16 Nov 2011

Thought Balloon: Convention-al Thinking

By Stewart R

With the new year looming large, late November/early December is the time when I start weighing up my options for the comic convention opportunities that lie ahead in the new year. I’ve only been going to the Bristol Comic Expo for the past three years but now it seems that the British convention scene is going through a bit of a boom period. We’re now spoiled for choice when it comes to hitting the floors of grand halls around the cities of the UK, searching through many a long box of bargains, meeting the creative talent from the myriad of comic publishers around the globe and generally having a geekily good time.

Why, this very weekend sees the climax of the week long Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival in Leeds with the Thought Bubble Comic Con running 19-20 November. I’d only heard of this particular convention in Bristol earlier this year - it’s actually been running since 2007 - when a few people mentioned that they would be in attendance. A quick look at the website a month ago proved that it would have probably been worth the effort in dragging my bones up on the coach, had I been paying proper attention, as the wealth of talent set to be appearing is mouth-wateringly good. Some of the top names in terms of British creators like Kieron Gillen, Sean Phillips, Rob Williams, Lee Garbett and Jock will be there amongst many, many more and the organisers have even managed to get the likes of Jeff Lemire and Adam Hughes over from the good old North American continent, much to the punters’ delight!

I think it says how big a deal Thought Bubble and the UK talent pool is regarded to be currently as Marvel editor, Stephen Wacker is even hopping over the pond for a talent search being held on Friday and Saturday and who knows if the next big writer or artist might be waiting in the wings in Leeds this weekend? I’ll definitely be looking at this convention more closely next year when time, money and proper planning can be employed to make sure the trip north happens.

So on to 2012 we move and there’s an exciting new player on the scene in the form of the London Super Comic Convention being held at the ExCel Centre, London on February 24th & 26th. I have it on good authority from my Paradox Comics Group colleagues that the ExCel is a BIG venue so I’m excited to see just what sort of show the organisers manage to put on in their inaugural year. Certainly the guest line-up at present is very appealing! Howard Chaykin, George Perez and Brian Bolland are the sort of names that will bring a crowd out for sure, but for me the major appeal is the appearances of Jim Cheung, Rick Remender, John Layman and Rob Guillory which means that for once I will actively be seeking a few signatures upon the covers of some of my favourite comics of recent years.

To be honest the entire list of creators revealed already is highly impressive and it seems that that is likely to grow over the coming months as the best in British talent start to add their names to the pile. There’ll also be a good exhibitor presence with some 17 already confirmed to be in attendance, their wares all shiny and new (or old depending on how much you have in your wallet!) for the hungry hordes to descend upon ravenously, and having looked at pictures of the ExCel exhibition hall online I dare say that there’s plenty of space for more comic and collectible retailers to make the journey! Being the first big convention of the year I suspect that retailer long boxes will be stocked with prime material and that’s a big incentive for me to get a ticket. When combined with the talent that the organisers are bringing in for appearances, signings and commissions on top of that, I will definitely be heading London way for that weekend in February!

Then we come to May...

I, along with many of the Paradox Comics Group members, will definitely be packing our bags and heading northwest through Dorset and into Somerset for the 2012 Bristol Comic Expo come May 11th! We tend to head up the Friday night before to mix with some of the early arrivals and indulge in some of the geekiest, alcohol-fuelled conversation seen upon these shores. The convention itself actually runs for two days from Saturday 12th to Sunday 13th May and this coming year it will be moving back to its former home in Brunel’s Old Station, right next door to the Temple Meads train station. I’ve only been going for as long as the event has been primarily held in the Ramada hotel and while that has been a decent enough venue it has been a bit on the cramped side when the masses turn up in force. Moving back to the Old Station should mean a bit more breathing room and the Ramada will still be in use, presumably for panels and possibly the independent and small press guests to exhibit.

It’s still a little early in the day but there have been a few guest announcements with comic legend Denny O’Neil set to be guest of honour and Bristol regulars Paul Cornell, David Hine and Boo Cook already signed up. I’m sure that the list will expand and grow as we reach the new year and hopefully DC will be back to a fuller representation this time around after a very subdued and restricted presence (i.e. none) this year. Marvel have apparently been absent from the West Country for a good few years - they’ve never poked their head through the doors in any meaningful manner while I’ve been going - but perhaps certain events may make it more of a possibility this coming May...

...because Mark Millar and his Kapow! Comic Con 2012 are apparently scheduled to return for the weekend after Bristol’s Comic Expo on 19th and 20th May at London’s Business Design Center in Islington. This year’s inaugural event took place in April, a good month before Bristol and quite probably, thanks to the usual amount of fanfare and bluster that comes with anything that Mark Millar seems to do, stole a good portion of the elder convention’s limelight. Now the event takes place within 7 days of it’s nearest competitor but I’d say it’s up in the air as to whether this will be a help or a hindrance to Bristol. Crucially exhibitors will head westwards with their longboxes and merchandise before they return to London, and those punters attending Bristol could potentially get something of a ‘first dibs’ shopping experience if things pan out that way.

For all my criticism of the timing and the gratuitous self-promotion that comes with Kapow! it may also benefit Bristol in terms of the writers, artists and publishers flying into the UK around that time. If you’re going to pay to fly a good few thousand miles for a just a couple of days then some may think it benefits them to spend just over a week in the UK, attending both events in the process and improving the exposure of their collective works in the process. This may also see Marvel eye Bristol in a different light, not least because of their return to a larger venue. Of course it’s all speculation at present and there is of course the possibility that people will end up having to choose between one or the other, especially in the financial climate. I still expect Kapow! to be a roaring success as the organisers have all the right contacts, skill and enthusiasm to make it one heck of a show and I’m sure London crowds will lap it up just as they did this year. I’m in no doubt that the eventual list of special guests will be as long as Reed Richards’ arm and tickets will shift quickly thanks to the higher media profile it seems to garner.

It has to be a good sign that we’re getting more choice when it comes to the convention circuit and it seems that there are some genuine moves out there to try to rival the big American events that many of us can only stare longingly at from this side of the water. Unfortunately for me and other Bristol faithful I dare say that the coffers won’t allow for a trip to both, and so Kapow! will have to wait for another year before we sample its delights.

1 comment:

Joe T said...

The only one I'll definitely be going to is London Super Comic Convention(try saying that 5 times fast!). Absolutely immense line up, with more guests to come, and it is a massive venue. I was toying with the idea of going to Kapow, but I've got 3 A-Level Maths exams around that time (I know I should put comics before education, but still), and it has awful last year so I'm not as bothered.

If BICS is being held in Birmingham again next year I'll be sure to go too, providing it doesn't clash with anything. I usually go every year and it's often a very good con. Couldn't go this year because they moved the date to August and on the same day I was at Batman Live, but I heard that this years (which was quite a dramatic shake up to the con) was meant to be very good.
Everything else is a bit far out for me at the moment.