Last weekend was the Bristol Comics Expo. Last year I decided I was a wee bit harsh in my opinion of the event, so what about 2014?Well this was another year of coming back into the world of retailing for a few days only and it started on a farm somewhere just outside of Bristol loading a van up with lots and lots and lots of comics.
This is the lock-up on the farm which also had some old army trucks which if done up properly, would make fantastic festival trucks.
Anyhow, we loaded up and headed to the location which wasn’t in the Passenger Shed by Temple Meads, but in the Future Inn next to Cabot Circus in Bristol city centre. This was also a good location with a lot of footfall from passing shoppers, not to mention it’s near Old Market, a part of the city with a ‘vibrant’ culture that isn’t as gentrified (yet) as Stokes Croft. When we got to the Future Inn, the tables hadn’t been set up which wasn’t a problem as we were fairly early, but it was clear then with an empty room full of tables not put in their final positions that space would be tight, which considering the organisers had sold around 1,000 tickets this means things would be tight.
We finished unloading. Threw covers over our stuff and headed to a lovely cafe in Old Market called the Whole Baked Cafe for what was a smashing lunch, and after being dropped off at my local for a few cheeky pints in the sun of the afternoon, I headed home for an early night to prepare for the weekend.
Next day saw what was going to be a problem. The convention itself was on the sixth floor of the hotel, so getting fanboys and fangirls to walk six flights of stairs isn’t going to happen so the lifts could only take eight people at a time, which meant when the doors opened at 10am, there wasn’t a big huge rush as there had been in years past. Instead there was a slow trickle of people coming up eight at a time which meant that it wasn’t really til 11am that things started getting busy, but when things did get busy the problem we’d predicted the day before happened and bottlenecks happened everywhere.
Things were steady though, not too mention there wasn’t a lot of comic dealers, but there were a lot of small press tables offering some interesting stuff, some predictable stuff (I’ve seen enough Gothic comics to last me several lifetimes) and some utter rubbish.Also, the guests were crammed in so Michael Golden, James O’Barr and Arthur Suydam were wedged in among the toys and cosplayers and there were a lot of cosplayers and kids.
Things got very busy by midday on the Saturday and the room we were in became horribly hot and stifling, plus having several hundred comics people in a hot room together meant things were exceptionally ripe after a while, but people were still milling around and more importantly, buying things.
As the afternoon progressed, I managed to sneak off with a couple of lads I know from the Comic Book Resources forum, which meant nipping to the bar for some beers, some chat, some moaning about the forum reboot and a chance to take in what was going on at the convention which was a cosplay contest with the worst PA system in the world.I left the lads to carry on drinking as I nipped to get some coffees in what was now a minor gale outside, which had ripped some roof tiles off Cabot Circus which meant the flow of people had stopped as the police closed the street off. As I returned to our tables with coffees the room was quieter, but still steady but trade was slow as it was too hot and those people with wheelchairs or prams didn’t hang around long because it was difficult for these people to get around the limited space in the hotel.
I did spend time watching Cabot Circus getting blown apart by the wind and the sun breaking over the skyline of Bristol.
Eventually the day ended and I was able to join my friends for a few wee drinks after the convention. not to mention tear myself away from the view I had most of the afternoon which was this.
Now although we were drinking, fairly loud and pretty pissed, the hotel bar was, well, quiet. There were people who were hanging around for the few events on that evening, but the familiar faces which brightened up previous Bristol conventions were missing. A bar at a British convention is the lifeblood of that convention but no professionals, no dealers (present company excepted) and only a small, but fairly cheery core of fans mingling with the hen and stag nights which were passing through the hotel. I decided to leave when the idea of shorts was passed around as my liver can’t deal with that anymore….
Next day was drizzly and overcast as I walked from my flat on the Gloucester Road to the hotel. It was pretty miserable. there also wasn’t the large queue to get in that there was on the Saturday. A few people mingled around with the organisers and their staff, but not an awful lot of punters. Yes it ticked over, but there were vastly fewer people mingling around on the Sunday, which to be fair, is always a quieter day but not this quiet.
We decided to knock it on the head around 3.30 as it was going to be a nightmare getting out down the lifts otherwise, so we managed to get the tables emptied and the stock loaded up, which meant we could grab a quick drink, say our farewells and head off to grab the end of the football in my case as the Expo closed with a meek whimper.
So what did I think of the Expo? Compared to last year, it wasn’t as good. The smaller location was a pain and although it was nice to have a bar onsite (the previous location didn’t) it was the only real advantage of the hotel which really didn’t know what it had on it’s hands. It’s also sad to see and event which is has the bloodline of UKCAC as this convention was created to replace UKCAC in 1999 with the current organisers only being custodians of something which should be vastly more important on the British convention circuit.
Instead it’s plugging along. It’s better than a few years ago, but the potential is being wasted away. It’s as if you’ve been given Manchester United to play with and you’ve decided to make it into Bristol Rovers because you don’t see the potential of what you have in your hands. The lack of creators from the British industry is also worrying. Yes, the small press creators should be applauded, encouraged and given the space to grow but people also want to meet and see people who are working for Marvel, DC, 2000AD and everything else out there.Now I know guests cost money, but Bristol was a weekend away for some creators who saw it as a jolly with mates. Excluding those mates and instead, focusing in the smaller aspects of comic publishing restricts the potential.
On the other hand, the fact it attracts so many people for what is essentially a glorified mart. It’s a delight to see kids buy comics as it is to see so many women get into comics, and not only that, get into the cosplay aspect (or fancy dress as it was back in the day) of fandom as it is now.
Bristol was at one point, the only game in the country for comics conventions of any major scale. It’s now a small player in a scene which is increasing every year, so it has to play smart, and in some cases it is. I wish though it realised the potential and returned to it’s former glories.