2016 – The year that true comic cons fight back?

There’s no doubt about it the world loves a comic con.  In the not-so-distant past, you would have to wait a year for a UK comic con to come by.  If you loved comics and creators, you got lucky mid-decade as another convention was added to the bill, giving you had the luxury of two a year.  We saw some amazing guests visit the shores of the UK over the previous decades.  Slowly but surely though we got more.  Many more.  In fact, according to our own calendar, the amount pretty much doubled from 2013 to 2014 alone and now stands at a staggering 70 events in year and counting.

There are many arguments as to what defines a ‘comic con’ and we’ve had tough conversations ourselves as to what is and isn’t listed.   Do you need big name creators or a lot of small press to earn the tag?  If there are stalls selling comics and related merchandise, is it fine to label the event a ‘comic con’?   We have our own opinions of course.

This year though, things felt a little like they were on the up for genuine comic events.  Sure, the pop culture behemoth rolls on (or off if Blackpool reports are to be believed) and the corporations will continue to make money spinning z-list actors from the 80s, but while there is a demand, why not?  But where things were less certain were actual conventions that focussed on comics.

Events have sought to redress this balance though, from Thought Bubble to LSCC, The Lakes and NICE well established and now ICE and the Birmingham Comics Festival as recurring comics-focussed events. The excellent news this week that the Bristol Expo is set to return and the continued focus of the smaller but no less dedicated events such as Leamington, Melksham and Nottingham is good news indeed for genuine comic fans.

NICE 2015: The perfect example of a PROPER comic convention

Best of the year to date and its going to take some beating!

The perfect comic convention to me has to have all of the following in generous quantity:

  • A full concentration on promoting what it says on the tin….COMICS…..not TV and Movie people, not cosplay, not stuff with no association with comics….. just comics!
  • An event where the guests are plainly enjoying the experience as much as the attendees
  • An event where the management is not obvious but where things go so well that you just know strong management is present
  • Nobody in your face shouting “5 items only !”, basically leaving the guests to work out with the attendees what is reasonable as a signing limit and just getting on with it
  • An event where the atmosphere is friendly, where there is definitely a “buzz” and where all the attendees are very plainly enjoying every minute
  • A good venue which is conducive to an event of this nature (and great weather to support the whole thing does not hurt)

How did NICE 2015 measure up on all the fronts listed above?  Read on!

Jeff Chahal, the organizer of this event, was beset with venue problems only a couple of months beforehand when he lost the Bedford Corn exchange, the usual home for NICE. The alternative solution at Bedford Rugby club was absolutely ideal and apart from excessive heat in a couple of areas inside the venue, worked so well that I actually ended up preferring this alternative to the first choice.

It seems to be the norm that guests do pull out at the last minute and NICE did lose a couple of UK guests and unavoidably one major US guest, Pascal Ferry, due to a family bereavement but everyone else on the list turned up which is no mean achievement. Moving forward, everything else about the event was just so positive.

It was completely obvious that all the guests were thoroughly enjoying themselves not just with the attendees but they were also getting the chance to talk to other guests. They were unobtrusively being well looked after by the organisers team which obviously helped matters and with freshly cooked food and all types of beverages available nearly all day long, nobody could ask for more. A huge tick for point 2

The event ran like clockwork with no obvious signs of management which has to be a huge tribute to Jeff and his excellent team. Lines formed for signings in the Pavilion and quickly dispersed with everybody getting the signatures and sketches that they needed. The 2 main guests, Brian K Vaughan and Garth Ennis had their own signing areas away from the Pavilion and both had long queues. I think that Brian was signing for over 6 hours over the 2 days but would not leave until everybody had their items signed. He remained engaged, interested and interesting in conversation from the first minute to the last. Garth also was his usual engaging self and also made sure everybody got his signature before finishing his stint. NO POLICING OF THE QUEUES! So many other events can learn from Jeff and his team. Another huge tick for both points 2 and 3

I got the strong impression that all the attendees really enjoyed themselves getting what they all wanted which was a full immersion into the world of comics for however long they were there. The beaming faces of people coming away with a prized Brian K Vaughan or Garth Ennis signature, the look on the faces of the 2 kids who were sketched by Gene Ha in their costumes (with the family cat thrown into the picture for good measure) and the pure joy on the face of the hardened sketch collector as he walked away clutching a superb  R.M. Guera sketch will remain with me for a long time. This was about comics and only comics. The atmosphere was perfect and it just cannot get better than that in my view.

Too many event organisers use the word “comic con” in the description of their event and many deserve to be scrutinised by trading standards because their events are nearly (in some cases absolutely) nothing to do with comics. Jeff Chahal’s NICE completely lives up to everything any comic enthusiast could want from a comic event. EVERY UK organiser of a Comic con (some more than others) can learn things from Jeff and his event.  If you are into comics, then just make your way to NICE 2016 to get a taste of a REAL comics event. It really should be your first diary entry for a 2016 Comic convention.

Blackpool Comic Con – The Aftermath

The pieces seem to be coming together to what can only be described as a shambles of a convention known as the Blackpool Comic Con, aka “THE COMIC CON CO LTD”, which was organised and run by Mr Luke Williams and Mr Patrick James O’Hare.

It seems now that the company will be going into liquidation, potentially owing thousands to local business and guests alike, not forgetting the general public who had worthless tickets.

It seems that the only way you might be able to get your money back would be claiming from your bank or credit card provider or if you purchased through Paypal and opening a dispute.

There is a dedicated group on facebook that has been set up should you wish for more information and also to read the accounts of people that have been left hanging for money owed by the organisers.

As of this time no information has been forthcoming from Blackpool Comic Con.