Frequent visitors to the site will know that me and Bristol go back a long way. It is a laid-back, well intentioned con that offers a little bit of something for everyone. It’s not particularly big, it’s not particularly star-focused, it’s not overly cosplay driven and it’s not dominated by the gaming world. It has a good mix of artists and writers, small press sellers, merchandise stalls and gaming stalls. What it’s not is overly serious (whether by design or not). You genuinely get the feeling that lots of the people that come through the doors are experiencing their first convention, that it is something new and fresh in town and people have decided to ‘drop by’. In many respects not unlike the MCM Comic Cons but more accessible to the average person and without the tedious queues and sardine like mentality that prevails at their events. Again in comparison to the MCM style events, the stars of the show are leaps above what the rolling corporate behemoth can attract. The likes of Ian Churchill, Ian Gibson, Boo Cook, Mark Buckingham, Ben Oliver, Lee Garbett and Pier Gallo all shared the artists’ alley, a feat no MCM or Memorabilia event has yet to achieve despite the massive financial difference. Some bemoaned the lack of big names at the expo this year, but you’d do well to remember that five years ago, absolutely no-one queued for Charlie Adlard. Or Duncan Fegredo. Or Sean Phillips. What aren’t necessarily big names today are tomorrows hall fillers at LSCC or Thought Bubble. Newcomers to the convention scene have a tendency to miss the point in this regard whilst the old hands walk round with portfolio pieces from some rather big names in Bristol’s past history.
This year seemingly saw plenty more people through the door on the Saturday than last year for certain. The Expo was positively vibrant and despite being in a queue halfway around the corner, I pretty much had the choice of who to walk over to in the artists’ alley. If there was one small gripe, the assistants walking around weren’t at all familiar with what was happening within the hall itself and little to no communication on the events in the Ramada (or whatever the new name is!) was available. Looking for the Jedi talk for example was something of a chore, despite asking the nearest two helpers where it was. Luckily, someone had posted the relevant information on the wall in the hallway leading into the event so I was able to use my plan reading skills to expertly navigate the expo and find the room but it was an unnecessary effort. The traditional ‘gift bag’ on entry was possibly the poorest I have seen, despite containing a complete paperback book. These are small gripes though.
The Sunday was much quieter and unfortunately, lacking the legend that was Ian Gibson due to illness. This did however leave all the remaining artists there to take advantage of getting sketches from. The other beauty too, was that there was no London weighting on the artists pieces. Fifty notes would have filled a portfolio here yet you would have struggled to procure a headshot at LSCC for that price.
All said and done, the Bristol Expo is a good, fun day out in a laid back and great city. It doesn’t have the stars that others attract, but it was £10 for the entire weekend. Once inside, you can get food, drink, a seat and a handful of comics for another £10. Drop another £10 on that and you got a great sketch from the insanely talented Ben Oliver. Another £5 for a Henry Flint Dark Judge special and merely a donation to the wonderfully versatile and all-round good guy, Boo Cook. You also get time to chat with the artists as they weren’t under the pressure they are usually subject to at the larger cons with queues stretching the length of the hall.
Last year Bristol had detractors and yet we thoroughly enjoyed it. This year it once again had detractors yet again, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Next year it would be nice to see some new faces, but to be honest, with so many different conventions now up and down the country, it’s nice to go to one that’s not so pressurised and more like a weekend away with friends. You want Neal Adams? Then of course you have to go to London and pay ridiculous sums of money for the privilege. You want a weekend away with friends, a bunch of sketches, a bagful of comics, a chat with the artists and still have enough money left over for a curry at the end of the day? Then you can do a lot worse than a visit to Bristol.