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Monday, October 05, 2009

Things I Did This Weekend 05/10/09

Oh yeah, totally. I've been totally updating every day, there must be something wrong with your browser or RSS feeds or whatever. Anyway, this weekend I:

- Attended the British International Comics Show in Birmingham. Rather than our usual method of getting to a con (Josh & Will drive up with stock on Friday night, I take the train on Saturday), we all drove up together on the Saturday morning. This involved me being picked up at 5.15am. Of course, I was woken up by drunken teenagers having a party in the street outside our window at around 1am, and that was that as far as sleep was concerned. I lay awake for the next 3 hours or so, thinking “Go to sleep, Andrew. Go to sleep.” Eventually I gave up, got up around 4.15 and took my time getting ready, having breakfast and so on.

- During my preparation time I was amazed to discover 4 Music’s best kept secret: “Signed by 4Music”. It’s a music video show for the deaf, complete with sign language translator in the bottom right corner of the screen. The translators dance while they sign, and do their best to emote the lyrics. It is quite something:

- Got picked up and the drive began. Not bad actually and as I had been up for some time, I actually was in better shape than I would have been if I had woken up at 4.45 or so. So it all went rather quickly, and we arrived at the venue with plenty of time to get set up.

- Well, my first impressions on arriving at Birmingham weren’t good. The convention venue felt well out of the centre of town, in a very industrial area. It was near the University, so I guess it can't be all that bad, but it really felt like the outskirts, just inside the motorways that loop all around Birmingham. We were up on the third floor of the science museum, in a large event hall which had no natural light whatsoever. What’s more, the dim lighting it did have gave a slightly depressive vibe to the whole thing, not helped by the usual rows of back issue dealer longboxes all set up from the night before. We got ourselves set up over three tables, plus an extra for Knockabout, whom we were covering as Tony B has a dose of the old swine flu. Then the public arrived.

- Odd crowd. The actual general audience seemed like far more of a traditional comics crowd: lots of guys wandering about with lists of backissues they were after. It all created the impression of a glorified mart rather than a convention. We had a very quiet start to the day, then a bout of people browsing before actually starting to sell stuff. I guess people want to take it all in before spending their money. To be honest, our collection of stuff seemed to be of more interest to the creators present than the punters. We didn’t really take a break throughout the day. I think stopping would have been a terrible mistake. We were all tired and in various stages of a cold, so we just forced ourselves through the day, which went fairly quickly in the end. I didn’t even have a proper look around the stalls.

- There were various plans going on for drinks that night, but to be honest confusion reigned. Unlike Bristol, there’s no real standard place everyone goes for drinks, which is another strike against it. The piss-up on Saturday night is generally the centrepiece of any British con, but everyone was walking around going "So what's happening tonight?". I wound up organising to potentially meet with Cheeky Joe Melchior, Garry Leach and Tim Pilcher, but after a very nice Chinese for dinner (and a wander through downtown Birmingham) me, Josh and Will just went back to the hotel bar for a couple before hitting the sack early. Just too bloody tired.

- Up nice and early for Sunday and I was feeling much better, though my cold had a bit of a resurgence. The day was more of the same, only a bit slower. I did get the chance to take a walk around the floor though, chatting with small press guys as I went. Found a few titles I liked the look of and bought for the store. It’s always awkward when you’re doing this kind of thing and you’ve got two guys sharing the table, one of whom is very good and the other who is not. The best you can do is kind of politely ignore their work. Otherwise you have to feign interest but when it comes down to the nitty gritty tell them you’re not interested. I was particularly impressed by crime comic Harker and a new collection by the Accent UK guys of a web comic called Strange Times. Nice stuff.

- I was on a panel in the afternoon called Industry Insider or somesuch, a retail/publishing/distribution discussion which really tried to cover too much ground in too little time. I felt a bit sorry for Tim, who facilitated it but didn’t even really get to touch on his main agenda, the formation of a UK comics advocacy organisation. Anyway, it all went fairly well, and I got to quickly talk about some of my digital comics theories, which I must write about more here soon.

- After the panel I went back to our table and we started packing up so as to hit the road good and early. It took a bit of negotiation with one of the organisers, as he didn’t want us to spark a mass exodus of dealers while there were still customers, but he eventually agreed to let us quietly slip out. So we secretly moved all our stuff around the back of the heavy black drapes that ran around the edge of the room to the goods elevator, got the car loaded up and were on the road for 4.45. Traffic wasn’t too bad and I got dropped off home just after 7pm.

- So how did it go? Well, we think we broke even at least. A con is an expensive proposition for a store, involving hotels, staff wages, meals and so on. Josh always frets about opportunity cost as well, so breaking even is never quite good enough. What else could we have done with that time to better effect? But I think our presence at these shows is always good for us as a store. We put our name out a little more, and we always carry a range of books unlike anything else at the show. Seriously, you don’t even have to get too esoteric to be distinctive: a few D&Q and Fantagraphics books would do the trick. Plus it’s always a good opportunity to network a little and strengthen relationships with creators we have existing ties with. We also got Charlie Adlard interested in a probable Walking Dead bookplate in the future (in full colour, with any luck). So all in all I think it was worthwhile, though I’m guessing we probably won’t do it again, as Josh was a little less enthused. What it has done is make me think about perhaps attending Thought Bubble in Leeds this November. Not as a store, but just as myself. It has a lot of positive buzz and a great line-up so I might head up there to check it out. It has the benefit of being a one-day show, which appeals to me no end, and I know enough people who’ll be there to guarantee a good night out. Now if I can just convince Alex...

Carry on reading...