It’s time for honesty. Time for the GCC organisers to face a stark truth: 2015 may be a hugely significant year for the future of Glasgow Comic Con (GCC). It’s too early to know for sure, but its days as Scotland’s top event to meet comic creators may be over.
The build-up to GCC 2015 was very impressive, with imaginative additions to the schedules of previous years. Ambitiously, GCC greatly increased in size and scope, adding an extra venue and new events such as pre-con and after-con parties, screenings at the Glasgow Film Theatre, a must-see gallery showing of Millarworld art and a massive interactive project called The Big Comic Draw. It was fully intent on living up to its billing as Scotland’s Comic Book Festival.
The guest list was exciting. Legends and loyal mainstays John Wagner and Alan Grant would be returning, as would V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd for the second time. Watchmen colourist and Dredd artist John Higgins would be making his debut. The phenomenon that is Mark Millar would be signing on the Sunday afternoon. Amongst the international guests, the organisers pulled off the eye-opening coup of booking ultra-hot Spider-Gwen artist Robbi Rodriguez as the headliner, his first appearance on British soil. Marcio Takara was another major name that would draw the fans through the doors. Add to the mix Eisner Award-winning Cameron Stewart, popular con circuit regulars like Barry Kitson, and it was a guest list to make the mouth water.
GCC also continued its laudable commitment to creating opportunities for emerging and local talent, something the organisers, to their credit, have always devoted a lot of time and care to.
The positivity, however, unravelled in May with the retraction of every single international invitation, due, it was rumoured, to under-funding. Other guests also dropped out. In the end, the lengthy cancellation list read Robbie Rodriguez, Marcio Takara, Cameron Stewart, Leah Moore, John Wagner, Dan Cornwall, John Reppion, Hunt Emerson and, I was assured, others. (It was impossible to be sure about guest attendance without physically going round the four venues and taking a head count.)
There were little or no announcements or updates on either the GCC website or Facebook page. Names just quietly disappeared from posters or lists, and so many people were unaware of changes. Information on the website – which for some inexplicable reason still displays comments from the 2012, 2013 and 2014 cons – did not always match the Facebook page. Queries were usually ignored. Such was the secrecy and confusion, some fans, unsure of who was going and who was not, took matters into their own hands and contacted creators to check they were attending.
Inevitably, the cancellations, and the botched, unprofessional way it was handled, was a damaging blow, one that the event, for all its efforts, never really recovered from. One or two cancellations are to be expected at any con but this was a cull of main guests on an unprecedented scale.
On July 2, Scott Hood wrote the following on the GCC FB page (http://www.glasgowcomiccon.com/) and summed the situation up beautifully:
I was really disappointed to find out that eight of the originally advertised guests are not appearing. This leaves no North American creators at all at the convention, which is extremely disappointing compared to last year, when Gail Simone, Erik Larsen and Howard Chaykin, three legends[,] were in attendance.
I’m hoping I’ll still enjoy the convention but I’m expecting it to be poor in comparison to last year’s event.
This blunt but fair assessment received no comment. This is, unfortunately, typical. The GCC, as in other years, failed badly in terms of openness and communication with fans. They are stocking up a pool of ill will and distrust through this policy of ignoring unwelcome requests for information, especially when they relate to questions about guest attendance.
Nevertheless, the con itself was much like last year in terms of attendance, with the extra activities possibly helping to keep the numbers of attendees up. At the top level of the main venue, The Big Comic Draw project was a definite success. Its major plus was that it was truly all-ages, and many children had fun sketching out their character designs and adding them to the impressive wall display.
These pluses aside, with this shambolic episode of guest cancellations Scotland may have experienced a significant shift, with Edinburgh replacing Glasgow as the hub of comic cons. In 2014, both the Glasgow con and the inaugural Edinburgh con had excellent guest lists, although GCC maintained its status as the premiere con in Scotland.
By 2015, if you were wanting to meet international comic creators in Scotland, the only place was Edinburgh Comic Con. It really is remarkable the difference a year can make and this year’s debacle over guests makes a mockery of GCC’s claim to be the only true comic con north of the border. (ECC, incidentally, has just booked a new venue for next year, an impressive, multi-million pound conference centre, so clearly the organisers there are thinking – ominously for GCC – of bettering their own previous guest lists.)
It will be extremely interesting to see what happens in 2016. 2015 will go down as the year ECC replaced GCC as the premiere con in Scotland for high-profile comic-related guests. The only question is whether that becomes the status quo or whether GCC – the con that in the past has brought the likes of the legendary Jim Starlin to Scotland – comes back from this and re-establishes itself. Let’s hope so. Glasgow deserves better and Scotland deserves more than one con with a really top-notch guest list.
Review by anonymous