10 May 2012

The Road To Bristol 2012

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 2012's Expo…
Matt C: And so here we are again. My 12th year in attendance at the Bristol Comic Expo.

But, before we get into what’s in store, it’s probably best to note the most obvious hindrance to the Expo’s success this year: Kapow. Mark Millar’s fledgling convention made a bit of a splash with its debut in April last year but this year the folks behind it appear to be upping their game considerably if the assembled guest list is anything to go by (Quesada, Ellis, Snyder, DiDio, Ross, and so on). Having Kapow in close proximity would always hamper the Bristol Expo’s chances of drawing in a varied selection of creators, but rather than being a month apart like last year, this year Kapow has positioned itself the weekend following the Expo. There are several ‘names’ appearing at both (including Mike Carey and Paul Cornell) but looking through the guestlists of each event, and thinking about who normally makes an appearance at Bristol, there are a fair few creators (mentioning no names), previously mainstays at the Expo, who look like they’ve decided Kapow is the better bet this year. Bob Wayne used to bring a small but important entourage with him from DC each year, but in 2011 he only made an incognito showing on the Sunday afternoon, and this year word is that he’s opted for Kapow too. Whether or not Millar and co decided to go up directly against the Expo is debatable but it’s pretty obvious it’s made an impact.

Which is a bit of a shame really as, following a few years of reduced floor space in the Ramada Hotel, the Expo is returning to the recently rebranded and refurbished Brunel’s Old Station. With panels still being held in the Ramada, the main dealers and the small press contingent will all be under one roof again, so hopefully the atmosphere that dissipated over the last few years (and was more weighted towards the Small Press side of things) will be back in full force. There’s always going to be things to spend your hard earned cash on, but if your more partial to mainstream comics (the Big Two in particular) the presence of major names isn’t quite what some of us anticipated last year when it was announced the Expo would be returning to the larger venue. Gone are the days where you’d get a handful of creators from the States showing up it seems; Kapow’s had a dent in that, undoubtedly, but the scaling back of the convention recently probably hasn’t made it that enticing for people to want to make a trip across the pond. A recent unfortunate development has amplified this situation – Denny O’Neil, the Expo’s Guest Of Honour, will now not be attending due to health reasons, which will probably disappoint many an old school fan. An interesting, and unexpected, addition to the list of attendees are Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, the guys behind the splendid Kill Shakespeare - although they’re not A-listers it good to see that they’ve picked Bristol as their UK convention destination for 2012.

So, yeah, Bristol Expo doesn’t look like it’ll be returning to former glories based on the aforementioned evidence but (and this is a very big BUT) you can guarantee they’ll be plenty on offer to distract anyone with a healthy interest in the comic book medium. Old stalwarts like Alan Davis and Mark Buckingham are available for signings, and there will no doubt be plenty of back issue boxes to wade through (and hopefully more dealers so we’re not looking through the same stock we have been over the last few years *ahem*!). Then you’ve got the other ‘publishers’ from Cinebooks (those wonderful translators of Euro-comics) to The Etherington Brothers to friend of Paradox Comic Group Nye Wright who you should be visiting to pick up your copy of Things To Do In A Retirement Home Trailer Park. Something for everyone, I think.

I may be disheartened by the shadow Kapow’s casting over proceedings this year but when you recall you can hang out at the bar and chat to creators for free (or maybe a pint or two) at Bristol, you should note that for the same privilege at Kapow you’ll need to fork out £175 for a VIP ticket. So while the guest list of the competitor may impress there’s always something refreshing about the way things are done at the Expo, where the barrier between fan and creator is brought down to an acceptable level and the genuine love of the medium is always apparent. It may not be the same Expo I went to 10 years ago (which had the likes of Quesada and Morrison in attendance) but it remains a highlight on my calendar, and I’m sure it won’t disappoint for 2012.

See you on the other side.

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