Just over a year ago I wrote a blog about the current state of the London comic marts.In it I said this:
The convention has replaced it. Marts seem like the analogue version of today’s digital fandom with it’s geek culture that’s a genuine culture adopted by the sort of people twenty years ago would have kicked sand in your face on the beach. It’s hopelessly lost against the tide of the massive influx of new people coming in to the culture, but for many of these people collecting comics isn’t a hobby. It’s the characters that draws them. The comics are almost an aside.
Today I came across a splendid piece by Anthony Esmond about the Royal National Hotel comic mart that’s part praising but almost eulogy for a dying part of comic collector fandom which is the act of buying comics. I know that sounds funny but as Esmond says if you go to a modern comic convention you’ll see cosplay and memorabilia as far as the eye can see but comics? Pffft, they’re barely represented. Last time I went to a major con outside of Bristol I had to hunt for anyone selling back issues, and when I did finding a dealer that sold stuff to sell rather at guide price was nearly impossible.
I’ve also mentioned in the past about the late Bristol Expo which no seems to be quite dead, but even that tried to copy the template for the modern convention: San Diego. Yet that’s had issues for years with dealers and punters complaining about the masses of cosplay and the lack of people turning up to buy comics, which is sort of what you expect from a comic convention. For those that haven’t been to San Diego or are aware of how much comic dealers feature in the con these days then this video gives you an idea.
As you can see the answer as to how important comic retailers are to San Diego is ‘not an awful lot’. Now imagine these new conventions that have sprung up all over the UK in the last five or six years are a microcosm of Comic Con and you get the picture, which isn’t to say that dealers don’t do the big conventions, they do. But most people go to these shows for the toys, the film promos, and of course, the seemingly endless amount of cosplay which has created a problem in that that for many is the main attraction, not comics.
So the fact a mart like the Royal National still plugs on with minimal advertising in the internet era is amazing. Yes, some of the people that turn up are, errr, to put it mildly not the sort of people you’d like to be stuck in a lift with but the punters there have been going since they were kids. When I last went to this back in May I saw lots of people who are now grey when my earliest memories of them were of wee kids running around earnestly buying comics. Same goes with many of the dealers, though I was amazed by how many traders of vintage ‘erotica’ (porn to you and I) were there though they seem to have filled in the gaps of dealers that have dropped off the face of the Earth or have knocked this mart on the head.
There’s a place for these marts into today’s cosplay age, but there’s also a need for them to reach out however the danger is that if Mike Conroy (the organiser) does start putting on signings and expanding it then the cosplay crowd start falling upon the mart like locusts and before we know it it’s went the way of the Bristol Expo to an untimely demise.I do agree it needs more publicity and the odd special event wouldn’t hurt it one bit but I admire it’s purity as I do any of the last few lingering comic marts across the UK. Even in this internet age nothing beats being faced by boxes of cheap comics, getting stuck in and finding some absolute gems and it’d be a crying shame if this was deemed to be consigned to history.