4 Sept 2014

Melksham Comic Con 2014: The Voyage Home

Now we've had a chance to settle back into reality following our second visit to Melksham Comic Con, here are some thoughts on the weekend's events...
Matt C: And we’re back.

We made no secret of how much we enjoyed our first visit to Melksham Comic Co last year, so much so that begged/pleaded to be involved with the next one and, to our eternal surprise, were presented with the opportunity of hosting not one but two panels for 2014, with the con going from a one-day to two day event.

Based on that, you could probably accuse us of being a bit biased when we say we had an even better time this year, and while there is undoubtedly an element of that at play I think most of it is down to the absolutely tremendous con the organisers put together last weekend. From the guests in attendance, to the variety of exhibitors displaying their wares, to the diversity of excellent panels on offer (yes, including our own!) it was an absolute blast to attend, and by stretching it out across two days it allowed the friendly atmosphere and sense of fun to really bed itself in even more than before (no doubt helped by the inebriated mid-con silent disco on Saturday evening!).

My personal highlight was, predictably, our own ‘Comics In Just A Minute’ panel where four contestants – Jon Lock, Sonia Leong, Lizzie Boyle and Dani Abram (admirably taking a vacated slot at the last minute!) – battled for supremacy and the ‘much-coveted’ prize, a whistling gnome! Topics included ‘The Art Of Fighting In A Cape’, ‘The First Comic I Ever Bought’, ‘Giant-Size Man-Thing’, ‘If I Lived In Asgard’ and ‘The Mayors Of Melksham’ (er, I guess you had to be there to get that one!). After much hesitation, repetition and deviation, Sonia triumphed and became the inaugural winner of what we hope will be a regular feature of Melksham Con (and after joining us for a curry, she’s become an official ‘Friend of the PCG’!). The contestants and the audience were certainly incredibly enthusiastic about the hilarity on offer, and thank goodness for that too!
'Comics In Just A Minute' (L-R: Dani Abram, Lizzie Boyle, Matt C, James R, Sonia Leong, Jon Lock)
I’ll let James R discuss the Debate Panel we hosted (which he also took part in) below, but suffice to say it was another success. Yay us, etc! But of course it wasn’t just us giving the punters entertaining talks in hour-long chunks. I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Julia Round’s Comics 101 panel, running through the history of the medium in an entertaining and informative manner (even teaching me a few things!), Ian Churchill and Andy Lanning talking about Brand Loyalty (and frequently – but engagingly – digressing!), and Andy Lanning again, alongside Mike Collins and Andrew Wildman, discussing the good old days of Marvel UK.

Along with a handful of ‘80s Marvel annuals, my haul included the first volume of Jon Lock’s Afterlife Inc, the collected edition of Ian Churchill’s Marineman (at last!), Out Of Time by Luke Halsall, two issues of Moon by Dan Thompson and Steve Penfold, Sentient Zombie Space Pigs 2 by Lizzie Boyle and Conor Boyle and the first instalment of Razarhawk from Ian Matthews and Dani Abram. (If I get my act together, I may even post some reviews of these tomes over the coming weeks).
Razarhawk writer Ian Matthews and artist Dani Abram.
But don’t just take my word for it! Here’s James R with his take on the weekend…

James R: Now that's what I call a comics convention! Over the last few years I've felt that the con experience in the UK hasn't quite hit the mark for me. Firstly the Bristol Comic Expo boiled away to nothing, then it seems Mark Millar just gave up on Kapow!, and for all the flash of the London Super Comic Con, it's a soulless experience. We all hear amazing stuff about Thought Bubble, but for me, a job in education in the farthest south means a weekend in Leeds remains just a dream. Last year we had a great day at the Melksham con, and we'd all agreed that the event showed huge promise. It was run with incredible passion and determination by Hayley Spencer and her team of Brians, so we were all keen to support (and revisit) the convention this year, and it's fair to say it was the best weekend I've had in 2014!
Melksham Assembly Hall, Saturday 30/08/2014
Matt has already flagged up how great the guests were - as a child of the '80s I could have listened to Andy Lanning holding court on Marvel UK all day! I've said it before, and I'll say it again: comics remains an unparalleled medium when it comes to meeting your heroes, and more often than not, finding yourself partying with them!

One big thing a convention weekend always needs for me is a great night to match the day, and Melksham delivered in spades this year - the silent disco in the nearby King's Arms was a blast from the first minute to the last, and as much as I fear a slew of embarrassing pictures of my appalling dancing hitting social media any minute now, I can't deny that it was great to throw down with friends old and new!

And then we have our panels - I'll always be in debt to Hayley for giving us a chance to run a couple of panels at the con. As Matt has said, 'Comics In Just A Minute' was every bit as fun as we'd hoped it would be, and having people (that we hadn't bribed in any way or form) say how much they'd enjoyed it (and wanted a repeat next year!) was just a dream come true. After such a high, I braced myself in case Sunday's Debate Panel (with the topic, 'Did the superhero genre peak in the '60s?') didn't live up to it, but once again it was a terrific hour - we were lucky to have science writer and comics fan JV Chamary with us, and a smart, keen audience too. I was astounded when I found the hour was up - I could have easily prattled on for another! (Please spare a thought for my poor students who have to listen to my incessant rambling on a daily basis!)
Debate Panel (L-R: Andrew B, JV Chamary)
As I bid a fond farewell to Melksham on Sunday afternoon, I paused to think how much more the con could grow - it's brilliantly run, and the number of patrons over the weekend show that there's a real thirst for a con in the south of England that can be the equal of the impressive Thought Bubble. Hayley and the Brians deserve a stack of Lottery funding alongside the support of the local council and community. There's a unique spirit to the Melksham con, and it's an event that deserves to grow and grow. I genuinely can't wait to get back there next year; as Matt has said, we made great new friends, and I got to spend a weekend with some of my finest pals talking comics. What more can an ageing geek possibly want? (Apart from another couple of days to recover…) I shall leave it to Stewart R to bring our report to a close…

Stewart R: Due to shifts in the UK convention scene over the past couple of years, we at the Paradox Comics Group have found ourselves without a guaranteed, comic-centric weekend away for our group as a whole. Some of us managed to stick with Bristol as it went through its slew of venue and size changes, culminating in just two of us attending last year and no one making the journey to the West Country this year. I for one do enjoy the getaway to the capital that the London Super Comic Convention brings and have found it ticking a great many boxes in terms of locale, size and experience, but it hasn't quite captured the imagination of the group as the whole - some still feel that frigid bite of the February 2013 cold snap in their bones to this day it seems! It's therefore been a huge wave of relief to have the Melksham Comic Con grow and develop over these past 12 months.
Melksham Assembly Hall, Sunday 31/08/2014
Arriving on the Friday evening we got to meet the organisers, a few of the travelling guests and the army of smiling and excited helpers - known collectively as The Brians - as everyone anticipated the morning to come. Introducing myself to several men and women called Brian it was clear to see that there were nerves and tired tension, symptomatic of the hard work that had been put in behind the scenes through the previous weeks, months and beyond, and every single soul was complimentary of the hard work that someone else had been investing into the preparation.

Come the Saturday morning and the opening of the convention doors it was clear that the successful layout of 2013 remained with many of the retailers and exhibitors located as they had been before. The Melksham Comic Con can be regarded as a small convention not just because of its youth amongst other events, but also due to the logistics of location. The Melksham Assembly Hall offers up a decent amount of room for the allotted 40+ tables and thanks to the organisers using the space to its potential the room never feels cramped even when the crowds do build and do their best to form the odd bottleneck and jam.

The biggest expansion this year came in the doubling of the number of panels on offer, along with the length of the convention, and every panel I sat in on was informative and entertaining (and yes two of those were PCG panels, but truth be told I had minimal input into the preparation for them so the contents were a genuine surprise for me too!). At some conventions you see guests asked to conduct or attend panels and you can tell that their heart is not truly in it. Perhaps it's the enthusiasm and helpfulness of Hayley and the Brians that made all the difference as Melksham this year sported panels filled with energy from those hosting or asked to participate. Like Matt, I enjoyed Dr. Julia Round's Comics 101 panel, while the recounting of Marvel UK's history through the eyes of Andrew Wildman, Mike Collins and the laughter-inducing anecdotes of Andy Lanning was a superb way to end the weekend for me.
'Comics In Just A Minute' quizmaster and contestants (L-R: James R, Lizzie Boyle, Sonia Leong, Jon Lock, Dani Abram)
And it was important to think of this as a weekend convention. I remember, having walked around the convention floor twice on the Saturday around 2pm, being a bit curious about the footfall for Melksham 2014; certainly by the 2013 standard it seemed less busy. When the panels and extension of the convention itself are taken into consideration I shouldn't have been concerned. With the Cosplay competition rounding the show off on the Sunday the audience was always going to be spread differently - how many shows shoot their bolt with such a competition on a Saturday and see numbers dwindle on the Sunday? - and I'd say the bolstered numbers on the second day provided that needed galvanising boost to exhibitors, guests and attendees who may or may not have been a little jaded from the immensely fun Saturday night party shenanigans that rolled deep into the night.

On Sunday morning, as we stood quietly waiting for an over-the-counter caffeine fix from the local Costa - who even had promotional MCC sleeves for the show through the weekend which shows how this Wiltshire town has embraced the event - a gentleman and his teenage daughter asked myself and Andrew B about the convention. They were going to attend a convention for the first time with only the vaguest ideas of San Diego and a few other media-heavy events and wanted to know what to expect. Andrew managed their expectation accordingly as the gulf in size between San Diego and Melksham is similar to that of Green Lanterns Mogo and C'hp, but we waxed lyrical about the feel of the convention and how it really is the perfect way to ease yourself into the experience. There's no doubting that it's one of the most intimate, fun and friendly events on the calendar with enthusiastic hosts who have sensible and measured plans to build on their successes, guests who are more than happy to return once again, and comic fans young and old looking to buy tickets for Melksham 2015 whenever they should go on sale.
Rocket Raccoon by Andy Lanning


bintykins said...

It was my second Melksham and I can not wait to return! Your article really echoes my own feelings - Melksham has soul! It was my favourite con of last year for the happy, eager crowd and they didn't let me down this year ^_^
Plus I totally bum Hayley. She's one clever con-organising-comic-shop-running lady!

Dobes said...

My second Melksham too! First as an exhibitor, and found the whole weekend to be awesome. Very gutted that i could not get to a lot of the panels :)

Much love to all involved!!

Unknown said...

As one of the Brian's at MCC it's always great to read some amazing feedback.

It was a pleasure to see PCG again and I look forward to seeing you again next year!

Keep up the good work.

(Pirate Brian)

Julia said...

Thank you for the kind words guys - loved your work too, 'comics in just a minute' was genius. Was my first Melksham ComicCon and an absolutely fantastic day, will definitely be making it a weekender next time!

Unknown said...

As a Brian and an exhibitor it is great to read this review as it perfectly and honestly sums up my feelings towards the convention. It's great to feel that as Brians we are doing this correctly and we have taken many things from this year's event, both good and areas to improve upon, but the fact that you (and many other reviews I have read so far) can see the time and passion that we put into this project makes it all worth while. We look forward to seeing you all again next year.


(Arty Brian & DillyMarno)