Sorry, sorry, late again. I shouldn’t even be here now, I should be writing reports on the students in my form, but there are a few things I need to talk about now, so here I am.
First of all, yes, I made it to Bristol, and yes, I’ll be talking about it a lot further down the page. But the first thing I want to bring to your attention is something that came up at Bristol, but isn’t really related to the Expo itself. Regular readers of this column may well remember Phil Barnet, the outrageously confident young man who pitched a Batman/X-Men crossover to Bob Wayne at Bristol a few years ago. Phil was about ten then, and the pitch became the now legendary Finland, Finland, Finland.
Phil wasn’t at Bristol this year, perhaps in part because he did some serious damage to his left hand recently, severing a tendon and requiring an operation to put things straight. He’s still in a lot of pain with his left arm in a sort of splint thing, which is more than a little bit miserable for him. However, Phil’s dad, the multi-talented Budgie Barnet, writer, accountant and deviser of the ever popular Hypotheticals panel* was there, and set about getting as many sketches as he could featuring comics characters with their left arm incapacitated in the same manner as Phil’s.
Some of these images, including work by Dave Gibbons, Bevis Musson and John Higgins can be viewed here. Go take a look, it’s rather fun. A lot of us reckon it’d be fun to add to this collection, so this is an open call to any artist type who might be reading. If you were to add to this collection, you’d be adding to the general sum of human happiness, and who wouldn’t want to do that? Budgie’s only requests are that you remember that they’re for a thirteen year old, so can we keep them non-sexual, that the character can be any character from comics, but must have their left arm in a sling and cast or arm length splint, and also that they contain some kind of get well message for Phil…
He also asks if you can send a copy of the sketch (or the URL where he can see it) to firstname.lastname@example.org… and spread the word…
Go on – how often do you get the chance to share a gallery with Dave Gibbons?
Now, before I get to my Bristol experience, a final quick word about the London Marathon. It was a couple of weeks ago now, and I can just about walk normally again. I did finish, in a shade over five and a half hours, rather slower than I’d have liked, but damn it was hot! This slowed me down considerably. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it…
The weatherman promised me rain. We got hot sun. Really, really hot sun. Made things nice at the start, and great for the spectators (who also deserve huge thanks, so I don’t begrudge them it) but not so good for running in. I did well for the first 12 miles or so, less well for the next four, less well than that for the next four or five, after that, well, it was painful.
But, I got though it, and it was worth every damn step. Even without the cause, London is special. The event is without question the best organised and most enjoyable mass participation sporting event in the world, and it’s always a privillage to take part. But thanks to the generosity of the people who sponsored me – including many Comics Bulletin staffers, and many of you, my dear readers, the charity Brain Tumour UK gained by almost £1000, with still more to come.**
So, here’s to London. To the organisers and the crew who put the thing together and kept us topped up with water and Locozade Sport on the way ’round. To the runners who helped each other along (especially the guy in the g-string who gave me much incentive to overtake…). To the people in the crowd who gave out sweets and orange segments. To every kid I high fived. To every pretty girl who smiled at me. To everyone who yelled “COME ON REGIE!” whenever I ground to a halt. To the two women from Brain Tumour UK (sorry ladies, I’ve forgotten your names) who gave me such support at Canary Wharf – traditionally the hardest part of the course for me. To the Met, and the City of London Police who did such a fantastic job. To every idiot who wore a costume. To the car wash that set up a spray over the heat blistered road. And to my amazingly tolerant wife, who put up with all my running crap for so long.
To each and every one of them, and you.
And finally, Bristol.
A mixed weekend, really. If you’ve been following the saga you’ll know that the massive engine shed venue next door to Bristol’s Temple Meads station, that has played host to the dealer’s hall for years now was out of action for 2009, that as a result everything had moved to the Ramada Plaza Hotel, formerly the home only of the talks and panels, that only 500 tickets were available for each day, and that I didn’t have one for Saturday.
All pretty gutting when I found out about it, but after a day in Bristol with my lovely wife and no comicy distractions I found I was able to live with the idea. Saturday night however found me where Saturday night has found me for the last umpteen Bristol weekends. In the bar at the Ramada, where, as is also becoming traditional, I immediately ran into Harry Markos, head honcho at Markosia, and Tony Lee, writer of, well, just about everything really… Most of the usual faces appeared as the night rolled on*** until many of them disappeared to play a drinking game built around the cult TV classic “Most Haunted”. Don’t ask.
It was a good night, and in many ways reminded me what a comics convention/festival/expo is really all about. I mean, yes, I would’ve liked to have been able to get into the dealer hall and the talks room on Saturday, of course I would. But the essence of these things, for me at least, is the people you meet, not the stuff you buy or the talks you listen to. On the other hand, the reduced size of the event was pretty obvious from the bar – the place was almost empty in comparison to previous years.
Mind you, the following morning, when I turned up, finally armed with a ticket, I was pleased to see that there was still a queue to get in. Essentially this year the whole event was being housed in a suite of conference rooms that had previously been used only for talks. In this way what had previously been the venue for the large talks and the Eagle Awards became the main dealer room, the small talks room became the only talks room and the small press area was shoe-horned into a smaller meetings room at the end of a corridor.
This was why, in spite of my missing the whole of Saturday, I didn’t miss the perennial highlight of my weekend, the ever popular trip to “Earth Dave” that is Hypotheticals, because it didn’t happen. There was, it appears, nowhere to put it. The loss of such a popular event for want of space is clear evidence of the limitations faced by the Expo this year.
A couple of other things became immediately clear on Sunday morning. That particular area of the hotel had not been designed to be used by a single event, and that in spite of this, and the very limited floor space available, Mike Conroy and the organisers had done an absolutely amazing job of making the best of what they had. The situation was alleviated somewhat by the fact that there had been a separate one day small press event at the near-by Mercur Hotel the previous day**** which meant that the small pressers who weren’t able to get tables here had been able to promote themselves there, and were also in Bristol to add to the general happy throng of comicy goodness.
In many ways the existence of a separate but complimentary comics based event held close to the main Bristol Venue on the same weekend is further evidence of the development of a “Fringe” festival growing up around the main event. This surely is testament to the fact that Bristol is the comics event in the UK, and illustrates more clearly than anything else that the unavoidable loss of the Engine Shed simply couldn’t have been more badly timed. Everything is in place to make the event the San-Diego of Northern Europe, just as all the available space contracts and other events in other places are poised to make a grab for glory.*****
There is something about Bristol though. The UK comics community ended up there almost by accident in 1999. Since then the annual trip to this small, quirky and beautiful place has become an integral part of the spring for many of us. There were whisperings – completely unfounded whisperings, so far as I understand, but whisperings nonetheless – that this year might be the swansong of the Bristol event, and the level of genuine sadness these whisperings engendered was palpable.
Now it strikes me that this is of course, a purely sentimental thing. Bristol isn’t the ideal place to hold an event of this nature – something which has been acknowledged for some considerable time. It doesn’t have many venues of any size. It is a long way from almost everywhere else***** and it’s not particularly easy to get to.****** In a purely hard headed world it makes perfect sense for the established and excellent event in Birmingham to puck up the baton and run with it – and from a purely selfish point of view the Thought Bubble event in Leeds is just down the road from me and a whole bucketload easier (and cheaper) for me to get to.
But they wouldn’t be Bristol. And somehow that matters to me rather a lot.
Is it just me? UK type people, are you as attached to dear old Brizzle as I am? Are you as keen to see the event survive, even if it means spreading venues across the city? It was suggested by some, for example, that while the Expo and the Small Press Thing are separate events, it would be profitable to both if some of the big name panels from the Expo were held at the Small Press venue – it is after all a mere two minutes walk away, and would alleviate some of the space difficulties. Perhaps the two sets of organisers could work together to produce a joint ticketing system or something.
I don’t know.
What do you lot think? How do smaller events elsewhere in the world deal with these kinds of issues? The boards are open. Let’s talk.
*About which more later…
**And of course, one final plug – if you want to add to that total you can still do so at my Just Giving page.
***Most of the usual faces being either exhibitors or having managed to get their hands on one of the 500 tickets because they’re more organised than I am…
****Which I didn’t attend because I sort of forgot about it. I know. My finger is so on the pulse…
*****I don’t want to over dramatise this, but I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that the excellent event held in Birmingham every autumn has chosen this year to change its name from the Birmingham International Comics Show to the British International Comics Show. No reason why they shouldn’t of course – and you can’t deny they have access to an almost infinite amount of space in Birmingham. If they ever outgrow their current venue, or it becomes unavailable, there are all sorts of places in Brum where they could go. The same, sadly, cannot be said for Bristol, which just doesn’t have any big venues at all.
*****I spent a shade over ten hours travelling over the weekend, which is somewhat longer than I spent at the actual event…
******Actually it’s fabulously easy to get there from London – just a trip down the M4 motorway. It’s just that it’s rather a long way and some of my capital based acquaintances are so used to having everything on their doorstep a few of them are unwilling to make the effort.