Saturday 28 May 2016 saw the Wonderlands UK Graphic Novel Expo return to the CitySpace building of the University Of Sunderland. Named for the city’s links with Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and inaugurated last year to help celebrate the book’s 150 anniversary, Wonderlands is part Sunderland’s bid to be UK City Of Culture in 2021 and this second event retained the same relaxed atmosphere of the first based around its two parallel discussion streams along with a “publishers hall” area for sales and autographs.
This year’s new guests included Doug Braithwaite, Karrie Fransman and Una and, along with returning guests such as Steve Bell, Bryan Talbot (above talking about anthropomorphism) and Mary Talbot (below talking about The Red Virgin), they participated in a variety of individual talks, panel discussions and workshops. Indeed this was the first event since The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia, the Talbot’s latest co-created graphic novel, had been published and they quickly sold out of all the copies that they had with them.
The CitySpace building includes the university gym where both the sales area and some of the individual talks and workshops took place. With around 30 sales tables, all larger than normal convention tables, the gym was well laid out although its talks space was somewhat long and narrow.
The other talks area was in the room next door which, being larger (and quieter), was used for all the panel discussions. The blue LED lights pointed at the audience and the large bottles of water on the tables between the guests and audience that had marred the previous year’s talks in this room were gone and, once the various panels got used to their microphones, things ran smoothly.
The university’s Dr Mel Gibson chaired the Real Life Graphic Novels panel with contributions from Supercrash’s Darryl Cunningham, Dotter Of Her Father’s Eyes’ Mary Talbot, Sally Heathcoat: Suffragette’s Kate Charlesworth, underground comix’s Sue Varty, and Becoming Unbecoming’s Una.
Clockwork Watch’s Yomi Ayeni, World’s End’s Tim Perkins, The Heart Which Makes Us’ Lizzie Boyle, and Metaphrog duo Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers discussed their own graphic novel publications at the DIY Graphic Novels panel chaired by editor Tim Picher.
Other creators in attendance included:
The local Paper Jam Comics Collective were represented by Al Summerscales, Britt Coxon and Paul Thompson who showed that imagination can easily replace banners when it comes to getting a good group photo. With one of the most diverse selections of titles on display on the day, including Tales Of The Hollow Earth, Invisible Beasts, and their new anthology Making… And That, the collective meets at Newcastle’s Travelling Man comic shop on the second Thursday of each month.
There are more details of the Paper Jam Comics Collective and all their publications on their website.
Returning from the previous year was Marvel UK and 2000AD artist and writer Tim Perkins with Volume 1 of his Worlds End graphic novel series The Riders On The Storm. This ‘science fusion’ series features the wizards of the planet Gaeyrth having to fight the alien Aoevill hordes who want to take over the planet.
There are more details of Tim Perkins’ Worlds End at the Wizards Keep website
New to Wonderlands this year was artist and writer Alan Henderson with his Penned Guin newspaper style humour comics. Alan posts these deceptively simple three panel strips to his Tumbler before compiling them in books, the latest of which is entitled We Waddlers.
There are more details of Alan Henderson’s work on his Penned Guin Tumbler.
Returning from 2015 were artist Conor Boyle and writer Lizzie Boyle of Disconnected Press with their political satire anthology Cross, all four issues of their tongue-in-cheek Sentient Zombie Space Pigs, and the unusual make-your-own-adventure book Secret Gardens.
There are more details of all Disconnected Press titles on the Disconnected Press website.
There are more details of Conor’s work on his blog.
There are more details of Lizzie’s work on her website.
Also returning were artist Sandra Marrs and writer John Chalmers of Metaphrog. Since the last Wonderlands their graphic novel adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes has been published by America’s Papercutz and they are now able to announce that their follow-up to it from the same publisher will be The Little Mermaid which is due in 2017.
There are more details of The Red Shoes and all Metaphrog’s work on their website.
Glasgow’s Black Hearted Press were there with Glasgow Comic Con organisers Kirsty Hunter and Sha Nazir showing off their latest comics in the form of John Wagner and Alan Grant’s SF take on football in Rok Of The Reds and the compilation graphic novel of Gary Chudleigh and Tanya Robert’s post apocalyptic Plagued.
As a university based event that is more of a one day literary festival that a typical “comic con”, Wonderlands is never going to get large crowds, even with it being completely free, yet the lack of attendees visible in the publishers hall was perhaps more noticeable this year than last. Partly this is down to the way they organise their talks streams with two talks per hour on the half hour and a 10 minute gap before the next pair meaning that for the sellers the ebb and flow of potential purchasers in the sales area tended to be mainly an ebb. Coupled with a seeming low-level of pre-publicity, I was in both of Newcastle’s main comics shops the day before and didn’t see any mention of Wonderlands, and nothing to suggest to passing drivers on the main road outside that anything different to a normal Saturday was going on, meant that at times the number of guests and sellers seemed to outweigh the number of attendees.
Yet Wonderlands is not a commercial venture and so is much less dependent on getting big numbers through its doors than most typical “comic cons”. The low numbers of attendees makes for a more intimate event as everyone has more time to talk to each other and about the comics/graphic novels on show and that, perhaps, is what the organisers are really striving for.
There are more details of Wonderlands on the event’s website.
The Sunderland Echo covered the Wonderlands event here.