It’s a difficult world now, that of convention organising, and it takes a brave person to invest the time and effort needed to get one off the ground. Birmingham has been a quiet comics stronghold for a long time and has seen its fair share of shows over the years but unfortunately of late has been steamrollered by the MCM giants (who continue to wrongly label their event a ‘comic con’). Last year saw the return of conventions in the shape of ICE, a show that pulled the stars but felt light on attendees, quite possibly because of the absence of a true comic convention in the city for a number of years. Nevertheless, it was a much welcome addition to our calendar and we are excited to see it return this year.
This year though we had a new kid on the block in the form of the Birmingham Comics Festival, an inaugural event held at the home of Warwickshire’s cricket club, a short distance outside of the city centre. On arrival, it was quickly obvious that the ambition of the organisers was not that of smaller cons. The main hall itself was large and impressive and housed a logical array of tables with the artists’ alley occupying fully one of the aisles. There was a good mixture of exhibitors, with the large majority split given over to creators and publishers, yet plenty to whet the appetite of the merchandise and comic hunters alike.
There was of course the ubiquitous cosplay element to the show, which although divisive, does bring colour and dimension to the events and amuses the young and old alike. On the same note, I have increasingly noticed a much younger crowd attending the conventions these days and much more diversity along with it, maybe in part to the movies but also to the fact that the generation that started to embrace the US comics are now bringing their own with them.
Alongside the stalls, there was a full programme of scheduled talks taking place, bodypainting, movie props and even representation from the local cinema chains. The venue was split into two, the formerly mentioned hall was large and accommodating and well laid out and the second part was a balcony overlooking the sun-soaked pitch and the city backdrop leading into canteen facilities. It was a really welcoming and friendly event, belying the scale.
Although ticket pre-sales were good, the event could have used more numbers. A signing by Mark Millar in the town on the same day did hamper numbers from the dedicated comic fans and towards the end of the show footfall dropped quite a bit. This can be forgiven though, a comparison to the Edinburgh con the previous weekend can be drawn where it took a first year to get established and saw huge growth in the second. This event like the Edinburgh con has plenty of expansion in terms of numbers and will likely grow through word of mouth alone.
Overall it was a well-organised, laid back and fun event with something for everyone. The attendees are shifting in terms of age and gender across all the conventions and this event managed to entertain everyone, from the autograph and sketch hunters to the cosplayers to the comic collectors and to the merchandise buyers, it managed to do it all. Roll on next year.