Saturday, 10 October 2009

The ICFD BICS write-up!

(For last year's BICS write-up Click Here)

BICS! Yes, I said 'BICS'! The Birmingha-

Oh. No. I must correct myself. As of this year it is no longer the 'Birmingham' International Comics Show. Things have evolved a little. A proper funding grant, now, for a start. And so, as of 2009, it is now a far more inclusive BRITISH International Comics Show.

(And frankly what better place to hold a big British con. This was always my argument, in the early half of this decade, over the English National Football Stadium. Yes, eventually they opted for rebuilding London's Wembley stadium, but Birmingham always seemed like the much fairer venue, presenting most sections of England with only a couple of hours to drive to the National Stadium. And Birmingham is the Second City, after all.)

But how, I'm sure you're wondering, did this effect this year's BICS? Did this new found financial status spoil BICS, like a lottery winner who lets it all go to their head? Well... no. Change the name all you like - This was still BICS! And don't worry. I still bloody loved it.

Now I know that there's been a fair bit of negative discussion online about the launch party last Friday night. I'm not going to dwell on that. I'm sure that if you want to you can find reports elsewhere that cover that. I'm just going to talk about the show.

Once again Millennium Point in Birmingham was the venue, and as I've said before it really is a great venue. The Theatre space on Level 2 is given over to signings in the foyer, and all manner of talks and events occur in the theatre itself. And then upstairs (Providing you can get the two way escalators to work in your favour) the whole of Level 3 is given over to signings, stalls and a fairly large Dealer Hall.

Apologies for the shaky quality of this photo, which utterly fails to convey the size of the hall...

Moving in waves around the third floor, and outside to entertain the queue, far more hired cosplayers this year. (You could spot the hired guys - they had Show Security with them...).

He IS The Law. But The Law does need a minder occasionally...

Judges DREDD and "MINTY" patrol the Dealer Hall, keeping order...

There was even a booth to have your photo taken with certain characters at certain parts of both days. Although, I do have to wonder about a zombie nurse and a group of The Joker's Goons who we saw wandering about on the Sunday (Sadly I don't have photos of them). They didn't have Show Security with them when we saw them, but looked a bit well produced not to be professional. The thing was that they really freaked a few people out - especially kids. Can't help but wonder if they might have been a little bit of a mistake. I thought I might have been the only one to notice them, but then I spotted a few others mentioning the same, such as Matt Badham in his write up for Down The Tubes (Down The tubes round up. I wonder if they were hired or not?

Anyway, back to the show. The Saturday kicked off with a panel called Found in Translation led by Paul Gravett (You may remember him from last year, where he was showcasing his book "The Leather Nun & Other Incredibly Strange Comics" which is exactly what you'd imagine it is...) with a couple of other guys from Cinebook ( who specialise in translating comic books for printing and publishing into English. Mostly from Europe, but they did also concede from Canada. French speaking Canada, obviously. ;)

It's a shame really, that this panel being the first of the day inevitably started a little late, and therefore had to be rushed to conclusion. (In fact we were waiting outside the theatre with Paul Cornell, hoping that somebody would come and unlock the doors, for a few minutes before it began). I didn't grab any of there books at the con itself, but will inevitably be looking through their website. Titles such as The Chimpanzee Complex, XIII, I.R.$., and a perhaps more faithful Arthurian legend adaptation (Which I do now forget the name of) did pique my interest. Good work guys.

In what would now become our permanent seat for most of the day, we then stayed on for the Comic Artists Flip Out panel. This was a lot of fun last year, and unsurprisingly that didn't change. Having drawn my lucky ticked (191, if you're really wondering) I sat living in hope of getting a sketch from one of the artists flip chart pads this year. Returning this year were Staz Johnson and Mark Buckingham accompanied by British Comics legend Alan Davis. Unfortunately for Alan he had been given a flip chart bard whose legs did not seem to want to stay extended, and it took about ten minutes to get them gaffer taped into a working position. ;)

Click to Enlarge:
Left - Mark Bucking and his wife Irma Page.
Middle - Staz Johnson (left), Alan Davis (middle) and Mark Buckingham (right) prepare to start.
Right - All three at work (Notice Alan has swapped boards now) with Organiser James Hodgkins in between Alan and Staz.

As per usual this panel had its laughs. Most notably a request from the audience for Staz to draw JSA stalwart Wildcat, which Alan Davis rather humorously jumped in to complete because it didn't look right, and Staz' rather wonderful "Lobo/Gene Simmons/Staz' Neighbour," which got a fair few laughs also.

Mark Buckingham drew a really beautiful Snow White, which my better half really wanted, but sadly did not win (although this did result in her buying a hardback of Fables at BICS purely on the back of that, which can only be a good thing), and I had my fingers very firmly crossed for the sketch an audience member requested of Davis for Saturnyne. No joy. But them's the breaks. I was going to queue for Davis later, anyway.

This was followed up by the 70 years of Marvel Panel, done in association with David Monteith and Barry Nugent's Geek Syndicate Podcast (

At this point H, Fliss and myself were musing that we hadn't moved from these seats for an hour and a half, and that we really aught to go and have a look around the rest of the show soon. Paul Cornell, who had been sitting in the row in front of us for the duration of the previous two panels turned to us, shrugged, and said 'I guess I'd better do my bit now'. And the panel was underway.

Representing Marvel for this panel was Paul Cornell (Dark Reign: Young Avengers, Wisdom, Captain Britain & MI13), Andy Diggle (Thunderbolts, Dardevil, and most notably DC's The Losers), Alan Davis (Excalibur, X-Men, The ClanDestine, Captain Britain), and Mark Farmer (Usually inking Alan's work. And he's exceptionally bloody good at it, too).

From Left to Right: Barry Nugent, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Paul Cornell, David Monteith, Andy Diggle and...

Oh. Yes. And one random audience member. Apparently somebody due to appear had not turned up, and so that lad on the right, Sam, was randomly picked from the audience to sit in for them. Although some of the audience may have wished he hadn't been.

'Precocious' would be the polite way of describing him...

That panel itself actually turned out to be very interesting as, completely unplanned, a kind of divide seemed to develop between Marvel Past and Marvel Present. Especially on issues such as the Disney takeover and the concept of Digital Comics.

Paul Cornell and and Diggle remained cautiously optimistic about the buyout, Cornell pointing out that DC have always been able to keep a low-selling title going for much longer with Time/Warner's 'money and might' behind them, and that now Marvel will be able to do the same, such as "...a low-selling title like Captain Britain" he joked.

He also pointed out that while some might worry that Disney might interfere in terms of content, that this is the same company who owns Miramax films, who made Pulp Fiction, and that he think all that it will really mean is that Marvel have 'Better distribution channels and more money behind them'.

And I'd have to agree with that. In all honesty can you say that Disney have ruined Pixar? Or the ABC network? The people at Disney are not idiots! If it's not broken they won't fix it. They'll help use it as a way of doing the things they can't do through the standard Disney name, more dynamic and adult orientated things. But they won't stuff it up.

And seriously, if they could find alternate distribution channels to Diamond alone that would be a Godsend!

Mark Farmer, in the other hand, believed that while it was early days yet, that there might be cutbacks from this. His concern would be that Marvel might start dropping titles as a result. Others on the panel couldn't quite see the logic on this, but Farmer overall tone seemed to be that anything could happen at this stage, and that it would be wiser to be prepared for both alternatives. Or at least that's what I took from it.

Audience member Sam suggested "How about a Deadpool vs the DC Universe?"

To which Andy Diggle replied "I'd happily write that, Alan would you draw it?"

Mr Davis did not seem quite so interested in that idea. :)

Just in case you'd forgotten which panel this was.

When the panel was asked a question on the subject of Digital Comics this too threw up some interesting points.

Andy Diggle described right now as the 'pivotal point' we'll be looking at in the years to come, where the transition from 'Dead-Tree Media' to 'Portable Digital Media' occurred. Not talking so much bout desktop PCs, though. He mentioned Apple developing a tablet PC screen, and Microsoft also, and he believes that when you can have a portable device, the size of a paperback book, where you could have access to Marvel's entire back catalogue, then comics will 'explode' onto that device. Because he believes that comics are perfect medium for such a device.

And I'd have to say that I 100% agree with that. I've been talking this up for several years, on forums and elsewhere. It was so incredibly encouraging to hear an actual creator sharing that opinion.

He also pointed out that "...the slightly more backward looking guys at some of these companies, will say that 'Oh, nobody will want to read comics on a screen,' completely blinkered to the fact that thousands of people already ARE reading comics on screens. You know, the wholesale piracy of all of our work... and we don't get a shred of royalties for any of it, because people are downloading it for free".

This genuinely is the situation, now, as I see it. Very much like the issues experienced with illegally downloaded MP3s back in the 90s. Only here there's no central site, like Napster, that the industry can get at. But if there is one thing that I think that should demonstrate to comic book publishers, it's that - illegal or not - there IS a market for digital downloads of comic books. If all the publishers could just get around the table, with somebody willing to produce an iTunes for Comics (Much like Rantz Hoseley has been trying to do with his Longbox application - then not only could that piracy be actively turned into profit, but it would also help to lower the overheads for many titles which printing and distributing through Diamond is making very difficult these days. The reason so many titles are costing $3.99 is not purely down to greed, you know. Taking some smaller titles digital could actually make them a far more financially viable option.

Alan Davis took a slightly different viewpoint, though. He was concerned that once a whole back catalogue of comics were to join that of all cartoons and movies, there might be a real danger that the younger generation might stop entirely. He believes that many of the younger generation just don't really care, that they expect things to just be brought to them by the TV. He told the audience that a few years ago he was running a Scout troop, and had one week brought along a big box of comics (Mostly titles he'd worked on) which he told everyone that they should feel free to take. Apparently, while a few came over and looked at them, nobody actually took any of them - not a single comic went.

Andy Diggle pointed out that he couldn't give a lot of his comics away either, but he thinks that it's subject matter that doesn't appeal to kids. Davis seemed to agree with this. He remarked that when he first started to do conventions like these they were filled with kids. Not so any more. And he believes that this is because DC and Marvel have somewhat ignored them.

This point also ended up linking back into how Digital Distribution might be able to change that.

But, of course, it wouldn't be a Marvel panel if some idiot didn't bring up the subject of Marvel UK.

By 'Some Idiot' I really mean 'Me'.

I listed some guys like Salvador Larocca, Bryan Hitch, Alan Davis and Dan Abnett, pointing out that all of these guys had gone on to have great careers in the industry, but had been given an early break through Marvel UK. I asked the panel whether they thought it would be a good idea to once again have original British based Marvel material being created over here.

Andy Diggle replied first, saying that as a British creator he'd love to see Marvel UK back, but that he wasn't sure that there was enough of a market for it here alone, in a world were you really have to sell internationally. And that 'Once you're selling something internationally, then it almost doesn't really matter where it was originated'. He pointed out that he works for Marvel in New York, but he's based in England, and he artist could be based in Spain, Croatia or the Philippines. It's really kind of global, now.

Of course back in the 80s and 90s, during Marvel UK's heyday, it really wasn't.

Mark Farmer also pointed out though, that "Marvel UK was a kind of handy Training Ground, as well. I know it sounds like I'm demeaning their output, but it was a place you could learn - the same as 2000 AD - make mistakes, take the work into the Editor, have it pointed out to you what's wrong, hopefully correct it, and then start getting little bits of work. That's how I started, I'm sure many others did as well".

This was the kind of reason I wanted to raise the question. So often at British cons there is a habit to only mention 2000 AD as being significant in shaping the careers of British creators. History is, after all written by the winners. If 2000 AD had fallen in the early 90s, and Marvel UK had survived, I'm sure that we would be seeing a things almost entirely from their perspective also. But I personally, as I'm sure you've all realised by now, prefer not to let Marvel UK be forgotten.

Alan Davis went into far more detail on the subject of Marvel UK. He added that "... it wasn't just Marvel UK, because 'Marvel UK' was a company. Both times Marvel UK was producing new (Original) material, Paul Neary was at the helm. The first time, when I got to do Captain Britain in the 80s, Marvel UK didn't want any new originated (material), and Paul actually scrimped and scraped, stealing from other budgets, to make enough to do one five-page story a month. And it blossomed from there, because of the success.

"Then Paul came back again, when Marvel (UK) had it's last run, and got up to 26 titles. But Marvel UK was the first victim of the 'Comic Implosion'. Not because it was doing the most badly, but because Marvel had to trim some fat, and Marvel UK was an easy thing to trim off.

"But, in the same way when I think of 'working for a company' I don't think of 'working for the Corporation' as much as I do 'working with an Editor,' Marvel UK should be seen as Paul Neary. Because he was the person who uncovered all the the talent, the one who went to Spain and found people like Carlos Pacheco and Salvador Larocca. He went along to all the conventions looking for people. He certainly was the person who gave me my break. And I think you need someone like that, rather than a company".

You see folks, I know that I mention it - both here and on forums - but Marvel UK did give the industry a lot more than people often credit it for. Don't just take my word for it. Take Alan Davis'. Take Mark Farmer's. Back in the mid to late 1990s I remember Marvel editorials raving about how they'd uncovered the likes of Larocca, Pacheco, Sharp, Cheung and others. And I couldn't help but think, 'Hold on! No. You didn't do that'. I was hoping that asking this question might get Paul Neary brought up in discussion. I totally bought into what he told the readers he was trying to do in the early 90s. And to be honest, he WAS doing it. It was just a shame that at the point that Marvel UK's output was reaching its finest stage was also the very point at which Marvel US started cost cutting. Such an incredible shame.

Anyway, I think I've covered this panel in some pretty hefty detail now. If you want to listen to the panel in its entirety, and I promise I've only really touched the surface here, then you can download it as a podcast from the Geek Syndicate site HERE. Do it. It's well worth the effort.

But before I move on completely, I'd just like to mention that during this panel I was in for a bit of a shock when a certain slide popped up in the background:

Hold on a second. Haven't I seen that SOMEWHERE BEFORE?

Yes, that's right. That's my Captain Britain & MI13 Needs YOU! poster, which I knocked up before the book launched. It was created using the original cover to #1, with the John Lennon likeness which was eventually changed. I had a word with the Geek Syndicate guys afterwards. They were quite amused. Barry had put the slides together, and had no idea that it wasn't an official Marvel poster - which I take to be the finest of compliments!

Okay, folks. I'm actually going to break here. This report has become much larger than expected. So I'll return with Part 2 shortly. In which I bother Alan Davis for a sketch, get a broader sense of the con, and raise my metaphorical glass to the Small Press guys.

See you shortly...

1 comment:

  1. Completely insane. You were literally two seats back from my friends and I. In fact, you have a picture of the back of two of my friends heads in that picture of 70 Years of Marvel!

    I have to say, I thought the hosts managed very well considering it appeared they annoyed Davis in the opening parts!