If you are a proud geek living in Belgium, like we are here at The Mobile Life, you will probably have heard of FACTS. The biggest Comic-convention in the Benelux. By the end of this weekend over 40.000 people will have walked through the doors of Flanders Expo. Since 2004, I visited FACTS loyally each year, until 2009. Back, it was a smaller but fun convention in Ghent’s ICC. The iconic location in a park felt like a homecoming each year, but because FACTS grew that fast, the convention was moved that year to the bare halls of Flanders Expo. By necessity. So, since that 2009 change I haven’t been able to visit FACTS again due to scheduling issues, but earlier this year came the news that Artefix bought the entire convention!
A new organisation with involvement of the original caretakers, but with the chance of growing into something bigger and better. And to top it all, a new date at the end of September! “James, prepare my bags, we are going to FACTS!”, I clamoured into thin air, before remembering that I didn’t had a butler. So I packed my bag myself, and got on the morning train to Ghent.
As a convention veteran, I noticed that FACTS was always plagued with growing pains. Having visited conventions like Star Wars Celebration in the States, it’s hard to come back here. But this year, it felt like FACTS finally got into puberty. A fresh new look, staff everywhere and bigger than ever gave good first impressions. Historically when arriving at FACTS, you’d cue for the better part of an hour before you even reached the inside of a building, with some cosplayers in the skimpier outfits like Conan (not what you expected, right?!) having to brace the cold October fog. But when we arrived an hour after opening, there was not a single queue anymore, with every person crammed into the big expo hall. Quite the efficiency!
The fact that the ‘loud’ activities like the cosplay contest got moved to a separate hall made for a much more enjoyable experience. And from what I heard the food wasn’t bad either. I chose, just like many others, to eat at a nearby IKEA, which had quite the queue themselves for those meatballs. However, at FACTS there is still room for growing. Simple things like background music, convention carpet or better parking would make this a much more premium experience.
The actor-line up also got some pretty big names as well! Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd, Firefly’s Summer Glau, Game of Thrones’s Alfie Allen, Lord Of The Rings and Indiana Jones veteran John Rhys-Davies lead the provisional bill, followed by Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson (Rewatch the interview we did eight years ago with him!), our favourite walking carpet Chewbacca was also back in the form of Peter Mayhew. Following up is nineties teen-throb Casper Van Dien and William Sadler who we should remember from Homeland and Iron Man 3. Of course, with actors come cues and photo restrictions, for example, if you want take a selfie while doing your best Marty McFly impression with the good ol’ Doc Brown, prepare to lay down 50 euro on the table. An autograph? Another fifty. A photo during the photo session? Sixty euro! But who can put a price on memories of course.
The inside of the hall now had a great mix of display booths and a very wide variety of shops. Though the variety of shops have evolved quite a while from back when it started. It seems the huge anime trend from the past years has settled down, with action figures having more than once taken over. I can’t remember a single comic-book booth, and I still don’t think a gigantic booth of literary-geek drinks such as mede and absinthe bottles really belongs there, but, there was a lot of shops.
Talking about comic books, while the C officially still stands for comics, it’s almost like it has changed to Cosplay with more people dressing up than ever. Be it in elaborate costumes that make your mouth open in amazement, to Primark onesies. And let’s not forget to mention the slightly out of shape guy with only a mankini and a pair of purple ladies panties as a mask. (We wish we were kidding about that one.)
Another thing I was wondering about, is the pricing of the stores has changed quite a bit as well. Things like the Star Wars Unleashed figures, a cool line of bigger statues that ran from 2002 to 2006, retailed in the States for 15 USD. Pricing back then here started from 45 euro, all the way down to 10 euro, and now back up to 25 euro. From dumping prices to almost ‘vintage’. Things like the brand new LEGO WALL•E which is available for 49,99 euro, was being sold at 70 euro. That’s not a mark-up, that’s a rip-off. The time of FACTS sales seems to be over, with better deals being found online. The irony is that some of the stores that have a booth at FACTS offer better pricing online as well, without the hassle of walking home with huge bags of merchandise. More than once my bags where filled with camera gear and FACTS loot, needing a chiropractor afterwards to get the pain from my back. This time I went home with only pictures and a press release.
Back when I was still a full-time member of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub, I was present for two fulltime days. Back then we even had the crazy idea to create videos of the convention, years before the official after movies, with our interviews especially raking in tens of thousands of views. (2006, 2007, 2008)
However, these days I’m just a ‘mere visitor’, so I’ve had to make a choice this morning which train I would board this morning. Back to home in Hasselt, or back to the madness in Ghent?
Hasselt it was. All by all, FACTS is fun again, but with the massive crowds, I’m finishing this report from home. See you next year at FACTS, and good luck for those going today!