It’s been a strange year for me personally as a lot of my Convention attendances have been for work. When I’m behind a table working for Nobrow I rarely get to have a look around and do socialising and/or shopping so often my viewpoint can be a little limited to a ore profits based evaluation. However I have been to more events this year than previously - events of all sizes.
I’ve been making a list of events I have been to this last year and they include in no sensible order ELCAF, NYCC, True Believers, HCZF, BAM, MCM x 2, Thoughtbubble, Nottingham CC, Edinburgh Comicon, Glasgow Comicon, The Lakes International Comics Art Festival, Not Another Comicon, the National Cartoonists Comics Festival in California, Comic Marts numbering 3, the London Film and Comicon, the Dundee University World War One comics event and some more I may have forgotten.
So here’s my thoughts on the scene this year. I’m not doing a top ten or even a top three as I genuinely think that each event has it’s own vibe and singular approach going for them. So I thought I would mention a few of the moments that I’ve liked or found fun at some of the cities I have travelled to in 2019.
Worthy of a mention straight off the bat is Thoughtbubble and the new venue. This was by anyone’s estimation a storming success for Lisa, Chloe and the rest of the team. From my view behind the Nobrow table it was busy and hip and had a genuine sense of community. The new location of Harrogate made the social side more inclusive as there were fewer bars people could head off to and hide. I even went to the mid-Con party for the first time ever and laughed at people dancing! From a sales point of view it was also great and I’ looking forward to next year.
(AJ Dungo creator of ‘In Waves’).
ELCAF (the East London Comics Arts Festival) was back at The Round Chapel again and seemed busier than ever. This is another festival that is about community and is always inspiring me to push my work and create more and more. (I started a rumour that I DJ’d - I did not - this was another one of my lies!) AJ Dungo was a guest and it was great to see him getting so much attention. Books flew off the table and I caught up with loads of pals who attended and were tabling. This is the big London event for me every year. Roll on ELCAF 2020.
(Luke Healy signing Americana at the HCZF Nobrow stall).
Hackney Comic and Zine Fair (HCZF) - This was the inaugural event and a fun one-dater of an event that ran alongside the colourful and samba beat of the Hackney Carnival. HCZF itself was really busy and we made great sales from the Nobrow table. But the event of the day was when one of the people manning the nearby Hackney Carnival floats brought in a box we had dropped off a trolley full of much needed volumes of Skip. They didn’t have to and it must have taken some investigation to find us. To that dancing member of the much less reserved adjacent event I thank you!
(Art by Stuart Mulrain showing he and Andy Hanks of the True Believers Comics Festival out spreading the four-colour love).
Nottingham CC and True Believers were again great fun and footfall seemed up again at both. I was lucky enough to be a guest at these ones and chaired some fun panels that were pretty well attended. These are a pair of events that i will always try my best to support and are run by grass roots comics fans with a genuine passion for the medium. These are both one day events and I think that for the size that works best for them and worth sticking with.
I headed ‘oop’ North to the Lakes International Comics Arts Festival (LICAF) for the first time and met up with pals Nikki and Ian (hosts of the LICAF podcast) and had a blast at the event. It takes over the whole town from window displays to talks to parties and more. I even scored some great deals on back issues in the local charity shops. This has a much more ‘arty’ with a small ‘a’ feel to the events and is definitely something you can take the whole weekend to enjoy. A highlight was the Duncan Fegredo retrospective gallery show.
I travelled a bit this year and went to a couple of Comicons in Scotland. I am really enjoying what I call the ‘In It To Win It’ all inclusive vibe to Scottish events. They seem to an outsider to lack the snobbish tribe mentality on London. At the Edinburgh gathering especially you saw experimental autobiographical comics up next to Horror comics up next to more traditional superhero and back issue sellers. There’s none of the ‘I printed this with bio-diverse Norwegian stoat droppings’ virtue signalling BS we see in some corners of the London/Brighton scene and certainly nobody was turning their nose up at personal genre choices. I’m really rather tired of hearing the trite upspeak of the man-bunned and woolly-hatted mofos saying ‘I don’t read about superheroes’ and then try and sell you their work-photocopied comics about their anxiety riddled cats! None of that north of the border (well not that I saw).
(Bob Fingerman and Joe Dator made for great company on my first trip to California!)
I made it to a couple of American comics gatherings. First up was the National Cartoonists Society Comics Art Festival in Huntingdon Beach. I made a week of the holiday and met up with pal Bob Fingerman. He, myself and new buddy Joe Dator hung out, drank, ate some great food and larged it around the small hotel festival.
(One of the greatest comics moments of my year was listening to Lewis Trondheim and Sergio Aragonés talk drawing).
As there wasn’t what could be called a throng of fans at this beachfront venue (something where I think this festival failed but was a total bonus for me) I managed to spend time with some comics heroes. I chatted over coffee with Mary Fleener, Daniel Clowes, Sergio Aragonés, Martin Rowson, Jaime Hernandez, Lewis Trondheim, Boulet and more. I came away buzzing and hope that this event remains a secret going forward.
(Artist Christian Wildgoose (right) giving me the stink-eye in New York! I don’t know who that dude is next to him!)
After missing a year I headed back to the New York Comicon and worked the Nobrow/Hilda table. Sales were outstanding but I felt that the event lacked a little soul. The early years of the festival seemed much more focused on the actual comics and this is now just another Reedpop Mercy/movies/gaming event with an ever decreasing Artists Alley representation. In fact a major moan of mine was that the actual comics artists were rarely at their tables - and before you jump in here the reason I found out wasn’t because they were at panels or business meetings and rather that they were late rising and leaving early. I did however get to spend a good chunk of time with pals like Cliff Cumber and Sarah Harris and I’ll be back for more punishment next year.
(My Nobrow co-conspirator at the MCM stall.)
Speaking of Reedpop I did a couple of London MCMs this year spreading the Hilda, Flying Eye and Nobrow goodness beyond our normal bubble. Say what you will about MCM, and I have done in the past, the entirety of the comics stalls at London still represents the biggest gathering of actual comics sellers and professionals of any UK event. It is however surrounded like Custer by the idiocy of Funkos and Cosplay but if you can use noise-cancelling headphones and block that element out you’ll discover some gold and some great deals. I’ve heard some mentions of the Comics Village being a little quiet and this seems like valid feedback as it is most definitely the quietest area of the Excel floor plan. There are also quite a few publishers and distributors representing the industry and from a Nobrow point of view I must admit that both sales and fan engagement improve with each attendance.
Some events did suffer from the lack of footfall. I wasted a few quid getting a train to Birmingham for Not Another Comicon and saw meagre attendance figures, a lack of energy and a severe lack of signage. This seems to be a problem across a few of the events that I have attended and heard about. The reason is not a simple one and involves such difficult issues such as advertising, local engagement, venue, clashing events and transport.
On the other side of the comics coin I continue the pilgrimage to the London Comic mart. I’ve been attending these events since I was a kid and my father would drive me to the old Parliament Square venue and drink heavily whilst I flicked through long boxes. I continue to this day to pick up rucksacks full of outstanding comics at very cheap prices and chat to the regular faces. If you are into comics (or bootleg movies) this remains the best of all the events.
(The 200th ACP Event).
I’ve also got to mention the smash of the 200th Awesome Comics Podcast Episode event we held in the upstairs room at a pub in Victoria this year. ‘I was at the 200th’ badges were handed out and a boozy time was had by all. We are having a think about what we are going to do for the fifth anniversary that will be with us in July. Watch this space.
The trend of the sports hall event that calls itself a ‘Comicon’ and has a Dalek and an actor from Primeval seems to be disappearing (thank fuckness!) We’ve hopefully seen the shysters come and go in this area in the most part and whilst there are a few still popping up on my social media they do seem to be going the way of the die-cut cover? I managed to spend pretty much a whole year avoiding the minor celebrity and keeping the ‘fan print’ rubbish out of my line of site. The eco-unfriendliness of the plastic dead-eyed childlike pop media figure however seems ever on the rise sadly and continues to eclipse the actual comics contents of your average ‘Comic Con’. Hopefully the ‘woke’ youth of today will realise that these mass produced moulds will be landfill that fails to decay and they pull back from spending cash they can’t really afford and stop filling their box rooms with this crass commercialisation.
The act of turning a profit from your comics output or even just getting other fans eyes on it is still a concern. There also seems to be a balance of what used to be two extremes. Sure we still have the embarrassment of the hard sell rubbing up against the awkwardness of the introverted non-engager but I am seeing much more tablers on their feet and chatting amicably with punters. Many are talking about the craft and the story. This can only be good for sales and for community engagement and helps us step out of that echo chamber comics often find themselves suffocated within.
2020 looks like a year of events with my new role at Nobrow and I’m already filling up the calendar. I’ll be heading to Angouleme at the end of January and can’t wait. We have a couple more MCMs an ELCAF and hopefully some more new events on the way.
If you have an event you’d like publicising then don’t hesitate to contact me on here or at The Awesome Comics podcast!
Many thanks for reading.