Part 1: London Super Comic Con
This is a very difficult review to write as I have loved the annual visit to London Super Comic Con and this has probably been the largest UK con over the past few years, with big guests from the USA each and every year. The following comments are made against the very high standards set by the Con over the previous years.
Let’s start with what was good. On the face of it, a great guest list headed by Brian Michael Bendis and supported by Jae Lee, Terry Dodson, Tyler Kirkham, Gabrielle Dell’otto and a host of other artists and writers. A new venue for LSCC, away from the Excel at the Business Design Centre, meant that the con was not venue sharing with other events. The support staff were absolutely brilliant throughout the three days, particularly those handling the main signing area as they remained calm and pleasant despite the pressure of lots of visitors queuing.
Problems with the event were apparent from the first announcement of the date. Moving from the usual February / March slot to an already convention crammed late Summer, in the middle of School holidays was dangerous, as was the factoring in of the huge cost for out-of-towners to stay in central London on a bank holiday weekend. This meant that attendances were always going to be affected. Adding in the effect of Euston station being closed over the whole weekend, stopping customers travelling in from the North West and parts of the Midlands, stacked against LSCC.
I should make special mention of Jeff Chalal at this point, who withdrew the much beloved NICE con this year because of the Con congestion, for which I hope LSCC, ICE and Thoughtbubble have duly thanked him.
Turning up early to queue on all three mornings confirmed my worst fears about attendances. Past LSCC events have seen early queues stretch for many 100s of yards, even an hour before early entry. I arrived to find the longest queue on the Saturday to be of no more than 100 yards, the other two days were less than 50 yards. From a personal point of view, the massively lower attendances were great as it meant shorter lines for signatures, but my concerns are always for the viability of the important UK cons so that they continue and this did not look good.
A second early indication of issues came with the first announcement of the signing schedules. Three one-hour slots for B. M. Bendis were never going to be enough, plus massively limited and expensive access to two other main guests, J. Lee and G. Dell ‘Otto through Scott’s collectibles, was always going to be a major issue. More on that a little later.
Most of the guests were separated away from the main convention floor in a separate room on a different floor. There has always been a massive buzz and atmosphere at the Excel LSCC events which added to the excitement of attending. I’m afraid that this was completely lacking this year as the atmosphere in both areas was sadly flat and lacking. It is difficult with the venue layout to see how the separation, which in my view caused the latter, could have been avoided, but it was very sad to see this fall from the usual standard.
Moving back to the positives. The vast majority of guests in their area were absolutely marvellous, all signing, sketching and chatting to attendees. Dan Slott was his usual effervescent self, Terry Dodson and Tyler Kirkham were both eminently approachable and interesting to talk to. I personally enjoyed chatting to Mike Krome, Sabine Rich, Alison Sampson, Trevor Hairsine and Lee Bermejo who were all excellent.
Staying with the positives, all the guests signing in their slots on the main floor were excellent, approachable and signed away quite happily. Special mention to Terry Dodson in this area who was magnificent in the amount of books with an odd sketch thrown in that he covered in his signing slots.
The issue with B. M. Bendis which I think threatened to colour the whole event in a bad way, actually turned in the most part to be a major positive because Brian took it upon himself to change his signing slots. On each day he started signing early and did at least 2 hours each day to cover the massive queues to see him. Apart from the Sunday when a badly advertised new ticketing system was introduced, which completely caught out a few Sunday only visitors, I think everyone attending the Con got to see him at least once. I hate to think what this would have been like with attendance numbers at a normal level.
I’m afraid that the same positive comments cannot be made about the guests (apart from Guillem March who was available at all times) at the Scott’s collectible stand. Jae Lee was the worst of the two, only taking part in ONE open signing session on the Saturday. Guests only visiting on the Friday or Sunday had to pay £5 to get a signature. Gabrielle Dell ‘Otto was a little better in that on the Friday, the one free signature only was relaxed to five, which helped some attendees. However, guests arriving on the Saturday were restricted to a single free signature limited to just two one-hour sessions, with a significant purchase required to get another free one. Those there on Sunday only did not even get that opportunity as I understand he was just sketching all day.
I did ask why there was this policy for these two major guests, to be told that this policy was dictated by them. Whether the reader believes that or not, I’ll leave to you, but my own view is that if third parties are sponsoring guest attendances (which may have been the case here), then they have an expectation of making money back. I would not have too much of a problem with this IF all the advertising for the conference makes it absolutely clear that there is very limited public unpaid access to these guests and that this access costs. Plainly those people attending on the Friday and Sunday were badly let down. I’ll leave the reader to think about whether third-party sponsoring of guests is something that should be considered or not by other UK con organisers given the experiences here.
Readers of my reviews will know that I have an issue with severely limiting and then charging for signatures, particularly if the guest is receiving support from the Con to attend. Given that this year’s LSCC was the worst ever UK con so far for this problem, it will be very interesting to see what happened at ICE and Thoughtbubble as a comparison.
Despite the issues, I still enjoyed this year’s LSCC. It was a way short of its usual impeccably high standards and you have to worry for its future with the obvious lower attendance this year. A return to the Excel moving back to its Spring slot would be the best option for most attendees but rumours are circulating that either that was the last ever LSCC or that it is joining up with London Film and Comic Con for 2018 to provide the comic part of that show. Either option will be a sad end to an event that has given great pleasure to thousands of comic fans but I hope that the event will continue. We cannot afford to lose events of the stature of LSCC from the true Comic convention calendar.