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London Super Comic Convention:

A First-Year Report

The UK comic convention season is now in full swing, following last month’s first Spring Comica Comiket Independent Comics Fair in London. This coming weekend, Cambridge hosts its first dedicated festival, CamCon with some superstar guests, while the Bristol Comics Expo bounces back, after a few rather compromised years divided between two limited-entry hotels, and reoccupies the spacious Passenger Shed at Brunel’s Old Station with room enough for all.

And throughout May there are more big weekend events to come in London, from the second Kapow! Comic Convention at the Business Design Centre, Angel, on May 19th & 20th to the Institut Français’s second BD & Comics Passion Festival in South Kensington from May 24th to 27th, as well as another gigantic London MCM Expo filling ExCel in Docklands from May 25th to 27th. So, keeping in the convention spirit, here’s my report from a brand new one launched in London earlier this year. 

For its inaugural edition over the weekend of February 25th and 26th 2012, London Super Comic Convention, or SuperCon for short, could not have wished for a better headlining guest than Stan Lee. He might be expensive to bring over, but the co-creator of much of Marvel’s pantheon is perhaps the only comics creator who could garner lots of media coverage and attract both diehard True Believers and the wider ‘civilian’ public, who may know about the Marvel comic books but are probably much more familiar with their film and TV adaptations. In fact, SuperCon was a rare example of a mass-appeal comics expo without a movie-star or other media celebrities in sight - apparently to avoid competition with the MCM Expos which also use ExCel - and to my mind, it was all the better for being totally focussed on comics, admittedly mainly American mainstream ones.

As with any ambitious first-time event, there were some teething troubles. Some punters told me that their enquiries via Facebook and Twitter had never been answered.They felt the extra charges to meet Stan Lee had not been advertised from the beginning and seemed on the high side. Other convention-goers were not happy that the Saturday morning queue to get in stretched down to the ExCel entrance and moved very slowly. Kapow! last year managed to process hundreds of pre-paid ticket-holders smoothly and SuperCon needs to get this right. That said, once inside, people found the staff courteous and helpful, enabling them eventually to meet their favourite creators and get a signature or sketch.

Stan ‘The Man’ Lee was by far the biggest attraction, of course, making his first convention appearance in London for nearly forty years, and despite approaching 90 this December, he proved a tireless professional trooper. Collector Ben Le Foe told me that Lee’s signing was a real production line. “You literally got seconds with him. But he was genial with everyone and the queue was pretty quick.” It’s easy to forget how much these brief but once-in-a-lifetime encounters with your idols can be for some. One young Captain America cosplayer who posed for a photo with Lee was tearfully ecstatic afterwards. Tokyo-based publisher Russell Willis splurged on the VIP ticket and bought his investment copies of Fantastic Four 1 and Amazing Fantasy 15 for Lee to sign before ‘slabbing’ them. “Personally, I gave into my 9-year old self and asked Stan for a No-Prize in recognition of the storms, blizzards and near hypothermia I would brave to pick up my weekly copy of The Titans and Mighty World of Marvel back in 1976. He obliged in a mock ceremony, and my life’s work is now done!”

The next biggest draw was undoubtedly George Perez, still very active on the new Superman, and fondly recalled for his stellar stints on Avengers, Teen Titans and Wonder Woman among others. A truly hard-working artist, he started drawing an hour earlier on the Sunday to catch up and still had to cut his list from 38 people to 16. Brian Bolland was overwhelmed with the backlog of sketches from Saturday and couldn’t take on any more on Sunday. Artists were happy to give you their signature but most were charging for sketches, usually around £20, although a few like Phil Jiminez, Andy Lanning and a mobbed Mark Buckingham drew for free. 

 

While emphasising superhero comics, SuperCon broadened the range a bit with British small presses plus guests like David Petersen of Mouse Guard fame and David Lloyd, promoting Cartoon Classroom and signing promo cards for the forthcoming iPad edition from Panel Nine of his Kickback crime-noir graphic novel. IDW made their debut here announcing some key books, alongside UK outfits like Rebellion, Markosia, and PS Art Books (shown above), producers some of the classiest archives of vintage Harvey and ACG horror comic books around, who announced their forthcoming archives of Simon & Kirby’s Fifties horror classics Black Magic. Other UK publishers were noticeably missing, apparently because they felt the SuperCon audience wasn’t their demographic.

It was a surprise and pleasure to discover Jemma Comics from Athens and I got an English edition of satirical slacker-rock comedy Hard Rock (above), which I got signed by its creator Tasos Maragkos, the Greek Peter Bagge. Not everyone was there to get their comics signed, though. One long-time Fantastic Four collector told me he had paid for his wife, daughter and son-in-law to come for the Saturday morning with him, so he could buy from the American dealers, who, in his view, offer superior grade copies, before the whole party headed off to Harrods to keep the ladies happy. 

By all accounts, the single-strand programme of panels was entertaining enough, though without proper sound proofing marred by echoing acoustics and background babble. Seeing major creators with fascinating careers like Bernie Wrightson (above), Howard Chaykin and Bill Sienkiewicz mostly stuck behind their signing tables was not making the most of their rare presence in the UK. Friend and fellow fan Steve Poulacheris told me that he’d asked the staff, “Why is Perez here?”, because almost all he was doing was slaving away on sketches. One-to-one momentary fan access is fine, but it was a missed opportunity not to get more of these American superstars onto smartly moderated panels, if not solo interviews. Stan Lee’s Q&A with the public was fun but slight, with no awkward questions and few revelations. Asked who he’d like to collaborate with from today’s generation, Lee had to think, and then replied, “I like Alan Moore!” Now there’s a double-act I’d love to see!

Not everyone liked the venue. Some found the gigantic empty cube at ExCel in Docklands (above) a dehumanising warehouse of a space - carpeting might have helped. Still, SuperCon got off to great start. But how do you top Smilin’ Stan next year? There’s Joss Whedon, though he’s maybe too movie- and TV-related, or how about Neil Gaiman? Whoever they invite, I expect I’ll be back, and so will hundreds of others.

Posted: May 9, 2012

This Article was originally published in Comic Heroes Magazine.

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