Not all comic conventions revolve around the latest talent or legendary creators, there is a growing swell and increase in popularity of ‘small press’ events; celebrations of the independents who so frequently give all for a variety of different reasons. One of these events is the Mancster Con, a voluntarily run organisation dedicated to bringing together the best of the independent sequential art scene in the North West.
We tracked down two of the organisers, Florence Okoye and Alun Hackett, and found out what makes them tick.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview. Tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement with sequential art.
FO: My name is Florence Okoye and I’m one of the co-founders of MancsterCon. I’ve been drawing comics for as long as I can remember, but first got into the convention scene when I was around 15. Most of the comics I read were webcomics, with the odd DC stuff I borrowed from my brother thrown in. I’m a big anime and manga nut, graduating from Ironfist Chinmi and Pokemon to DragonBall Z.
AH: My name is Arun Hackett, I’m the Producer of MancsterCon and co-founder along with Florence. I’ve been a life long fan of comics, animation and film. I ran a graphic novel book club in Manchester for 4 years. I do dabble in producing in the form of drawing and writing webcomics. At the moment, I am creating my first webcomic.
Can you tell us what Mancster Con is about? Where did the idea come from?
AH: To put it succinctly, MancsterCon is a convention to celebrate and support independent artists, creators and animators in and around the North West. The idea for this convention came about in a conversation when we discussed (as you do) the fact that London seems to get the best of everything. We started discussing what we thought a convention organised by us would look like and a few days later, I tweeted Florence about just going for it. 3 years later and we are working on our third convention.
FO: Pretty much. Another major thing for me was that whilst I love the big Expos, I really missed the feel of conventions like the ‘Webcomics Thing’ which I’d attended when I still lived in London. I’m one of those really annoying critical-theory-geeks so I also wanted to start events that encouraged people involved across the field – whether artists, writers, programmers, experience designers, academics, whatever – to get together and have interesting conversations about narrative and multi media storytelling… there’s a lot of cool stuff happening in Manchester and we wanted to be a point of connection.
Manchester doesn’t immediately conjure up ‘comics’, although there is an obvious artistic connection through other sources. What is the comic scene like in Manchester for both indies and mainstream?
FO: I have to be honest, I didn’t really know much about the comics scene in Manchester either when I first arrived. As someone who tended to follow webcomics, especially the more alternative stuff, it almost didn’t matter because if I had a scene, it was more virtual.
Essentially, I think Manchester is a great place for comics. There’s always been a strong zine tradition as well, which perhaps cloaks the abundance of comicking going on, as the two are so naturally entwined. I’m not sure. Either way from where we are, the scene is incredibly vibrant and rapidly evolving.
AH: The Manchester comic scene really is a gold mine of underground, under appreciated gems. We are slowly growing in recognition with groups like Great Beast comics doing lots to give the comic scene the acknowledgement it deserves but I do think comic art – and the arts in general to be honest – still have this ‘its all happening in London’ feel. There is a larger online presence with classic comic creations like the Everyday by Adam Cadwell, Ellerbisms by Marc Ellerby and the ongoing masterpiece called Scary Go Round by John Allison.
The country is awash with conventions, both big and small, and our calendar is bulging at the seams with choice. What’re your favourite events?
AH: I really love ThoughtBubble, a Leeds based comic convention full of indie stuff. I love the variety that is there from autobiographical comics, comics made by kids and all sorts.
FO: Yes, ThoughtBubble for the win! I like attending the other indie cons as well. There’s a new one in Leamington Spa which is really friendly and is a great example of how to get the local community more aware of their friendly neighbourhood comic artists!
My favourite was the Birmingham Comic Con. I do think the big MCM cons are cool for meeting cosplayers but the one I’m really looking forward to this year is the International Comics Expo.
What do the organisers at MancsterCon have on their ‘pull list’?
AH: If by ‘pull list’ you mean “what do I read” That’s tricky as I read from almost anything. Ever since I found out a lot of libraries have large Graphic Novel and Manga Libraries, I am continuously going in and getting something new to read. I also have a graphic novel “stock pile” on top of one of my book shelves which I know is going to collapse and yet I keep adding stuff on.
My single issues does contain marvel, DC and image. My stand outs are Invincible, the X men comics (which have been excellent of recent), Blood Blokes (produced by Adam Cadwell) and anything which the comic clerk says is good, for example, the recent Howard the Duck series. Also, any autobiographical comics.
FO: I’m currently obsessed with an alternative history manga called ‘Ooku: The Inner Chambers’ by Fumi Yoshinaga so I’m awaiting news of when volume 11 gets released. ‘The Wicked and the Divine’ has also proved to be pretty cool, so I’m keeping a beady eye on upcoming issues. There’s also ‘Descender’ by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. I’m completely suckered in by the beautiful art and themes and writing… Gorgeous stuff!
Finally, who should we be looking out for at your event? Who are the big shakers on the independent scene?
AH: I am excited about this year because we have such a wide variety of creators. We have James Lawrence, Andrew Tunney and Josie Mendoza (who runs Cute & Quirky Girl, an amazing jewellery shop) who attended our previous con, but we’ve also got writers like Ninfa Hayes, Miriam Khan and R.A. Smith. Adam Cadwell will also be speaking at the con, which is pretty damn cool as he (indirectly!) helped inspire the event. It’s very exciting and makes me proud to have been part of this from the start.
FO: We’ll be hosting Asia Alfasi, who is an incredibly inspiring speaker as well as a wonderful artist. Rozi Hathaway will also be exhibiting as well as taking part in a panel about succeeding as an indie comics creator. She’s definitely a breakout for me and she exemplifies everything I really admire in comics creators, i.e. using the medium to tell new stories and share ideas with a wider audience. Tom Ward, the writer of Merrick will also be at the con. Again, he’s someone who’s gone from strength to strength, getting amazing reviews for Merrick: The Sensational Elephant Man and working on some other impressive projects.
Many thanks to Florence and Alun for sharing their time with us.
MancsterCon 2015 will be held on 29th August at the University of Salford, Media City Campus.