Tony Lee writes comic books, TV shows, and movie screenplays — but this week he is helping run a major comic convention. What happened? He writes:
Fifteen years ago, there was only one major comic convention in the UK: the Bristol Expo. Held every May, this was a gathering point for many of the UK-based creators, following in the tradition of such events all the way back to the UKCAC days. It's where I went as a fan, and also in my first year as a creator, back in 2004. It was the Mecca for UK comic nerds.
But those days are gone, and now there's a "comic" con in the UK almost every week, with many of these "comic" in name only. With the London Film and Comic Con now a matter of days away, a convention that I'm running the Comic Zone for, Bleeding Cool asked me to explain why I, a humble comic writer dared to think I could stand with the big boys and organise a show.
Now I know, you're more used to seeing me talk about my comics, or more recently, films on this site. So why have I changed to convention organiser? Are things really that bad? Well no, not at all. In fact, I'm doing this as a favour.
Although I didn't realise at the start how big a favour it was.
I've known Jason Joiner (owner of Showmasters, who run the London Film and Comic Con) for a few years now through his connection to the Gallifrey One convention. This year he mentioned that he wanted to talk to me, and we managed to schedule a meeting for April in London. When we met, he told me that he'd parted ways with the previous comic zone organisers around Christmas, and that currently they had no comic zone — and three months to put something together, when usually they have a full year.
When I was told I had a reduced budget, no guests and only 13 weeks, I thought, "that could be a fun challenge." And I agreed to help them out. But it was difficult. Because when I say "reduced budget", I literally had two-thirds of the previous budget for the comic zone. The rest was locked into whatever happened with the previous crew.
Now, it would have been easy to say, "OK, I'm a comic writer, I could be the first guest," and start from there. Easiest booking ever, right? No. I made the decision right at the start that if I was running this, I couldn't be part of it. To me, that would scream a little bit of ego stroke. I decided I wouldn't be a guest, and also that I wouldn't host any of the panels. This wouldn't be Tony Con. I had to work differently on this. So, I looked at what other shows had done, and examined who they'd brought over, working out if I could do a comparable convention.
Now, I had no paperwork whatsoever from the previous crew, and neither did Showmasters, so I didn't know who'd been invited in previous years, what they'd been offered, anything like that. But I knew that with my budget I could only get three or four big name guests at best before blowing the entire budget. Because of this, I decided to fight clever.
First, I looked for events. Anniversaries. I knew it was 30 years since Death's Head was created. That it was forty years since 2000AD started. These were two events I could build around, using UK-based creators. I contacted people who don't usually come to the UK, like Rantz Hoseley and Heavy Metal magazine, or Marc Bernardin. I knew I needed a legend, so I called in a favour from Marv Wolfman, whom I've known for years, and who's been an absolute trooper. Once I had these, I started to look for other opportunities. Chris Thompson at Titan helped a lot, ensuring we could get Tommy Yune and Marco Turini, as ROBOTECH is released this week. Andi Ewington brought in Ian Livingstone, who's a personal legend of mine. I put feelers out to all the UK crowd, seeing who'd be interested, and I realised very early on four very important things.
Firstly, it was a week after San Diego Comic-Con.
Secondly, a month later was the London Super Comic Con.
Thirdly, it was the same weekend as the MCM Expo in Manchester and…
Finally, the London Film and Comic Con doesn't have the best reputation with creators for the comic zone.
The first three things all linked to one solution: book the guests earlier. If I'd had the full year, I could have locked in half a dozen different guests by last September. As it was, with just three months, by the time I'd emailed or called them, 90% of the people I contacted had already worked out their 2017 Con schedule and were full. But the fourth issue was a serious problem. I had guests say no simply because of the convention's name, and issues with previous organisers, location, hotels, a whole list of things. Now I've never been to LFCC before and I wasn't there to see any of these alleged issues, and let's face it there's always two sides to every story — so I had to draw a line here and move on as a brand-new event. But inheriting some of these issues made it harder to convince some of the guests to try the convention under new management.
And when I say new management, I don't mean me — to say that would be a massive disservice to all of the people who have helped in organising this, and over the weekend we have a team that's going to working like crazy to get things working, so it's definitely a joint effort. But what you can expect from the Comic Zone are some great panels, some surprise guests, some cool signings and some expert advice in portfolio reviews. And more importantly the chance to meet with over 50 comic creators from across the world at their tables.
Since we announced the signing times, we've had some confusions on the forums, though, with people thinking that these are the only times that the creators will be signing. That's not the case; although some of our guests don't have tables, and might be harder to find outside of these times, many of the guests with tables will happily sign at those tables all weekend long.
One of the things I had from the feedback I mentioned earlier was that some fans were intimidated when approaching a creator's table — they didn't want to interrupt a conversation or interrupt an artist as they worked on a commission — and the result of this was they'd constantly "come back later" and never get what they wanted signed. The idea of the signing times is that for an hour, you'd know where your favourite creator is, and you could schedule the time to have your items signed. Of course, the creators will still be signing at their tables over the weekend, and sometimes might do these signing times there, but this is purely an opportunity to help the shyer people in our fandom get things signed.
Another confusion we've had is the on/off status of Marc Bernardin as a guest. Now, I've known Marc for many years and he was one of the first people I called when I took this on. He's never to my knowledge done a UK convention, and he has solid DC and Marvel credits. And in addition to this he's one half of FATMAN ON BATMAN with Kevin Smith.
Marc agreed, and we discussed doing a panel on the Sunday where Marc would interview a surprise guest. It was billed as a 'FATMAN ON BATMAN — ALL BY MYSELF' panel. From the moment we announced it though, people started asking if the guest was Kevin Smith himself — but at the time Kevin wasn't attending, so we said no.
And then, within a couple of weeks, I heard that he was now attending, and that he was now a Film and TV guest. Which also meant that any FATMAN ON BATMAN panel would now be done by Kevin on the main stage.
It was unfair to deprive Marc from the Kevin Smith associated adulation (and associated money made from such a thing), so after a conversation between us late one night Marc asked to be moved from the Comic Zone to the Film and TV Zone, so that he could sign things with Kevin. I'm not sure what his schedule is now, as it's no longer my remit. I don't even know if Marc and Kevin are doing anything together, as it's Kevin's call. But in short Marc is still a guest, and he's still there all weekend — he's just in the bigger room.
I won't lie and say it's all been plain sailing. Marc moving areas and other guests forced to cancel, hotel issues and transportation issues galore have hounded us. For example, Marv Wolfman was a three-day guest now down to two, as Marv's flight was altered to a day later, and we couldn't get it rescheduled. So, Marv gets in on the Friday evening now. It's not his fault, and we did everything we could to try to fix it.
Marv's an absolute star though and asked for more signings and panels on the two days — he's ensured that he's completely accessible for both days.
Another thing we're doing are the industry specific portfolio reviews. Most cons have portfolio sessions where you meet an editor and pitch your work. Again, feedback that we received was that upcoming creators also wanted advice from experts, so we looked into this. This weekend, the portfolio reviews are split into editors, writers and artists. Hopefully some aspiring creators will get help and inspiration from it. Or it could fail miserably. We'll see.
Also on the subject of hassles, last week Lee Townsend tweeted a picture of a floor plan for the convention that mentioned Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden attending, before removing it. Showmasters were inundated with calls asking if Ozzy and Maiden were coming — the simple answer is quite dull, Lee tweeted a rough layout sent to the guests — it wasn't for public viewing and had some things written on it in shorthand. Heavy Metal are doing signings of their 'Music' issue over the weekend, in which we have an Ozzy Osbourne story by me, and an Iron Maiden story by Ian Edginton. It was basically a note, blocking out time for the band related creators signing. Lee removed it when he realised he was causing confusion.
That said, Heavy Metal are known for breaking rules at conventions and bringing in last minute music guests – Motley Crue appeared this week at SDCC. And both Titan and Heavy Metal have extra guest passes for last minute guests, so who knows who's turning up. For example, Dan Fogler from Fantastic Beasts, who's a great comic writer as well, is doing the Heavy Metal panel on the Saturday and spending chunks of the weekend at the table, but he's not on the site as a Comic or Film and TV guest. So if any big names turn up, it'll be very last minute. Which of course, as organiser I love.
So if you come to the London Film and Comic Con, what can you expect? Hopefully a damned good 'comic' con. It's been a bugbear of mine for a while now that cons like LFCC and MCM use the words 'Comic Con' but it's more of an afterthought. People instead go to festivals like Thought Bubble instead for their comic fix. But by really pushing to get some quality events and panels and guests at the convention, I'm hoping that comics can raise their head a little higher at these pop culture shows, and that it inspires some of the other like-minded cons to step up their game.
And I've invited Rich Johnston and Bleeding Cool to do a panel of his choice, which has really put the cat among the pigeons.
But personally, I'm just hoping not to get lynched.
I've heard reports that people are saying that I'm running the convention to get work from the publishers invite — and to be honest, that's laughable. I'm already working with Titan and Heavy Metal, and I've been there, done that with 2000AD. And to be honest, I'm mainly working in film and television at the moment, so outside of what I've already agreed, I don't have that much time for new projects.
Except for running a comic con.
By this time next week, the convention will be over, and I'll know if it was a success or resounding failure. I'm not looking to 2018 yet, I need to ensure that 2017's con doesn't end as a dumpster fire. And to be honest, I'm not sure I'll even be doing next year yet! I've spoken to Jason about creating some kind of 'brains trust' to build future conventions, as I'm looking at this one, at what I've done and all the time I'm doing this, there's a line from Father Ted in my head saying…
"You let Dougal do a FUNERAL?"
Come along. At worst, you get to see me have a nervous breakdown. And what's more fun than that?
Showmasters' London Film & Comic Con will be taking over the whole of the Olympia in London on Friday 28th, Saturday 29th and Sunday the 30th of July 2017, bringing some of your favourite stars from TV, Film and Comics as well as a whole host of fun activities including photo shoots, panels, autograph sessions, and hundreds of stalls full of TV and Film memorabilia to browse.
Show opening times:
Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. / Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. / Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased HERE.