UK Comics Convention Round Up

UK Comics Convention Round Up

The warm afterglow of Thought Bubble punctuated the end of what was a very busy run of conventions for me in 2011.

This was the year when I actively pursued getting out on to the UK comics convention circuit.

The biggest surprise has been how open people have been about trying new comics that aren’t on sold on the shelf of their local comic shop. Without meaning to sound too up myself, I realise that London Horror Comic has high production standards, so perhaps it’s less of a leap for people to try my book than others, but generally I’ve found people open to trying stuff beyond capes and cowls.

I take this as a healthy sign that writing about horror/comedy in comics is still worthwhile. The battle remains signposting people to the book itself. In an ideal world there would be an internet avatar fashioned in my own image roaming cyberspace like a rogue Microsoft Word Office Paper-clip helper giving a well-rehearsed elevator pitch to anyone searching Google for comics.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve found that the majority of people who have picked up my book at comic conventions haven’t been pure comics fan; they’ve generally been couples who have been mildly amused at some of the stories to buy the book.

This is good and bad: good in that it shows London Horror Comic has a potentially wider appeal beyond comics, but bad in that nailing down exact demographics about where people like them would find out about a comic book, assuming they didn’t visit a comic shop, is frustrating. Maybe I should ask them to fill out a short survey next time.

Another phenomena I’ve noticed is that attendees at comic conventions are often wading through exhibition tables on a tight budget. Multiple laps of convention floors are required before a purchasing decision is made. This is in direct contrast to some of the customers in comic stores who blow between £30 and £70 on a week’s new releases of comics (and, without meaning to sound bitchy, there really isn’t £30+ of good stuff coming out weekly).

I think the above comes back to habitual buying: comic store customers buy their titles as a habit, so whether good or not, they’re getting the next part in the story for completeness or because it features their favourite artist. That’s the one area I would say that independent comics have to get to grips with: producing work on a regular schedule so that people know when it’s out.

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posted by JP at 3:39 pm  

Day 2 of Thought Bubble 2011

Day 2 of Thought Bubble 2011

The trouble with conventions in general is that so much effort goes into planning them, and that while you’re there, you’re too busy focusing on selling, that by the time you’re asked to start packing up you wonder where the time went.

The fact that I left the convention hall with one longbox of comics less than when I had entered was a good sign. The footfall at the show was strong on Saturday.

By Sunday it was less so, with people nursing hangovers or not wanting to brave the winter cold.

One recurring observation I’ve kept making at festivals throughout the year is that the people that buy copies of London Horror Comic from me at conventions aren’t comic fans themselves.

Rather, they tend to be couples out for a browse and upon reading a few stories are won over and delighted enough to pick up a copy.

The follow-up comments I get are along the lines of: “I didn’t know you could get comics like this” or “I don’t really read comics but yours were funny.”

As a creator, I’m not sure which type of fans I’d prefer. Artistically, the comic was indeed designed to be a comic book for people that didn’t read comics. Commercially however, it needs to appeal to traditional comic buyers so that habitual purchases continue. I guess I should be grateful that the book delivers chuckles to a few people and leave it at that.

Tomorrow I set out once again on the 200 mile journey that brought me here, though in truth I’m more concerned about escaping Leeds’ treacherous one-way system of never-ending ring roads.

Leeds has been the last festival for me of 2011 and I feel I should do a wrap on how the festival scene has generally gone for me as well as plans for 2012, when I begin my international expos!

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posted by JP at 9:59 pm  

Day 1 of Thought Bubble

Day 1 of Thought Bubble

After travelling some 200 miles and navigating the merciless ring roads of Leeds City centre the time finally came for kick off with the start of Thought Bubble.

A quick shower, breakfast consisting of eggs, toast and mushrooms and a cup of coffee and I was on the road again.

Now here’s the thing: this should have been a mile and half journey. But owing to the sat nav not keeping pace with the car I was given delayed instructions and sent back on the motorway to London. Yes, yes. Ironic considering that only yesterday I was saying that sat nav was my saviour, but when it comes to ring roads within ring roads, sat nav meets its match.

Despite this and after a few right, right, and right again turns I arrived at Savilles Hall and began my way to unpacking.

As you enter the auditorium there are huge oversized pictures of Sir Jimmy Saville with celebrities including Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, The Animals and a member of The Monkees.

Seeing these pictures all at once and next to one another gave me a glimpse into the career of Saville. As a kid growing up, he’s chiefly fixed in my mind as the presenter of Jim’ll Fix It. Looking at the pictures, you understand the sorts of cultural touchstones he’d encountered as part of his job as a radio DJ. Arguably, these were the days when radio DJs wielded an incredible amount of sway and power with record companies, as opposed to the fractured music industry we have today.

From reading Saville’s biography, he made his career happen. From DJing at local nights in Leeds, to Radio Luxembourg and to BBC’s Tops of the Pops, he earned his place through graft.

Graft was the watchword of today for me.

I reminded myself that just because I had gone through the effort of travelling here, it didn’t give me the right to expect it to be spectacularly better in terms of turnout or interest. That sounds like a weird thing to say, but I’ve met so many exhibitors in the past who’ve always complained about low turnouts or crowds not being interested, that if you say at the start you’re only there to show’em your wares and nothing more, you can only ever be pleasantly surprised if things go well (also, it’s funny how the exhibitors that usually complain about lack of interest and turnout are usually the most inactive in engaging people at their stands)

The show opened at 10 and got into full swing at about 11 with crowds heaving through the doors. The footfall in the hall was huge. Only at mid-day did I remember that I was in one of two halls and that from the reports I heard, the other one was rammed too.

The ebb and flow of customers was very healthy. What’s become more apparent about the type of customers that pick up the London Horror Comic is that they are less comic boo fans per se and more just ordinary browsers whose fancies are caught after flipping through a few pages of the London Horror Comic.

At about midday I met a friend of a friend who had come up to get his portfolio reviewed by Marvel for the second time. I’d discussed doing a comic project with him a few years back before publishing the London Horrror Comic, but nothing came of it. I met him at Kapow earlier this year where he was keen to get his big break from Marvel and was expecting the same again this year.

Listening to him go on about the review, it struck me how much better his time could be spent producing his own book rather than waiting for the call from the big two. It seems an extraordinary amount of time is spent towards being accepted by publishers rather than just making work you and you alone feel is important enough to read and draw.

What made the above observation quite pointed was me having to stop our conversation every two minutes to sell somebody a copy of the London Horror Comic. I mean, it was weird: every time he was complaining about the feedback he got and how he wanted to break in to comics, I was on the other side of the table making a sale. If he wanted a sign that just getting on and doing your own comics was the only way forward, I don’t think it could have been telegraphed clearer.

The kicker came when I reminded him that he shouldn’t think that once the comic is produced that his job is done. That’s when the work begins and the months and years of shameless promotion and selling finally get going.

“I hope I never have to do that,” he said.

I didn’t reply, but I asked myself how bad did this guy REALLY want to make comics? Bad enough not only to produce a high-standard piece of work, but to give it the push it needs in the real world?

Recognise that there are a million and one other things you could be doing with your life. You don’t need to be good at all of them, but the things which you do deem important, you have to give yourself completely and utterly.

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posted by JP at 11:00 pm  

The Road to Thought Bubble 2011

The Road to Thought Bubble 2011

Thought Bubble is my first non-London comic convention, which required me to drive some 200 miles to Leeds today.
Given that this was such an epic journey for me, I thought I’d talk a bit about the trek itself.

Prep work was done for the convention, as always, the night before.

I’ve got my packing routine down to pat. That said, I swear tomorrow I’ll be having trouble erecting my easels to display the A0 size posters. It happens at every show. I have the Dr Octopus of easels; at every show I hit it’s like the damn thing grows eight more arms that it never had before. Meh.

Back to the journey itself, with boxes of comics packed and a bunch of other supporting material packed (London Horror Comic @ Thought Bubble is brought to you by 3M adhesive spray, Scotch tape, Sharpie markers, etc), I turned the key in the ignition, released the handbrake, took a deep breath, tickled the accelerator and let the gentle voice of the sat nav guide me out of the driveway.

Sat navs are THE ultimate partner in crime. Their impersonal directions last the length of the journey without weariness or judgement.

Take a wrong turn? No problem.

Sat nav gently re-routes your journey setting you back on course so that you reach your destination. You arrive, safe in the knowledge that said fuck-up on your part will never be used against you or recounted at future dinner parties, weddings or bar mitzvahs.

Hitting the road with stock in the trunk is an amazing sensation.

In most day jobs you’re dependent to a large extent on other people doing their part correctly, so that collectively, the business makes money.

But when it’s just you, your wits and a trunk of stock hurtling at 60mph on the M1, you feel empowered by the possibility of making success happen all by yourself.

And when I say success, I don’t necessarily mean selling a bunch of comics (although that is always nice), I mean taking action to make things happen for yourself.

It’s been a while since I did my Economics module, but I’m pretty sure economist Adam Smith talked about the division of labour and specialisation as being the key to ensure operational efficiency in large businesses.

The trouble with that is that you end up with a worker that is very efficient at doing one thing as part of a larger organism, but as soon as you separate that worker from the larger body, their ability to support themselves is revealed as being capped.

I think everyone with a day job should take a year out to do something for themselves. It’s scary and it’s thrilling but you learn and experience a shitload.

The journey along the M1 is rather anonymous. Vast stretches of concrete repeat themselves with adjacent fields of unending green like pairs of miserable married couples staring on in envy at the single stream of cars passing by—free and on an inspiring journey into the unknown.

I’ve brought along a selection of CDs but only one suffices: Jimi Hendrix’s best of.

Despite the dreary surroundings, Hendrix’s songs add a sense of purpose and meaning to my journey. Warm analogue guitar feedback grinds against grainy vocals that are at once shouted and whispered to the listener.

A creek of sunlight breaks the clouds and I’m smiling.

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posted by JP at 8:25 pm  

Video: Warren Ellis interviewed by Lenny Henry at Captured Ghosts UK premiere

Video: Warren Ellis interviewed by Lenny Henry at Comica 2011

Comic writer Warren Ellis interviewed by Lenny Henry at the Comica Festival 2011 before the screening of the Captured Ghosts documentary.







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posted by JP at 5:30 am