Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bristol Expo 2012 – “Room With a (déjà)View.”

I reach 50 this year and this is what my role for Accent UK has deteriorated into.
You know I used to attend, help set up the Accent UK table, chat, sell books and  drink lots of alcohol with Colin. Hell a couple times I was even a creator (of sorts).
However this year Accent UK decided against taking a stand at the Expo but Dave West and Colin Mathieson were curious to assess how the Expo would run especially as the event returned to the previous and indeed largest Venue – Templemeads.
So Colin asked me if I was attending and if so could I keep my eyes peeled and report back to Accent UK HQ “somewhere” in deepest Cheshire.
Colin actually asked me rather nicely even though I knew that Dave West at his most dictatorial had likely issued a directive to Colin along the lines;
“I know we are not going Col! So tell Dingsdale to get his arse into gear and get along there. Oh and tell him to send in a written report and to use bloody spellcheck this time!”
Mr West is not a man to be trifled with. If you don’t believe me just ask for his opinion of the 1981 “Conan the Barbarian” movie.
And then stand back.
So I checked the website www.bristolexpo.co.uk and found out that the main guest was to be Denny O’Neil. Mr O’Neil is one of my Comic Creator heroes. The man who reinvented Batman along with Neal Adams and (unfairly not credited enough in my opinion) Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Bob Brown and Jim Aparo in the late 60’s early 70’s.
Also the man who wrote one of my favourite stories; “Night of the Ninja” in The Shadow #6, which blew this (at the time) 11 yr old’s mind. And so on and so on.
That sealed it for me.
True there were lots of other guests including familiar faces who I know give up their time willingly and which the fans always appreciate but it was the chance to hear Denny speak and maybe meet him, shake his hand and offer a “thank you” for all the enjoyment he has delivered down the years that cemented my desire to attend.
Coincidentally those nice people at Lucky Target Comics were attending and after a quick exchange of emails they invited me to share their rented apartment for the weekend.
(Whilst I am writing I urge you all to check out their website www.luckytargetcomics.com and buy all your back issues from them. They are lovely, knowledgeable people who like Comics as much as you or I.
Well Sumyra is. Darren is a nice bloke for a Yorkshire man but in keeping with his heritage he kept inventing debts over the entire weekend for me to re pay to him.
Apples falling not far from trees etc spring to mind.)
I arrived in Bristol on Friday Lunchtime from London. Whilst in the course of a little sightseeing I looked for signs of the Con in the City generally. Sadly I didn’t find any. No flyers in the bookstores or street advertising.
Templemeads itself is an old Railway shed converted into an exhibition space not surprisingly close to the main Railway Station and thus well positioned for visitors to the City. As I waited for the Lucky Target crew to arrive I couldn’t find any sign of  advertising for events at the location, Comics Expo or otherwise which seems a little like a wasted opportunity given the location and proximity to commuters ,visitors etc.
Anyway Sumyra et al arrived, parked up and we eventually made our way to the rented apartment for the evening which further involved beer, a takeaway Curry and a great deal of debate about who was sleeping where. Matters were resolved following a debate that the host of Question Time would have found challenging and we all retired for the night.
On Saturday morning we found out that Templemeads isn’t the only place not well served by notices, neither are Bristol’s roads and so we arrived back at the venue courtesy of an “ahem” circuitous route.
Setting up with Lucky Target it was clear that all the Tables were booked. A very positive sign but outside the venue still no obvious sign that anything was taking place in the Centre.
Attendees started to enter the hall at 10 am. The place filled up slowly – there seemed to be a bottleneck caused by processing peoples’ web tickets so I was informed – but pretty soon there were plenty of people browsing and buying.
If you have attended the Expo before then the layout and format was familiar; dealers tables around the periphery of the room, with independents grouped together and the ever popular “artists alley” for the sketch heads.
Busy it was too. A special mention for all those creators who turn up to meet the fans ,chat and fill comics, sketchbooks with signatures and requests. I sometimes feel the creators on our shores don’t get the credit they deserve for this.
I abandoned the hall after the first hour to wander across to the Ramada hotel where the Panels and discussion group agenda is staged. Again, familiar to anyone who has attended previously.
Tony Hitchman was offering one of his (now legendary) comics quiz events. This years offering was “Reduced Heroes”. Now if you have never attended one of Tony’s gatherings, you should because you are missing something. Tony knows more about comics than just about anyone on the Planet and his events are frankly hilarious. Tony, like many others gives his time and effort each year and deserves a ton of credit.
Oh and I won the quiz. So there. (and yes it was hilarious!).
(Oh and before I forget Tony and co author Steve Bowkett have written a Teachers Resource book on using Comics as a teaching aid called “Using Comic Art to Improve  Speaking, Reading and Writing” – its on Amazon.co.uk -  I had a look – very impressive. Tony is an ex Headmaster – there, EVERYBODY knows now!!)
The remainder of Saturday passed, the hall was very busy and we eventually packed up at 5.30pm to go off into the City for a Thai Meal and a far too short evening in the local hostelries. My old partner in crime Mr Mathieson would have been ashamed. Really ashamed.
Sunday was more of the same. Traditionally the Sunday is slower and quieter and this one seemed no exception. I helped set up and then made an early exit to return to London after a leisurely lunch in the City Centre.
On the way back I mused that the last 12 months has seen Comic Conventions, Gatherings, call them what you will change in the UK. We have seen the rise of the more media orientated event with Kapow! and The London Super Con. I attended both and enjoyed both immensely.
At Bristol there seemed to be a lot of talk as to whether the event would continue. I hope it does. Yes the event is well established and yes Templemeads looks a bit tired in comparison to ExCel and the London Design Centre but the whole thing is still very enjoyable. I don’t know how the dealers fared but it seemed like a success to me.
It's possibly the equivalent of that old sweater you pull on when you get home from work.. Familiar and comfortable but still high on your list of favourites. The organisers deserve a lot of credit for all their hard work.
Finally I never got to meet or listen to Denny O’Neil, He couldn’t attend due to illness but that didn’t matter, the event was good regardless.
Get well Mr O’Neil maybe you can come to next years maybe?
And you’re still one of my heroes.
                                                                                                               (report by Chris Dingsdale)

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