The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part three: Public Image Ltd

A small group of people are sitting in a bar in a hotel in Manchester during the last UKCAC in 1998.For 30 years in the UK there’s been at least one annual large comic convention somewhere in the country, but at this movement there’s nothing planned for 1999 and the only people who seem to care are the half dozen or so people sitting nursing their drinks on a Sunday afternoon. A comment splits the onrushing gloom…

”How about we tag onto a Babylon 5 convention?”

It is at this point the British comic convention hits its lowest point. But lets go back to part two and the end of the 1980’s. Comics are everywhere. Alan Moore and Robert Crumb get name-checked on pop songs. Channel 4, BBC Two and the broadsheet papers start taking an interest in the growing and developing medium. Books like Watchmen and Maus are compared with the best of modern traditional literature. Conventions and marts are bursting with attendees. Shops are opening up at a dramatic rate as the direct market grows to accommodate this new, excitingly engaged audience who have a thirst for every genre from superheroes to SF, to horror, indeed, anything seems the limit as 1990 comes.

The British comic convention grows too. There’s now a Glasgow Comic Art Convention to complement the London based one, and smaller conventions and marts are all over the UK.

Comic publishers start springing up with the most successful being Image Comics who arrive on the scene in 1992 publishing a dynamic, if somewhat intellectually thin, set of superhero/adventure comics that cater to the growing speculator market.

Image were a speculators wet dream.Comics that came out one week would increase in value the week later by nonsensical amounts, so potentially you could make 1000% more than you paid for a comic. So companies started making comics ‘more collectable’ with special and variant covers at the expense of any sort of quality. The ‘Imagefication’ of mainstream comics brought the speculator into comics in droves and as more and more product was pumped out to be valued instantly higher than it should be. A bubble was forming that couldn’t last.

In the meantime the British comics convention was at its peak. More and more one day events were springing up from Gloucester to Cardiff to Newcastle to Belfast and of course, UKCAC and GLASCAC were running along nicely.

Then the bubble burst.

The industry couldn’t cope with the amount of product being pumped out and in fact, the industry was in a slow decline from around 93, but by 1996 the comics industry was in an awful place. Companies were going out of business, and Marvel (who were pushing out million selling comics at the start of the decade) hit a hard decline that saw them nearly going out of existence. Comic conventions and marts also suffered as the speculators moved onto whatever else they did which meant retailers had boxes of unsold copies of comics with special/variant covers and nobody to buy them.

In 1998, UKCAC moved from London to Manchester, while the Glasgow conventions were now long gone. For those of us who were there it was a fun event, but the feeling it was a wake hung around which leads us back to a bunch of us sitting in the bar contemplating latching onto a Babylon 5 convention in order to keep the idea of a large British comic convention alive.

Other ideas did come to the fore, including one which involved organising a show in Nottingham as London was too prohibitive in terms of cost. Things looked bleak as shops closed weekly while the marts in London and elsewhere were a struggle to turn a profit if you were a retailer but some light was at the end of the tunnel for the British comic convention.

1999 wasn’t just the last year of the old millennium, it was also in many ways the beginning of where we are today with the modern comic convention and it all started in Bristol.

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The Brief History of the British Comic Convention part two: London Calling

In the first part I briefly covered the birth of the British comic convention in 1968 in sunny Birmingham and the development of the British comics scene during the 1970’s. By the 1980’s the comic convention had settled into a pattern which would look somewhat more familiar to a post-cosplay era attendee than they may think with the panels, and of course dealers room, supplemented by the fancy dress parade

The 80’s opened with a variety of conventions and marts, including the Westminster marts in London which were a hub for fans and professionals to meet, with often fans crossing the line to become professionals themselves thanks to meeting the right people. These marts were also a hunting ground for organisers of the Glasgow comic marts in the 80’s who would lure the likes of Alan Moore or Steve Dillon north of the border with the promise of curry and beer.

By the mid-80’s it was clear a massive wave of talent was forming in the UK, and for conventions boom times were approaching. In 1986 the Birmingham Comic Art Show appeared which I’ve written about before.

Meanwhile in London, the UK Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) was also coming into its stride having a few years to find its feet, and audience. It quickly became the leading, and indeed, only large comics convention to be held regularly for the rest of the decade.

UKCAC’s influence is felt today by countless numbers of people probably unaware of it ever existing. If people hadn’t went to these conventions then they’d never have worked in the industry, or at least, found it hard to break into the industry. It was a crucible for future generations, plus they were enormous fun for pro, fan, retailer, or anyone casually attending in what was a boomtime for comics as a medium.

By the end of the 80’s everything looked peachy. Comics were getting the respect they deserved and the British industry ruled the world. The last decade of the millennium looked bright for the comic convention which had grown out of humble roots to something that promised bigger things as comics became more mainstream, and hey, the direct market was growing and that could only mean more sunshine ahead.

Next up, the 1990’s and it all goes tits up.

Come to East Kilbride Comic Con tomorrow and buy comics…

Tomorrow is the East Kilbride Comic Con held at East Kilbride central library. It is the night before a show and I am shockingly still bagging and pricing.

So come along tomorrow and make it all worthwhile for me, and oh, as it’s Free Comic Book Day, everyone buying something gets a free comic from a mystery box while stocks last…

 

What I thought of Action Comics #1000

80 years ago Action Comics #1 was published and the world of comics, indeed, the world at large, changed as Superman quickly became a massive success. The fact that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s creation is still with us speaks volumes about the strength of the character in how he relates to people.

1000 issues for an America comic is a landmark, though it does have to be said the only reason Action is hitting that landmark now ahead of Detective Comics (which started publishing first) is due to a period in the 1980’s when it was published weekly. On the whole DC Comics have managed to produce a fitting anniversary issue with the only real duffer being Brian Bendis’s first Superman story which is just a pretty standard fight scene with a cliffhanger ending which is to make you buy his new run.

The issue starts with a very 90’s feeling story by Dan Jurgens which isn’t substantial but reads nicely and reminds me how simple it is to write Superman if you don’t make him an arrogant prick.

Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s Never-Ending Battle is a lovely look through Superman’s history that consists of splash pages, and Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan team up in an unpublished story which reads like something from the 80’sand is again, a nice read. It’s also nice to see Curt Swan’s pencils (Jackson Guice inks him) again.

One of the highlights here is Geoff Johns and Richard Donner’s (the one who directed the 1978 film) The Car, drawn by Oliver Coipel. It deals with the story of that car Superman is smashing up on the cover of #1 and is quite literally the spirit of Superman in just a few pages.

Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerue’s The Fifth Season is a Superman/:Lex Luthor story which doesn’t quite hit the heights it aims for but Tom King and Clay Mann’s Of Tomorrow is wonderful. It reads like a coda to Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman which is no passing praise.

Five Minutes by Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway again reads like something from the 1990’s which isn’t to insult it. IN fact compared to DC’s current often awful storytelling in its comics, it’s a joy to read this as well as seeing the great Jerry Ordway doing what he’s best at.

The stand out gem and reason you should buy this is Actionland! by Paul Dini and the great Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. It is everything great about a period of Superman’s history done in a way that looks glorious.

Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday’s Faster Than A Speeding Bullet lives up to the title and this leads into the first Bendis Superman story which is the least substantial thing here.

Action Comics #1000 is a fitting tribute to the character and title that kicked off an entire industry that changed the lives of millions. For a title that’s often had less than stellar work in its pages over the decades (Superman quickly became the main focus for the character) this reminds us of the title’s anthology origins and how good Superman can be if done right. Here’s to seeing what happens over the next 1000 issues…

Everybody in the Place-Edinburgh Comic Con 2018

Last year I visited Edinburgh Comic Con as a mere punter, and being suitably impressed, took a table for this year’s event as I continue to build up my wee comics business since relocating back to Scotland after several decades. This would be by far the largest show I’ve done in Scotland since 1994 and a chance to kick-start things up a gear, so after some planning and some serious searching to throw in a few dozen or so comics that I’m certain would never have been offered on sale in a show in Scotland, I was ready.

The Friday before the show involved driving. That thankfully was being done by my friend Doug, but as we whisked between Edinburgh and Glasgow to pick up my stock and head back to a damp, foggy Edinburgh it hit us that as a capital city, Edinburgh was doing all it could to make it impossible for anyone unfamiliar with the city to find anywhere as there were no street signs, which added to the fact there was roadworks everywhere and on top of that there was a thick fog, what should have been an easy task was made a chore. Eventually we found the B&B I was staying at which was in 1975.

But it was a nice place that was decently priced in a city that knows how to extract cash out of people. Even more eventually we found the exhibition centre where the show was to be held. Once there some incredibly helpful staff unloaded the van and I proceeded to set up. That was pretty painless amazingly.

Here’s me looking cheery with the stock looking pretty bloody good if I don’t say so myself.

I really do look knackered, but then again I’d just spent a night sleeping in a bed from the 1970’s.

So that’s ten boxes of back issues, a box of variants, two boxes of Silver and Bronze age, a wall full of creamy goodness and loads of stuff under the table waiting to fill a hole.

The doors opened for advance ticket holders at 9.30am. Normally at a show I’d not expect any sort of surge til a good half hour, and as this was only a handful I was happy that I wouldn’t have to run around like a lunatic for a while and I could catch up more with Andy, a former AKA Books and Comics person who was helping me over the weekend.

Wrong. The table soon became busy, then hectic, then rammed as wave after wave of people descended to buy comics. Lots and lots of comics.Obvious titles like Deadpool, Walking Dead and the Avengers were selling but across the board and as for the Silver ad Bronze age, they were selling well. Now I wasn’t overpricing, or religiously adhering to the guide price. I wanted to make money but I also wanted to shift books so everything was priced to sell and sell they did.

That evening in the pub chatting to former AKA people, Steve Montgomery and John McShane I didn’t really manage to grasp just how well I’d done til the next morning when my table looked different.

At least a box of back issues had been sold, the wall flash was different having sold so much off it, and I could bring the packs off the floor. All in all the table looked good and things were going well.

The above is the table on the Sunday morning before the doors opened, and being where I was meant that people could see I sold comics quite easily. It was also open so I could chat, talk and pitch so easily it was an actual pleasure to work the show. Ok, there wasn’t a huge Avengers: Infinity War event, but frankly the film (which as of writing isn’t even out yet) has had such an obvious effect in getting people, especially kids, interested in comics (not bubble tea, or whatever tenuous link some shows and traders have with comics) as a source of entertainment and as a medium. The latter is important because while this book is happening the more kids who see comics for a medium to be explored the better so a huge thanks to organiser James Lundy and his crew who ensured that as a show, the medium of comics was dominant.

Edinburgh Comic Con proves a point that you can not just run a very, very good show in Scotland of this size (in 35 or so years of attending shows this is one of the best I’ve attended) but if you’ve got the stuff (and you know your comics) then you can draw people into the medium. And by the end of the show I was three boxes lighter, knackered and ready for a lot of time in bed sleeping.

I’d like to say more about the con but I can’t. I barely saw the show but what I did was full of people enjoying themselves, and best of all, reading comics. Even better than that, comics they’d bought from me…

Now, the next step in this wee journey. More on that another time but next year I’ll be back at Edinburgh in a much larger operation so more folk can get some comics that may well spark them to become a dealer, or even a creator so we have a next generation of fans who love the medium.

 

A short history of black superheroes on film

With Black Panther opening this month there’s a massive wave of excitement at a high profile black superhero having their own big budget film but T’Challa isn’t the first black hero to get on film.

First up is 1997’s Steel.

I know the trailer looks shite but trust me, the film is much, much worse.

Next up is Michael Jai White in Spawn, also from 1997 and marginally less shite than Steel, though not by much.

The less said about Halle Berry’s Catwoman film the better.

There’s also the likes of Hancock and err, Meteor Man to be briefly mentioned and discarded.

There are of course the odd one’s out with the first two Blade films which were actually really good. The first one apart from being a bloody good action film had much to say about class and race in its own wee way.

And the sequel was all about Guillermo del Toro having a shitload of fun.

Sadly, the third film was rubbish so moving on, can you see now what if you’re white there’s plenty of superheroes that look like you on the screen, but if you’re not there’s a small handful of mainly rubbish films and the odd two that stand out so for a large section of the population, Black Panther is a big deal.

We’ll no doubt see companies turn out more films featuring black heroes, and indeed, the Black Lightning TV series  is doing some good work but before we don’t see films like Black Panther as unusual there’s still a load of work to be done.

I’m waiting though for my 200 million dollar Brother Voodoo film.

How fans look like pricks part 2149: Marvel V DC

Marvel’s Black Panther film is coming out in a few weeks. It looks like it’ll manage to straddle the boundary between Marvel’s house style and something actually different for a superhero film.

Not content with just enjoying/ignoring the film, a group of DC fans are planning to ‘sabotage’ the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score. This raises a couple of points. Firstly using Rotten Tomatoes as a guide is pretty pointless as it rates critics who’ve an understanding and knowledge of film alongside Some Bloke who has a blog and is super-excited about the new Transformers film and likes all those old films from the 90’s.

As an aggregate of opinion it rates all opinion as equally valid when it isn’t. There lies the flaw so remember it when some arsehole quotes the site as some sort of empirical truth.

Secondly the ‘Marvel V DC’ thing got tired back in the 60’s. Truth is there’s always been a happy rivalry and remember, if DC hadn’t brought back its superheroes in the late 50’s to early 60’s then Marvel wouldn’t have thought of venturing away from western, romance and monster comics to do them themselves. Over the years creators have flitted from one company to the other all the time, plus there’s been cross-company collaborations on and off for the last 40 years.

I’m looking forward to Ryan Coogler’s film, but frankly reading of fans scheming to fix opinion is just another sad example of how fans can take their fanaticism too far to the point where they can’t enjoy things for what they are. Instead they have to ‘win’ and fight false wrongs.  It is a nonsense way to spend your existence on this planet but this won’t sadly be the last time a group of fans act like dicks because they don’t have anything better to do in life.