Leamington Comic Con 2014 Review

As I said in a previous post, an emerging challenge of being a small press publisher in the UK today is picking which conventions to attend.

While there are more conventions than ever in the UK and while most of them have a ‘comics element’ to them, very few have a pure comics focus.

It’s been my experience that conventions with a pure comics focus are the ones where I make longer-term connections with readers and it’s because of this thinking that the first Leamington Comic Con appealed to me.

And boy I’m glad I went. One of the best cons of the year for me.

The first thing the convention got right was location. The Royal Pump Rooms where the event was held had a lot going for it: close connections to rail and nearby car parks, just off the main high street which meant strong passing trade and supporting infrastructure like eateries and cash machines. To top it off, there was a lovely bandstand and park just next to the venue, which was perfect for stretching your legs during a break.

When I arrived at the venue I was met by the organizer, Dan Mallier, who gave a personal and warm welcome. Warmer still was the bacon bap and cup of tea I was provided with, as were all exhibitors. It’s a small thing, but little gestures like this count for a lot. I’d been driving for 80 mins on the M40 and to have someone acknowledge you’ve made an effort and might possibly be hungry and a bit tired was a nice touch.

The supporting staff were super helpful, not just at set up, but throughout the day asking were we all OK? Did we need anyone to look after our table while we took a break? Soliciting feedback. Regardless of whether it’s your first convention or your 100th, having staff that take an interest in you and how you’re doing is very reassuring.

The one unique thing that the Leam Comic Con did well was craft its opening and close times with common sense. A respectable 10:30am opening on a Saturday was ample time to accommodate the crowd that had gathered outside, while making sure exhibitors weren’t sitting around bleary-eyed for an hour. The last entry time was 16:30 and again, this chimed well as the volume of the crowd had begun to thin out just a half hour before. As an exhibitor, you weren’t left hanging on with nothing to do. As both my fellow exhibitors and I had hour-plus journeys ahead of us, this was a most welcomed piece of planning.

Over 600-plus tickets for the event were pre-sold, which is testimony to Dan’s PR efforts in getting word out about the con well in advance. On the day this translated to 900-plus and just shy of 1,000 attendees and so kept things busy. Despite the venue itself being fairly small, there was plenty of space for crowds to move freely and to stop and talk to exhibitors without feeling cramped.

The crowd was made up of comic fans as well as families and couples out for the day. Interestingly enough, it was the latter that I found myself talking to about my work and processes. For them it was a novelty and they seemed genuinely engaged at having an opportunity to speak to someone about making and publishing comics.

I think Leamington Comic Con also went some way to disprove that you need big name guests to have a crowd show up. That’s not to say having a big name is a bad thing, but simply putting on a comic show for a region that wouldn’t normally have one is enough of a pull in of itself.

For a first event, it’s amazing how many of the fundamentals organiser Dan got so right. A lot of the convention I suspect is simply an extension of the warm, friendly and hard-working personality he himself displayed throughout the event.

On a wider point, I do think home-brewed regional comic conventions are the way forward for small press publishers and attendees alike. The personal touch of an organizer who wants to get the details right because they matter to them was a hallmark of both D.I.C.E in September and Leamington Comic Con this weekend.

I left Leamington Spa this weekend both with an awareness of where it was on a map of the UK, but also knowing that I’d like to return there next year.

I hope to see you there, too.

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posted by JP at 8:01 pm  

Dublin International Comic Expo (D.I.C.E.) 2014 Review

Comic creators in the UK and Ireland have more comic conventions than ever to showcase and sell their work that dividing time between selling and creating is an emerging challenge.

Over time however, you get to know which shows are for you, and this helps balance commitments between selling and creating, as well as curbing the guilt that nags that you’re not doing enough of one or the other.

Some shows can be purely commercial successes, while others can be equally successful but with the added bonus of your work making deeper connections and long-term readers.

The Dublin International Comic Expo (D.I.C.E.) distinguished itself in the latter category last year and again this year. The focus of the expo is squarely on comics and this was the main reason for my return; it’s a festival that advocates comics as its main proposition while actively welcoming the general public.

Achieving this mix is no small feat. Two pieces of planning that supported this was hosting the show in a central shopping district (good access, eateries & conveniences, passing trade, cash machines, parking) and making the small press and exhibitors’ hall free to enter (passing footfall could freely explore small press and comic fans could pay for additional upstairs access to the mainstream pros).

The small press footprint had increased over last year, which was great to see. This was balanced with more traditional exhibitors with mainstream back issues and apparel. I don’t think the inclusion of these vendors ever hurts small press; if people are disposed towards picking up small press titles, they’ll pick them up. If they’re after that specific back issue of Batman or a t-shirt, then the inclusion of small press isn’t going to change their mind. My experience is that a good mix of product ultimately keeps people in the venue, and as long as browsers remain inside, everyone’s chances of selling improves.

The bulk of my sales came from returning readers who’d picked up London Horror Comic from last year. At the same time, new readers who picked up the books on the Saturday came over to tell me how much they enjoyed them on the Sunday. As a creator, it’s moments like these that make comic-specific shows like D.I.C.E. really worthwhile. You feel that your work connects with an appreciative crowd.

The show also put on its fair share of panels and talks held in the local cinema with strong attendance throughout. Coupled with its portfolio review sessions, it’s great to see organizers trying to provide as much industry insight and first-hand connections to aspiring creators. Throw in a cosplay parade on the Sunday that enthralled the general public, the organizers truly aspired to provide something for everyone.

While last year’s D.I.C.E. was undoubtedly helped by having the current Batman creative team in attendance, footfall this year seemed unaffected as punters and mainstream pros both enjoyed the opportunity to chat in a relaxed environment. Creators and fans were both made to feel at ease, and it’s the quality of interactions that people ultimately base their experience of the show on, not just having spoken to a ‘big name’.

The change of the venue from the central square to a first floor space was also well sign posted so that you couldn’t miss it. The fact that attendance seemed unaffected is a strong sign that D.I.C.E is selling on the strength of its own name and the quality of experience that it offers.

What’s more, the organizers at The Big Bang Comic shop had managed to gain the support of local restaurants to secure discounts on dining for those who bought tickets and for exhibitors. Again, this might be a detail overlooked by some, but it actually sends out a wider message to local businesses that a comic-book crowd is an important one and one that should be courted. It also gives something back to both exhibitors and attendees alike. A very smart move.

The event staff on the day were superb, with many recruited from the ranks of the ThoughtBubble festival. Knowledgeable, friendly, proactive – the list of positive adjectives I could use to describe the event team is endless. The fact that after parties were laid on during both days really helped create a community feel among attendees, exhibitors and staff alike. It’s aspects like this that are hard to replicate but which the organizers nailed.

As with last year, D.I.C.E.’s strength lies in the vibe and connections it creates. While many organizers can rent a hall and fill it with tables and warm bodies, D.I.C.E.’s innate friendliness and relaxed professionalism creates an overall experience that is enjoyed and remembered by all.

As the reputation and standing of the expo will surely grow, the challenge will be maintaining the close-knit and intimate vibe that has made the expo a success to date. As challenges go, it’s a nice one to have, and one that is in the very capable hands of the chaps at The Big Bang.

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posted by JP at 12:10 pm  

London Horror Comic @ D.I.C.E. 2014

Photos of the all the great people who came by the Dublin International Comics Expo 27-28 September to pick up London Horror Comic and our newly-launched title ‘Graveyard Orbit’.

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posted by JP at 12:02 pm