Before I start this, an admission. I really, really need to learn how to take a better photograph. But thankfully, the Internet is awash with them. God bless the Internet for making me look less inept than I really am. My photos are the badly lit, badly posed, blurry ones, the rest are all credited to those who took them, but if I haven’t been able to contact you about “borrowing” them and you want them taken down, my apologies and please get in touch. Okay, on with the show….
The British International Comics Show took place in Birmingham over the weekend. And the show was a great success. Lots of fun, loads of great comics folks there and more attendees than ever according to one of the organisers James Hodgkins. My thanks to James and Shane Chebsy for organising the whole thing and inviting me along. Time for a few weeks off for both gents and then they can start thinking about next year!
But before the success of the Show itself came the traditional launch party. Previous years this had been held in Bennetts, an impressively large pub in the city centre with lots of space for comic folks to mingle and network plus the chance to let various folks impress us with their musical abilities with a selection of live comic bands.
But this year saw the venue changed to Bar Panama, off Birmingham’s Broad Street (later described by special guest Howard Chaykin as having “the sluttiest, trampiest women” he’d ever seen – which, for Mr Chaykin is surely some feat!). It was the sort of place you might have found yourself when you were 16 and could only get served in the very worst places in town. People arrived, looking forward to a nice, booozy night and were presented with a badly lit, cramped room with a badly stocked bottle bar and immediately wondered what the hell they were in for all weekend. (But it did get better). Downstairs at Bar Panama was no better; as we soon found out when we tried to escape to a bar that actually had draught beer. Twenty or so comic folks at one end of the room trying to have a nice chat and a DJ blasting out Drum & Bass across the empty room seemingly determined to make it as difficult as possible to hear the person next to you screaming into your ear. After an hour or so of this there was a mass exodus as comicdom spread to anywhere else they could find to drink. And drink they did as Twitter can show us…..
Andy Diggle: The BICS launch party is a f***ing nightmare. We’ve bailed – where’s everyone else heading?
Adam Cadwell: Back from BICS. Knackered. Had fun meeting new folk, chatting, drawing sharks and drinkin til 4am with Ben McCool. Our MCC table kicked ass.
Andy Diggle (again): Stayed up til 6am drinking with @benmccool. Still DUNK.
Paul Cornell summed up the whole farrago best: Stayed out talking comics: great. But missed @andydiggle in other pub. Next year: official pub sort out please.
(Just some of the folks out on launch party night who didn’t actually stay at the launch party. And I’m not really slandering anyone by saying they’re a touch worse for wear am I? L to R: Stephen Mooney, Jacintha O’Reilly-Mooney, Ben McCool, Declan Shalvey, Michael Wright, William Sliney. Borrowed with thanks from Stephen Tierney’s Facebook album.)
And you’ll notice a common thread in those tweets – one Mr Ben McCool, with whom I spent many fun years working at Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham before he took his wonderful ideas and his incredible personality over to New York to seek fame & fortune (and completely unexpectedly, future marital bliss with one Heidi McDonald.) Ben is soon to grace comic shelves all over the world with his new book from Image; Choker, with art from the wonderful Mr Ben Templesmith. Meanwhile, Heidi was following Future Mr Beat’s progress with some interest. McCool later surfaced sometime on Sunday, wearing the look of a man who’d probably had more pints in two nights than minutes of sleep. And he wasn’t the only one. Comic folks sure know how to drink. Personally I left the drinking relatively early, with the idea that I’d actually be able to see on Saturday morning.
(Impressive, shiny, futuristic and, given this is the back entrance, rather built the wrong way – Millennium Point, location of the 2009 British International Comics Show.)
So Saturday morning I head over to the impressively aluminium Millennium Point and played the famous elevator game to get up to the Comic Show. Like last year they’d organised it with two rooms; the smaller Creator Suite and the larger Exhibition Hall. It was noticeable this year that there were less exhibitor tables, particularly in the main exhibition hall, but this was actually a good thing, with wider aisles and considerably less heat than previous years leading to a much more enjoyable experience. The exhibitors I spoke to all seemed to agree it was a very good show indeed, with many of them talking about having a great weekend sales wise.
(BICS 2009: less exhibitors on the main floor = more space to move and a much cooler and comfortable atmosphere for all involved. From all the report it also meant great sales on both days.)
Saturday was a work day, taking myself round the tables and saying hi to folks (okay, hardly real work I’ll grant you). This means I didn’t get to see any of the panels. Which, after hearing the reports, was a real shame. The “Comic Artists Flip Out” panel with James Hodgkins, Alan Davis, Staz Johnson, Mark Buckingham and more was extremely well received. Likewise the “70 Years Of Marvel Comics” with a nice mix of old school doom and gloom and new boy positivity (or so I hear). The one thing I have learnt this year is that whenever you get the chance to go to a panel featuring a longtime comics pro known for his great anecdotes and cutting sense of humour, you should really go along. I didn’t get to see Howard Chaykin’s panel, but based on the feedback, I really wish I had.
Later in the day Bryan Talbot held the UK Grandville book launch (as recently reviewed here) and the day ended with David Lloyd and Steve Merchant launching their very promising looking Comics Classroom project followed by the annual humiliation that is the Cosplay Competition – I hear Tony Lee was on form this year. He’s a bad, bad man.
Sunday was more of the same, a relaxed day for everyone, but exhibitors still reported a good, steady stream of fans and buyers stopping by. I took time out to visit a few panels and rest my aching feet at this stage. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Sarah McIntyre interview the very special guest from Japan Michuri Morikawa, but from all the word around the net, it was a brilliant panel, as reported by Matthew Badham at Down The Tubes:
On Sunday morning, I made a point of sauntering along to see Sarah McIntyre interview manga artist Michiru Morikawa , which was just amazing. Part of this was down to Sarah, who was a great interviewer, and Michiru, who was interesting, humble and very charming…. Add to this a surprise cameo appearance and impromptu discussion of Michiru’s new graphic novel, Buskers by Jeymes Samuel, the man whose screenplay it was adapted from, and you’ve got one of my personal highlights of the whole weekend.
Or, like Sarah herself says: “Something very cool happened in the middle of her talk; she was saying she was sad she hadn’t been able to meet any of her co-creators, other than via e-mail, and suddenly one of them, Jeymes Samuel, said something like, ‘Hey, I’m here!’, and there was a big happy first meeting! Jeymes was able to talk about the film being made, and made Michiru glow with his effusive praise of her work. That was fun!”
(In what was meant to be the moment of the con – Morikawa meets Jeymes Samuel, the author of the screenplay she adapted Buskers from and whom she had previously never met. Borrowed from Sarah McIntyre’s blog.)
The panels I did get to see on Sunday were very entertaining indeed; Comics Insider with Tim Pilcher in the chair was a far too short look at all aspects of the industry – we could have carried on for at least another hour throwing ideas back and forth I think. The Garry Leach: Covered panel was inspiring, with Leach creating a marvellous cover from scratch in front of the audiences eyes. And then we had the final panel, with James Hodgkins chairing a special comics version of the popular BBC quiz show - Have I Got Comics News For You was a riotous, chaotic and downright silly end to BICS 2009, with Hodgkins taking the Angus Deyton role with all the professionalism of a man frazzled with weeks of non-stop prep for the weekend. Sadly, not prep for the final quiz, but that just made it funnier when it all went wrong. The teams consisted of Tim Pilcher, Staz Johnson, Tony Lee, Michael Wright and Mark farmer, but none of them could match the great Howard Chaykin who was on wonderful form again – making me really, really regret not seeing him on the Saturday. For example:
“As long as John Bryne is still alive it makes me only the second most despised man in comics” Howard Chaykin, BICS 2009.
And with that, BICS 2009 closed it’s doors. This years show was the best yet. Before the event there had been murmurings of displeasure over table prices, and talk of boycotts, but I have to say it was an excellent weekend, where everyone; public, retailers and creators, seemed to be having a great time. Numbers were up on last year, the whole venue seemed more open and comfortable and everyone seemed to have a rather wonderful time.
Thanks go to Shane Chebsey and James Hodgkins for masterminding the whole thing but we mustn’t forget the small army of volunteers behind the scenes who try their best to keep everything running smoothly. This year, bar the little cock up over the launch party, everything went incredibly well.
BICS 2009 was a huge success. We shall all be looking forward to this time next year and BICS 2010.