Comic Conventions took some time out to chat to Stuart Mulrain, one of the brains behind the True Believers Comic Festival, an event that aims to firmly put the ‘comic’ back into the comic con.
Bring us all up to speed, tell us what happened at True Believers 2015 and some of the origins behind the first True Believers convention.
True Believers was put together by myself, Andy Hanks (who does all of our designs and artwork as I Am Zoot) and Mojo Jones. It’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time but had never really known where to start or how to make it happen but, as with many things in life, it took a small group of peoples shared passion to make it a reality. We then spent the next 6 months putting all the pieces in place and preparing our KickStarter to launch. It was a lot of work and planning, but with the success of the KickStarter True Believers became a reality at Cheltenham Racecourse on Saturday 7th February this year.
What was the highlight of last year? What moment made you really sit back and think, “that was it, there, then; the reason we did all of this”?
The people who supported the event, either by coming along on the day or helping us spread the word about the event. Our main goal was always to put on an event that was about the fans on both sides of the tables and brought the nerd/geek community together through a shared love of comic books and cosplay. Seeing people on the day hanging out with friends and speaking with the artists and guests behind the tables about their work and comics in general was a huge thrill for me.
After the event we heard some great stories from people, who have seen us since or sent us emails, telling us about their experiences on the day. We heard from a couple of people who met at True Believers and are now working on their own project together. There are also a couple of people who attended last year who, after speaking with people on the day, have booked themselves a table this year and are putting their work out there, which is fantastic.
The fact that what we did meant a lot to people and brought them together and inspired them to create is more than we could have ever hoped for from the day.
How is this year, if indeed it is, going to be different from last year? What should we be looking for?
People seemed to like what we did, so we’re not actually changing too much. As with anything there were a couple of things that needed fine tuning which we’ve fixed for 2016. We’ve moved all of the trader and exhibitor tables down onto the main floor this year which has freed up the balcony area to add some new bits for 2016.
The big addition this year is our table top gaming area, which will take up one side of the balcony floor. The area is being run by the folks from Proud Lion (our local comic shop in Cheltenham) and they will be doing game demos throughout the day so people can see what the games are all about. It’s perfect for people who have been playing for a long time to maybe try out something new and for people who have always been curious about it to give it a go and maybe discover a new hobby.
Last year, we found out the night before True Believers 2015 that there is a big screen in the main hall where all of the traders, exhibitors and guests will be. It was too late to use it to any great effect last year, but we’re hoping to have stuff going on up on the screen throughout the day that should add something a little different and new to the event. There are a couple of other bits we’re hoping to announce soon, including some workshops if all the pieces fall into place in time.
Beyond that, it’s more of the stuff people loved at True Believers 2015, including the return of the Celebrate Cosplay Hall, which will again feature a group of our cosplayers who will be on hand throughout the day to talk cosplay with people and pose for photos. It will also feature the Cosplay Catwalk – which was a huge hit this year – and offers any of the cosplayers who want to get involved the chance to take to the catwalk and strut their stuff in front of a crowd. It’s not a competition, it’s just a chance for cosplayers of all ages to have some fun in front of the crowd and celebrate the art of cosplay.
We’re also running panels again this year, which will feature our regular Celebrate Cosplay, Discover Something New and Comics As Education panels. For #TBCF2016, the Celebrate Cosplay panel will be looking at how cosplayers find the character and costume that is right for them, while the Comics As Education Panel will look at how comics have inspired our panellists to create art and tell stories and how they can inspire people to be creative. As with last year, the Discover Something New Panel will offer some of our small press artists the chance to talk about their work and the audience the chance to discover their new favourite comic.
Along with those returning favourites, we will also have a Doctor Who Panel (featuring Paul Cornell, Emma Vieceli, Rachael Smith and Mike Collins) that will look at the adventures of everyone’s favourite Timelord in comics (and inevitably on TV as well I’m sure). There is also a panel with Dirk Maggs & Tim Quinn called The Amazing Story Of Spider-Man At The BBC, that will look at how they brought Spider-Man to BBC Radio 1 in the mid-90’s for an audio series.
Finally rounding out the day will be a panel game show called Comics In Just A Minute (a comic book version of the BBC series Just A Minute) that will feature Sonia Leong defend her title against 3 new challengers (including Paul Cornell) in a comedy game that will see them talk about a comic book related topic for 60 seconds without repetition, hesitation or deviation.
Beyond the event itself, we’ve also started running features on our website to highlight some of the amazing people and talent that comes to the event. Most prominent amongst these is our 5 Question Interview posts in which guests, artists, traders and creators answer 5 questions about their work and their love of comics. They’re great quick reads, the best of which showcase their passion for what they do and the medium of comic books.
As you know, it’s a true passion of ours to go to comic conventions with the actual emphasis on ‘comics’. What made you tread this path when there are a myriad of actors and the like who are riding the convention bandwagon, ready and waiting for a phone call from organisers like yourselves?
Simply put, it was nostalgia. I used to love going to comic-cons for comics to fill holes in my back issues collection (this is mostly in the days before ebay) and meet artists and maybe get a sketch and occasionally a book signed. There was no greater thrill than looking through a long box for missing Superman and Green Lantern comics to fill gaps in my collection and cons were (and in some cases; still are) the best place to do that. In the days of the internet it’s easy to find a copy of Azrael #38 if you need one for your collection because you can just look it up and buy it there and then, but to me that sucks all of the fun of the search out of it. It used to be a quest to find them. It was the closest most of us get to being Indiana Jones.
The problems were that the comic part of a comic-con was getting sidelined in favour of film and TV personalities and that kind of made me stop going. You still see it now, where you get This Place Comic Con that’s guest list is made up of people from film and TV and then a couple of token comic book guests tacked on at the very bottom. It’s fine to have that kind of con and I know a lot of people love to go to them and get an autograph from and their photo taken with the guy who stood behind Princess Leia at the medal ceremony in Star Wars, but don’t call yourself a comic con.
Unfortunately the word comic con has kind of been tainted and people expect a comic con to feature celebrities rather than comics. We were briefly the True Believers Comic Con before a friend suggested Comic Festival might be a better fit for what we are about. We liked it because it was more in keeping with what we were about and sounded more like a celebration word than “con” does. I still get emails from people though saying they’ve seen our comic book guest list, but wanting to know what actors and wrestlers are we going to have there.
We wanted True Believers to be about a community of people coming together to celebrate their shared love of comic books, without the distractions of all the other stuff that dominates other comic cons. There is a great collection of artists, writers and creators in the UK making comics who should be the stars of these events and we wanted to put on an event that is affordable to them, that showcases what they do and offers them the chance to meet their audience and have the time to talk and connect with fans, new and old.
That’s not to say we won’t ever have a film or TV personality as a guest in the future, it’s just not something that’s on our radar at the moment and if we did, they would have to have a strong association with the world of comics (although that rule is mostly in place should we ever get an email from Dean Cain).
Give me one comic we should all be buying.
Just one? Well the first issue of Superman: Lois & Clark was great. Being a Superman fan from the Mike Carlin era, it’s great to see Dan Jurgens back working on Superman and to see that the pre-New 52 Lois and Clark still exist in the current timeline. It also helps that the Lois & Clark on the cover have something of Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain about them (I’m an unapologetic New Adventures Of Superman fan). It’s great to have a Superman comic that has gotten me excited about Superman again.
If Superman isn’t you thing though, I’d have to recommend any of Terry Moore’s series. Rachel Rising (his current series) is great, as is Echo, but one of my all-time favourite comics will always be Strangers In Paradise. It’s the series I will recommend until the day I die. I may even have it put on my tombstone after I’m gone!
Just for fun, Hulk vs. Superman. Who would win and how?
As I’ve previously declared myself a Superman fan, I feel like I have to say Supes. That’s probably not the popular choice though, but I think Hulk would have the upper hand to begin with, using his strength and rage, but Superman would outpace him and eventually get the upper hand. That said, if we’re talking about the New 52 or Man Of Steel Superman, then I’m happy to have Hulk pummel him into the ground!
Thanks to Stuart for the considered responses and we wish him and the team the best of luck for next year.
More information on the event can be found through theses links.
Our Website; www.oktruebelievers.com
I Am Zoot Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/therealzoot
Mojo Jones Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/nerdburlesque