Grow Your Own Comics Festival

Over 2008 I wrote weekly for  ComicsVillage.com, during a very exciting time in the UK comix scene..

My columns are concerned with four aspects surrounding comics – social community, economic factors, festival and exhibition coverage and modes of distribution.

sherridancottage

(Originally written 11 March 2008)

Creating a comics festival is piss-easy. When I initially pitched this column to comicbookresources.com to try and secure a wage, I included a proposed two part fortnightly piece. The first part would see me announce a comics festival with no prior preparation, the second would be the review of said festival. Can you believe they turned me down ?

Okay, okay, so I like Keith Giffen too !

It is though, it really is easy.

The Caption Model

Caption is seventeen years this year. Its been there through the immediate Watchmen wave, through Fleetway’s Crisis, the comics-go-bankrupt phase, the dawn of Chris Ware, and the subsequent resurgence of the form in the present. Travelling from Northern Ireland for my first festival (Brumcab97), the clamouring support and enthusiasm about Caption was so vocal I had to attend. It left inescapable impressions in the few years ahead. Far from the backpackers converted hotel halls of masses of paper, Caption allowed for a laid-back fun social. I didnt know who any of these people were, such was the anonymity of zine roots, but I quickly got the impression it were the sort of place I could talk to a creator from Crisis, or 2000 AD or Comics International, or some hot indy trickster over a pint. There were name badges, but no tables loaded with portfolios and standing queues. Just picking up a beer and a chair and asking to join in. It were small and intimate.

My first few years I almost never joined in at the wonderful panels and workshops by the likes of D’Israeli, Al Davison, Jeremy Dennis and the greatly missed Andy Roberts and Steve Whitaker. My shame. I did however attend the presentations by The National Theatre of Earth Prime, a ten minute Condensed Shakespeare style company adapting comics classics. Watchmen in ten minutes ! The X-Men, with Magneto wearing a bike helmet and Wolverine’s sideburns represented by weetabix. Caption also had a light festival booklet with information and maps, and each year it was themed which helped to make it distinct. Oxford is also a prime location of beauty with its natural light and greenery. Also owing to (alledgedly, by the powers of Jenni Scott, weather shaman( Caption has had one rainy or bad weather weekend since its inception.

Caption has a gallery exhibition each year, encouraging creators to contribute large and small art items. There are usually auctioned off in order to fund the following years event, or to contribute towards some charitable fund. This usually occurred at the tail end of a shared meal of pizza and wine, and has a real joviality about it, due to audience participation and in the previous decade to the showman skills of auctioneer Alex Williams who manages to be highly amusing and entertaining.

Asides from the social networking opportunities offered creators theres been very retail power in the concept of The Caption Table. Rather than the traditional route of spending money on table hire and being confined there for the weekend, Caption takes your comics from you. If you don’t sell any comics over the two days, theres no loss – if you do, Caption will take 10% of your earnings. Its a very simple, fair and popular deal and a model which its most loyal admirers would love to take to other venues. The London Underground Comics  ethos is perhaps the closest arrangement in terms of establishing a financial balance, though it is more successful when comics are pitched to the audience by the creators. However London Underground Comics may just be the victim of its own success – stall staffing finds a difficult balance. Cartoonists appear to be converging on it several hours after the all important 9am set up, and the stall becomes crowded with cartoonists and newly available comics. The reluctance of comics creators and activists to export the ethos to other market venues (eg. Spitalfields) is in part responsible for a good traffic system which may become blocked.

Pubcon

My first comics festival were Brumcab 97. ‘Brumcab’ translates as ‘Birmingham Comics and Beer’.It were held in a bar, the top floor of which had been rented out by the organisers Dek Baker, Jez Higgins and Pete Ashton. There Dek sold his highly acclaimed Kirby homage, ‘Wargods of Atlantis’, colour print outs and posters decorated the walls and there were even pub quiz opportunity. I seem ro remember my first comics, ‘Brookside’ and ‘Bobs’ being sold there, the organisers were particularly excited by the free tea bag and the individually hand marked mylar bags, untidy tape and rotter brown cardboard. Although we had downstairs too, I don’t know how some fifty cartoonists managed to fit into such a small space. We did, and the body odour level were quite tolerable. Bookings were taken during the day for a nearby balti house which we left for around six. The rest of the night was a blur.

No venue was rented for the Sunday (intentionally), people simply showed up. I remember crowds of folk gathering around Mitzy (aka Jessica/Mechamitzy). In terms of energy Mitzy were the Oli Smith of his day, and could be among those credited with propagating the trend of the Brit Manga style.

This is how easy it is to organise a comics festival. Central cost here came to rent of one room in a pub, badges and posters. The event occurred on the weekend of Diana’s funeral which probably had an effect. The organisers made their overheads back very easily as the cost of a weekend was about £3 per attendee, after which they could sort transport, eat food and buy beer and comics.

Internet acceleration inclusive of social networking has made it much easier to organise an event such as this. By the time this column sees print, it will be a day or two after the Gladstone Mini-Comic Con. A free entry festival held in a pub featuring “Glenn Fabry, Paper Tiger Comix, Dr Parsons, The Bedsit Journal, Danny Noble, The Sound Of Drowning and many more comics creators from Brighton and beyond!” Did you miss it ? I will.. It had comics for sale, drawing workshops, drink promotions, live workshops and animation screenings. Have a wee think about how you might go about achieving those things.

The squatcon derivative of the pubcon is already established – utilised that Sunday in Birmingham, and at the Uk Web and Mini Comix Thing – one of the few festivals without a bar, it has become normal to adjourn to the nearby Wetherspoons as an extension to the event. Again, this would cut the cost of a festival considerably.

Its not that difficult a leap – talk about comics in a pub, pubcon. If you’re well connected, you’re well placed to announce a venue. Ideally, people show up en masse. Worst case scenario, we drink the bar dry again. Comics are dealt out of the back of rucksacs. And if you don’t know were your local comics community is- why not find out ?

(I’ve set up a map on Google for creators to put their positions on. Its open for placement, though it seems once details are entered they can’t be edited)

You’re set. Comics festival.

There are rumours of a pubcon coming out of London Underground Comics Camden sessions at Camden Market in June (2008.) The event is likely to be held at Lock 17 bar, Camden Lock, London, NW1 8AB and feature a table used for comics sales along the lines of either the Caption or standard LUC model, and perhaps a few panels and community drawing activities.

Housecon was a term used by members of the Rainbow Bridge APA in the late nineties, A few would gather, have some drinks, watch some videos and some comics. We’re full of options.

You don’t need £2k to rent a venue.

Though in next weeks column I present an alternative model I’ve been tinkering with that suggests a way of approaching just that ! And it hasn’t got quite as many words as this one !

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