6 May 2009

The Road To Bristol 2009

You will notice an absence of new reviews this coming weekend, but have no fear – we haven’t given up on funny books! No, this weekend you will find us at the annual Comic Expo in Bristol, so the usual mix of back issue hoarding and drunken mayhem means reviewing new books takes a back seat for once. Expect a bumper selection of reviews the following weekend. In the meantime, we look at what’s on the agenda for 2009's Expo…

Matt C: Has it really been 12 months since the last Bristol Comic Expo? Apparently so, as members of the Paradox Comics Group ready themselves to once more make the journey to what is still arguably the premier comics convention in the UK. It remains a definite highlight in my calendar each year but 2009’s Expo has been dramatically scaled back from the norm - the regular venue of the Commonwealth Centre is “currently unavailable” and the organisers decided not to seek out an alternative, instead cramming everything into the Ramada Hotel (usually the place to find the various panels). That leaves a limited amount of space available so there’s obviously going to be a severe lack of boxes full of cheap comics that always cause my wallet to become a little lighter after every visit. Looking at the piles of unread back issues I still have from previous years I’m not as gutted as I might have been in the past, but there’s always a thrill in finding a genuine bargain so it’s a shame that option isn’t available this time around. On top of that, the transatlantic guest list has all but evaporated for 2009: there’s the obligatory appearance of Bob Wayne (a fixture at each Bristol for as long as I’ve been going) and this years also sees the return of DC’s Executive Editor, Dan Didio….. but that’s your lot, which is a bit disappointing seeing as last year’s programme promised a visit from Darwyn Cooke for the 2009 Expo. Bummer.

This may sound like I’m a bit down on things this year – not at all! Purse strings are tight all round at the moment so maybe it’s a good thing the temptation to splash out won’t be there in full force this coming weekend, and there’s bound to be plenty of stuff to see and do (the Dave Gibbons/John Higgins Who Watched The Watchmen? being a must-see) so it’s not like I won’t be keeping myself occupied. And really, the Comics Expo is always a great excuse to have a fun weekend catching up with old friends, meeting new people and generally having a fantastic time with a bunch of like-minded folk. In other words, even a reduction in size won’t prevent it from being a guaranteed blast!

James R: Well, it’s that time of year again, a time to savour the sights, sounds, and yes – the smells of British comicdom once more. It’s Bristol time! Having read Matt C’s perceptive comments above, I’ve had a bit of a think as to what I can say prior to the event, and all I can add is some personal highs and lows. It’s a bizarre couple of days really – the first year I went there it certainly felt far more heavyweight, with the event spread over a number of venues (including an art exhibition at Bristol’s Riverside) and the centrepiece of the weekend being the Eagle Awards that had been presented over the prior two years by Jonathan Ross and Simon Pegg. Phew.

Since then, a strange transformation has taken place – the number of us geeks who turn up has steadily increased; every year I’m impressed by the volume of teenagers who are there in full costume. Comics are often characterised as a medium that has a readership of men in their mid-20s and up, and whereas that may be true worldwide, Bristol definitely shows this isn’t the case over here.

However, despite the fact that the numbers swell every year, the concept of it as an American style ‘con’ shrinks in inverse proportion. The Eagles are no more, and are now token awards for which the recipients are seldom there to pick up. “Unfortunately creator X can’t be here tonight…” remains the longest running joke at the ceremony. And in scope, the event is shrinking – it’s now down to one Hotel.

One thing that Bristol reigns supreme at though is allowing you access to people who - if you’re a comic fan - are tantamount to rock stars. Over the years I’ve been very lucky to have spoken to (assumes ultra-geek voice) Dave Gibbons, Brian K Vaughan, Andy Diggle & Jock, Geoff Johns, Dave Lloyd, Sean Phillips, Mike Avon Oeming, Boo Cook, Walt Simonson… the list goes on. I can’t think of another medium which allows you such amazing access to people that are, 99% of the time, delighted to talk to you about their work. But every year, the list of who will be in attendance seems to gets smaller and smaller.

DC always send a small group over, but Marvel steer well clear of the event – since Joe Quesada put in an appearance a few years back, it’s been a Marvel-free zone. There is the occasional panel that purports to be ‘Marvel’ but it’s usually someone who answered the phones at Marvel UK once going through the Previews.

The other highpoint is an obvious one for us geeks: the joy of ‘working the boxes’, spending hours going through longboxes of comics in a quixotic quest to find that one missing issue to complete your run, or uncovering a hidden gem (check out Matt C’s recent Silver Age Superman article!).

This is tempered by, I’m sad to say, the ‘robust’ scent of many a fanboy, (for whom showering and deodorant are foreign concepts) but it’s something you’ll have to deal with, as is the incredible deficit of manners shown by some - it seems an elbow in the ribs is preferable to the quaint tradition of saying “Excuse me, can I just check out that box next to you please.” Bah, I’m sounding like an old man!

But I leave the best for last – Bristol is above all else a great laugh! I’ve been lucky enough to go with my friends from this here blog over the years, and we’ve never failed to thump into hilarity. Either in the convention itself, or at one of the bars or pubs when the sun goes down, it is an excuse to revel in a passion. Whatever happens this year, I guarantee I’ll have something top-notch to report back with next week. Until then, it’s off to the Wild West once more!

Matt T: I've not quite been to the same amount of Bristol Cons as Matt and James, but the two I have visited are remembered fondly. It's like a microcosm of comic fans, some costuming up for the weekend regardless of how hot or packed the hall is. Being restricted to a smaller, singular venue this time doesn't fill me with confidence that the back issues on offer are going to be a plentiful as normal, but that'll just mean my wallet won't suffer quite as much!

There are always a few disappointments when heading to Bristol, mostly due to the lack of Marvel presence, but this year I'm confident that we're going to have a cracker. The Paradox posse is plentiful, and for once everyone can partake in a shandy or three, so chances are some mad happenings will occur before the weekend is out. Personally I'm looking forward to seeing some people I met last year and seeing how their 2009 has been up till now, as well as grabbing some classic EC comics. I wouldn't mind taking a fair few of those Superman comics from the 60s in which he marries a monkey or throws Lois into the sun.

The independents are always there in full force, and I'm particularly looking forward to shaking the hand of Kevin O'Neill - who illustrated League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - and giving Dave Gibbons an Indian Burn till he promises there won't be a Watchmen sequel! And of course there're the likes of the always entertaining Boo Cook and the Bisley, who will doubtless be hovering by the bar from Friday till Sunday.

In all it should be a cracking weekend, not only because of the opportunity to get hilariously drunk in a whole new city but also to buy some comics too!

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