No Barcodes Comics Market / Mike Allwood, and Comics Village at the Bristol Expo

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

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

Press release available here
Facebook Event listing here

BICE website header

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

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 !