCM. However, as they started putting out more promo material, I was getting genuinely hyped.
Finally, the weekend came, and I was able to experience the convention first hand. It definitely exceeded my expectations, and I was amazed with how much they’d packed into the venue. I was there for the full 2 days, and there was never once a moment where I was bored. If you’re wondering whether to go in 2024, here’s what Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 was like!
The Venue and Facilities
Unsurprisingly, the convention was held at Portsmouth Guildhall. It’s the obvious choice for a venue given its size and location. I adore the stone architecture, and it’s truly a sight to behold from the outside. For the convention, it was adorned with a large banner and an inflatable Spider-Man, which added to the charm.
I’ve only been inside a couple of times, and hadn’t realised what a maze it was. Thankfully, there were maps dotted around the walls to help me find my way around. Even so, I did get a little bit lost on occasion. There was also a Comic Village set up in a tent outside, as well as a stage in front of the large steps.
One thing I will say is that the toilets weren’t really designed for this many guests. There weren’t many cubicles available, and I’m surprised the queues weren’t longer than they were. Also, the bins were overflowing after just a couple of hours. I think some extra maintenance staff would’ve made the event feel that bit cleaner.
When it came to food, we were spoiled for choice. As soon as it was lunchtime, I made a beeline for The Vegan Food Co. It’s so rare that I can find vegan street food, and I didn’t want to miss out. They had some very delicious-looking loaded fries, but I ended up going for their burger, which was incredible. It was so yummy that I had the same thing on both days! I did feel a little regretful though, as after eating I noticed another company had vegan borek (stuffed pastry) that I would’ve loved to try. I heard plenty of compliments for the other stalls, too, so I think Portsmouth Comic Con smashed it out of the park with the food.
Inside, there was absolutely loads to do. I’ve got separate sections for the panels and the vendors (which were a large part of the event), but there was plenty of other stuff on offer. I go to a board games group every week at the uni, so I was happy to see Dice (a local board game cafe) with a section where people could drop by and play board games. I chose not to, simply because I get to play games every week and wanted to explore the other options.
One of the most popular areas was the retro gaming section. They’d set up tons of arcade machines, and people could come in and play without needing to put in coins. This section had a rather long queue, as there was a limited number of people allowed in at once. I really enjoyed chilling out here for a while, chasing some ghosts on Pacman and fighting monsters in all kinds of classic games.
You could also practice your archery skills, something I only discovered towards the end of the Sunday. I was lucky, I found that section just before they were about to pack up for the day. They’d set up a target, and had a bow with suction-tipped arrows. I hadn’t fired a bow since I was a kid on a school trip, so it took me a couple of attempts to find my rhythm. People were allowed 3 goes each, and I got a bullseye on my final arrow!
However, my favourite activity was the badge-making zone. You were given little paper disks and some colouring pencils, and you could come up with your own designs or colour in one of the pre-printed ones. I spent quite a while here, and made these fun minimalist The Boys badges.
One thing I love about conventions is going to panels and hearing from people in the industry. This is where Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 was very different to my usual experience. These days, a lot of conventions are all about the guests, so usually I’m listening to talks from famous actors. However, this convention was primarily focused on the comics side of things, and their panels reflected that.
Honestly, I found this approach really refreshing. I got to hear cosplayers talking about how they chose their designs and their connections with the characters. There were discussions about franchises such as Disney, Doctor Who, and Star Wars. There were also panels giving advice on things like marketing and growing on social media. Running Screen Hype, I found those panels particularly useful for learning about how to grow my brand.
There were 4 different locations for panels and talks, but the ones at Speakers’ Corner appealed to me the most. The downside of this was that the layout wasn’t brilliant. The front row of seats was so close to the makeshift stage that anyone sitting there would’ve been sharing legroom with the guests that were speaking, essentially making that front row redundant. And speaking of legroom, the chairs were packed pretty tightly together, so there wasn’t much space for my feet. It’s worth noting that I’m only 5’4, so it must have been very uncomfortable for tall people.
Still, I really appreciated the range of talks, and it was one of the highlights of the weekend. I found that the small venue worked well for these. It made the conversations feel more casual, and I felt much more connected with the guests. It felt like a chat between friends.
As I mentioned above, Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 wasn’t really about getting famous names. This was apparent by the fact that the majority of their guests were comic writers and artists rather than actors. Still, they really brought it with the comic guests. I didn’t count, but there were definitely at least 20-30 professional writers and artists. It was awesome to wander around and see them stood next to examples of their work.
Even though there weren’t many TV guests, there were 3 pretty big names. The convention had brought Colin Baker, Peter Davison, and Nicola Bryant from Doctor Who. I’m not a fan of Classic Who myself as I prefer the modern era, so I didn’t end up meeting them. Still, for those who grew up watching it, I’m sure it was awesome to meet 2 doctors and a companion.
The guest I was most interested in was Richard Jacques. He’s a composer who has worked on several large projects including Mass Effect and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. He gave a fascinating talk where he discussed his process and how he got into composing in the first place. He also treated us to some behind the scenes videos of making the score for certain projects. I spoke to him afterwards, and he seems like a genuinely lovely guy.
One thing that conventions are famous for is their vast array of merch, and that was no different here. Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 offered plenty of unique stalls where congoers could purchase nifty new items. I try to be frugal at these events, but my inhibitions were no match for the fantastic wares on offer. I ended up buying several really cool items, and I regret nothing!
One of my favourite stalls was by Pixel Gamer Girl. She made awesome perler bead art which she’d attached to canvas for a striking 3D effect. I purchased a Spyro artwork and a Bulbasaur from her, both of which now hang proudly in my living room. I also loved Chocolate Raisin Fury, where I bought 2 Eeveelution enamel pins and a Pokémon print scarf. As a Muslim woman, I wear a headscarf, and now I have the perfect headscarf for when I’m attending nerdy events.
There were also plenty of independent artists promoting their work. This was usually in the form of prints, stickers, or graphic novels. I really loved the focus on small businesses, and even though I didn’t purchase from many of them, it was great seeing the passion that these artists had for their work. One stall that I sadly didn’t see until I’d already gone over my budget was Mid’s Artbox. She had gorgeous herpetology themed characters, and I’d have loved to have bought her graphic novel.
A convention wouldn’t be a convention without cosplaying! I used to dabble back in the day, but am currently on an indefinite hiatus. Still, even though I wasn’t dressed up myself, I adore seeing the creativity of others. For those of you unaware, cosplaying is when someone dresses up to look like a specific character.
I was really impressed with how many people committed to their costumes. I’d say probably at least 40-50% of people were cosplaying, with some truly stellar outfits standing out to me. The cool thing with cosplays is that most of the time I won’t actually recognise a character. But even if I don’t know who someone is dressed as, I can still appreciate the effort that must’ve gone into their costume.
Dream Team Portsmouth were there to show off their astounding work. They also gave talks about designing cosplays, and overall just had a great attitude. They even offered a repair station to help fix any issues people had with their cosplays on the day.
To give you an idea of the level of detail some people go into, enjoy this fun anecdote. On my first day, I was very excited to receive my media pass, and was looking for the perfect backdrop to take a picture for my Instagram. I turned around and saw an Iron Man statue in the corner of one of the rooms… Perfect. But just as I was squaring up the shot, the Iron Man jumped at me! Turns out that it wasn’t a statue after all, but a cosplayer waiting to prank people! I doubled over with laughter at how unexpected it was, the costume had looked so realistic.
My experience of Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 was so busy that it’s hard to fit everything neatly into the article. So this section is to talk about the parts that didn’t really work under the other headings, but that I don’t want to miss talking about.
Firstly, I’ll dive in with one of the parts I really loved, the villains quiz. It was a 20 question quiz based on villains across all forms of media, whether that be comics, TV shows, or movies. We were able to collect sheets from the front to fill in our answers, although annoyingly they didn’t provide pens. Luckily, Luke Bugg (The Geek of Steel) came to the rescue and lent me one of his own. In the end, it was a tie with 5 teams scoring 18/20, myself included. I went to the front for the tie-breaker question where we had to guess the price of a particular comic. Unfortunately I failed spectacularly and missed out on the prize (a selection of geeky goodies). Still, it was a lot of fun participating!
For the fans who enjoy Star Wars, they were in for a treat with the Star Wars Experience. It was a tented area filled with awesome prop and set replicas, as well as awesome cosplays by Joker Squad. Unfortunately I went towards the end of the Sunday and missed out on the cosplays, but it was still a really awesome wander through.
The organisers really went all out with the cool props, as out the front of the Guildhall was a screen-accurate Batmobile! I’m a huge Batman fan, so it was super exciting to see the Batmobile in person. They even did a couple of demonstrations where they revved its engine.
All in all, I really enjoyed my experience of Portsmouth Comic Con 2023. Even though I was there for the full 2 days, I still wasn’t able to experience everything that they had on offer. That’s especially impressive when you consider the fact that I’ve been to larger cons for only 1 day, and still ran out of things to do. The additional activities and range of talks really made all the difference. There was such a fun and inspiring vibe that filled me with wonder. It reminded me of my very first MCM all the way back in 2013.
If you’re local to Hampshire and wondering whether Portsmouth Comic Con should be on your radar, it definitely should be. It’s been getting more ambitious every year, and I expect 2024 will be even greater than the 2023 one. They’ve already announced the dates as being on the 11th and 12th May. If you’re interested, you can pre-order tickets via their website.
Have you been to a comic convention before? What did you think? Join the discussion over in our Facebook community, or tweet me over on Twitter! You can also check out the Screen Hype Instagram to see more images from the event!