Even before I arrived at London’s Business Design Centre (above), Kapow! 2012 already started for me while I was on the tube getting there, as I overheard three attendees discussing the guests - ‘So who is Charlie Adlard?’ One of them mentioned not being on the guest list himself this year. Only later, I twigged that he was Angelo Tirotto, writer-creator of the rising British mini-series from Image, No Place Like Home. Tirotto was planning to give out copies of his cleverly horrific Wizard of Oz re-mix as his business card; let’s hope he gets invited next year.
From Inverness to Northampton, from Cardiff to Exeter, today’s UK comic convention scene is a far cry from the early Eighties days, when there was often only one major highlight during the whole year, the UK Comic Art Convention or UKCAC in London, masterminded by Frank Plowright and Hassan Yusuf. In addition, you might get a weekender in Birmingham organised perhaps by Phil Clarke, and UKCAC’s younger Glaswegian offspring, GLASCAC. What a contrast with today, when Britain and especially London seem to have more comics-related events than ever. Only this February, London Super Comic Convention made its confident debut, and the Anglo-French BD & Comics Passion in association with Comica Festival returned to the French Institute in London at the end of May.
This year’s second outing for the Mark Millar-endorsed Kapow! on May 19th and 20th came only one week after the Bristol Comics Expo, restored to its previous capacious venue, and the new CamCon in Cambridge, and one week ahead of the multi-media behemoth MCM Expo at ExCel out in London’s Docklands. So is there a risk now of convention overload? Let’s not forget that creators can get overstretched by too many gigs in a row signing and sketching non-stop for their fans, while juggling their deadlines. Also, in these belt-tightening times, most punters only have so much budget to buy tickets, not to mention the travel and hotel costs for out-of-towners.
May’s crowded schedule and Kapow!‘s price-hike for entry may partly explain why attendances, estimated at 5,000 each day, appeared lower than last year. According to Shane Chebsey, publisher of Scar Comics, “The buzz was not quite as intense as in 2011, but I am guessing that is because the first show is always a little special. Scar Comics’ takings dropped by around 40%, which I put down to a much higher fanboy attendance than last year, when lots of people attended who had never been to a comics show before and came for the movie and TV aspects.”
Not that stars of the big and small screen were absent at Kapow!, with lines stretching out to the street for Nick Frost in particular. There were also a host of celebrity comic fans (and sometime creators) including Jonathan Ross, Jimmy Carr, Peter Serafinowicz and Frankie Boyle; film directors like Gareth Evans (The Raid), Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) and Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Supercrooks); and a random selection of other creative types, including Rufus Sewell, Russell Tovey, Noel Clarke, Star Wars producer Rick McCallum and, slightly randomly, the cast of the new Bend it Like Beckham for athletics, Fast Girls. Still, the Hollywood razzle-dazzle you get from the presence of a star like last year’s Chris Thor Emsworth was notably absent. Also missing was IGN’s gaming presence, replaced by an interview marathon (including Dave Gibbons, above), helmed by Comic Heroes’ Matt Bielby and Rob Powers, plus other from the SFX and Total Film teams, and by the matt-slamming thuds of the Lucha Britannia wrestlers. This twist on Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling (below), with an added bondage-themed cabaret act element, was enjoyed by a good many but really had little connection to comics outside of the masked outfits.
The key to Kapow!‘s success is pulling in punters who may not be avid comic readers already, or exclusively, but who get to discover how vast and varied the bigger picture of comics really is. Ben Dickson, author of Falling Sky, comments: “I think the best thing about Kapow! is that it brings in the London contingent who simply wouldn’t travel to a show in Birmingham, Bristol or Leeds. Those shows are great, but you do see a lot of the same faces. Kapow! seems to bring in a whole load of new people.”
Among the Kapow! first-timers I chatted with, I met an ex-gaming company illustrator from South Africa, keen to get into the portfolio reviews and break into comics, and Lee Stuart, who’d given up comic books ages ago but was genuinely gob-smacked by what is happening now. Lee was followed around all day by a film crew from Liberation Frequency, as part of their forthcoming documentary. Director Denis-José François enthused, “I really hope Kapow! doesn’t stray too far into other realms. There are other cons that handle film and other stuff. What we need, and what I think Kapow! does best, is a dedicated comics convention for London.” The good news is that the queuing system seemed to have improved, but one VIP guest was apparently refused admission because he’d forgotten his pass, and a common complaint was that Kapow! closed too early on the Sunday. Can that be changed for 2013 please?
While the American majors were represented by DC’s Dan Didio, Marvel’s Joe Quesada and Image’s Eric Stephenson, there was a welcome greater presence of British self-publishers (see Adam Cadwell from Great Beast, above), small presses and independent companies, many in the new Artists’ Alley upstairs, along one side of the mezzanine floor. Once the public discovered where it was, this proved really popular, although the limited available light was blocked by some people’s banners. There’s scope to expand this sector, though higher-profile, cross-media brands and creators remain Kapow!‘s core appeal. As Doug Wallace from graphic novel publisher SelfMadeHero observed, “We’d love to see more time and space devoted to independent creators but we understand that this isn’t the focus of the show. Sarah and Lucy Unwin put on a tremendous weekend of entertainment.” Kapow! is now indisputably a key fixture in the UK comics calendar.Posted: June 17, 2012
This Article originally appeared in Comic Heroes Magazine.