Comics Weekender

Comics Weekender: I may have just lived my best Comics Weekend in the healthiest order!

Friday evening was a birthday party for one of my favourite friends in comics. A person who connects to almost all of my 20th Century comics interests celebrated a milestone in style ~ which meant I was lucky enough to chat to all sorts of interesting folk and I got to meet a bunch of creators I’d known in print but never in the flesh before. 

Saturday was another comic birthday ~ a friend and back issue dealer put on a pop up sale in my local pub (complete with specialty beer named in his honour). Attended by a host of good friends down from London and the like, the conversations were joyous.

This tiny haul from the Comics & Beer session was ridiculously cheap when you consider what prices most dealers charge for them in good nick… I prefer well-loved copies anyway.Tatty old comics smell so good!

The giant Conan reprints include Barry (Windsor) Smith’s saucy grand finale and Alex Nino’s mind-bending strip. in colour for the first time.

Yo’ve gotta love how the Oddhams/Power Comics titles mixed DC and Marvel strips back then. I’ve always been fond of this three-colour printing process they used but it was only at The Independent pub that I learned they must have recoloured the plates for these reprints rather than just merging the Cyan and Key film as I’d lazily assumed… the scholarly Guy Lawley showed me… you should read some of his blog posts on comics’ printing processes HERE, Guy is one of the few people in British comics I tip my head to on production matters!

(That Hulk sweatshirt puts me in mind of the iron-on transfer I got with Mighty World Of Marvel issue 1 in 1972… I’d thought it was the same drawing, but no.

Moderation was my watchword as I had family duties in the evening and still had to pack my wares to sell at South London Comics & Zine Fair the next day.

And so to Sunday: I really enjoyed South London Comics & Zine Fair as a punter in 2022, and was excited to get to exhibit there this year ~ sharing a table and a train up with Brighton friend Myfanwy Tristram.

Pete Morey and Rebecca Jones (both superb comickers, check them out) were facing the challenge of outdoing their previous success at the same Stanley Arts London venue… the huge footfall last year thanks to their grassroots local promotions and the community buzz they generated by being connected to ~ and loved by ~ so many different comic clusters had made their first fair a great event.

They did not disappoint.

From the moment we walked in it was clear and easy to set ourselves up, and the flow of visitors to the tables quickly built to a steady stream that lasted all day.

Probably 1 in 5 of the people walking down the aisle cast more than a cursory glance our way, which is a preety good percentage compared to most comic cons. And there were precious few moments when somebody was not looking or chatting over our comics.

Buying them too! It’s pretty easy for me to sell Myf’s stuff when she’s elsewhere ~ her price range and content mean I just have to get them to look at it ~ but even my super niche comics enjoyed a positive reception. If I can sell a teenage fashion zine, a history of protest, a big abstract anthology and a feminist Norse myth to the same person, the fair had clearly pulled in a diverse readership!

Our table was between the mighty Colossive Press and the lovely Dominique Duong and Ed Firth (who I’d coincidentally met at Friday’s cabaret and is as interesting to talk to as he is to read). 

I table rarely, but normally there’s a lot of chat between table neighbours in the lulls… at SLCFZ I barely got to speak to Tom & Jane (although I did tease Jane about running her own version of Comics Deliveroo when they sold out of most of the Collosive Press stuff they’d brought and she dashed home to collect some more!) and only had the briefest of conversations with Dominique and Ed near the end. 

I managed to clink glasses with Tom and swap zines with Dominique, but the rest of the time one or all of us were engaged in conversations with folk on the other side of the table. 

Or trying to.

Pete knows from feedback already that the DJ kept upping the volume too much. Lots of good tunes, but having to ask potential customers to repeat their question about what’s in your comic gets pretty wearying after the first few times. If I have one constructive criticism for next year,  turn that racket down is it). 

I’m wondering now if playlists and DJs are an odd fit with a DIY comics ethos in general. Maybe live musicians busking through the day would be a nice option?

The busy day meant I didn’t get to browse other tables or say hello to half the familiar faces I know were there, so I know I missed out on a lot of good comics, but that’s a nice problem to have!

I did get to briefly meet two of my comics heroes in Glen Dakin and Ed Pinsent during the set-up, but to my lasting regret I never managed to go to their tables and gush at how very special I think their comics are…

Check Ed’s SLCZF report HERE.

I can’t say how much I sold because I gave a fair few comics away to anyone who’d tell me a story or just indulged my overexcited conversations about the nature of comics and art. But I do know my bag was half as full on the way home as on the way up, which may be a first.

(Of course only getting away for a single dash around the rooms meant I wasn’t as laden with new purchases as normal either. My bank balance is healthier for that but my FOMO is flourishing)

A swap with Dominique, Gareth and Martha Hopkins’ new Ghosts in Things zine were welcome pick ups and then near the end I got to buy the first new comic Isabel Greenberg has put out in ages!

Isabel is an artist I’ve rarely met without a table between us, I know next to nothing about her and we don’t even cross paths on social media ~ and yet my eyes light up if I hear she’s exhibiting at an event, because I know I’ll be picking up her new work. 

When the audience starts to feel they actually know a performer because they hear them talking a lot, feel a kinship with them, I’ve heard it called a parasocial relationship, but what do we call it when comics folk have a ‘relationship’ with a creator’s drawing or writing style? We exhibit such strange loyalties to lines on paper that it really deserves its own term!

I really wanted to hang out in the courtyard bar afterwards and catch up with all the day’s news, but a friend had called to say he had a pint waiting for me in the Shelverdine Goathouse and was all alone ~ so loyalty demanded a quick exit (after putting our table in the storeroom, of course. We are not shirkers!)

That pub was a great example of how well the outreach had gone: a nice smattering of punters enjoying comics at their tables and the woman behind the bar talked excitedly about having been round the show before her shift and what she’d bought. A recent convert to comics thanks to Pete and Rebecca being regulars!

SLCZF 2023: a triumph.

And then it was Monday…

Thanks to Little Green Pig, I was invited in to a school in Hove to deliver a comics workshop to a group from Year 7 as part of their Creative Writing programme. Days like this are hands-down my favourite gigs.

It was a little nerve-wracking, as had I not planned a session quite like this one before, plus I misread the brief and prepared for a whole day, when we actually had just a double lesson! Cue frantic re-working of what I was hoping to do and crossing of fingers that the students would still get enough story-building practice…

I needn’t have worried. The 21-strong class helped me through and three amazing volunteers* from LGP kept everything moving and the lovely school staff kept me on schedule.

(*I’m keeping everything anonymous here, because it was a school setting, but they know who they are and I could not have hoped for better colleagues)

We started out with a quick run through of a six step story:

    1) Introduce the Character(s) 

    2) Begin the Adventure

    3) Encounter an Obstacle

    4) Overcome the Obstacle

    5) Resolve the Story

    6) Make the Point

Everybody came up with their own protagonists and settings and then set to work drawing and writing a short story that built on this term’s themes of Heroes & Villains and Personal Identity. 

I was blown away with the hard work, creativity and bravery of all in  the group. With a mix of experience and confidence levels, it’s easy for some pupils to lose motivation, but thanks to the LGP and School teams. every one of them gave it their best effort and rhere were more great comics made in and hour and a half than you could fit in a graphic novel. I have a suspicion some of these stories are going to have sequels made over the summer!

That was one jouyous four-day weekend… but if it had happened in the other order, ramping up the alcohol and adult content each day, I’d probably still be sleeping it off today!