The Pros Of Cons
With Comica ‘09 now taking place in London between 5 and 26 November at the ICA in The Mall, it seems appropriate to consider the role that UK comic conventions and festivals play in the growing graphic novels market.
Detail from the Comica ‘09 brochure by Sarah McIntyre
Now that more and more traditional, non-specialist British publishers are getting involved in publishing graphic novels and manga, and their related “How To” manuals, it’s worth considering the real advantages to attending and exhibiting at comics festivals. Big and small, ‘comicons’ are being held up and down the country (see the calendar below) from trendy, intimate fairs to massive multi-media extravaganzas. Some offer free admission to attract a casual public, but most charge and target more committed fans, sometimes into their thousands. Clark Burscough, Development Manager of the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, comments, “The comics market has always been one in which the interaction between publishers and the fans has dictated success on the shelves, and at the centre of this relationship lie comic conventions.”
By far the biggest of these are the London and Midlands MCM Expos, which are increasingly welcoming mainstream publishing companies. Comics creator Emma Vieceli manages MCM’s ComicVillage: “We’re seeing a pattern of publisher reps coming to check out what’s on offer, and then exhibiting at the next show, such as Puffin with their Artemis Fowl adaptation. MCM Expos offer a fusion of comics, animation, games, film and TV, where media platforms, and the people behind them, collide. The nature of the show means that boundaries between industries become easier to cross, which can only be a good thing.”
At the other end of spectrum, Britain’s longest-running convention, Oxford’s small press weekend Caption, celebrates 19 years in 2010, staying determinedly small, and small-press based, but beautifully formed. Such dedicated, comics-centric festivals offer publishers an opportunity, as Burscough sees it, is “to discover the industry’s stars of the future through the numerous independent and small press exhibitors that attend the show.” Where better to headhunt the next Viz or Jamie Hewlett? Another strategy already used by specialist publishers like 2000AD’s Rebellion is to schedule “portfolio reviews” to unearth tomorrow’s superstar innovators.
Nothing beats taking a stand, however, and having a presence and focus at a convention to promote books, reach readers and boost sales. This can be especially effective if you invite an artist you’ve published to sign and sketch. Bryan Talbot was spotlighted at this year’s British International Comics Show in Birmingham and Jonathan Cape shifted 120 copies of his latest steampunk anthropomorphic thriller Grandville. To present Walker Books’ growing range of graphic novels at conventions, Lizzie Spratt explains, “We’ve developed a partnership with SelfMadeHero, publishers of Manga Shakespeare and Eye Classics, and are arranging signings at MCM and Thought Bubble this year, the two we felt best represented our books. We’ve also set up a Halloween event to publicise Salem Brownstone at the Comica Festival.” Bloomsbury, Carlton, Ilex, Jonathan Cape, Penguin, Verso, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Mammoth have also chosen London’s Comica Festival based at the Institute of Contemporary Arts to invite authors over to launch their hottest graphic novels.
Every May, Bristol hosts its annual Comics Expo and organiser Mike Allwood is seeing “a growing number of successful ‘crossovers’ between book authors and comic writers, such as Paul Cornell who has gone from novels to comics with ease, while Mike Carey is making the return trip. As proof of this, we have David & Charles Books/Impact books attending the new Expo Exeter show starting next February.” Meanwhile, in Inverness, Vicky Stonebridge and Richmond Clements are preparing their third Hi-Ex! festival with support from The Highland Council. “The North represents a new market, and Hi-Ex appeals to geographically isolated young people who through the internet are discovering new genres of comics and manga.” Stretching from Devon to the Scottish Highlands, watch out for a comic convention coming near you.
Crowds at the London MCM Expo
Calendar of the Main UK Comic Conventions & Festivals
Comica: London International Comics Festival
London, 5-26 November 2009
Annual three-week season with free one-day Small Press & Self Publishers Fair held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on Sunday November 8.
Thought Bubble Sequential Art Festival
Leeds: 9-22 November 2009 and 17-21 November 2010
Annual four-day festival with a one-day Convention on the Saturday held in Saviles Hall.
Exeter Comics Expo
Exeter, 13 February 2010
New one-day convention at the Southgate Mercure Hotel.
Midlands MCM Expo
Telford, 20 February 2010
Movie, comics and games at the Telford International Centre.
Hi-Ex! Highlands International Comic Expo
Inverness, 27-28 March 2010
Annual weekend convention at arts centre Eden Court.
University of Herftordshire, 22-25 April 2010
New festival including comic-themed theatre performances, panels, workshops and films.
Bristol International Comic & Small Press Expo
Bristol, 21-23 May 2010
A weekend show split between the neigbouring Ramada Plaza and Mercure Holland House Hotels.
London MCM Expo
London, 29-30 May & 30-31 October 2010
Weekend convention for fans of comics, movies & games at Excel in Docklands.
Caption, Oxford’s Annual Comics Convention
Oxford, August 2010
Weekend convention at the East Oxford Community Centre focussed on small press and self-publishing.
British International Comics Show
Birmingham, October 2010
A weekend convention held at the futuristic science experience Think Tank in Millennium Point.
This article originally appeared in the ‘Graphic Novels & Manga Supplement’ of The Bookseller on 6 November 2009.