It seems crazy to look back at a time when Bristol was essentially the one and only British comic convention. Nowadays not a week goes by without another new show or two popping up in various cities and towns across the UK. As of last weekend, Cardiff, the city I call home, can say it boasts two such conventions.
The existing show, Cardiff International Comics and Anime Expo, has been running for a couple of years. Bristol Comic Expo stalwart Mike Allwood has helped grow the event around the strong comic community here in the capital city, with the support of a hard working and dedicated team. I’ve been lucky enough to attend each of the shows and have thoroughly enjoyed them, I’ve also been involved in panels as host and also guest. The organisers next event is SCARdiff in October, the city’s first horror themed convention, which I’ll also be attending for Dapper Chimp Press.
The new event, which launched last weekend, is an entirely different animal, Cardiff Film and Comic Con is run by Showmasters, who also run London Film and Comic Con and Collectormania in Glasgow and Milton Keynes. The closest I’ve experienced to it previously was MCM Expo in London and my first trip to that show inspired a number of key scenes in my graphic novel The Interactives. Rather than a dedicated comics show, this was definitely a multi-media affair with autograph hunters seeking out the likes of David Hasselhoff, Robert Englund, Brian Blessed and one of my all-time heroes Lance Henriksen. It was also the first convention that people outside of the comic world seemed to be talking about, with colleagues in work, non comic reading friends and parents in the school yard mentioning it prior to the event.
The comic section of the show, run by another industry stalwart Mike Conroy, was relatively small, but it boasted lots of well established indie creators. People like the local guys behind Lou Scannon, Stiffs and The Pride, as well as Steve Penfold, the artist on highly regarded series Moon and Subversive Comics, home of Bearlands zombie bear series. It also played host to a strong artist’s alley with local names like Simon Williams (whose who is currently working with The Hoff himself), Mike Collins and Dylan Teague, as well as Liam Shalloo and Lee Bradley. Some big names from the other side of the pond had ventured to our fair city too, with Marvel Zombies artist Arthur Suydam (whose Predator v Batman print had sold out before I managed to get myself one), The Crow creator James O’Barr and ex-hairdresser turned superstar writer Gail Simone (Batgirl, Red Sonja). There was definitely a different vibe from any show I’ve been to before, especially as an exhibitor. There were people buying their first ever comic from us, people asking how comics were made, people asking how much extra is was to have the comic signed, people who wouldn’t buy a comic if their life depended on it and, of course, your more typical comic buyer. It was also extremely busy, with huge queues of people waiting hours to get in. The upside of that was that footfall was pretty constant, we actually sold more books on the Sunday, which has certainly never happened to me before. The downside was that some people queued for so long, then waded through such a large volume of people on the Saturday, that they reached our table at 5.15pm, tired, weary and out of money!
On Saturday one half of Monkeys with Machine Guns Stuart Tipples was with me, helping to man the Dapper Chimp Press stand, sketching and selling prints and original art. It wasn’t a convention where that many people wanted sketches done, and from talking to other artists their prints seemed to sell better. I guess that’s the result of a less comic-centric audience. The stand next to us was Soaring Penguin, whose energy and enthusiasm is definitely an inspiration. Going to have to add their Peter Pan omnibus to my Christmas list I think. Sales were good, the atmosphere was really positive and we had a very good first day. The unofficial After Show party in Porters was good fun and I got to spend a few hours with Stu, the Sidekickcast hosts Gavin Jones and Dan Marshall and Comic Book Outsiders’ Scott Grandison (the nicest man in podcasting) and his wife. The comic based quiz was good fun and I was sad to leave before the superhero hip hop improvisation began.
On Sunday my daughter was with me, helping increase the amount of Forgotten Planet Kickstarter flyers we gave out. Who can say no to a 6 year old? Despite being petrified by the Red Skull cosplayer, she stayed for most of the day and was even sketching at one point. Her Zombie Panda was given to the Jeremy Biggs at Subversive Comics and she hand-delivered her Batgirl to Gail Simone, with far more composure than I did when approaching Gail later in the day (wish I’d taken a photo of that sketch now). It was a case of Smith and Jones assisting on the table in the afternoon with Gavins of both varieties covering for me at different points in proceedings. One thing I am gutted about is the fact I missed Lance Henriksen, who walked around the comic section and had his picture taken with the Lou Scannon guys at the next table while I wasn’t in attendance. For them it was Bishop from Aliens, for me he would have been just as much Emil Bouchon from Hard Target and Chains Cooper from Stone Cold. What would the world be like if James Cameron had stuck to his guns and cast Henriksen as the Terminator I wonder? Anyway, instead of getting Lance’s autograph, or any of the other actors or sports stars for that matter, I used my time away from table to pop over and speak to Gail Simone. As well as getting a Secret Six trade signed I also gave her my last copy of The Interactives, it was one of those rare occasions when I was rather tongue tied and I probably came across extremely awkwardly to her and her husband.
So, what was the weekend like from an exhibitor’s perspective? The crowd was a very different one than the one we are used to, but that didn’t hamper sales at all. We had a good weekend, with enough copies of Chris Smith and the Nazi Zombies #1 sold to mean we’re very close to needing a re-print for Scardiff. People were interested in the book, how it came about and what the story was, even those who didn’t end up buying a copy. There was also a lot of interest in Forgotten Planet and the premise seemed to really capture people’s imaginations. All in all, I’d say the convention was a success, we had plenty of custom, things ran smoothly and the overall feeling was resoundingly positive and full of enthusiasm. Would we attend again? Definitely. It’s really good to have two such truly diverse conventions in the same place, because for comics to thrive we need both the hardcore fans and those who are just passing by. I sincerely hope that there’s room in Cardiff for both these shows, as they each scratch a very different itch. It also gives me a great excuse to catch up with lots of my favourite people without having to travel to London or Leeds to do it.