By Olly MacNamee
First and foremost, let me make it clear that I make no apologies for the 'love letter' I am about to write as a thinly veiled review of Birmingham's Comic Festival I recently previewed for BC. But, indie cons like these, when done well, put you the fan at the centre and I couldn't have been better looked after over the day. From start to finish, the smile never left my face and if I have but one regret, and it's a genuine one, was the lack of people I didn't get round to seeing. I was that busy!
Having already run satellite events, such as the recent Easter Egg Hunt at local beauty spot Birmingham's Wildlife Conservation Park, spotlight films at The Mac's cinema and a pub quiz (grand prize, a commission from penciller, Mark Buckingham and inked by Mark Farmer) to promote the festival, Birmingham's fans were well primed for the day's show and for anyone worried about the rude health of comic cons in the Midlands, the Heart of England itself, have no fear because if The Comics Festival at Edgbaston was anything to go by, then comics' culture is alive and kicking and going nowhere any time soon.
Given that co-organizer, Steve Tanner (Time Bomb Comics) planned this with co-conspirator, Victor Wright (Geeky Comics), 'to be a true celebration of comics, as well as the creators behind them and the people that read them… we wanted something that (was) celebratory,' I think both can feel proud of that they achieved as first timers, somewhat jaded with cons that do not push comics to the forefront. This certainly was not guilty of ignoring the skills that pay the bills, the creators themselves.
With nearly 2000 fans descending on the cricket ground's conference facilities, this larger than expected crowd once through the door were welcomed by a flood of comic book artists and writers of the caliber of Ian Edginton (Stickleback), Steve Pugh (DC Convergence: Harley Quinn), Richard Elson (2000AD), Hunt Emerson (Calculus The Cat) and a garrison more who at on panels and doodled all day long, as well as a wave of independent creators such as artist Kat Nicholson (with her new comic Silicon Hearts debuting at the show), writer/artist Jessica Martin (Vivacity), and too many more to simply list here. If you were there, you'll know how lucky we were with the quality of guests invited to attend, and each and every one of them generous of their time with all.
Of course, as is the case in this day and age, the inclusion of cosplayers into the mix was a welcome addition displaying their varied, vibrant and vivid costumes and mingling with the crowds, happily posing for snaps throughout the day. The whole rollercoaster that was The Comics Festival was a fun, thrilling, all-encompassing event and while I busied myself catching up with friends old and new, my daughter happily doodled away in the kids' art corner with her mum (big thanks, Kath) after buying a stack of Simpsons' Comics from the travelling Simpsons' Sofa gang who offered people he chance to pose on a full-size replica of The Simpsons' coach along with the Homer, Marge and the brats. Every base was covered.
Breaking my cherry as a guest moderator on a couple of panels, thanks to the invitation by Master of Ceremonies, Paul H. Birch, I was made to feel at ease with the wonderful, laid back guests I was able to introduce to the fans (a big thanks to Mike Carroll (Judge Dredd), Staz Johnson (Batman/Alien 2), and others already mentioned above) but the two panels were but a couple on offer throughout the day, all set against the stunning backdrop of Warwickshire Cricket Club's grounds. Substitute a baseball field as a backdrop and add a bit more class, and you can probably imagine how majestic it felt, especially when gazing out at the sun setting, beer in hand contemplating the day and the festive feeling that permeated the whole day. One of the best panels of the day was undoubtedly the Hidden Agendas (Women In Comics) panel, but I'll save that for another post. I will say this though, the passion shared for comics by these female warriors of the printed page (too much hyperbole?), women's role in comics; depicted or creating, and their thoughts on the reactions to a certain comic cover heating up the internet of late emanated from these creators, no more so than Sonia Leong. With female creators like these out there, there won't be many doors that will remain shut for long. And those that do will soon be booted open.
For no other reason than the over brimming baked beauties that were their peanut, caramel and chocolate (triple, quadruple, I lost count) brownies I must give a big shout out to the wonderful bakers from The Custom Cupcake Company. Like any C grade super-villain, I was utterly defeated. The remains still stare at me daringly from the fridge even now. But I will get you next time, brownie, just you wait.
And, with such a full day I was thankful for the support of Adam Yosef on camera duties and sharing his photos from iambrimgham.co.uk. Cheers, Adam.
As for a reflection of the day, the final words I'll leave to co-organiser, Steve Tanner. When I asked him about his feeling of the day he couldn't have summed it up more beautifully than with the following observation:
My personal highlight is quite a little thing, but encapsulates perfectly what I wanted to achieve with the Festival. Two weeks ago we did a family day where some artists drew for the kids at a local wildlife park and we gave out free comics. It was an amazing day – the kids utterly absorbed and fascinated. For some it was their first exposure to comics – imagine that! Anyway, at the show yesterday I was tapped on the back, turned around to see one of those very kids. "Hi! I saw you at the park!" He said happily then carried on dragging his mum around the exhibition halls. One kid, whose interest in comics was ignited by The Birmingham Comics Festival. That's what it's about – that's what it's always been about.
You can't say more than that. A festival that is encompassing, encouraging and inspiring. Thanks for a great day and another successful con to look forward to next year adding to an ever-increasing list.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn't know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don't.