COMIC conventions were hardcore fanboy events hidden in cities. Now its expansion has seen every man and his dog organising a show; seems there’s more conventions than comics.
Although some appear more like a TV namedropping exercise, ludicrous appearances from likes of Nick Cotton from the ‘Enders. Yeah comic movie adaptions are big business and cult TV series, such as Dr Who, make the fanboy weep from places I really shouldn’t go into, but the event has to concentrate on comics in order to be deemed a comic convention; makes sense? Based on past experience, I knew Bristol Expo would cater for my unusual taste.
In the face of competition, advertisements for rising cons attempt to leer lads with images of gorgeous chicks dressed in sexy Harley Quinn costumes; but is the reality that it’s still mostly middle-aged blokes with protruding bellies and rucksacks, frantically fighting to flicker through cardboard boxes of plastic-wrapped comics of yore, pausing occasionally to sarcastically snigger at you for being unable to distinguish a golden age Batman from a silver age one?
I carted myself and son on a train packed to the rafters with broiling exchange students to the reformed Bristol Comic Expo, not to find out. This convention was true to the ethos of comic cons, I didn’t see Nick Cotton and adverts were wholly composed of comic art, but boxes of comics were plentiful and fanboys filled the aisles; no bad thing.
Cosplay, a trend which has exploded, according to social media, I didn’t see much evidence of; crying shame. As the day went on more cosplayers crawled out of the woodwork, but there was little to be delighted about, costumes thrown together like a mum in a rush to hit the school nativity deadline.
Cosplay is not what I’ve come for, neither am I the Comic-Book Guy from the Simpsons; I adore the medium, although irritated by its stereotype. I support people making their own comics, for the love of it. So through the troops of fanboys who’ll burn you on a cross for not knowing who Jack Kirby was, while they debate the choice of directors for the new X-Files remake as if the fate of the world hinges on the decision, I seek the real creators, comics which are different, original and innovative.
Small press comics are an underrated medium in the shadow of the mainstream. It’s a shame as the comic industry is too small in the UK for celebrity elitism. Here at the convention you used to rub shoulders with the crème-de-la crème of comics without pretence. Ask them nicely and they’d scribble you a quick Dr Manhattan. Ten years on though I note the artists have erected signs charging for such a gift. Such is life; we’ve all got to make cash, but ten notes for a sketch; I got a pencil thanks.
Back in my day all you needed was pen, paper and a photocopier. Casually cut and paste your art together and print, striking furiously at the toner level like a DJ with crossfader. Quality was something only just coming into fashion, the select opting to spend copious for a decent looking product. Today this is over, online media and print-on-demand has made it possible to create a highly polished product at home. Publishers are alert now to talented small pressers and the net can be their friend.
Refreshingly then, I did meet some great and highly talented people, although my son dragged me away too quickly as his mission to find comic-related toys and nag me incessantly to buy them was paramount. Meeting Darth Vader in the hotel foyer being my only recess until my six-year-old grassed me up for being a Jedi to his accompanying Stormtrooper.
From the awesome realistic pencil portraits of Chris Baker (chrisbakerart.deviantart.com) which looked at first flash like photographs to Nick Gribbon’s animal woodblock prints hand-woven in a gracious book called the “The Dark Wood,” thedarkwoodtrilogy.co.uk, I wandered enthusiastically looking for the one purchase I could make, budgeting in my son’s prodigious spending spree.
Through fields of amazing comics we wandered with different agendas, past so many talented creators, Ink Soup and Comic Jam, A display of handmade dolphin and Ewok badges and cuddly-toys. From Scar Comics to a bunch of Welsh lads with a work based in an alternative, zombie occupied Swansea; I tried to resist the urge to spend on myself.
The resources for creators were also pleasingly current, The Awesome Comics Podcast are promoting small press and were a delight to chat with, so to the girls of Laydeez-Do-Comics with an international collective of female shareware anthologies, reminding me of Selina Lock’s celebrated “Girly Comic” of the previous decade.
As I gave this thought my ageing pessimism of the event waned. There are so many people still out there creating some amazing comics. Even if the processes have altered slightly, and to cast away stereotypes; many of the best are female.
Leading me nicely to that one purchase I made. If I was only to make one, it had to be something special and being taken in by the artwork is only the first element in a masterpiece comic book; it has to have a killer story too. I bookmarked the table from the beginning and once Star Wars figures and a Captain America cuddly contented my son I made haste back to it. Two young girls shared the table, both eager to chat. Dani Abram, a 2D and 3D animator with a classy line was the first, the other stole my show. Sara Dunkerton, a Bristol based illustrator selling a comic called “Mulp: Sceptre of the Sun.”
With writer Matt Gibbs and published by Improper Books, Mulp is visually stunning. The first two in a series of five are out. The attractive mice racing a vintage car past Egyptian pyramids give the impression of a cute Tintin adventure; but this is only scratching the surface.
Unlike most anthropomorphic characters where you’re expected to simply accept their existence in human scale, these 1950s fashioned mice are actual size, mini archaeologists who have unearthed some monumental truths about their past. This Indiana Jones styled adventure hints an intelligent post-apocalyptic concept materialising through its plot, which would raise Pierre Boulle’s eyebrow. You have to give this one a go.
All in all then, I’m hooked once again by the comic con. These days taking a mature stance rather than floating around in a haze, as I once was, trying to flog a smutty handmade comic so I could buy a beer or four. Although Bristol isn’t in Wiltshire I’m posting this here as I’ve heard all good things about our own event in Melksham and it’s inspired me to put the date, 27th August, in my diary; please try and make it too!