Why you should go along and support the Exeter Comic Expo
When I heard that the expo was once again planned in Exeter, I was really pleased. Having previously attended, I thought it was one of those genuine attempts to promote those with incredible talent, those without corporate backing who are producing quite incredible work in writing, artwork and colouring throughout the sequential art movement.
The whole small press scene is actually quite reminiscent of the explosion of the underground indie music scene in the 80s and 90s when, for the first time, smaller companies could really start pushing their own singles, EPs and even albums through independent distributors. We do know though that the comics industry is not in a good place financially (is anywhere?). Huge movie franchises and royalties of course go a long way to subsidising some of the better offerings from the two main corporations but without the talent coming through the underground self-publishing scene, where is the talent going to come from in the future for the mainstream books? Of course the real nightmare scenario is that we end up with some sort of comic “X Factor” (TV show of course, not the band of mutants) where we pick the most sanitised and universally acceptable writers and artists and force them down the throat of the mainstream audience. Of course, the public love them, can’t get enough evidenced in the fact your Facebook page is filled with mindless shite for a few weeks about some no-mark or other. That is until the next series comes along and another clone is put in their place. Wash, rinse, repeat and fleece. I don’t really have to point out that this type of generic clone does not move anything forward in any industry whether it music, comics, TV, cinema etc. At best it stagnates, leaving the industry in no real worse state than it currently is. At worse we go backwards and trim more people in the process and let’s face it, we can’t afford fewer readers.
The golden age of superheroes had to come to an end, the Stan Lee and Kirby era couldn’t go on forever, it had to be destroyed and changed by the likes of Moore and Miller. The superhero needed deconstructing and rebuilding, it no longer reflected the readership, they were starting to mature and move on. The problem was, moving on often meant moving out entirely if there wasn’t the material to support their new found expectations. That’s where the small press stepped in.
The UK scene really should feel proud of their involvement in the changes that occurred to comics through the transitional times. At the end of the 80s moving into the 90s, comics were convoluted and messy. Artists such as Liefield and McFarlane started influencing much of the artwork that was about and crossovers ruled the roost. Muscles appeared in places they were anatomically impossible to appear at, often spawning further muscles on top of them. Females starting bending on three inch wastes and were turned into male fantasies (ideal if you are young and male but ultimately alienating 50% of the population). Mutants appeared everywhere as the only really popular book of the time was milked for every corporate cent it could be milked for. There was that feeling of “generic” and “formulaic” to comics, an immaturity that stopped speaking to the people who had bought them for so long and switched them off. Many UK writers, often from humble 2000AD origins, were already writing the next generation of comics at the time, it’s just that no one really knew it yet. Ennis, Ellis, Moore, Gaiman, Morrison et al joined up with other innovators such as Miller and Chaykin to turn round the industry and realign with the times. They couldn’t have done it through the corporate two though; they would have never made it past the “X Factor” rehearsal process.
So then, why should you go? Well, apart from supporting your local small press because they are indeed the future, this year they have some excellent guests lined up too to celebrate the 35th anniversary of everybody’s favourite lawman. Jock, Henry Flint and Lee Garbett to name the current headline act who are sure to be joined by more as we get nearer the date. It is also one of the cheapest expos to visit and it is located in the lovely Exeter, the gateway to the land of summer sun and deserves the effort to make it yet bigger still in future. See you there.