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Monday, 24 May 2010

In Review: The Bristol Comic Expo 2010

Matthew Badham reports on this year's Bristol Expo, which attracted some 1000 fans and over 100 comic creators...

I promised myself that I was going to do four things at the Bristol Comics Expo this year: make time to watch Doctor Who; get to bed at a reasonable time; make lots of notes for this report; and take lots of photos for this report. The fact that I managed to do none of these things is probably indicative of the absolute blast that I had at the convention.

Fun, fun, fun... and more fun, basically.

I was up bright and early on Saturday – at 4.55am to be precise – not because I had to be off to Bristol, but because my 10-month old was hungry. After feeding him, dozing a bit, then looking after t’kids as my wife had a lie-in, I headed off on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year.

One not-so-quick train ride and I was at Bristol, and the first sight that greeted me was two cosplayers, one of whom was carrying a golden sword that was almost as big as him (and he wasn’t a short chap)… normally, I’d have sneered, but I must be mellowing in my old age, because the sight of the two of them, standing and chatting un-self-consciously at Bristol Temple Meads station, even though they looked liked visitors from another planet just made me smile.

"This is what Bristol and the other cons do best," I thought, "they allow people to cut loose, to be themselves, to escape and to play."

The event proper didn’t have an auspicious start. I arrived at the Ramada (the con is split between two venues, the Ramada and Mercure hotels, with the pro’ contingent in the former and the small pressers in the latter) and had a wander around before checking in. The ambience was distinctly comic mart more than it was comic con, which wasn’t helped by the sweltering temperatures. Things were looking bad.

However, once I’d had a shower and changed, it all started to look up. In terms of the venues, the Mercure was the hands-down winner for me. It was light, airy and the small press/independent comics exhibitors’ room on the fifth floor felt far more spacious than its counterpart at the Ramada. However, I have to admit that I’ve personally got a bias towards the small press/indie side of the British comics industry too, and so that’s probably one reason why I felt more inclined to linger at the Mercure than at the Ramada.

Even though I was on a strict budget, I did manage to pick up a few comics. Martin Eden very kindly gave me a complimentary copy of Spandex 2, which I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s got sharp writing, lashings of super hero hi-jinks and, best of all, pink ninjas. What’s not to love?

I also picked up an issue of There’s No Time Like The Present from Paul Rainey, one of the best comics being published in the small press (and indeed, anywhere). If you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out at your earliest opportunity. And I bagged the latest issue of West (Distance) by Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable, which is also cracking stuff and recommended.

Having chatted to various other creators, I headed back to the Ramada, which wasn’t looking quite as grim as my first assessment had suggested. There was a steady through flow of punters, lots of laughter and chatter, and all sorts of creators sketching, talking to fans and answering questions, all with remarkable good humour (which was pretty amazing, considering the heat). I suppose this is the core of the con experience, punters getting face-to-face contact with the creators. I had a nice moment on Sunday when chatting to a comics fan and he started to show me, with obvious pride, his collection of sketches, which included contributions from the likes of Colin MacNeill and Steve Yeowell.

The creators also gave very good ‘value for money’ when it came to the panels I attended. I saw a panel on Saturday about creator-owned comics with its focus on the Image Comics model in particular. Featuring Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), Kieron Gillen (Phonogram), Paul Grist (Jack Staff), Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) and Ian Churchill (Marineman), it was a very illuminating glimpse into the benefits and drawbacks that face creators who do try to go the ‘Image Comics’ route.

It also gave tips about self-publishing and the creator-owned route generally, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some members of the audience were inspired ‘a la Sex Pistols at the Free Trade Hall’ to go and make their own comics.

The other panel I attended was about the Eagle Initiative, an offshoot of the Eagle Awards that hopes to foster new comics talent via a ‘talent search’-style competition. I went in pretty dubious, but if those involved manage to achieve even some of the things they were talking about then the Initiative could be an exciting opportunity.

All in all then, it was a great con and a fab weekend (topped off by a fun Saturday night chatting and also listening to music courtesy of comics super group The Power Cosmic – every con should have a band!) I plan to be back next year and if you’re into comics – of course you are, you’re reading downthetubes – then you should be there too.

• Official web site: www.fantasyevents.org/bristolcomicexpo/

News Items
Bristol Evening Post
"The Bristol International Comic & Small Press Expo may not be the catchiest title but it proved a sell-out at the Redcliffe hotel this weekend."

Mega Comics News reports on a bust-up at the Expo between Insomnia Productions staff -expect some changes there

Reviews

Bleeding Cool: Baking in Bristol
Blimey! It's Another blog about Comics by Lew Stringer: Heatwave for Bristol Comic Expo 2010

Dirty Rotten Comics
My Favourite Books
Ace artist Kevin Levell
Cheryl Morgan (describes the event as "A mixed bag")
Artist Mark Pearce  ("Amazing... I met so many amazing artists and people is was really overwhelming, but inspiring. I'm still kinda wired from it all.")
thirty-nine (includes recommended comics picked up at the Expo)

Emma Viceli (reacting to her Eagle nomination)
Doug Wilson (includes plenty of creator links)

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