Sunday, 19 October 2014

Borderline Press Blog #26: Pros & Cons

It's been the multi-national conventions weekend - things all over the shop...

I can’t comment on the Lakes International Comic Art Festival because circumstances dictated that I couldn’t attend in person. Terry (Verity Fair) Wiley bravely manned the Borderline Press table (with help from Jay, Selina and any passing body) and, by reports, has had a very good show. The event has been almost overnight become one of the most important conventions on the calendar. Whether it can sustain its place with a new look committee attempting to turn Thought Bubble back into what it originally was, the competition is high and fierce.

Instead I found myself 31 miles down the road from Northampton in Royal Leamington Spa, at the first LeamCon and it left me with so many unanswered questions, I’m beginning to wonder if there is any rhyme or reason for things.

By rights LeamCon should have been a complete disaster. It was going up against The Lakes and a film and comic show in London. It didn’t have any star names; on show were a Gibson (not Ian), Al Davison and probably, in terms of history in comics, me. Although I was subdued and ponderous and felt a tiny bit out of my depth – for no apparent reason at all. I mean, this was basically a glorified comic mart in a lovely Spa town, on a freak October day, that was more like Spain than Warwickshire and Dan Mallier claims over 1000 people went through the doors.

I’d disclaim this number, purely on the basis that I wasn’t the only person to be counted going in and out of the Pump Rooms; so the chances are the figure is a bit higher than the actual head count – although Dan may well disprove this theory, I’d say a minimum of 600 individual people wandered through during the 6 or so hours it was on. Even if it was just 600 it was a staggering figure considering the piss poor attendances at Bristol, Birmingham and, I’m sorry to say, Bedford. If the latter had attracted as many people then it could have been the show to end all shows for the provincial convention.

What did LeamCon do that other provincial pop-up cons don’t? Probably not a lot other than more care and attention to all aspects of the show – the right balance between exhibitors, punters and the general public. Good advanced and sustained PR, made all the more credible by the attendance and the lacks of star names or real pros (with the greatest respect to all who feel they are real pros). What made LeamCon all the more strange was there was barely a disgruntled person in the house, Yes, I heard some youngsters bemoaning the lack of superhero comics, creators and ephemera and some guy, five minutes after paying his £6 walked up to Dan and asked in an accusatory fashion if ‘this was it?’, he left once he’d got his answer. His loss.

One wonders what it would have been like if he’d held it on a different day (he couldn’t) and had attracted maybe a handful of local pros or even a star name? And that was one of my thoughts – the teething troubles this new organiser faced were piddling compared to some problems I’ve witnessed experienced event planners struggle with (and that raises a whole barrel of different questions) and if Dan learns from his few mistakes and expands at the right rate, I don’t see why LeamCon can’t be the logical replacement for Caption. I believe if the usual suspects who attend the now defunct Oxford small press con knew about this then they would have dragged along even more people.

People were taking money up to 4.30 on Saturday; there was vibrancy about the exhibitors because they’d all had unbelievably good days. One small press creator claimed to have had the best day he’d ever had, selling over £1000 worth of books, prints and sketches. The grins were palpable and the questions began to be asked. How come this was so successful when events organised by people who supposedly understand this type of thing have floundered or failed? How come so many people came to something without star names or that many events outside of an exhibitors hall? Why did some many people take so much money from punters who looked or acted no different from punters who go to other shows? Why can’t the other provincial cons be as well organised?

I think the simple answer is some people need to look at what they’re doing from the outside in rather than thinking what they like is what everyone else wants. The one thing we all know about comics fans is they are fickle, dogmatic and not easily parted with their cash unless they want to. We also know exhibitors want people, because people can equal sales; no people = no sales = pissed off exhibitors.

Even at Leamcon the balance was wrong, but the intentions, the enthusiasm and the hard work made it pay off; imagine what could be achieved if Dan Mallier and Lisa-Marie Nelson (his partner) were able to organise a major event?


Sticking to the cons theme and returned to something I’ve spoken about before. One of the other questions I had to ask myself over the weekend was this: many major towns and cities now hold conventions, festivals, and everything in between and yet the one place in the UK that probably could be the best place to hold a convention or a festival would be Northampton. Not just because of Alan Moore, but because of the rich history this one town and county has given comics over the last 40 years. From the guy who did the World Staring Competition to Borderline Press – there is a definite correlation between comics and this place. However, NICE or the first one at least, was held in Kettering (birthplace of the legend known as Frank Bellamy) in a tent and after that failed to be as good as it could, the organisers – the Chahal brothers – opted to move it to Bedford because of costs.

Frankly it amazes me that our councils can throw money at an electronic comics project as long as it promotes the town rather than throw some weight behind doing a real appreciation of comics in its modern spiritual home. If you had a Beano convention it could only be held in Dundee. A Viz con in Newcastle. A comics con in Shoesville is as logical.

I’m not blaming the Chahal brothers for failing to turn the Northampton International Comics Expo into an actual Northampton event, but I can’t help thinking that a lot of people are missing an opportunity (however, while NICE exists, holding a rival convention would be like opening a new chip shop next to the most popular one in your street - to abort that discussion before it gets started).


Finally; it’s not common knowledge, but Santa Claus versus the Nazis has been postponed until next summer, purely down to the production problems we had switching printers. Ben and Gavin are fine about it and we all think it might be a blessing in disguise.

The same postponement applies to Robotz - as Jo Karpowicz is behind schedule on paid work.

Seth & Ghost will be out though, for Thought Bubble (God willing). And hopefully I'll get things moving on story(cycle), Seamonster and something we've expressed an interest in publishing - an interesting new world called The Happy Ghetto.

So, as usual, things are just like the Assyrian Empire.