Return of Comic Cons

With the recent announcement of two Comic Conventions both hopeful for a date in September 2022, I’m wondering how the comic industry has been affected by the pandemic and what the future of these crucial events for the industry might look like.

Pre-lockdown comic cons became quite the trend, with elements of cosplay aside workshops and talks, it’s both fun and an essential business enterprise for all involved in the industry, from big publishers to those self-publishing “small pressers.” Yet as the tendency boomed out of its niche market, lots of smaller localised events popped up, many without equal knowledge of the subject as they’d let on, often organised by town councils and local libraries. The other side of the coin saw big event businesses cashing in, creating huge events which concentrated on the best method to collect as much money as possible, which is bringing TV and movie franchises with little relation to comics.

Of course, these attract a wider audience, but swamp the attention of real comics, and naturally, those movies and TV shows which relate to comic counterparts. Of the two recently announced events, as a wandering fruitcake once on the verge of the industry, I know the organisers of both are thoroughly and wholly dedicated to the subject, and will create the kind of large-scale events to bless comics with the attention they deserve.

Hopeful the conventions will re-breathe excitement into actual comics as a medium and not just movie spin-offs, wondering if the pandemic and lockdown have created the opportunity of returning to the basics with a clean sheet, perhaps to start again creating comic cons in the true spirit of the industry.

Firstly, ICE, the International Comic Expo, held annually in Birmingham since 2014 is an independently run comic convention which fast became the UK’s flagship convention, our own San Diego. After the fathomable year off, ICE announced its return for September 10th 2022, at a new venue, Edgbaston Stadium. 

Event Director, Shane Chebsey, who previously helped to organise events like BICS and Comics Launchpad has been a lifelong enthusiast and devoted comic fan keen on promoting and marketing the small press in particular. Shane said, “we believe in exposing our visitors to a wide variety of comics from the most exciting new superheroes to the coolest indy and small press books. Our guest list reflects this too with guests from both the big publishing companies and the smallest publishers. When you visit our events, you can also expect to see a wide variety of exhibitors, from those selling collectables to creators selling their own work.”

“You can expect to meet some of your favourite creators at special signings and maybe even walk away with a unique sketch from your favourite artist.” Not forgoing the astonishing program of panels, talks and interviews running through the day featuring many guests, this expo is the true comic fanboy’s calling, yet equally the kind of eye-opener to the wealth and quality of the comic market every hopeful artist, writer or simply just follower of comics has to see for themselves.

And, for me, that’s the nutshell, creating an environment to appease those with a mere fleeting interest in comics as well as devotees of the niche, inspiring budding creative types and in general, causing attendees to appreciate what the French call “the ninth art,” is far from the excessive polarized stereotype of superheroes alone, and as diverse a media as film and books.

“From what I can tell,” Shane enlightened me to the situation of larger comic cons, “most of the big media shows are resuming business as usual now that they are out of hibernation. I have not really seen any change in their approach towards comics related guests and events at their shows.

“Of course, some of the medium sized media events seems to have disappeared altogether, unable to survive the lock downs. I personally know a couple of organisers who had to go and get a day job to feed their families and had to wind up their events businesses. But for every one of those we lost, their are new organisers starting up now who think they can give it a shot. So I suspect we will soon return tot he saturation point we were at before lockdown.”

“But right now we have the big shows who could weather the storm and the small shows who could just stop without a problem as they don’t organise events as their main business. So I foresee a slow start followed by a huge rise in events in Spring text year.”

“However, just before lock down there were certainly rumblings among fans and guests that convention fatigue was starting to set in, which multiple shows happening pretty much every week of the year in 2019 attendance was really starting to diminish at many events and I think fans are starting to look for unique conventions and festivals that offer something a bit different. Whether that’s more online content, more overseas guests or more carefully produced panels and workshops etc.”

“I think the days of just hiring a venue and getting a few cosplayers in, a few movie props, z-list soap actors and a load of Funko sellers isn’t going to cut it any more.

“Comics fans want to see actual comics for sale at comic conventions and they want to meet artists and writers who they’ve never met before. They want that memorable sense of occasion that we used to get conventions before this huge increase in events. So it’s up to me and my contemporaries to deliver what they want in 2022.”

I feel my team and I are up to the task and we’ll be pulling out all of the stops to bring the fans the best event experience they can possibly have within our budget.

ICE happens under one roof in the vibrant city centre of Birmingham and costs just £10.00 when you book in advance. But for one closer to us, the trade magazine Tripwire announced they’ll be hosting a comic convention in Bristol, the weekend before ICE, on the 3rd to 4th September 2022.

Bristol always had a great convention throughout the nineties and noughties, which fell into disrepair, so it’s great to hear Joel Meadows of Tripwire will celebrate the magazine’s thirty-year anniversary by bringing a whole new convention to the city. Again, Joel’s experience and dedication to comics will ensure nothing but greatness for this event.

Guests are yet to be announced, when the website goes live, but it will feature the best in UK, US and European talent as well as editors from major US comic companies and film and TV artists as well. “We are very excited about this event,” Tripwire says, “and can’t wait to tell everyone more when we can.”

As restrictions lift, plentiful comic conventions are popping up again, this month sees MCM Comic Cons in London and Birmingham, November has the London Film and Comic Con and Liverpool Comic Con, and many more. While they’re all great fun, the connoisseur of all thing’s comics will tell you the place to head for is Kendal, for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival which is happening from 15th to the 17th of October. Though for the local of passing interest it’s a trek to Cumbria, these two in Birmingham and Bristol I’ve mentioned will be the crème-de-la-crème, take it from me, yeah kapow!

For information about ICE: https://internationlcomicexpo.wordpress.com/

And Tripwire’s announcement about Bristol: https://tripwiremagazine.co.uk/headlines/tripwire-presents-bristol-comic-con-is-coming/


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