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.
Welcome to Sheridan Cottage, updated nearly weekly through to June. I’ve been looking at social and economic aspects of comics as typified through festival and distribution. Today, the small and large – from the growing phenomenon of the mini-comics-con to a look at Comics Village at the Bristol Comic Expo, and an interview with organiser Mike Allwood.
The London Zine Symposium takes place next Saturday in London where people can buy their word and pic tonerifficks and exhibit one comic or zine free of charge. And I guess there’s nothing to stop you dealing discreetly and politely out of backpacks, or talking to members of the public about your wares. There’s online radio, workshops, readings, exhibitions, walks and talks to entertain. Filmscreenings and screenprintings. That’s Sunday April 27th at The Rag Factory, 16-18 Heneage Street, London E1 5LJ. There are more details on the website
The Brighton Artists Book Fair at The Phoenix is up this Friday 24th May, and if you can’t make that the exhibition runs accross Brighton from next Saturday (26th) until June 7th. More details athttp://www.phoenixarts.org/exhibitions.htm
Hot off the presses, the comics entrepreneur pragmatic Oli Smith announces No Barcodes, the Camden Comics Mini-Con from 10-6pm on Saturday 31st May. Featuring cheap food, glorious scenery (see video for more on this). sketching tables, entrance is free, and exhibitors a small fee. There’s also an after-drinks event. If you’d like to exhibit, email
camdencomics at hotmail dot.co.uk
The Bristol Comic Expo runs from the 9th to 11th May this year, and will feature a number of high profile guests and events (http://www.comicexpo.net/ for full details). Comics Village will be on-site with their very own room, opening at noon on Saturday when there’s a comics-related family fun day of sorts. An expo treasure hunt, Guess the Stack O’ Comics, and Design-a-character competition all offer prizes in The Comics Village Fete.
Comics Village Mayor Craig Johnston, “design a brand new character, or a new interpretation of an old favourite, colour in the template and have it pinned on the wall. The judges will pick their favourites and the winners can choose from a large selection of prizes kindly donated by Diamond UK. Colouring pencils and templates will be provided at the Fete, and prizes will be awarded in various age categories”
Theres also a Bric-A-Brac table;
Craig: the cupboards have been cleared out and the shelves are now bare. Superheroes, manga, SF, from hardcovers to paperbacks, it’s a chance to sample something different, to try something new, for a low cost.
The Sunday will retain elements of this at the Village, though feature a more critical edge with a Sheridan Cottage panel, possibly with representatives from Caption, Bugpowder, London Underground Comics. Expect it to include discussion of small venue/large venue, unionisation, and tickling analysis. I’ll also be distributing a special print-only edition of Sheridan Cottage – a biting manifesto that will bring critical cries of “that’s uncalled for”, “that’s harsh, man”, and “Well he kinda has a good point – maybe this is the way forward”. Copies of my comics and the collected Sheridan Cottage print book will be available throughout the weekend. Stay tuned…. If you’d like to be involved contact CraigJohnsonEsq at aol dot com or myself at drew dot luke at gmail.com
I’ve traditionally kept a low profile at the Bristol Comics Expo so I thought an interview with organiser Mike Allwood might help put the event into perspective.
Andrew Luke: Who is Mike Allwood ? A google gives me someone associated with ‘weed management’, and I know you’ve been involved in comics for absolutely ages.
Mike Allwood : Weed Management? That is what Bill and Ben do is it not?
I did spend over 12 years working in Bristol Comic shops albeit I was involved in shows before then. Now I do not work in the industry, I’m semi retired and am back working with an Interior fabrics company.
The show is a ” hobby” if you like, love doing it and will do as long as it’s FUN to do.
Andrew: How many years have you been running comics events ? Could you take us through a speed history as a participator and as an organiser with some hint to depth and scale ?
Mike: 1ST show was in Taunton 1992 Sci Fi & Fantasy Fair, all of 10 tables and one guest artist!
In 1998 UKCAC had closed its doors and Kev Sutherland suggested that maybe Bristol would be a good place, so Comics 99 was born and we worked together till 2004 when Kev went off to work for the Beano and his school work shops. I took over the show, changed the name to Comic Expo and have been running the show since.
I have over the years been involved with Sci Fi Cons, Doctor Who shows, Marts, the Animated Exeter Festival for the last 4 years, produced the only Arthur C. Clarke convention in 2004. Shop signings etc etc.
Andrew: Can you let us in on a few basic statistics ? What sort of region of footfall have you traditionally seen at this event ?
Mike: Last year over 3,000 fans turned up! Best yet. Previous attendance was circa 2,000 plus.
Andrew: How many dealers tables are there ?
Mike: We have over 200 tables and 25 Booths
Andrew: How many of these dealers tables are small pressers tables ?
Mike: I have around 50% off the hall as Indie Press, now we do not use the small press and have not for a couple of years, the standard is waaaay beyond the old term of small press which has that 90s Photocopy feel about it, so we coined the term UK Indie Press.
Andrew: Is there a variation on table prices ?
Mike: Yes Indie Press pay ½ of the Dealer rate
Andrew: You’ve got a film night, and there’s the Eagle Awards dinner for those who can afford it, but can you tell me about the other deliberately inclusive social activities ? What’s the bar atmosphere like for example ?
Mike: We have the ART JAM on the Sat night as an alternative to the dinner. We do not try to have too much organised events outside of the panel programme. There are plenty of Clubs, Bars and much more in Bristol to do!
Andrew: What’s coming up at Bristol new this year or of particular choice in personal recommendation ?
Mike: The HUGE Manga spotlight, we have creators from Japan, China, Germany, USA and Sweden this year. The Panini X factor talent search is new and the winner gets to see his / her story published by Panini. Really there is a packed programme, over 30 hours of talks, events, interviews and I believe one of our best line ups. The 3 headliners, Jim Shooter, Walt Simonson and Jim Starlin are all on stage at some time over the weekend for 1-2-1 interviews.
Andrew: The Expo has a very open-door attitude to the under 16s: kids in for free, 12-16 yr olds for a pound. Do you see much of a move beyond the perception that 30somethings are ‘the last comics generation’ ?
Mike: Yes and No, The fan base is getting older, a lot of us did start reading in the silver age and we’re still around! Getting the Next Gen long is vital to the show and the industry, what better than free or a £1 way to do that. For the 1st time this year we have DC Thomson along and we have seen adverts in Dandy and Beano, another 1st for the show.
Andrew: How does festival management structure break down in terms of people ? (Is there a shared consensus of responsibility ?)
Mike: Every man for himself! No the show is pretty much what I say I would like to see at a show. Then the team have their say and then we all agree I was right in the 1st place!
Andrew: Could you talk a bit about the promotional steps involved related to the expo ?
Mike: Advertising is the key on as many levels as we can manage to do, Adverts this year in CI, Neo, Sci Fi Now, Imagine FX, Markosia comics, 2000AD. Huge local press coverage in the lead up. We know the hard core comics fan will be there, it’s the Schools out reach programme, the What’s on guides etc to spread the word! Even local radio, newspapers…..
The website is vital as is all the net based groups, we have the support of a preview site and the comics village in getting the word out across the net.
Andrew: Do you manage to turn a wage for yourself by the festival’s end ?
Mike: That would be nice, but no. The show covers its cost and that is the UK is as good as it gets, Yes the US shows with 70-80,000 fans have full time teams …we get 3,000.
As I said I do not even work in the industry anymore but the support from the Pros / Publishers et all is FANTASTIC. It makes putting the show on a pleasure and I get to meet all my favourite creators!
Andrew: Would you agree that the DIY small press comics scene is predominantly representative of the productive UK comics industry ? And if so how do you go about catering to this ?
Mike: The Indie Press guys in the UK are in my opinion are 2nd to none. That is why half the hall is turned over to these guys. I will cap the number of dealers but will never, while we have space, turn away a Indie creator. I could turn the show into a big mart with guests, but that’s never going to happen at Bristol. They produce work of such quality and the opportunity to work in the Pro UK market are slim, so what a way to showcase these talented people.
Andrew: Could you tell us some more about the Diamond UK day and how small pressers could plug themselves into that ?
Mike: The Diamond Day is aimed at the shops and stores, so not really for the indie press. However Diamond have taken space in the main hall, for the 1st time ever just so they can talk to the Indie guys. Again a sign that the Indie press is a force to be reckoned with in the UK!
(There’s word to the contrary from an unrecalled source – To book a place at this small pressers should email Mike Hollman at hmike at diamondcomics dot co dot uk More details here – Andrew)
Andrew: What sort of comics do you yourself enjoy ? And are there any products or projections you’d like to give a mention to ?
Mike: …Time at the moment is tight and I am going “retro” with my current buying, the DH Magnus reprints ( did you know Walt Simonson has done the Con Book Cover this year, it’s Magnus and yes he’s my all time fave character!)
Dan Dare from Virgin is a delight to read, Death of the News Gods from DC has been superb.
The show will give me the chance to catch up on so many titles, last year I returned hone with long box of Indie, mainsteam , Manga and some cheap Batman packs!
Talking retro I am so looking forward to the new Flash Gordon!
Andrew: Are there any words of advice you’d like to give out to folks planning promotions of comics within a public venue ?
Mike: You have got to WANT to do it. I have been involved, albeit the voice of caution at the end of a phone ! with Birmingham and the Inverness shows and more than happy to talk about all aspects of running Comic Conventions. Creator based is and always will be my remit. I said above 30 plus hours of events at Expo.
Andrew: Are there things you’d change about the festival that you’ve not had the time to implement this year ?
Mike: This year, well no would not change anything to be honest, after 10 years I would Hope / Think / Pray that the mix is good to go. A lot of the familiar but a few new tangents being added, More Manga, Film Night, DC Thomson along, Diamond talking to the Indie guys. Got to shake it a bit…It’s going to be fun!
Fuller details on the Bristol Comics Expo as and when they emerge at http://www.comicexpo.net/index.html