Matthew Badham reports on the British International Comic Show in Birmingham, attended by some 3200 artists, writers, publishers, dealers and fans. All pictures courtesy Dan Berry
So that was The British International Comics Show (BICs). It was my first time and I have to say that I had a lot of fun, and that, if time and resources allow it, I'll be back next year.
That isn't just my view: I had a look at Twitter this morning and the consensus seems to be that BICs was a success. Lots of nice comments. However, when I rolled up on Saturday, things weren't looking good. The launch party, on Friday, was apparently a bit of a damp squib, with one attendee describing it to me as being a cross between a "school disco and a wedding reception."
In the interests of balanced and fair reporting, I then spent the day trying to find someone who had enjoyed the party, but after questioning 20-plus people, I gave up. No one that I could find seemed to have a good word to say about it. One pro' that I spoke to suggested that it was down to the venue, which they described as the sort of place you go to when ‘you're not old enough to get into a proper club.' Something for the organisers to look at for next year's bash, particularly as previous years' launches have, or so I've heard, been roaring successes.
The other slight issue that some people had with the show (mainly some of the indie crowd) was the table prices. Tables for exhibitors were going for £120, or £90 if you were a previous exhibitor who re-booked ahead. (Dealers and publishers were £160). I know that this was the deciding factor for some cartoonists who didn't attend and exhibit, and I have to say that the indie comics' presence did seem a little thin on the ground. Still, there were some enterprising souls that had come up with strategies to minimise their costs. The Manchester Comix Collective (MCC) had five people manning their stall and were showcasing the work of (I think) 14 cartoonists, all of whom contributed to the cost of exhibiting. Splitting the costs in this way seems a sensible option if you're a struggling cartoonist and the MCC certainly weren't the only indie types to adopt this strategy.
Meanwhile, it was good to see the likes of Accent UK, Paul Rainey, Will Kirkby and Factor Fiction in attendance. They're all damn fine cartoonists/companies and at the next show you attend, you should check out their work and buy their comics (In fact, why wait? Pop over to their respective websites/blogs and have a look at their stuff now.)
Anyway, enough moaning about table costs and the launch party. These are relatively minor quibbles (okay, a crap launch party is a bit of a big deal, but BICs seemed to recover from it well) about what was, for the most part, a fantastic show.
So what made it good? The panels, for a start. I don't usually attend many panels at cons and I think I've been missing a trick. On Sunday morning, I made a point of sauntering along to see Sarah McIntyre interview manga artist Michiru Morikawa, which was just amazing. Part of this was down to Sarah, who was a great interviewer, and Michiru, who was interesting, humble and very charming, and part of it was down to the venue's excellent lecture theatre (the audio-visual facilities enabled Sarah to give us a really "up-close-and-personal" tour of Michiru's work, picking out relevant panels and pages and discussing them as the interview proceeded, and, along with some great acoustics, meant that both interviewer and interviewee were audible at all times). Add to this a surprise cameo appearance and impromptu discussion of Michiru's new graphic novel, Buskers by Jeymes Samuel, the man whose screenplay it was adapted from, and you've got one of my personal highlights of the whole weekend.
After the interview, I spotted Jamie and Tom, two members of the Manchester Comix Collective, who are self-confessed "panel junkies". They'd been to almost every one on the Saturday and were there on Sunday ready to attend most of that day's panels as well. They were having a great time and reckoned that this year BICs had raised its game in this department. Others seemed to agree.
The Saturday night chatter when we went out to eat was highly positive about the show in general (unless the launch party was mentioned; I'm sorry, I really am trying to stop banging on about that) and included mention of various panels. Specifically, Howard Chaykin was apparently "hilarous", Andy Diggle and Paul Cornell were "entertaining and had positive and sensible ideas about the future of comics" on the Marvel comics panel and Bryan Talbot's talk about his new graphic novel, Grandville was "interesting and insightful" (but, you know, quelle surprise: it's Bryan Talbot).
But the show wasn't just about panels (although, if it had been, I think it would still have been value for money). It was about mingling, chatting about and buying comics, and generally going geek for the weekend ("I'm with my peers, I can dress as Zod. Hooray!") Cue various fanboys and girls wandering around dressed as stormtroopers, The Goddam Batman, judges, anime characters and the David Tennant Doctor, which was all good fun (The Dalek that was gliding about wasn't good fun. He was a massive pain in the arse, because he was slow and created people jams wherever he went. But, you know, ultimate evil and all that, so I suppose it's kind of in his modus operandi to annoy people).
Less good fun were the guys dressed as the Joker's henchmen from Dark Knight. Because, when you think about it, they were just two guys in dirty suits wearing clown masks and carrying worryingly realistic facsimile automatic pistols. Considering that shows like BICs are trying to be family-friendly, it seemed a massive error of judgement on the part of those two fanboys (not on the part of the show's organisers, who, I assume, don't have any control over the costumes that attendees wear).
There was a really sweet moment when I spotted a dad taking a photo of his obviously elated young daughter posing with the Tennant Doctor and another fan dressed as Rose. I can't think of anyone, though, in their right mind, taking a similar photo of their child posing with the Joker and his two goons, who were just flippin' [expletive diluted - Ed] scary.
Fortunately, that slight sour note of fan boy misjudgement didn't spoil BICs for me. I think the organisers should be commended and I hope that the show will be back again next year, and in subsequent years. I have to admit that I'd heard some negative things about BICs before attending and wasn't actually looking forward to it (but had to go, for work purposes). I'm glad to say, however, that my fears were unfounded. Well done to all the organisers and volunteers who made it happen. Damn fine show, chaps. Damn fine show.
Oh, and I almost forgot to say: one of my highlights of BICs wasn't comic-related. Both days I took a trip to the Warehouse Café (just round the corner from the venue and not too far from the city centre) and was very impressed by their friendly service, reasonably-priced and tasty food, and chilled, laid-back ambience. If I go to BICs next year, then I'll definitely pop back to the Warehouse and, if you're there, you should too. Veggies and vegans especially note: it's an exclusively veggie/vegan café.
Other BICs reports, mentions and photos
MAINSTREAM MEDIA REPORTS
• The Birmingham Mail: Thousands at British International Comics Show in Birmingham
• The Sunday Mercury: Big stars and crowds at Birmingham comic show
"Thought comic books were just for kids or all about caped crusaders and naughty schoolboys? Then the UK’s largest comic industry convention in Birmingham this weekend will make you think again..."
COMICS MEDIA REPORTS
• Bleeding Cool: A Tale of Three Tweeties
Rich Johnston has helpfully rounded up Twitter news of the weekend's three conventions — BICS in Birmingham, UK; Mid-Ohio Con, aka Columbus, Ohio; and Long Beach Comic-Con in California...
• The Comic Bureau
• Forbidden Planet International Blog Report: Comic Show Part 1
• Forbidden Planet International Blog Report: Comic Show Part 2 (pics and stuff!)
• Scratch UK Report 1; Follow Up
• Sidekick: BICS Creator Interviews
Expect more to be added: these include chats with Burke and Hare creators Martin Conaghan and Will Pickering
• Andy Bloor
"Aside from feeling pretty tired driving there and back both days I throughly enjoyed myself. There seemed to be less 'professional' creators this year but tbh, the show didn't really miss as it meant punters had more spare cash to buy small press/independent comics...."
• Jim Boswell
"BICS was fun, but a slightly more low-key affair (I felt) than the last time I went (2007), probably due to the dark times we live in, etc...."
• Jess Bradley
"Bics is over for another year and it was awesome. I sold lots of stuff, made lots of money and met lots of awesome people. My superhero paintings went down an absolute storm and I think I'm going to have commissions coming out of my ears, which isn't a bad thing!"
"I had a great time, tiring sure, but equally inspiring and energising..."
• Jim Connolly
"We managed to shift some copies of Moronoid which felt good, so we celebrated in style on Saturday night, stumbling upon the coolest and quirkiest little club/bar I've been in in years which no doubt we'll never find again."
• Paul Cornell
• Garen Ewing
"As ever, it was really nice to catch up with so many comic friends, old and new. The biggest surprise of the weekend was meeting Alex Bardy from my old fanzine days..."
• David Hughes
"As predicted I spent a small fortune on books. I'll mention in more detail when I've read them but the pick of the crop thus far has to be Paul Rainey's latest. Those of you familiar with the story (well worth catching up with if you aren't already) of There's no time like the present will be interested to know that Kelly makes a return. I tried to winkle the ending out of Paul when buying my copies at his table but no dice."
• Dan Hill
• Tony Lee
"There was video taken, so expect it on Youtube, but we had a blast. The audience did as well and several times over the weekend we were told it was a 'highlight panel' which just shows that people should get out more. Highlights included making the Pink Ranger answer our questions in the form of interpretive dance, Dan [Boultwood] having to re-press stud Green Arrow's crotchpiece repeatedly, Spider-Man doing 'groin stretches' for the audience and the Joker and Harley for well, being the Joker and Harley. Oh, and the small boy who, dressed as Anakin Skywalker in Pod race kit decided he'd rather be on a speeder bike..."
• Sarah Macintyre
"I think my interview of Michiru Morikawa went well. Something very cool happened in the middle of her talk; she was saying she was sad she hadn't been able to meet any of her co-creators, other than via e-mail, and suddenly one of them, Jeymes Samuel said something like, 'Hey, I'm here!', and there was a big happy first meeting! Jeymes was able to talk about the film being made, and made Michiru glow with his effusive praise of her work. That was fun!"
• Christian Quesnel: British International Comics Show et autres...
"Vendredi, je quitte Londres pour Birmingham où se tient le British International Comics Show, une des manifestations culturelles majeures en bande dessinée en Grande-Bretagne. Cette année, le festival accueille entre autres Rufus Dayglo, Tony Lee et Bryan Talbot. Ce que j'aime de ce festival, c'est que les organisateurs ne sont pas gênés de mettre en valeur et en avant-plan les artistes britanniques et ceux qui résident tout près de Birmingham et de Londres, considérant ceux-ci comme la valeur principale de leur événement..."
• Kev F. Sutherland: A Bite of BICS
"The party was full of familiar faces. It was great to see their faces. Hunt, Laura, the Goodmans, Bryan. Dozens of faces. Their mouths opening and closing. The only drawback was that none of us could hear what the other was trying to say because there was a DJ playing very loudly. If there's one thing comic fans don't need it's a dance floor. Have you seen comic fans? Urgh, the very thought of any of them dancing. All those grodey t-shirts, beards, pony tails and leather jackets being shaken in public is quite terrifying..."
• Tom Watson: Morris the Mankiest Monster
"I’ve spent a lovely afternoon making monsters with my son and Sarah McIntyre, the illustrator of the most revolting monster book I’ve ever read. It was great fun...."
• Andy Winter
"I had a blast at the BICS festival in Birmingham over the weekend, catching up with lots of friends, meeting some great new people and selling loads of comics. Septic Isle and BritForce were my top sellers, suggesting punters are more interested in a meaty graphic novel-length read these days than in flimsier pamphlet-style comics..."
"We sold our last novel about 3.00pm Sunday, to a podcaster who reviews comics, so we'll post links to that review when it comes out. Then at 4.00pm we realised the event had pretty much run its course for everyone, and headed back to Essex, feeling pretty damned pleased with ourselves. Now we're looking forward to Komiket in November and the Bristol show in May 2010."
• Harker and Critchley
"Hi to those of you whom we met in Birmingham, both old and new fans alike! We had the best weekend we'd ever had at a convention, with huge sales of the new trade paperback collection of issues 1-6. If you were there but weren't able to buy it at the time, go take a look in the Harker online store, where you can buy every issue of Harker to date, and the new collected edition too."
• Itch Publishing
"Some tips to make sure your outing at a comics convention is an enjoyable one: Don’t be ill or under the weather. Not only will the headache and general misery put a damper on your day, you’ll only infect everyone; ... Don’t pack your bag so full of books it’s too heavy to lift it onto or off the train. This will be very annoying and will get you nasty looks at Birmingham New Street station. And that is not a good place to be getting nasty looks."
• Forbidden Planet International Blog: BICSS 2009 Pictures and Things
• Lew Stringer's BICS Pictures
• UK Dave's BICS Pics on Flickr (including that annoying Dalek...)
• Batman Convention Sketch