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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