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.