12 May 2011

The Road To Bristol 2011

You will notice an absence of new reviews this Sunday, 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 temporarily. Before we leave for the West Country, we look at what’s on the agenda for 2011's Expo…

Matt C: Another year, another Bristol Comic Expo, this being my eleventh visit to the event in a row - can it really be 10 years ago that I first marvelled at the back issue boxes and 'celebrity' guests on offer? Apparently so! It's changed a fair bit since then, and in its current, reduced state it could very well be described as 'not as good as it used to be'. In the smaller venue the amount of merchandise has been scaled back, the panels have even more limited capacity and the number of high profile names appears to have dropped. While this is happening, elsewhere new kid on the block Kapow! along with other cons dotted across the country, are beginning to make more of an impact, stealing the thunder away from what was once the premiere comics convention in Britain. Rumour suggests that next year the Bristol Expo will move back to the far larger Commonwealth centre at Temple Meads, so potentially it can still return to its former glory, but for 2011 we're set for another relatively low key affair. Having said all that, there's still plenty to enjoy - I wouldn't be attending otherwise! Aside from a weekend away with my comrades in the Paradox Comics Group, I get to fritter my hard-earned cash on back issues I hope to read before I die (you should see the size of my pile now!), listen to a bunch of comics professionals talk shop (more of that later!) and generally submerge myself into my lifelong hobby/passion.

Stewart R: This will mark my ‘tri’-umphant return to the Bristol Comics Expo, being my third straight year in attendance, and I’ll admit that I’m not filled with the excitement I had for those previous outings. I now know how the whole thing works in terms of being a ‘punter’ on the floor getting through the van loads of longboxes with elbows out as well as getting prime placement for the various panels and signings, and so the glitz and bewilderment of the show has disappeared somewhat. It’s also apparent this year that for once Bristol has competition out there from the other conventions that are either growing or newer affairs that have popped up with a huge weight of industry backing while one of the UK’s longest running and much loved conventions seems to be in retreat. That is of course not to say that this coming weekend will be anything less than great fun and a terrific opportunity to once again immerse myself in a celebration of the industry that forms a huge part of my life.

Matt C: While I have just about finished compiling my list (a list is essential if you don't want to end up with a stack of duplicates - believe me!) to plug those gaps in my Thor and Fantastic Four collections, I've also had a chance to look over the various panels being staged over the weekend, and to be honest, I'm not exactly thrilled by what's on offer. Marvel haven't had any major presence since Joe Quesada came over in 2002, but you can always rely on DC’s Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne to show up, and it’s good to see he's on the guest list again this year. Unfortunately, no one seems to have had the good sense to offer Bob his own DC panel (which he's had every time I've attended), which is frankly bizarre as it's always been one of the most popular and funniest each year. Hopefully this is all a mistake and we'll see Bob employing his sardonic wit on the assembled fanboy throng. I guess I may check out the Rick Veitch panel as, even though I'm not overly familiar with his work, the older guys usually have some great stories to hand. I'm a bit disappointed to see Ron Marz removed from the guestlist without any reason as to why, but this is something that happens a lot at Bristol, particularly when it comes to American guests. I'm very happy to see the return of (for the last time, apparently) Hypotheticals, Lee 'Budgie' Barnett and Dave Gibbons' highly amusing panel where various industry bods are provided with hypothetical scenarios occurring on 'Earth Dave' and asked how they would respond. I'm sure I'll find something else to keep me distracted for an hour or two, but my first impression is that this isn't the best line-up I've seen at Bristol.

Stewart R: While Matt has his list sorted I’m in that troublesome predicament of not having my collection catalogued yet so am a little lost at present when it comes to gaps that need filling and specific runs in need of picking up if they raise their heads in the myriad of boxes on display. I know I’ve a couple of holes to plug in the recent Nova series and in order for me to give Jason Aaron’s Scalped a proper go having picked up a dozen or so early random back issues last year after Matt kindly pointed out their bargain price. I’ve been meaning to pick up some old 1980s Silver Surfer back issues from Ron Lim’s run as an aunt passed on a few random editions back when I was knee high to a grasshopper and I’ve always remembered the bizarre space-faring tales fondly. In terms of the various panels being put on across the two sites - the Ramada’s ‘mainstream’ exhibitions and Mercure’s Independent and Small Press exhibitions - I’d say there’s less to entice me this year with there appearing to (currently) be a lack of a DC panel - which was my favourite the past two years running - and obviously no major Marvel presence. I’ll probably stick my head into the Dave Gibbons Hypotheticals as I hear good things about it from fellow Paradoxers, and depending on whether I’ve exhausted the search for comic bargains may give the Just a Comic-Pickin’ Minute gameshow-style panel Sunday morning a go, but that’s about all that’s catching the eye there at the moment.

Matt C: You may have noticed a whiff of negativity so far, and while I won't deny that's been present, nor will I deny that I'm thoroughly looking forward to attending the Bristol Comics Expo once again. It may have a changed a lot in the last decade, and perhaps other Cons in the UK may be stealing its thunder (and obviously it can't contend with the giant US Cons) but it still holds (and will forever hold) a place in my heart. I popped my convention cherry at Bristol, I've met a lot of great folk over the years, and while the ramshackle nature may infuriate at times, generally it's rather endearing and, I would like to think, unique. The atmosphere is always charged with a genuine love of the medium by all those who attend, and it's an intoxicating feeling, something I wouldn't like to miss out on. Plus, it gets me out of the house for a weekend and my wife is forever grateful for that!

Stewart R: At the end of the day it’s good to see that in a country somewhat overlooked by the big American publishers despite a large fanbase - thanks to Mr Bob Wayne of DC for recognising us each year - conventions of this nature continue to do well and attract talented contributors from the industry including homegrown creators. I’ll certainly be making greater efforts to check out the Small Press and Independent tables this year for hidden wonders and ‘diamonds in the rough’ that could signal the comic book stars of the future having felt a little out of my depth in that area last year. And of course this is an opportunity to spend a concerted and concentrated amount of time in the awesome presence of the Paradox Comic Group who really do know how to make a proper event of our annual jaunt to Bristol. It’s always a great crack to meet up while wandering around the hall, seeing what bargains or historic tomes everyone’s managed to pick up, comparing various stories - some may or may not involve regular attendee Simon Bisley - and then attacking the Bristol nightlife with a vengeance at the end of a busy elbows-out day. Haha, I’m all excited now!

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