Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bristol '11: a White Knuckle Ride

So that's another Bristol Comic and Small Press Expo over - one in which I launched one book, landed another and appeared on more panels in one day than I have in the previous, well, lifetime. Shattered doesn't begin to describe it.

This was my first experience of having a table specifically dedicated to something I'd written, and it makes a significant difference to the structure of your day. We were set up at the intersection between the two main rooms in the Mercure, back-to-back with Orang-Utan Comics. It turned out to be a pretty decent position and, from what I saw of it, the "Independent and Small Press" side of the convention was quite a lot livelier than the "Mainstream and International" side throughout the weekend.

The Slaughterman's Creed launch was all kinds of fun. We had a mountain of pre-ordered copies to sign, and had to organise a production line so we could get it all done in a sensible time. Stephen Downey and Vicky Stonebridge personalised as many copies as they could, and the hand I injured at the Birmingham con last year just about held up long enough to get my scrawl down. Those pre-paid orders included, we topped 100 copies sold over the weekend and, even ignoring pre-orders, Markosia tells us Slaughterman's Creed is their best-ever UK convention seller. Got to say, I'm pretty happy with how it all went.

Saturday's a bit of a blur, to be honest. Bristol is an incredibly inclusive event, with no them-and-us mentality, so it's the kind of show where you can suddenly find yourself exchanging Michael Ironside anecdotes with Paul Cornell, Laurence Campbell and Rob Williams. Had several of those "did that just happen?" moments over the weekend, but that one was a classic. Also, a chance David Hine sighting had me bolting for a copy of Creed to give him as thanks for the fantastic cover quote he gave us, and ended with him insisting instead that we swap for a copy of The Bulletproof Coffin (signed by David and Shaky Kane). Got to love that.
Sunday kicked off with four quick trips between the two venues, shuttling copies of Creed back and forth for signing, before heading off for the first panel of the day - "The Task of Blood: Creating Slaughterman's Creed". Really wasn't sure what to expect from this, but the room was virtually full and the whole thing seemed to go well. Comic Book Outsiders co-host, Scott Grandison, did an admirable job of co-ordinating the chaos (aided in no small measure by Nic Wilkinson's awesome Powerpoint presentation). Better yet, he did the whole thing in full Mr. Green face make-up - which is the first time I've ever heard of anyone cosplaying as one of my characters! The talk was recorded for the podcast, so it'll be interesting to hear how it all came out.Second panel of the day was Dan Thompson's "Small Press, Big Ideas" discussion, which had Nic Wilkinson, Richmond Clements, Peter Rogers and me joining him to question whether the term "small press" does more harm than good. Some interesting ideas were kicked around, and you'll be pleased to know that we solved the dilemma for all time in about 45 minutes, but we're sworn to take that resolution to our graves with us.

Right, now for White Knuckle.

I'd approached artistic pixie, Valia Kapadai, some months back to investigate the possibility of working together. I'd become aware of her through Rich McAuliffe's beautifully nightmarish Snow graphic novel (hopefully some great news on that front soon) and knew she could create painfully exquisite artwork with a serious emotional charge behind it. What emerged from those discussions was White Knuckle - a riff on the classic "retired gunslinger forced to strap on his irons again for one last battle" tale, but told through the lens of a 70-year-old former serial strangler who becomes a local hero when he accidentally saves the life of his last victim's grandson.

I pitched the book verbally to Harry Markos on the Sunday of the convention and received an immediate acceptance. A lot of that was down to the fact that Valia had prepared a pitch package that included character designs and two full pages of haunting art, lettered by Nic Wilkinson. More information on the book will be coming soon, both here and on my website.

All in all, this was a terrific convention for me, both personally and professionally (if that distinction even means anything in comics). Had a fantastic and productive time talking Bayou Arcana with James Pearson and some of the anthology's creative team. I was awe-struck, as I always am, by the enthusiasm of creators like Daniel Clifford, Jennie Gyllblad and Corey Brotherson, and a hit-and-run chat with Henry Flint had my head spinning right before the Creed panel. Great times.

Other highlights included meeting Cancertown 2 and Fallen Heroes artists, Graeme Howard and Steve Penfold, for the first time and getting to see Simon Wyatt's first concept sketches for a book I haven't even started talking about yet! There were more great moments, but I'd be here all day if I listed them.

Special mention has to go to Cape Fear Comics and their Sioux Warrior title. Not only are they profoundly decent guys, they've actually succeeded in creating something I've never even heard of before, much less seen: a musical comic. Utterly insane and conceptually brilliant.

So that was Bristol, and hopefully some of my love for this show is coming through in this report. More than anything, the Bristol con reminds me why I wanted to get involved in comics in the first place. It's a place where you can blunder into a bar intending to leave 30 minutes later and inexplicably find yourself talking comics theory and practice for three hours with the mighty John Higgins, Al Ewing and a cross-section of the UK's top talent. How can you go wrong?

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