Sorry, sorry, late again. If you’re reading the message board you already know my lame excuse – an excuse that somehow is all the more unforgivable for being true. By now, you’ve already read Tony Lee’s Bristol Experience (and if you haven’t, go and check it out…) and while mine was rather more low key, there are still some things I want to share.
Last year, I seem to remember calling my Bristol round up “Feel the Love”.
Y’know what? I still can.
I’m not exactly Mr Joyous at the moment, sandwiched as I am between my Dad’s death and his funeral, and I very nearly didn’t go to Bristol this year. In the end, I compromised. I didn’t go for the weekend, I just drove down for the day – and what a day!
There can be no denying that Bristol is a special place. Having left my house at half five in the morning I made the car park at Bristol Temple Meads Station at about nine, leaving me plenty of time to have a bit of a wander, do the things I always do in Bristol*, and still get back to the Engine Shed by the time doors opened at ten thirty. Not that I got in at ten thirty, you understand.
No, I was in the queue at ten thirty – it was a good half hour before the queue moved forward enough for me to make it into the hall. The wait could have been tedious, but there were a few things that helped. For a start, the weather was amazing – brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies, something of a change from last year’s torrential rain. It would’ve been a pleasure just to stand there and soak up some sun, but in fact we were blessed with a reasonable amount of entertainment in the shape of the UK Garrison of the 501st Imperial Legion.
Basically, there were Storm Troopers. There were lots of Storm Troopers. And Biker Scouts. And a bloke in black from the fire command section of the Death Star. And Boba Fett.
Some of my friends have suggested that their antics were a little annoying, but I couldn’t disagree more – I loved them! They patrolled the queue in a suitably menacing manner, looking every bit the part, guns held casually but ready for use and making eye contact with the grinning hordes. Every so often they’d stop and question somebody, or pose for photos, or just stop for a chat. Indeed, for the running dog lackeys of an oppressive empire, they were rather friendly. Later on, when I stopped into the Comics Village Fete** I found one kneeling next to a table talking earnestly to a small child about the picture the little sprog was drawing.
It was rather touching…
Still, eventually I made it through the doors, and was delighted to be met by none other than the Etherington Brothers and their immensely long Blink Twice table. It’s always good to see them, and Bob (the writer) was if anything even more positive and upbeat than normal.*** Lorenzo (the artist) was, as has become the norm on these occasions, rather taking up with producing the astonishing sketches he is so happy to do at cons.
Mind you, the Blink Twice boys have rather a lot to be positive about, which I won’t go into here because I’m hoping to do a proper feature on them in the next few weeks.**** Whoever decided to put their table right in front of the door was a genius though, because they really did give a positive impression as you entered the hall, and their recent exposure in The Guardian newspaper their characters were easily recognised.
And this is symptomatic of the way Bristol operates these days. It’s getting really rather good. You could tell this just by wandering around the main venue. The Engine Shed is still the Engine Shed, with all the faults it ever had. It’s still hard for the queue to get in without getting caught up with cars heading for the long stay car park, it still has lousy ventilation, and it’s still hot and sweaty.
But my goodness, it can’t half buzz. The atmosphere was amazing.
Everywhere I looked there were people. Old, young, geeky, cool and all shades in between. Once again, there were a goodly number of kids, which is always nice to see, and once again, rather a lot of costumes. It seems to me that having been in the City since 1999 the event, and the people who attend, are growing in confidence and feeling much more confident about how they behave. It’s rather nice to see.
Still, I wasn’t there just to look at people***** there were comics to seek out too. Obviously I’d checked out Blink Twice’s rather lovely Malcolm Magic Compliation on the way in, but rather unaccountably totally forgot to buy one – which is a shame because I was planning to put it in the school library. It’s a lovely tome that brings together the full Malcolm series, the long out of print Tusk one shot and a whole bunch of extras. It’s the first thing they’ve put out they didn’t make by hand, and while I miss the artisan beauty of those old compilations, Bob’s obvious joy at finally being able to outsource the whole printing, gluing and sticking thing was so endearingly sincere, you just can’t help but love the book. I guess I’ll have to trot along to the website and get one…
I did manage to remember to pick up the latest product from the Eagle Award Winning Andy “Devil Child” Winter though. Septic Isle is a hard bitten espionage tale set in a post 7/7 London.
Jacob Marley****** used to be one of the finest agents in the Service. But he wanted a life, and so retired to spend some real time with his family. But then his daughter was caught up in a terrorist outrage that MI5 never saw coming, and Marley’s dream of a peaceful retirement perished.
So now, in an age of suicide bombers and terrorist cells the spooks just can’t infiltrate Marley is back on the street and trying to get to the bottom of a spate of attacks on mosques. But Marley isn’t the agent he once was, and he’s up against a foe every bit as ruthless and cunning as he ever was – and who has youth on his side. It’s going to take every bit of strength our world weary, broken hearted hero has to take on this threat, and he doesn’t know if he still has it in him.
Septic Isle, written by Winter and illustrated by Mick Trimble is that rarest of things – a modern spy story that doesn’t rip off James Bond and isn’t shit. Seriously, it’s right up there with Oni’s Queen and Country and TV’s The Sandbaggers, which in this genre is about the highest praise I could give. Winter’s pacey script is worthy of John le Carré, and Trimble’s moody black and white art is a fine compliment to the noir feel of the book. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I strongly suspect that the world of the modern spy is very much like that of Jacob Marley – tense, dirty, desperate and utterly unglamorous. Winter captures something of modern Britain, our fears and our paranoia in these fifty two pages. Had me gripped from the very first page, and I literally couldn’t put it down.
Rather less gritty, but equally enjoyable were the books I picked up later in the afternoon from the table being shared by the sparkliest man in comics, Bevis Musson and his temporary sidekick Phil Barnett. Actually, I’m not sure that it wasn’t Bev who was the sidekick – young Phil (whose Batman story Finland, Finland, Finland. has been mentioned here before, and is something of a legend, but if you missed it go and check it out on his Dad’s blog) turned out to be a marketing genius.
Since it features copyrighted characters Phil couldn’t sell copies of the comic, which features some of Bev’s loveliest art – you can tell they were having fun when they produced it – but he was willing to give copies away, with the suggestion that people should make a donation to the Special Care Baby Unit of Chase Farm Hospital in London. Phil raised an impressive £73.42 in just a couple of hours, which is no mean feat.
Bevis (who rather deservedly won three of Tony’s golden champagne glass awards) was there with his long running hero the Queen of Diamonds, and his latest opus The Dead Queen Detectives. This is something of a departure for Bev – the art style is more cartoony than is usual, as is the short (mostly one page) comedy format.
Basically what you have here is a few dead Queens, specifically, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth 1st, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria, living together in a suburban house and solving crimes. Not serious crimes you understand – their first adventure is the Case of the Biscuit Bandit, so Phillip Marlowe has nothing to worry about out.
This is gentle, but sharp and witty comedy. Every single page raises a smile, and some a re just laugh out loud funny. I’ve been passing the book around at work, and the whole English Dept has been in stitches. Queen Elizabeth’s make-up tips and Queen Victoria’s Comedy Page are particular favourites, and if Bev says I can I’ll post them up here next week.
Also next week, the rest of the reviews from Bristol. We’ve got Shakespeare, Starship Troopers, Silence, Girlies and so much more!
See you then.
*Check out any of the previous Bristol round-ups for details, in the unlikely event that you actually care…
**Which is getting no more of a mention here than that…
***I was actually concerned at one point – that much joy and energy in one place must surely be a hazard.
****Not that I’ve mentioned this to them yet, but Bob did say he was up for a good old chat, so…
*****The seven foot vampire woman from a couple of years ago wasn’t there, so there was rather less to look at in any case…
******I suspect the Dickensian reference is deliberate – Marley is indeed a man who has forged his own chains, or at least feels that he has.