This weekend saw a new look to Bristol Expo, back in the enormous railway shed which used to be its home, and with Fallen Media now in the driving seat. Looking around the internet since, it's obvious it's met with very mixed reactions and this is mine.
I had a wonderful time, both socially in the Ramada bar, as a “punter” walking around the con hall and as a panellist. As a punter, the hall was light, airy, very well laid out with plenty to look at, a nice variety of things to buy, at least three seating areas and a café. Seriously what more could you ask for?
Well, a couple of things: a programme would have been very gratefully received especially with the talks being held elsewhere, and had my other half not had the foresight to print the panel lists from the website we would have really struggled with this. And if not a programme then better signage would have been good. These feel like quite minor quibbles and really they didn't make any negative impact on my day.
A real highlight for me this weekend was a panel called Strip For Action. This was Mike Conroy chatting to John M Burns and Syd Jordan about their long-running newspaper strips. From hilarious anecdotes to pithy one liners to an abundance of information and insight into a bygone era it was a joy from beginning to end. Other highlights included; seeing Improper Books and Disconnected Press making their débuts, both with absolutely beautiful products on display and an enthusiasm for comics that was refreshing and welcome. A new issue of Sgt Mike Battle is always a cause for celebration and finally getting my sweaty mitts on the last volume of Rainbow Orchid by the super talented Garen Ewing was a good thing too.
As a panellist (and I somehow managed to be on four panels over the course of the weekend) I was really pleased. A raised stage at the front of the room meant everyone could see; a water fountain at the back of the room – nice. I couldn't get the microphones to work but I don't think that was a big deal either. I was incredibly pleased with how my panels went. I hosted the first panel of the day on Saturday as Timebomb Comics launched its first full colour graphic novel, Kronos City by Andrew Croskery, Alex and Lauren Willmore. This panel may well have suffered a little on low attendance by the fact that hundreds of folks were still queuing for their passes at this point (I think the slow-moving queue should be one of the issues that the organisers look at for next year) but it was a positive experience and a good panel. Straight after that one I ended up on the DC/Vertigo panel is a slightly surreal set of circumstances, but I think I blagged my way through that one by the skin of my teeth, hopefully didn't say anything too stupid and didn't throw up on anyone so I'm calling that a win!
Myself and Iz McAuliffe got to host the 2000AD panel in the afternoon, which was so much fun and so well attended it ended Saturday with a bang for me, and with a stellar lineup (D'Israeli, Ian Edgington, Henry Flint, Al Ewing, Boo Cook, TC Eglington, Patrick Goddard, Ben Willsher and John Higgins) we couldn't really go wrong. That whole panel is online here .
On Sunday I was part of a panel discussing Anthology comics; the reasons we British are still so enamoured with them, how to make and publish them and hints and tips on being published in them. This panel was very well attended too for being first thing on Sunday morning, and I couldn't be happier with how it went.
The social side of Bristol is always a joy, with an “all in together” feel as everybody – fans and pros alike – gather in the Ramada bar to wince at the bar prices. And though the bar seemed quieter than usual it was still full to bursting with some of my favourite people. The sense that this was a quieter convention and sales for lots of exhibitors were low has caused a little bit of bad feeling online. However, according to Fallen Media, ticket sales were actually up on last year, but you have to consider the impact of Kapow! being held the following week. I imagine this will very much have affected sales and attendance. There has been talk about the lack of mainstream publishers and guests being in attendance and the fact they have chosen to attend Kapow! instead.
I personally feel there is a place for a convention with a mostly British creators and publishers guest list. There are so many comic conventions these days that maybe Bristol has to look at what it is offering and its branding, and maybe find a new niche. But I will also say it's the most laid back, fun and relaxed con I've been to in ages and I enjoyed myself so much it's obliterated the slight convention fatigue I was feeling and made me excited about the future of the UK comic convention scene.