In April 2014, I went to a rather small, poorly attended comic show called SBA at the Students Union that is part of Edinburgh University. I was lucky and I got to spend an inordinate amount of time chatting with such luminaries as Norm Breyfogle, Ian Churchill, Declan Shalvey and other assorted guests.
So when James Lundy was searching for volunteers for this year, I was up for it as I thought it would be a breeze, a little bit of work and that I would get to spend loads of time with exhibitors, a bit of kudos for being a helper and maybe obtain a freebie or two. How wrong could someone be?
Helping exhibitors set up, changing the plan of who goes where, moving chairs and tables on the day before was not an unexpected chore as it was well within my experience of helping to prepare events. The delay between the initial set up and the final phase was frustrating. But as we are using a University building that is multi-purpose, it was to be expected that we would have to wait for it to close before we could finish setting up.
As volunteers, we were fairly disparate. Two old fogies (John Penman and myself), a lovely Pharmacy Technician and a mixed group of students. To start with, we struggled to find common ground, but as the convention went on and we covered for each other either in Control of Entry or in helping exhibitors or attendees, the barriers seemed to melt away and we actively sought each other’s company to discuss either what we had seen, what we wanted to buy or just to chat.
So, on the Saturday I drove into Edinburgh and enjoyed a leisurely walk from Sciennes Road through The Meadows up through George Square and then as I saw the Students Union building, I realised that something was amiss with my plan to do only a little work and a lot of face time with the artists and the writers. There was a queue. It wasn’t the monster queue that I saw at DeeCon, but it was definitely a significant queue. Even worse was it was a queue of at least 100 people and it was barely past 9.00 am! And the doors would not open for almost an hour. You could see that our security lads could have their work cut out for them just keeping the queue in order.
The crew met up. We checked we were all ready to rock and roll. And then we had a quick sneak round some of the stalls. So extra connection time with dealers had paid off. Sweet! The problem was finding how much there was that I wanted to buy. Book 1 of Uber being a classic example. World War II story, Nazi superheroes and alternate history. Why did I have to find this now?
But there is still a lack of dealers selling British comics. The closest any of the dealers had was one offering a copy of The Broons from the 1980’s and another carried a pile of Transformers comics in their clearance box. So an amazing representation of US comics, but a lacklustre smattering of British.
However, I digress. We had to be ready for the grand opening and we took our places. I was happy to help out on the Control of Entry, as I know how frustrating it can be to be stuck outside. So Kayleigh and myself prepared for the incoming of fandom and then time and relative dimensions disappeared in space as our world shrunk to tickets, which small box was coloured in, which colour wristband do we use and how quickly can we wrap a wristband around the wrist of the new arrival? I now have a whole new insight into the world of joints as the size of wrists varied from muscle men down to wide eyed children excited to be at their first comic event. And the young children were the ones that I tried to help feel that they were special. Jimmy Vee’s granddaughter came in and I don’t think she is completely convinced that her Papa could get me to do anything he wanted, but I did my best to make her feel that this was a special event and that she was more important than I.
The bitter cold was a factor in how we tried to quickly get people inside. One girl was in an outfit that could not be called cold weather friendly and she was blue by the time we got her inside. As a result, the first two hours disappeared in a blur of activity for us. Thankfully, some of the other volunteers came through and took our places to allow us some freedom to move around the convention.
And I was stunned to see how different it was from last year. Last year there were roughly 500 tickets sold over both days. By midday Saturday, we easily had over 1000 people in the building. And while it was cosy, we never had the logjam that DeeCon suffered from.
Wandering around, I bumped into a few fellow fans and enjoyed exchanging words and then something happened to make my Con experience insanely brilliant. I met into Stephen Montgomery (ex of AKA Comics) who is a fellow fan and we have chatted on many an occasion, who showed me some of the bits he had picked up over the years – and then gifted me the invaluable chore of being the guardian of some concept and original art until it was my time to pass it on to a fellow collector who will enjoy it as much as I.
I was walking on air and I think, even if a full scale riot could have occurred, I would still have classed the convention as awesome. Mindful of what I had in my possession, I still helped to cover stalls while guests would go for a break or attend a panel.
Catching John Penman, who had been covering the panels all day, I offered to relieve him and give him a chance to wander round. And that is how I ended up covering one of the funniest panels it has been my good fortune to witness. Our last panel of Saturday ended up being Game of Thrones ladies, as we had Josephine Gillan and Pixie Le Knot, with John McShane as the compere. Between Josephine talking about her habit of disrobing at every opportunity and Pixie discussing how tightly motion capture clothing clings, John must have become a little flustered and now the mere mention of kleenex is enough to reduce him or any member of that audience to helpless giggles.
By the time this panel was completed, the crowds had begun to disperse into the beautiful sunshine that had blessed us for the afternoon. And there was a bit more room left for the rest of us. Even after our official closing time, many people lingered to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the low stress environment that had been created.
By the time, the last attendee had departed, our small band were ready to go home. And to face the same the next day.
As with many weekend shows, the Saturday was the busiest, but we still had a steady trickle of people all day on Sunday. Even up to the last hour and a half, we still had people coming in to buy a ticket. Again, we were busy with looking after exhibitors, helping people with any minor question they might have or our favourite game of the whole weekend was where has James Lundy got to this time?
It was interesting to see that those from the TV world seemed to appreciate the volunteers more. I suppose it’s a case of knowing that no play, film or TV show ever takes place and goes well without a good backstage crew. And the comics world is a very lonely one where most artists and writers don’t know where their next commission or job is coming from so they have to make it all work themselves. However, we did get some freebies from our comics illustrating brethern. Ryan Browne of God Hates Astronauts did me a lovely Flash Gordon and Iain Laurie did me a wonderful sketch from And the Emily Was Gone. And the very talented Peter Nguyen drew me the fastest sketch of Batman that I have seen in a long time.
However, the finds of the convention for me were MindStain comic CC3, a comic I intend to review in the very near future, by Disconnected Press artist Conor Boyle and Comicsus artist Sam Willoughby. The two artists are gentlemen I expect to see making big waves in the near future.
The saddest part was the post-convention drop. Taking tables down, folding chairs away, helping exhibitors to restack their various vehicles in the way that got the most stock into the smallest space. One departing exhibitor’s vehicle impressed me with how much stock was in their small hatchback – although I am not sure that the rear suspension approved!
By this time, we had done everything, we were exhausted and ready to go home. I left at 7.30 pm, a little bit wiser and a lot poorer as my wife and daughter had done their part to help make the convention profitable!
For a convention to go from barely 500 to over 4000 in a year is impressive to say the least. And Hero Conventions may have to take advantage of the proximity of the Teviot Building next year so that there is still space to grow and keep that low key but happening buzz. Even while I wait to hear other feedback, I have already had local people with no connection to comics, cosplay or creative arts positively commenting on the event so this can only bode well for the future. As for me, I think I want to lose a bit of weight so that I look a tad slimmer in the pictures next year!