Too much happening lately

Since last post here, the world lost John Grandidge, a dear friend off exploring the flora and fauna of the after-life, looking out posthumously from future poetry collections of those he influenced; he peeks out from between the panels of my last few years of comics, of which he was an audible fan and supporter. He was my favourite drinking buddy; he warmed my soul when it was cold and weeping. He touched a multitude of people in the same way and he did it with style and love. He told us he’d cancer a few months ago, thinking it was an upset stomach. When it claimed him, it was years ahead of what many of us thought. He was at home with friends and a cat.

I’ve written a lot about John in pro-active grieving, which might find it’s way out, but he’s glimpsed beautifully in verse by Becca Heddle. If you didn’t know him, I’m sorry for your loss.

JG, John, Leonard Rat, Grandidge, John Wood Dragon, Jackfirecat – probably not all the names.
Poet, artist, cleverclogs.
Approaching fast, long-legged stride, black coat flapping, sweeping you up with a surprising hug.
Expressive hands full of knots and angles, drawing thoughts in the air.
Skewering pretension, dissecting hypocrisy – ach, rrr – cutting through the crap.
Delighted swift turn of the head and dart of a smile aimed just at you.
Red Shift; Little, Big; Possession; Robert Graves.
Doing everything with all of him, glint in his eyes, walking moors, riverbanks, hills.
Glorious in spleen, generous with love, hating sentimentality.
Energy, spark, fire.
New conversations, not repeats – ‘No, we’ve done that one.’
Yes, Genesis, Brand X, Billy Bragg, Prince, the Stranglers.
Snakeshead fritillaries.
Notes in Elvish; gifts of poems, drawings, time, jokes, joy.
Suddenly standing, black bag to his shoulder, ‘Bye’ – and he’s gone.

Less than a week later, I’m at the hand-fasting of Margaret Dalzell and Richard Barr; Richard being my nearest and dearest. It was at the beautiful Ballygally Castle and an informal gathering of old friends. Sarah and I, no we’re not a couple, stayed at Cairnview Bed and Breakfast, with Adam, and I heartily recommend it to anyone  visiting the place, just on the coast outside Larne. Adam and Sarah looked after me above and beyond the call. Margaret was full of empathy and humour, so much so I had to laugh behind plants when she’d make jokes about people right in front of us. Richard, who hates being the centre of attention, handled it as the professional gentleman I’ve always known him to be, even taking time out to share his latest thoughts on our novel, and suggest a few web researches.

Richard and Margaret.

Oh, and they both looked wonderful.

Then to Enniskillen, which is where Sarah’s from, and the town’s first comics festival. There I met the brilliant five-man committee and after some painting polystyrene shaped rockets. I’d a lovely chat in the pub with Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell and my boyhood idol, Lew Stringer, with Hunt making us laugh with his Frank Miller cover versions. On Friday, we’d a screening of Judge Minty, introduced and summarised by Mr. Michael Carroll, very entertaining. I’d a pub chat with lovely Sue Grant, struck up a friendship with Enniskillen horror writer Andrew Gallagher and wowed at the appearance of Pieter Bell, who I’ve known over twenty years, but rarely seen outside a comic shop. “What? Is there something going on here?” he asked. “No seriously, we just came from the caravan. What’s going on?”

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean, Andy.

Photographer: Do you think you could flirt a little bit? No, not you, Kitty. I mean Andy.

Saturday morning was unloading of comics from the old Black Panel distro, which creators had donated to the event; then preparing to host a morning self-publishing panel featuring Jenika Ioffreda, Una Gallagher, Danny McLaughlin and Austin Flanagan. The main venue was in McArthur Hall, actually a church hall, a real part-of-a-church hall, (ie the comics fest was in a church), and the panels were in the nearby library. I set out in good time, and fell badly down several stairs. The pain was brutal. It cleared up Sunday but I have a massive ankle swelling, though can get about. The panel was small press + first event of the day = poorly attended, but we made up for it by inviting the audience to join us and make a roundtable. Those arriving early for the 2000AD panel were just a little envious on finding Una Gallagher holding court on tales of families aural tradition of storytelling.

Glenn Matchett made this video for the panel, on writing for comics.

And a few hours later, my big turn: Alan Grant and an audience with.  I’d met Sue and Alan on Thursday night, shortly after we arrived. (Sidenote: The guests came from the airport via a party bus, which had disco lights and a dancer’s pole.)  The three of us (who had not met before), were shattered, awkward small talk shared between ciggy puffs. On Friday, Alan and I kept missing one another; resting or walking or taking smoke breaks at different times.  Sue was absolutely lovely and among other things, talked about the comics festival in their home village, which I’d love to get to.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

I mean, just look at that guest list.

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

Moniaive Comics Festival programme: packed!

So, Alan and I got to chat a few hours before we were due at the library, and the rapport picked up right away. A massive relief, because I was more nervous than I knew.  On the panel, I went through half my pre-written questions on Anarky, deadlines, research, philosophy and got gratefully off-track talking about living with John Wagner, writing horror and romance. The audience were wonderful, filling up the room with questions about 2000AD’s Strontium Dog and Ace Trucking, The Bogie Man, Lobo, and afterwards a number of people came and shook my hand saying what a great job I’d done. Alan was very generous with his experience and his time – we sat twenty minutes late, and considered sitting on but I didn’t want us locked in the library.

The organisers were brilliant: Stephen Trimble gave me a bed for a night before they put me in the hotel. James Eames took us to his home where his parents treated us to coffee, biccies and chat. Chris Fawcett was funny and cool under pressure with the pub quiz; Mark Kenyon flowed between committments. Organiser Paul Trimble did a lot of heavy lifting but still found time to celebrate 30 years of his Banbridge comic shop, Thunder Road, perhaps the first in Northern Ireland. Oh, and Matthew Gault, a tiny Quentin Blake illustration of good humour and muscular intellect. And sometimes, he drinks way too much.

"But at least he doesn't snore like a chainsaw." Photo by James Eames.

“But at least he doesn’t snore like a chainsaw.” Photo by James Eames.

The event was a great success and I join with the other guests in thanking the organisers for brill treatment. A few more quick snaps.

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of 'Escape from Fermanagh'

My new friend, Andrew Gallagher, iron grip author of ‘Escape from Fermanagh’

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Beer Garden: Andrew Gallagher, Clint Langley and the debonair aristocats, Ryan Brown and Glenn Fabry

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Organisers James Eames and Matthew Gault, and Aaron.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

Mark Bromage, Paul Trimble, myself and Pieter Bell.

I’ve another funeral to attend on Friday, my adorable god-mother’s mother. She passed away this morning. I didn’t know her terribly well, but of course, people I love did.

I wonder if part of growing old is not that you slow down, but that life comes and goes faster and faster. If you read this far, thanks. Love with all the heart while you can.

Enniskillen Comics Fest

I’ve told less than ten people this month, and now I can reveal I’ll be interviewing Alan Grant, the Guest of Honour at the first Enniskillen Comics Festival. Phew! Alan, is of course, a massive influence on comics, having co-written most classic Judge Dredd stories, thirty years, about ten years on the US Batman comics. He’s the author of some of my favourites: The Bogie Man; the House of Daemon, Manix and Doomlord for Eagle. He’s written Lobo and L.E.G.I.O.N. and JLA for DC, but it’s 2000AD for which he’s best known, on Strontium Dog, Ace Trucking, Robo Hunter and Judge Anderson.

Massive, massive honour. I expected to be the last person to be called on, never having been with the Class of ’77 hardcore 2000AD fans. The organisers, gods bless their mad, mad minds, think I’m a unique choice. Well, you could say that. I’m giving this my best and hope to do Alan and yourselves proud.

Closer to my comfort zone is the self-publishing panel I’ve been asked to host. I’ve been on ten of these and hosted a few. This time I’m putting together something with a lot of pizzazz and I’d really like attendees to put their heads through the door. I’m pleased to announce those joining me are Una Gallagher (Two Lives, Faust, Something in the Tae), Austin Flanagan (The Revenants), Jenika Ioffreda (Vampire Freestyle, Midnight Tea), Danny McLaughlin (Zombies Hi, Andrew’s Comic, Revolve Comics.) and…oh, I couldn’t possibly say. We’ll be talking about more than the boring copy-shop slog, we’ll be talking character and story, ghouls and tea. Please come by.

The Enniskillen Comics Fest is the first such event in the town. It’s a free event with an all-ages focus and a wise choice by the Arts Council funding body. It’s on May 6th-7th, at the McArthur Hall, Wesley Street, and Enniskillen Library on Halls Lane, just five minutes walk. Just look at who they’ve got:

All that linkage! No biggie, I had all the info to hand for posting to their Twitter account, which you can search for. My friends at The Comic City podcast are doing a feature on the Fest in the next few days so keep an eye out for that, or visit the #EknComicFest Facebook page for more details.




Comparing Manga and Britcomics festivals: social community and exhibition

A re-blog from the archives of my regular column for Alltern8; Comicking.
The opening of this post was removed by Lederkraft when they set up at the old site. We hope to locate it later in the year

manga and brits

Comiket began running in Tokyo in 1975 with an estimated 600 visitors, assembling from non-profit dojinshi organisation. Held twice yearly, by 2002 Gravett states it amassed “35,000 exhibitors over the three days” and 500,000 attendees, its “summer 2002 exhibition catalog is almost 900 pages” according to McHarry. Indeed, its growth has become problematic and claustrophobic. In comparison, the Tokyo International Amine Fair has 130,000 visitors, and less exhibitors. This is probably due to Comiket’s figures deriving from ‘circles’, and corporate influence – the first two days of the four day festival are for press and industry professionals only.

Britain’s major comics festivals – BICS or the Birmingham International Comics Show, and the Bristol Comics Expo have a similar ‘distributors day’ before the weekend. The Expo, began in 2004, and had much in common with its predecessor United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) BICS began in 2006 and cartoonists and fans perform live jazz as part of an acknowledgement of the strong social tradition of these events. At both events, 3,000 – 4,000 attend. However, around ¾ of the 70+ exhibitors have traditionally been small pressers, hobbyists therefore generating much of the income needed.

BICS grew out of a dojinshi-like culture spurred on by Oxford’s long-running Caption festival. Since 1990, its opened doors to 150-200 attendees, one weekend a year. Other small press festivals of note are the slightly larger ,The UK Web and Mini Comix Thing which takes place one day a year in London and London Underground Comics, a high-profile group that occupied Camden open arts market every Saturday in 2008. In availability to consumers, the open market regularly allowed LUC to extend sales across gender and generational spectrums. Here, they come closest to achieving what manga as a culture has managed.

Allison remarks that the otaku assumes

“a social role within anime fan-dom community as opposed to engaging in isolated enjoyment of media and Japanese culture”

and states that meetings are vital parts of fan identities. Hill considers a transcultural mis-reading of the word, noting derisory connotations in Japan, and ‘badge of honour’ status overseas. This marginalisation may allow for “greater transcultural circulation of texts” and may form an identity transcending nationality. As LUC grew out of Caption heritage, Niigata arguably grew of Comiket, and both out of fan culture. First held in 1983, Niigata has 7,000-10,000 regularly in attendance and takes place twice monthly in the city.

giant sized band thing

Above: The Giant-Sized Band Thing is made up of comics creators Charlie Adlard (Drums), Paul H Birch (Bass), Liam Sharp (Vocals) and Phil Winslade (Guitar).They play Western rock/metal at the BICS festival each year and other events in between. This image is from their Facebook page.

For a sample, let’s measure three manga fairs (Tokyo International Amine Fair, Comiket and Niigata) and five British fairs (Caption, BICS, Comics Expo, The Thing and LUC) These fairs have sketching and signing, flyers, and image prints available. Only LUC does not have goodie bags, panels, workshops, movie trailers. Caption and The Comics Expo don’t have live music. I’m unable to present substantial information on Niigata though given attendance is greater than UK festivals discussed, yet with similar roots and approaches, it may be interpreted as having similar facets. Economic sponsorship differentiation would alter this.

The Tokyo Anime Fair according to Specky features hanging quilts with manga images, the sort of cross-medium work that wouldn’t be out of place at The Thing, along with cards, stickers, badges and varied dolls. Expensive promoter tools and screening of commercials are rarely found in the UK. Matt Hill  and others note the larger British and Japanese cons have common roots in SF fandom and anime:

“fandom should not be viewed as ‘isolated fan cultures but may also need to be linked to other ‘parent’ fandoms or subcutlures”

Media fluidity, Manga and anime jumping between places is quite integrated and not felt so strongly in the UK. That manga is read on commuter trains may be a truism, though it could be read as often cited to emphasise links between transportation and distribution. That Niigata is fortnightly may mean re-evaluating expectations, but these cultural factors should be kept in mind.

All feature animation reels to differentiating extent, and larger UK festivals frequently featured whole days scheduled to anime screenings. Stop motion miniatures are also common. Rarely a British comics con features a live video-game component, more likely a free CD demos is distributed. None of the Western festivals have martial arts ceremonies that Poitras remarks upon in the writing, Contemporary Anime in Japanese Pop Culture. Although tea ceremonies have cultural reflections in the strong trend of regionalised British comics pub meets.

Cosplay is a large part of life in Harajuku and Comiket is renowned for being one of the largest Cosplay events. Likely an event at every manga and anime festival, in the UK, costumed roleplayers are common sights at The Thing.


As I have found there is a greater cross medium fluidity and environmental input for manga festivals in Japan, readings suggest there are a number of social media trends I have not had time to look at. Differences between Manga and BritComics’ central characters make for differing relationships between reader and narrative which would make for an interesting follow-up study. Given the limitations of my ability to study the British Comiket, hosted over many weeks, a comparison of those too might be noteable.

Additional Photo Credits
Tokyo Anime Fair by Specky at Anime-Source 
Lew Stringer at his Blogspot.
Rich Bruton at Forbidden Planet

As I have the sources to hand, here’s some Further Reading

Allison, B. (Date?) Anime Fan Subculture: A Review of the Literature, Mass Communication and Society, University of Georgia. At Cornered Angel.

Craig, T.J. (2000) Japan pop!: inside the world of Japanese popular culture, M. E. Sharpe. On Google Books.

Finnegan, E. (Mar 19, 2009) Greetings from Tokyo Anime Fair, Manga Recon. PopCultureShock

Gravett, P. (2004) Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, Collins

Hewitt, L. (2007) The Birmingham International Comics Show 2007,

Kinsella, S. (October 2005) The Nationalization of Manga, Japan Society Lecture, Brunei Theatre, SOAS, London.

Liew, Z. 2 March, 2009) Monday afternoon’s Japanese Art Festival review… CobaltCafe

McHarry, M. (2001-2003?) Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love. GuideMag.

Natsume, F/ (March 2000) Japan’s Manga Culture, The Japan Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 27 No. 3/4 CorneredAngel

Patten, F. and Macek, C. (2004) Watching anime, reading manga: 25 years of essays and reviews, Stone Bridge Press, pp.13-85. GoogleBooks

Schodt, F. L. (1996) Dreamland Japan: writings on modern manga, Stone Bridge Press, ch. 7 pp.305-341. GoogleBooks

Wilson, B. Toku, M. (Date?) “Boys’ Love,” Yaoi, and Art Education: Issues of Power and Pedagogy, Visual Cultural Research in Art and Education.