12 May 2018

Portsmouth Comic Con 2018: The Voyage Home

Now we've had a chance to settle back into reality following our first visit to Portsmouth Comic Con, here are some thoughts on last weekend's events...

Jo S: So the dust is settling on one of those crazy bank holiday weeks where you try to fit five days' work into four. I'm battling the long-lasting effects of the kind of night out on the town which brings out the Murtagh in me - I am definitely too old for this sh!t - but my feelings toward the reason for my current levels of middle-aged frazzledness remain warm.

Portsmouth Comic Con was almost all I'd hoped for and added a few extra delights I totally hadn't expected. There were lots of highlights for me: the panels I attended were fascinating; I caught Sean Phillips, Lawrence Campbell and Frank Quitely (confusingly called Vince IRL - I learned that artists also have 'noms de plume'!) talking about the relationship between a writer and an artist, and gained an inkling of how varied that relationship can be, and how oddly distant in some ways. Seeing a group of artists talk about drawing Batman had me gripped too: it's very hard to imagine how one goes about making a literal icon your own.

The chance to talk with creators was probably my favourite thing about the whole event - I try to imagine what other medium allows an event like this to occur. I met both Warwick Johnson Cadwell and Caspar Wijngard, each of whom have drawn books I've read recently and each of whom have very distinctive styles. Chatting to them about their work felt bizarre and marvellous - what an opportunity, to meet people you admire so much, and chat so casually!

Our loyalties to our local comic book store were admittedly a little strained by the placement of the con on FCBD weekend and the news at the closing of the event that it will indeed be on the same weekend next year has us in a quandary - a close eye will be kept on the content for 2019 as we'll have a tough decision to make!

Oh... and a tip for anyone attending next year - if you want to go out in Portsmouth in the evening, take ID, even if the idea that you might be underage is hilariously unlikely. And if you're playing beer pong at The Lyberry, you might want to wash that first...

James R: It's always nice when something lives up to expectations - I had high hopes for the inaugural Portsmouth Comic-Con, and I'm pleased to say the event really delivered. I would have loved to have seen more traders and back issues, but that's a very small moan - this was an event that was well-run, in a fantastic venue, and delivered the best convention guests (outside of Thought Bubble) that I've seen in this country for some time.

My personal highlight of the weekend was getting to meet the cast-iron genius of Frank Quitely: it was fantastic to hear him discuss his craft on the panel on Saturday (more on those shortly) but then to get to talk to the great man on Sunday was just brilliant. I said to Jo that things like this just didn't happen at the huge conventions in the States - and more power to all of the creators there for being so approachable over the weekend.

I am a huge fan of a good convention panel, but if they're not marshalled well, they can turn into dull and prolix affairs. Once again, Portsmouth excelled here - not only were there a fantastic range of panels to attend over both days, but every one I attended was hugely entertaining. My personal favourites were Quietly, Campbell and Phillips in conversation on Saturday, and Gene Ha on Sunday. (A special salute to Gene Ha for being so generous with his time and support; towards the end of his panel, he told some prospective artists to come and talk to him if they wanted even more advice on a career in comics - I can't think of many other media events where stars would be so open). The second panel room was remarkable too - taking place in Portsmouth council chambers, it certainly was the grandest location I've heard comics discussed in (and sorry to any Portsmouth residents, I think I pressed a button at some point, and may have voted for town centre parking charges to increase).

It was also great to see some of my old friends there (in the shape of Star Wars stamp illustrator Malcolm Tween and Galaxafreaks creator Andy Pawley) and hugely encouraging to hear that they (along with many other attendees) reporting a brisk trade throughout the convention.

When I attended my first ever comics convention back at the turn of the century, it was great fun, but it's safe to say it was the definition of 'niche' - the punters were all of a certain age and gender, and I distinctly remember one creator claiming the industry wouldn't be around in 20 years. Jump forward to 2018, and it was great to see what a diverse crowd the convention attracted: call it the Marvel Movies Effect if you like, but as an ageing geek it was heartening to see so many families and kids enthused with a love for the medium; long may this trend continue, and well done to all involved in putting on the convention. It is safe to say that I and the PCG will be back for more next year - and if you were wavering over attending this year, definitely take the plunge in 2019; if the organisers can match the standard of 2018, you'll be in for a treat.

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