So, the question hanging in the air after last year was how will Glasgow Comic Con, held over the weekend of 2-3 July, react to being bumped to #2 on the list of top Scottish comic cons?
No grumbles from me about a guest list that includes David Aja, Marguerite Bennett, Dave Gibbons, Kate Leth, Nigel Parkinson, Goran Parlov, Frank Quitely, Cameron Stewart, Rachael Stott and the legends that are John Wagner and Alan Grant. Another attendee also commented how happy she was to see such a strong female representation.
There was the usual promotion of local and emerging talent, including rising star Tom Foster who recently created his first cover for 2000AD, an image that is destined to become a classic pose for the Big Meg’s number one lawman.
Perhaps the first and biggest priority for GCC was finding a new venue and this year. They relocated from the cramped confines of the CCA and its satellite venues to Glasgow’s Concert Hall, a central location custom built for large crowds. Whether this was prompted by main competitor Edinburgh Comic Con (ECC) moving this year to its own shiny convention centre or not, it was the right decision. There was ample room to queue and the days of dodging people with trays of coffee and Empire biscuits while waiting for Howard Chaykin to draw an amorous couple making inventive use of a greengrocer’s display were over.
The general improvement in location was no more obvious that with the panel room. Often at cons a screen blocks the view of a panel but it utterly fails to prevent distracting background noise that can drown out what anyone is saying. This is a great problem at the larger London cons especially. Not so at the Concert Hall. Panels were intimate and undisturbed, with the shared panel starring Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely a memorable highlight.
Also crucial to a successful convention is ensuring that the guest list is honoured. If you recall, last year was the debacle with the mass cancellations. Not by guests, but by the organisers. This year the advertised guests did attend – although there was a lot of very late arrivals on Sunday. Nevertheless, the headliners like David Aja, Goran Parlov and Cameron Stewart were very welcome and repaired a lot of the damaged credibility of last year.
Aja in particular was hugely accommodating and friendly – he was also, it should be noted, one of the guests who arrived on time on both days – and happily and tirelessly drew free sketches all weekend.
One other huge positive from the weekend has to be acknowledged. Nicola Love was responsible for managing the main guest area and she was enormously helpful, efficient and good natured, even on the Sunday with all the late arrivals. Many of the more famous guests did not appear until 1pm or later on day two, fully two hours after the doors opened. Despite this Nicola was unflustered and tried her best to ensure that fans were kept up-to-date and that they met the guest they had come to see. One can only hope that she returns in the same role next year and that her influence rubs off on others.
So, it was looking as if 2016 was going to be a success with the new venue and high calibre guests. But if numbers in the concert hall and comments on social media can be trusted, it wasn’t. Why?
It’s not entirely clear. It’s true that 2016 had the misfortune to run on a weekend of reduced train service and closed underground stations due to industrial action by rail workers. The weather on Saturday was also rainy and wasn’t going to be kind to most cosplayers. Someone opined that there was inadequate advertising. Maybe last year’s cancellations also damaged the brand? These factors probably had an impact, although they surely can’t be entirely to blame, and I wonder if the public are getting a little jaded with the increase of cons in recent years.
Whatever the reasons, stall holders complained of reduced business; one even said it was half the previous year. Another commented on Facebook that the con had “the same atmosphere as a funeral home”. This was harsh. The much larger venue would inevitably thin out a crowd and some areas were much busier than others. I for one don’t miss being caught in a human traffic jam with Loki, an overweight He-Man (“For God’s sake, man, put on a shirt!”) or sixteen Deadpools.
There were the inevitable grumbles, some hard to refute. On the official GCC website the Festival Event Guide and the Comic Con Programme were empty pages. Good luck finding out when the con opens! (Actually, even the staff weren’t sure. On Sunday, a fan was told by a staff member that they opened at 10am, only for him to come back soon afterwards to correct himself: it was 11.)
Saturday night was the SICBAs (the Scottish Independent Comic Book Alliance Award). More than one person I spoke to was baffled by the exclusion of Stref’s wonderful adaptation of the timeless classic Peter Pan. An unfathomable oversight by the selection panel.
The bulk of the main guests – I won’t name names as I don’t know the full circumstances – were very late arriving on Sunday. Luckily, GCC had Nicola Love there to keep fans informed and placated or the grumbling would have been far noisier. That said, at least one fan gave up and left, unable to wait indefinitely for a particular artist to arrive.
Overall, it was an oddly lacklustre convention. On paper, 2016 really should have resurrected GCC. Why it didn’t is hard to pin down. For the second year in a row ECC was clearly busier and livelier and GCC, for all the signs of an attempted revival, is still playing catch-up.