I don't know about you, but one of the things I do in the first week or so of every year is try to sort out what I'll be doing over the next twelve months. If you're thinking that this seems uncharacteristically organised for me, well, it is. But, as a teacher I don't get any say regarding when I'll be off work, and while I'm off work a lot longer than folk with regular jobs, I'm also off work when everybody in the damn country wants to go on holiday because when I'm not a t work their kids aren't at school.
So. It pays to be organised.
This means that a lot of the time in the first two or three weeks of January is spent here at FoolCentral poring over calendars and the dates of the things we want or need to do. It's become something of an annual ritual.
The first thing that caught my eye was the opening of nominations for the 2012 Eagle Awards. The nomination process actually started on January 1st, and will continue to the end of February. During that time you can go to the voting section of the website and complete the online form. For every category you can either choose to support one of the creators already nominated, or add to the list with your own choice. At the end of this phase the five creators with the most nominations in each category will go forward into the voting process for the awards themselves.
It's a good system – and to my mind makes the Eagles one of the most democratic awards in comics. Anyone can vote, so long as they can get access to the internet. The awards therefore reflect what readers actually like, rather than what a panel of experts thing they should like. I'd encourage every single person reading this to go to the website right now and cast their vote. Go on, do it now – I'll wait for you…
Ah, there you are. All done? Brilliant – we'll come back to the Eagles in a few weeks when the nominations close and we know who is finally in the running. For now though, all these calendars lying around and the realisation that the Eagles will be handed out at the MCM Comics Expo in London in May set me off on another train of thought.
You see, I started entering all of the UK comic conventions*onto the FoolCentral master calendar, and I was suddenly struck by how many of them there are.
Back when I first began reading comics there was, to my knowledge, one UK comics convention of any size, the late, lamented UK Comics Art Convention – UKCAC to its mates. As I recall, at some point in the mid-nineties there was a sister con in Scotland, the Glasgow Comic Art Convention, or "GlasCAC", but that really was it.** Then, in 1998 UKCAC moved briefly to Manchester and then died. For a little while it seemed as though the UK Con scene was over. Then of course the Bristol Comics Festival stepped in and 1999 got it's Comics Con after all.
Bristol – or "Brizzle" as it became known to many of its friends – reigned supreme for a few years with nothing to challenge it. It was never perfect, there were often slightly raggedy edges, things did not always run smoothly and the venues were, well, never entirely fit for purpose. The even started out in "the Watershed", an arts centre down by the docks, then it moved into a vast structure known as the "Engine Shed"*** next door to the railway station, then finally to the Ramada Plaza and Mercure hotels. In the decade and a bit the event has been running it's changed names, changed organisers, bat always been "Bristol Weekend". I've always had a soft spot for it, and for the city. I was gutted not to be able to go in 2011, and I'm equally gutted that it's unlikely that I'll be able to go this year too.
Fortunately, missing the Bristol weekend no longer means missing out on the UK Comics Con experience for the whole year. Far from it, indeed. Brizzle is no longer the only UK comic get together type thing. Oh no. Grab your calendar.
Your first date is in fact but a few short weeks away. The eighteenth of February, to be precise. If you make your way to the International Centre in Telford, you can take part in the MCM Midlands Expo. A day of what I am sure will be a day of comicy goodness. Few details are available at the moment, but I'm sure it'll be great.
Not too great, I hope though, because you've not got long to get over the awesomeness of the experience before you have not one but two cons in one weekend. On the 31st March and 1st of April , in the far north of Britain, you have the reasonably well established Hi-Ex**** event in Inverness, Scotland. I confess I've never been to the event, but I know Inverness well, and the con remains high on my "to do" list.
At the very same time, and new to the UK con roster is the MCM Birmingham Comics Expo, running in conjunction with their long established Memorabilia Collector's Fair at the NEC. For the vast majority of people, Birmingham is a lot easier to get to than Inverness, so that has to be a public service, right?*****
You've a few weeks to wait then before the next big comics event. Early in May, (the 12th and 13th to be precise) the oldest of the currently established events, the weekend wonderland that is Bristol takes place, this year making a triumphant return to the Engine Shed and featuring the man who will, for me at least, always be the "good" Batman editor, Denny O'Neil. I don't care that my schedule makes it unlikely that I'll be able to get down to the south west of England that weekend. I'm still excited.
Still, if circumstances do dictate that I have to miss it, well, I guess I can console myself a couple of weeks later with the London MCM Expo, hitting the massive complex that is the London ExCel Centre on May 25th -27th. A fantastic venue in the heart of London's re-invigorated Docklands (if you go, try the noodle shop in on the concourse, seriously, very cheap and very good). Then of course there is the added attraction of the Eagle Awards, of course.
After that it all goes quiet for a bit. Can you believe that there is nothing at all in June? On the 21st July you can make your way to the city of Manchester for the MCM Manchester Expo. Then in August you can almost certainly (so far as I can see they haven't announced dates yet, but it's always in August) make your way to the dreaming spires of Oxford for Caption, the small press and self published con that has the distinction of being the longest running con in the UK – 2012 will be the twentieth year. You'd better enjoy it mind you, because you don't get another shot at the whole Comic Con thing until the Thought Bubble Festival, held in Leeds between the 12th and 18th November (the actual Con bit is 17th -18th).
Clearly, we've come a long way in Britain since the days when UKCAC was the only show in town. But have we come too far?
Surely if Hi-Ex and MCM Birmingham are on at the same time, they're going to have to compete for guests? Given that Inverness is a reasonable journey from an international airport, logically this would be detrimental to the longer established Hi-Ex event and the establishment of the MCM event in Birmingham is unfriendly at best. If you're a comics fan in the North of Scotland Hi-Ex is pretty much the only con you can reasonably get to – if guests are lured away by the bright Brummie lights***** that means that Scottish fans are going to miss out.
While we're on the subject, what impact, if any, does the establishment of MCM Birmingham have on the Birmingham International Comics Sh
ow, or BICS? Loss of venue stopped the event last year, can Birmingham support two comics cons?
I don't know.
Knowing how much I love the con experience, this plethora of comics related weekend events seems like a good thing. But at the same time I'm reminded of my twenty-first birthday. The pub I used to frequent in those days had an extensive list of fruit wines. I really liked those fruit wines, and to mark my twenty-first I thought it would be good to work my way though the list.
I don't remember much about the evening, to be honest. I do remember being violently, hideously sick at least twice, and I will never, ever forget the hangover the following day. My point being that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. There are only so many comics fans to attend these events, and there are only so many comics creators to go around. They can't possibly attend them all – especially the ones who are based on other shores, and let's face it folks, that's quite a lot of them.
I know that, even if I had the time, I don't have the money to attend all of the cons this year. For the record, proximity****** makes my presence at Thoughtbubble 2012 a total no-brainer, and sentiment means that I can get to any of the others, it'll be Bristol.
Wherever you are, I would encourage you to get to at least one con in the next year. Spending a weekend in the company of people who love comics every bit as much as you do, meeting creators and finding comics you'd never see any other way is a fabulous experience. But if you have a choice, go to a con that started – or even still is – small. Go to a con that has a distinct identity. The kind of con where you might actually run into the organiser wandering around, probably looking stressed but still keen to find out how your day is going.
Comics are more than just bundles of paper that tell stories using words and pictures. Comics create communities, and that's a wonderful thing to be part of. Just don't spread it all too thin.
*or Expos. Or Festivals. Or whatever the hell else we're calling them.
**Unless there was a thriving scene that nobody told me about – which is possible, back in the nineties I was so obsessive that if I'd been having a party I wouldn't have invited me either. It's just that back in the nineties I was so obsessive about comics that if there'd been big comic related event going on, I would definately have heard…
***It may have had a proper name, but I couldn't tell you what it was…
****Hi-Ex, "Highland Expo". Inverness is the capital of the Highlands, although, with respect to the good citizens of Inverness, it's all a little far south for me…
*****I should say, that with all due respect to Brum, a city I've always quite liked (it gave the world Heavy Metal – what's not to like?) given the choice I'd be making my way North to Inverness. It's actually worth going for journey alone – the scenery is stunning!
******I can drive there in twenty minutes…