Published on May 14th, 2012 | by Joe Glass3
Bristol Comic Expo 2012: A Review
This part weekend, myself and my colleagues on Stiffs and The Pride all made our varied ways down to sunny Bristol (seriously, the weather was bloody gorgeous all weekend) for the 2012 triumphant return of the Bristol Comic Expo to the Passenger Shed of Brunel Old Station.
It wasn’t just us there, obviously, a great number of our friends in the UK’s thriving and ever-expanding indie comic creative community were in attendance, coming from far and wide all over Britain. There were also a surprising number of creators, guests and bloggers and interviewers who’d come from across the pond, which I found a little surprising for a relatively small show. Fun was had by all, and aside from niggling problems that happen to every con, there were no massive ructions erupting at all. That being said, particularly later into the Sunday, there was a definite air of disquiet and unhappiness on the con floor.
Now, as I said, we had fun. We met a lot of new and interesting people, learned some cool things, got a lot of interest and hey, even a fair few interviews, which was all very cool. However, most of that fun comes from just that: interactions, catching up with friends, and the community togetherness. Sadly, the show itself was almost universally a pretty dire affair for all exhibitors involved, judging by the large number of dissatisfied comments, discussions and blogs I’ve heard or read so far, not least the worrying article by Tim Pilcher for Bleeding Cool.
We had fun, but sadly, in terms of actual sales of our comics, this had to be one of smallest cons for us. In fact, out of the cons we’ve presented at so far (still a relative few because we’re so new), the only worse con we had was last years Bristol Comic Expo.
And this was not just us. I hear from a number of creators who’ve had less than successful weekends, some even saying they’d sold just two copies all weekend. A number of exhibitors didn’t even make back the cost of the table, let alone the travel costs that some would have had to pay. Given my teams great location in Cardiff, we didn’t have quite as many expenses as others, but we still only just about broke even if we’re entirely honest.
There is any number of reasons this could have been for, as Pilcher’s article over at Bleeding Cool suggests. But let’s start with some basic truths to try and mitigate this seeming too much like a total attack on BCE and it’s organisers, as it’s not, I know they’re great people and Bristol can be great too.
Bristol Comic Expo used to be one of the biggest UK comic conventions around. It’s in a positively fantastic location (within Bristol as well as Bristol itself), it was always reasonably priced, and they used to get some of the bigger, modern superstar names out of any UK con. However, in recent years, the con moved to being split across two hotels (always a massive mistake in my mind) and the ‘stardom’ level of their ‘big name’ guests had dwindled somewhat.
Whilst this weekend’s con was back in the great location, it still lacked the star quality that other shows, such as next weekend’s Kapow, now boast. What few names they could boast cancelled last minute, and there were a few I was expecting that I just didn’t see anywhere.
Likewise, as I understand it, there was no local media support which would have drummed up interest and avoided the appallingly low footfall at the con doors; I heard a peculiar rumour on the Sunday that ticket sales on the door were £20 a ticket, unusual as this was neither the price listed on the website, but also this seems a lot more money than most any cons charge; the con once again had split some parts of the show to over at the Ramada Hotel, but there was no signage or notice within the main body of the show to say this, so anyone exhibiting there must have felt out in the cold somewhat; inside the con, there were next to no visible con staff.
Despite having a large table and four exhibitors at our table, we had one chair; I looked around for someone to ask for another, and literally found no staff. After the third attempt, I stole one from an empty table and was done with it. Many other exhibitors complained of a lack of help at the show, and some even found that what staff they had found were quite short tempered or outright rude.
This however does not go for the frankly rather excellent little touch of an in-house café with Manga Maids waiting staff who wandered the halls taking orders from the exhibitors.
This is not to say that this was a poor show in terms of content. There was a great range of different projects, some fantastic professionals too, and I was catching up with old friends and learning about new projects almost every second I was there. The sheer number of creators on the UK indie comics scene is staggering, yet Bristol did a damn good job of having a wide range there.
But let’s not forget: this show is placed on a weekend that is immediately followed by Kapow the next weekend and MCM the weekend after that. Frankly, the simple date of this con probably left a lot of regular con goers holding out for the much bigger cons with more ‘hot shot’ guest lists than Bristol’s.
It’s left many an exhibitor wondering whether they would even go next year, some have already decided they definitely will not, so dissatisfied they are with this one and the meagre takings some of them got at the end of it.
In our case, I’m unsure. Frankly, I would love to say yes, as it’s a great location for us and we always have fun while there. But unless there are some serious changes, including a possible change of date and some serious planning on the Guest List front, then we simply couldn’t risk another con with such small returns.
With the number of cons in the UK constantly increasing (I learned about a whole new other con this weekend, yet again in London where they already have, what, five?), and many of these have big name backers or superstar guests, then all the UK comic cons, small and large alike, need to really up the game and get a little bit more competitive. For a smaller con like Bristol, they need to find a really big drawer, and what’s more, really push it in the media. Make it so people are talking about it the weeks leading up to and from the show.
As it is at the moment, as a small press indie comics creator, I hate to say it, but…there just isn’t the draw there to make me positive I’ll be there this time next year.