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Finding artists to work with Part 2: ComicCon Midlands

Posted on Mar 1, 2014 by John Scotcher
So, Comic Con; if I say the geek in me was a little over excited I would be understating. I haven’t been to a comic convention in about twenty years, mostly because I got interested in other things in the late nineties, but for a while I was a regular attendee.
I am threatened by some kind of storm trooper for looking too cool for Comic Con (honest).
If you look around this site you’ll be able to taste past glories of the comic flavour. After Uni, with a friend of mine, I set up a small press comic book company; “Dreamy Comics”. I was always one of those annoying 'enterprising' kids (school council, young enterprise, D of E award, student council, I positively make myself sick), and the comics company was my first attempt to make money out of something I loved. I think we broke even for about five episodes. Not known for my staying power in those days, I got distracted (by a girl, somewhat predictably) and moved on. Only a couple of years later I started writing the first novel and that was that.

So when I came to start this website in preparation for the book launch, I also began to think about artists to illustrate both the site and the book. When I started to search on (see previous post), I immediately found myself migrating to comic artists. It was then just a short leap before I found myself on Comic Con Midlands' website, buying a ticket.

Fortunately I was able to find two friends to go to with. The first, Leigh, was the one who partnered me in the small press company. All I will say about his geek credentials is to mention what he bought whilst we were there: one Steampunk top hat, one Steampunk waistcoat and one replica sword to add to his collection. That should sum him up. If it doesn't, I'll add that both the top hat and the waistcoat were not for fancy dress purposes, but rather to wear on normal days. Yes, girls, Leigh is available.

The last member of our trio, James, who is both younger and more handsome then Leigh and I, probably thinks good looks and fashion sense (which mainly involves wearing the sort of trainers usually seen on cartoon characters) hide his geekiness. They do not. Admittedly he bought very little there, but instead buys boxes of kit online every week for whatever the latest obsession is. This week it is vintage shaving kit. Next week is anyone's guess.

Now, whilst they, as 'grown men', had no real reason to be at a comicon, I had the perfect excuse. I was of course there looking for other illustrators that would be right to work on the book, the chapter illustrations and the website. I was in no way just another geek, honest. So, the day arrived, and armed with some horribly pretentious and cheap 'John Scotcher, Writer' cards from Vistaprint, I jumped in the car with them and off we went.

There are some marked differences in a modern comicon to the last time I went; some good, some bad, some just plain weird. The entire thing was housed in two large halls at the Telford International Centre. I have never been to Telford before and was not expecting the International Centre to have anything resembling an international flavour. Telford didn't disappoint, the centre and the town feeling fractionally less metropolitan than Wolverhampton. Fortunately the assembled geeks, freaks and emos didn't care.

A modern comicon, if this was anything to go by, is almost purely created to part people with their cash. I know I shouldn't be surprised or indeed upset by this (I am a businessman and selling things is a part of my daily work life), but I really did feel sad at the sheer level of commercialism that permeated the halls. The last time I went to one of these events, I would say the ratio of stalls to lecture areas where the big names of the comic world would give talks and the like was about was about forty to sixty. Here, the stalls took up well over seventy percent of the halls, with the remaining area taken up by a Robot Wars arena (don't ask) and a small lecture area. The worst moment for me was when I saw a couple of 'stars' of a well know sci-fi TV comedy sitting at a stand selling signatures. I don't plan to swear on this blog very often, but frankly f*** off.

Additionally, the merchandise that was on sale seemed a fairly wide interpretation of comicon. Toys, games, steam punk stuff and other dress up gear (more of which later) and basically anything no matter how pointless that would part a spotty youth (or overweight forty-two year old called Leigh) from his money.

But enough of this, I am sounding like a grumpy old man and I am only a grumpy middle aged man. There were also lots of positives to the event, and I did actually enjoy myself. Let me briefly tell you about some of them.

The first; geek girls! Actual girls, not just boys that had 'tucked'. Initially I thought they might be lost, but no, comicons are no longer the just territory of just and occasional angry feminists using the medium to make a “really valid point,ok?” The popular culture of the past twenty years, not least of which is the huge influence Manga and video gaming, has split the sexes much more evenly than in the past. Geek girls playing video games, geek girls buying comics, geek girls holding monstrous guns. A number of times Leigh turned to me and mournfully said, “We were born too early.”

An extension to the prevalence of the female of the species, was what a number of them were wearing. Here I refer to 'Cosplay'. Now whilst it sounds like something that should only be done by consenting adults behind closed doors, in fact Cosplay is dressing up as your favourite character from a comic, a cartoon, a game or a sci-fi program and going to the convention in the costume. To be fair this was engaged in by guys and girls alike. Cosplay was something that was quite new to me, though Leigh and Jim both had glints in their eye that told me they may have done some healthy research online.

Now in many of the comics, cartoons, sci-fi programs and games I mentioned above, the men are tooled up in formidable battle gear, whereas the women are wearing little more than a leather bra. You can probably imagine the scene here: Every twenty or so metres a costume passes you. You are either marvelling at the workmanship in the armour, or you're thinking “Do her parents know she's out dressed like that?” In a couple of really disturbing cases I thought, “Do his parents know he's out like that?” I'll spare you the details.

Cosplay is hugely popular. One could say it is a huge honey trap for the spotty youths I mentioned earlier. One could also cynically think it was all planned by a clever male geek (it pretty much falls into the same category of telling the other half that curry and sex will help induce her late baby). However what it comes down to is actually just people having a laugh and not being themselves for a day. And why not?

The thing that really made my day, however was the “comics village”. This is, to my mind, the heart and soul of the convention. It's where the small press comics companies have stands. Hard working creators, often creating their comics part time as a labour of love, bring the fruits of their labour to conventions to introduce them to a wider world. Here were the brand new starters, the more established creators, the old hands who simply preferred the small press route. Here were the Kick Starter and Crowd Funder launched projects. Here the illustrators looking for work. Sure, it could have been a bigger part of the overall space, but as I mentioned this is a business and I imagine the organisers can't make as much money out of the small press creators.

Either way, this is where Leigh and Jim lost me for a couple of hours. Whilst I didn't find any illustrators that suited my needs within the three or four rows of stands, I did have some great conversations with some very talented and creative people, appreciating what they were doing and feeling an immediate kinship. Plus, for all of my cynicism about the commercial aspects of the convention, here was where I was the fan boy geek, blowing over a hundred quid on new authors' graphic novels. Admittedly I am planning to review them on this blog, so it wasn't purely frivolous buying, but the thrill I had as I was buying was pure 'teenager'.

I have a number of reviews that I want to share you with you over the coming weeks.  If you can't wait to see what I am going to reccommend, let me start with a few links to some of the great creators I will be reviewing.  Don't wait for me, check them out yourself:  The great John Lock with his Afterlife Inc comics, Lyndon White, who I think is going to be one to watch, Jennica Ioffreda, her comic Vampire Free Style has the audacity to be cute and funny, and Neil Gibson - who seemed so nice at the convention yet has the twisted mind of a serial killer.  :-)

I'm actually pretty excited about reviewing them. I have one review good-to-go and two more in the pipeline. I will not surprise me if some of the guys I met and chatted with are the future Frank Millars, the future Neil Gaimans or the future Alan Moores of the comics world. Finding that there is still a vibrant and committed small press represented at an event such as this made all my earlier disdain slip away. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the small press area alone restored my faith in the whole thing and made me certainly prepared to commit to going to the next one.

Well, that and the leather bras.




Hmmmmm, if I had any trust in you actually putting it up here, I would write a counterpoint. :p
Ha ha ha. Sorry Leigh. Unlike FaceBook, you're in MY kingdom now. ;-)


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