Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bristolblog 2012

The UK convention circuit, as I’ve mentioned before, is for me the beating heart of the British comics industry – which is to say that it’s where the indies build their followings and represent themselves. It’s also the place where I make the majority of my own pitches, launch books and meet potential collaborators. It is my home, my playground and my place of work.

Furthermore, Bristol is genuinely where it all started for me. As a result, launching a book in the Passenger Shed is a particular kick – especially considering that the last time I set foot in that place I walked out with an agreement to publish Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth and an offer to take on the Starship Troopers ongoing series. Launching two titles in one day there this year, almost by definition, elevated my convention experience into “best ever” territory on sentimental value alone.

Here, then, is an account of my Bristol Expo 2012 adventure, in whatever random order it bleeds out of my brain as I travel home on Monday morning.

White Knuckle
The main “business event” of the convention for me was the launch of White Knuckle, the serial killer book from Valia Kapadai and me. The pre-order offer Nic Wilkinson had been running had proven to be a great success, and it was fantastic to watch the reactions Valia’s art was getting. In terms of narrative tone and visual style, White Knuckle represents something of a departure for my books, so the comments we received and the number of items leaving the table were deeply cool.

There was also the White Knuckle panel, of course – which I was thinking of more as an opportunity to sing Valia’s praises than to sell more copies. Scott Grandison did his usual great job of steering two over-excited co-creators toward some kind of coherent discussion, and one expertly judged question from the audience caught me so off-balance that even now I don’t remember what I said or whether I even came close to providing an answer. People seemed to warm to Valia instantly in what I believe was her first UK convention panel, and there were confident predictions about her future from Markosia Top Dog, Harry Markos.

Cancertown 2 Preview
After the reactions we got on first flashing hints of this at Demoncon2, we knew we were going to need to have some Cancertown 2: Blasphemous Tumours art on display at Bristol. This time, in addition to the first ten pages of chapter one, we had a draft of Graeme Howard and Peter Mason’s cover available for inspection. As the first volume of Cancertown had launched with record numbers at Bristol ’09, we were keen to start building some noise for the sequel. That said, the level of interest the preview generated was well beyond expectation, so the book’s launch later in the year promises to be an interesting one... 

Bayou Arcana
The second significant launch for me was that of Jimmy Pearson’s Bayou Arcana anthology. The best thing about books like this is the opportunity to see the work of so many creators in one volume, any or all of whom may be entirely new to any given reader. The Arcana format provides an extremely powerful backbone for the stories, but allows for essentially unrestricted experimentation. The art on display ranged from the enchanting to the terrifying as each team pursued its own inspiration under Jimmy’s carefully moderated guidance – with the end result being a striking visual and atmospheric gumbo with deep roots and broad branches. Miss this book at your peril.

With so many creators involved, it was joked ahead of time that the Bayou Arcana launch panel carried the unique potential for its panellists to outnumber its spectators. However, despite virtually the entire cast crowding around the table, the audience was packed in tighter than any other event I saw over the weekend. Jimmy proved to be an effortlessly effective moderator and guide, directing the course of the discussion so that no-one was lost in the crowd. Hell, he even soft-balled me a cool question about the role of horror in the indie sector – allowing me to cement my reputation as fake-expert in that area.

Making Plans
A constant frustration as a writer is being unable to talk about certain unannounced projects – which, being the stuff you’re working on right now, naturally includes some of the things about which you’re most excited. With that understood, I did have an extremely productive talk with Stephen Downey and Conor Boyle about a book we’ve been planning out for a while that now seems to be rumbling forward. I also hit Stephen with a loose pitch for a serial that we might be blasting a publisher with in the near future. Got to keep those new projects rolling in...

Rolling for Random Encounters...
Bristol, as ever, was full of its usual collection of unexpected awesomeness. Highlights for 2012 included a long and almost indescribably surreal discussion with Richmond Clements and Al Ewing that encompassed the relationship between magic and Kung Fu, football conspiracy theories, an 80s cartoon called Sport Billy and an imaginative but ultimately failed experiment in lion taxidermy.

Key Purchases
Special mention must be made of Kronos City from Time Bomb Comics. Andrew Croskery (story), Alex Willmore (art) and Lauren Willmore (colours) have done a stellar job on this book, and both they and their publisher deserve great success with it.

I mentioned Sam Gardner’s profoundly experimental Sioux Warrior comic in a previous convention report, and the second volume seems to be carrying the concept forward in fine style. While the first issue was the only battery-powered comic I have ever read, this second release contains what appears to be a fully functional utility belt. Sam had also organised a fourth-wall-shattering convention event, but I won’t step on his toes here until I’ve had a chance to see the result for myself when he posts the footage online. Watch this space...

I managed to break away from the table on the Sunday to rave incoherently at personal hero, David Hine, ultimately forcing a copy of Cancertown on him and fleeing the scene before he knew what had hit him.

So, between all that, the guy who talked me through what has to be the best idea for a tabletop game I’ve heard since Mongoose Publishing’s Starship Troopers Miniatures Battles (cheers, Jason) and Chris Lynch actually pitching me the concept of his own children, I think I’ve covered most of the basics of Bristol 2012. There were a couple of things I couldn’t get to (such as Stacey Whittle’s anthologies panel, on which Nic was a guest and had a great time). In summary, though, we had a great weekend. While I’ve heard mixed reports from others who were there (along with the expected tiresome dogpiling from those who weren’t), I can only say that in our experience this was by far the most successful table we’ve ever run at a convention. Thanks to everyone who helped make it such an enjoyable event and roll on the Cancertown 2 launch at Thought Bubble!

UPDATE: Thanks go out to Battle Amongst the Stars writer, Martin Fisher. I had wrenched three shades of fuck out of my back dragging an eighty-five pound (we weighed it) suitcase of White Knuckle pre-orders down two flights of stairs and was (still am) in some pretty interesting pain. Martin dove in to prevent further injury by hefting that unwieldy fucker on and off the train at no small degree of personal risk. Cheers for that, mate.

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