What I thought of the Bristol Comics Expo 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bristol Comics Expo 2014 is upon us.

It’s that time of the year when I strap on the retailer shorts and sell comics for one weekend only like a sad comic book version of Keith Richards slapping on a guitar but not as exciting or old. I’ve had some worries over the way the Expo has been run over the last few years, and I’ve recanted them a bit after last year.

I’ve concerns about this year. There’s a new location at the Future Inn by Cabot Circus which is actually a good location with a lot of passing traffic so obviously you don’t sell tickets on the door as I believe they won’t be. There’s also a pretty thin events programme which I suppose is good for us retailers.

So for the next few days it’s lugging around boxes, selling comics and drinking while not sleeping much. A report to follow after it’s all over and done…..

The Eisnercon-Glasgow’s First Comic Convention

eisnerconI mentioned in an early blog post about the Eisnercon, and went into detail about GLASCAC but haven’t said anything about the first real comic convention Glasgow held in 1985. This isn’t to say Glasgow didn’t have large comic related events, it did, but they were either the large Marts that the comic shop, AKA organised, or the signing sessions held at AKA featuring a lot of the rising British talent of the time but there wasn’t the big convention of the type we’d be familiar with today.

By the mid-80’s Glasgow was well established for holding regular SF conventions with Albacon being the regular one held over a weekend during Glasgow’s Fair Fortnight, which grew out of the original Faircon which is (and will be) a blog in itself. Anyhow the idea from John McShane, Pete Root and the others at AKA was to organise a large 3-day convention along the same lines as what was being done with SF conventions and to have a full programme of events, dealers room, film room (ended up being a video room but more on this later) and of course, a bar which would never, ever close unless it ran out of beer.

The convention was to be in the Central Hotel in Glasgow mainly because this is where the SF conventions had made a home so the management and staff were used to working with such events and that it was a cheapish, good central location. It also helped reduce the risks as although comic conventions were fairly common and frequent south of the border they also fell quickly by the wayside in a lot of cases, so a good location was paramount as was a good guest list which could be counted on with AKA’s connections but the convention needed an American guest for credibility and it got Will Eisner.

I’m going to have to make a confession here that I vaguely knew Eisner because of The Spirit, and his influence upon Frank Miller’s work but I really didn’t know much else even though I was by now firmly embedded in AKA and John McShane and several other customers adored his work. I was moving away from being a superhero reader only thanks to titles like Love & Rockets but it was still early days however this convention would change a lot of my reading habits forever.

John had managed to get Eisner as the main guest along with Marv Wolfman who was still riding high from Crisis on Infinite Earths, while we had Bryan Talbot as the main British guest along with a couple of dozen others including Alan Davis, Alan Moore, and Alan Grant. This was a huge deal getting someone of Eisner’s stature and the British guest list would still pack out halls today so anticupation was huge.

One day sitting around AKA various jobs were being bandied around so people could do them and I fancied my hand at doing the film room, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford getting a projectors, films and paying for them, so we downscaled to a video room. One of AKA’s customers was a chap by the name of Hugh Campbell who used to do a nice wee fanzine called Fusion. Yes, this is a Grant Morrison cover of Kid Marvelman…

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It also used to be printed and assembled in the back shop of AKA and I did one issue, #5 I think, but it was a splendid fanzine which Hugh did a great job with. Hugh also had an amazing collection of VHS videos, including some pre Video Nasty versions of films which instantly appealed to the gorehound that I was back in those days, but the idea was to get a programme to appeal to everyone & to run it really late, or indeed all night, which meant people could kip in the room overnight.  The Central were amazingly accommodating and to this day I’m amazed at the stuff they let pass during the conventions they had there.

We publicised the convention in the shop, not to mention the other shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh, plus in the comic press and anywhere we could. Expectations were high and we’d tried to make it as affordable as possible, but advanced numbers weren’t what everyone hoped but there was still the will with everyone involved with AKA to make it work, plus we didn’t know what would happen on the weekend itself.

By the time the weekend came I’d got around 40-50 films from Hugh and built up a programme which I thought would go down well with things like the Superman films, Blade Runner, and  of course, a few Video Nasties. I’d also got myself a few minions to help and to allow me to dive out to the bar.

If all this sounds fun can I point out that organising convention can be fun but it’s also extraordinary hard work, not to mention that if something fucks up (as it did) then you’re held responsible and people will delight in telling you that but thankfully the convention came and went along it’s way quite smoothly considering that we were all utterly and totally blagging it as running a 3-day con with all it entails is an entirely different beast to running a mart.

As for Will Eisner he was a complete gentleman who had time for everyone including the tosser who thought he could tell him about perspective! How can some spotty faced wee wanker tell the man who drew this about perspective?!

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Moving on…

The video room was going well with the odd technical problem being dealt with as and when but I’d worked out that if I put really long films on in the evening then it’d give me time to grab some food, or a drink or get my head down for an hour or so. There was also an incident with a young girl who became upset by a scene near the start of the film The Howling which features an extreme scene of rape which takes place on a TV screen in the background of one scene. I hadn’t thought of that incident for years til being reminded of it.

The main programme consisted of talks & a lot of Eisner doing classes in drawing which were amazing to watch as the man was a genius. I don’t really remember much else of the programme as I was busy/sleeping/drunk but what I saw was fun, but the dealers room seemed awfully thin of customers. In fact the honest truth was the entire weekend was thin on the ground when it came to attendees with a rough estimate of 300 or so people there over the 3-day event.

It didn’t make it’s money back. It may have been an artistic success but AKA couldn’t afford to bankroll another one so we fell back on signing sessions and the bigger marts and there wouldn’t be a big convention in Glasgow again til 1990.

Looking back at it I suppose you could say it was ahead of it’s time and you’d be right. Had it been held in 1988 then things would have been very different but it was influential in helping some Glasgow based creators get some connections, plus Eisner’s classes clearly influenced some people to take up drawing but it’s sadly fell down the back of the sofa of history and been forgotten about. I’d like to get more stories from it as it’s an important bit of British comics history that needs to be fleshed out, so if anyone reading this wants to add anything then feel free to contact me as I consider this very much a work in progress…

The Rise and Fall of the Glasgow Comics Art Convention part three

Part one. Part two.

And here we are finally arriving at 1994 and things are all a bit odd, so stick with me as there’s a bit of background needed for this one.

I’m in another bit of a limbo situation after coming back to Leicester from working in Bristol for a bit, but I was still helping the lads out at London comic marts and it was at one on Sunday the 6th of February 1994 that Chris (one of the two owners of Comics and CD’s along with Marr for those who haven’t kept up) broke it to me that we’d be doing that year’s Glasgow Comic Art Convention (GLASCAC) next month & do I want to work it? Obviously the answer was yes, so I remember jumping back onto the bus back to Leicester to head to the legendary Pump & tap for what was my birthday drinking session. See, that’s why I remembered the date perfectly!, but back to the Pump and Tap..

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As it was a Sunday I wasn’t expecting a lot of people, but was nicely surprised by the turnout, but the most impressive thing that Amanda had turned up out of the blue. Now I’ll go into the full tale of Amanda and myself another time, but I’d admired her from afar for bloody months, if not years until one night I was in another Leicester pub (the late lamented Magazine) with my then landlady Kate for a drink and her and Kate got chatting while I was in the loo. I joined in the chat, discovered we got on like the proverbial house on fire and invited her down to the Pump for my birthday, which she did. As said, I’ll tell the full story of us another time but to cut things short we started seeing each other from the night of my birthday.

Groovy.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’d asked Amanda if she wanted to come with me to Glasgow, which she resoundingly said yes, but as we were both relatively skint I couldn’t afford the train, so got the bus, though she got travelsick in cars, so forked out for a train. This meant we had the situation where I left first to go to Glasgow, but Amanda would pull into Glasgow hours before me, so after a phone call to Andy Sweeney (one of the AKA crowd I’ve mentioned often before) I’d left it so that Andy would meet Amanda at Central Station (seeing as she had red dreads and piercings before such things became fashionable, she would have been easy to spot) and decant to a pub where I’d eventually join him. I’d also asked him if we could crash somewhere which he said he’d sort out.

With this all planned I started my long and painful bus journey to Glasgow on a clear spring day, while Amanda jumped her train to Glasgow, and in these pre-mobile days all we had was trust in people’s abilities so as my bus pulled off the motorway into Glasgow I hoped everything was alright. I hadn’t anything to worry about as Andy had excelled himself and rescued Amanda from the throngs of Central Station, but placed her in the care of Bridget, his partner of the time, and her sister Magz and her partner, Gary Erskine and few others. Andy had managed to get us a place to crash at Gary’s flat for the first few days, then the rest of the week or so we were there at Bridget’s which meant a flit across Glasgow but it made sense in retrospect as Gary lives a long way from where the con was being held, and Bridget was much nearer.

The plan for the first few days was to show Amanda the sights of Glasgow and then on the Friday, meet up with Marr and Neil (one of the remaining Comics and CD’s staff) at the Central Hotel (where Marr and myself had stayed two years earlier) on Friday to help unload and set up for the weekend. I’d also brought up a load of comics of my own to sell and I had a feeling Amanda and myself would run out of cash which turned out to be perfectly correct, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first few days were great as I showed Amanda around Glasgow, even taking her to Maryhill to show her where I came from which is the only time I’ve done that with a girlfriend. She also had to get used to Glasgow’s climate which at the best of times is erratic but in spring it’s all over the place so she got sun, snow, rain and hail all in the same few hours but walking through Kelvingrove Park in the snow was, and is a wonderful sight to behold.

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In the evening we met up with Gary and Magz before heading back to their flat to crash as the next day we had to flit over to Bridget’s flat. This is when Amanda had forgotten to take her medication to had a wee scare which wasn’t helped by both of us being horribly drunk, but I managed to calm her down the next morning and we packed up our stuff from Gary’s flat and headed off to meet Bridget and crash at hers for the remainder or our stay in Glasgow. That was after another day going round the city, this time in the city centre where we got wolf whistled by builders near Glasgow Green for snogging. To this day this is the only time I’ve been whistled at by a builder.

Money was starting to get tight as we were in the pub or eating out or going around the city like crazed loons, but I’d told Amanda I’d make a mint off the comics I brought and not to worry and I suppose she had faith in me, so she went along for the ride. As the Friday dawned I left Amanda with Andy at AKA as I met Marr and Neil at the Central to escort them to the venue which was a hotel which is now a Jury’s on Jamaica Street, so we could unload and set up which was a bit of a task, but the three of us did it, and I went back to pick up Amanda from the pub she, Andy, Bridget, etc were in so she could meet Marr and Neil and get ready for the weekend, and of course drink more beer. She later said when we got back to Leicester that she’d never drank as much in her life up til then, and to be honest, it was a pretty hardcore week but overwhelmingly fun.

Bridget had kindly let Amanda and myself crash in her bed for the Friday by ourselves while she kipped on her pull-down bed as we’d left the pub early as we (I’d tried to convince Marr that Amanda could help up and she pulled an innocent smile which worked on him)  had to get up early on Saturday morning to finish setting up, plus I had to price up my comics (I’d brought up around 50 or so quality items) but Amanda brought up on the way back from the pub on Friday night she was down to a few quid and I only had a fiver and some change left so I really needed to sell some comics on the Saturday (we’d not get paid from Marr til the Sunday assuming we made our money back) and get us some cash in our pockets for the Saturday party at the convention hotel which is normally a wonderful affair.

I remember giving her my last few quid to get everyone some teas and coffees and then pricing my comics up in the hope they’d sell ASAP. As we were setting up Neil pointed out that Amanda was getting some attention from the other dealers, then I remembered that I’d brought a woman into the lion’s den and a female at a comic convention was rare back then. but one behind the dealers tables was virtually unheard of at the time. This however, gave us an advantage as once the doors opened and the fanboys poured in we noticed the fanboys would hang around our tables trying to cop a look of Amanda which saw Marr and myself drag Amanda into a serving position right in the middle of our huge amount of tables while I took my position at the end where my own comics were plastered on the wall display.

The con was busy, very very busy. In fact it was the busiest GLASCAC out of the three I attended, and like 1992 we were coining it, not to mention pissing off Glasgow dealers who were overpriced but pissed off at us selling stuff for cheap and in bulk though again, Pete Root of AKA took advantage of this to clean us out of some titles.I’d also sold a few of my own comics, and got about 30 quid in my pocket, and by midday that 30 quid had grown to 70, and I’d barely touched my pile of comics, so I was frantically replacing one comic I’d sold on the wall with another, and selling that. By one ish I’d hit 100 quid, and I told Amanda how much we’d made so bunged her 30 quid as she wanted to go back up to the West End to go round the bookshops for a couple of hours as the smell of sweaty fanboys was annoying her, and now the rush had died down the rest of us could cope with things.

That isn’t to say she hated being there, she was hanging round the bar with Andy and Bridget, and also she’d made friends with the Bastard Bunny table opposite us who were trying to convince her to do some modelling for their merchandise. More on this later….

The Saturday afternoon moved on and we were having a storming con. We were selling boxes and boxes of stuff which was great as this meant less to load up on the Sunday going back and of course, more cash in the till. Late in the afternoon Amanda came back after being sunburnt and caught in a snowstorm on the same day.

Ah, spring in Glasgow….

Once Amanda returned, I took the opportunity to dive into the bar for a few bevvies and to mingle with people, not to mention take stock of mow much cash I’d made which turned out to be quite a bit. In fact, if I ended up selling everything I had left at even half price I’d end up going home with more money than I came up with, so flush with this knowledge I necked another beer or three and headed back to our tables where Marr and Amanda were merrily chatting away and serving punters. Amanda told me she’d sold another 40 quids worth of my comics, so in that first day we’d made nearly 150 quid. Not bad for a days work!

The day drew to a close which meant heading back to the bar for a few more drinks, before getting something to eat (which considering how skint we were in the morning was an achievement) before heading to the hotel bar for a session. There we mingled with the stars, but it seemed to mainly consist of drinking an awful lot, which by now was taking it’s toll on Amanda who was ready to pass out.

See, this is the thing and the big difference between British and American conventions. In the US it’s all about the day, but here it’s about getting the day over with so you can get into the bar ASAP, and of course, sneak a session in during the day. It’s a hard regime which she wasn’t used to and seeing as Dez Skinn wasn’t going to, errr, let us use his hotel room, we headed back to Bridget’s flat to crash leaving everyone drinking heavily.

The next day was the last day which meant hangovers and the hassle of packing up. We prepared for this by having a wee wander through Glasgow in the early morning  on the way to the con and having a nice wee bit of breakfast by the Clyde, before diving back into the con for the last day.

Surprisingly for a last day it was busy, very busy. It also came as a surprise when I was told that Frank Plowright (the organiser) was thinking of knocking the Glasgow conventions on the head and that the following year was likely to be the last as it was too much stress organising two big conventions a year basically by himself which was and is, an amazing task.

That would set the tone somewhat for the rest of the con which turned into something like the last day of school with people’s trousers being stolen and nearly thrown into the Clyde (only returned after the owner had to pay a tramp two quid for them) , and other pranks galore. Mainly though it involved selling more comics, including selling everything I brought up which meant several hundred quid profit, plus whatever Marr paid me for the weekend.

In the meantime Amanda was still be lured by the Bastard Bunny people to do something for her, so I bought he a spiffy BB woolly hat, and we agreed we’d do something when we got back to Leicester and get in touch with them to see where we go from there. Before then we had to pack up which we did fairly quickly which meant Marr and Neil could head back to Bristol in good time, and Marr didn’t just pay myself but gave Amanda some cash for helping out which helped make a good week even better for her.

I’ve spoken before what the last day at a con feels like, but this was like the best party in the world and a wake at the same time. We didn’t want to leave. Seriously. If Bridget or Andy or anyone in Glasgow had said ‘stay here and leave your lives in Leicester behind’ we would have, and we actually discussed doing something like that, albeit drunkenly. But we didn’t so we just had a few drinks on the last night, before leaving early as we were heading back to Leicester the next day, which was probably for the best as we were getting too cosy in Bridget’s flat (plus we wanted our bed/s), so we said our farewells and slinked off because we didn’t want a big farewell, and we were getting a bit teary.

Next morning Amanda saw me off at the bus station as she was get the train back, which gave her an hour or so to say her farewells to Glasgow before getting the train which would see her arrive before me. We’d agreed to stay at our separate homes the night we got back but I swung by where she lived and that agreement went out the window.

As for GLASCAC, the 1995 con was the last one. I didn’t go, but I would return to Glasgow for that summer’s T in the Park festival, but Glasgow would be without a big comic convention for some time, but with the passing of GLASCAC a bit of comic history passed on. It’s not often spoken about now among the cosplay and nerd love of modern conventions, not to mention the fact most cons now do seem to be tied up with things outside comics which is a bit problematic for me, but then I’m old school. As far as I know this series of blogs are the only history of GLASCAC knocking around the net and that’s a shame so if anyone stumbles across these blogs who do want to add something, then feel free. I’d love it.

And oh, Amanda and myself did a series of pictures with her modelling the Bastard Bunny hat which means I fulfil the promise I made a time ago to explain the following picture….

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There’s more pictures I could put up but I love that one most of all. It’s just fun and we had a great day doing those pictures. Pity we didn’t get round to sending them to Bastard Bunny for a variety of reasons but it felt like an opportunity lost, but then again much of that time felt like an opportunity lost….