“A Survivor in the Cosplay Age”: the London Comic Mart

Comic fans out in force at the August 2015 London Comic mart. Photo: Antony Esmond

Comic fans out in force at the August 2015 London Comic mart. Photo: Antony Esmond

In these days of large in scale conventions, cosplay-infested MCMs and curated, arty, small press festivals it’s nice to see that events like the London Comic Mart at the Royal National Hotel are still there for us hardcore collectors.

Known as ‘The National’ to those in the know, this multi-room back issue sales area has been going for years and still carries the torch from the heady days of Westminster’s Central Hall and its star-studded Comic Mart days of the 1980s. A venue I was regularly dropped off at by my father who went for a beer while I stared at wonder at all the issues my local newsagent hadn’t bothered ordering.

Is being a ‘Comic Collector’ a dirty word these days? Everyone seems to be a hipster ‘Creator’ or a ‘Graphic Novel’ fan or a cosplay actor. Nobody admits to loving the comics of the pre 1990s? But here we are, queuing up to get in and rifle through long boxes. Impulse buys or wants lists, come prepared to see books you don’t see in Forbidden Planet or Travelling Man.

1960s comic Fantastic, one of the first British comics to regularly reprint US superhero strips.

1960s comic Fantastic, one of the first British comics to regularly reprint US superhero strips.

A big problem with modern conventions is the lack of pre-2010 comics you can buy. Even great conventions like Thought Bubble barely had a back issue section worth speaking of and the London Film and Comic Con or MCM rugby scrums are places that you are more likely to be able to grab a Thor backpack than a Thor comic. This hole in my addiction is filled by a couple of great comic shops (Krypton Komics, I am looking at you) and the bi-monthly Comic Marts held at this easily accessible West End London location.

Manning the stalls are the same old faces that I have seen over my 40-plus years of reading. Like hippy car salesmen, they will haggle and moan about the state of the industry and the luck of other venders.

So? You ask. Why should I head there? Sounds a bit like a flea market, with the accent on ‘flea’. I would humbly suggest that the prices of the comics is a great reason. You can always pick up a boat load of comics for a relatively small price. Always full of 50p bins and reduced price multi packs each stall is a tatty goldmine. That’s not to say there aren’t some high-grade comics tat as well, all over the shop. You can also grab cut price DVDs, posters and art as well.

London Comic Mart - August 2015 - Comics Haul. Photo: Antony Esmond

The above pile only cost me the princely sum of 90 pence!

I put a tweet out to see what people were looking for and got a great reply from TV actor and comics enthusiast Riley Jones (@Riley_Jones_88 on Twitter – and currently appearing as DC Edwards in ITVs series Vera). He said that after having moved to London recently, he was keen to get to a Mart to “raid the bins for any books that I may have missed in the past few months, but will also be looking for some older collectables.

“£80 is my limit. We’ll see if I can stick to that!”

Chatting to some of the retailers at the Mart today, I was struck by their growing concerns that not enough was being made of a great venue and an established business. One retailer said he would like to see signings and competitions to draw in customers. I have to admit that you would be hard pressed to find any advertising about the event or signs outside the hotel advertising its presence.

London Comic Mart August 2015. Photo: Antony Esmond

Comics fans peruse back issues at the London Comic Mart with not a shred of lycra in sight. Photo: Antony Esmond

 

Sure, there are some strange (trying to be polite here) people wandering (crashing) about the aisles. I once watched a man open about twenty packs of Sliders trading cards in a row and throw the wrappers at his feet. But these people are rarer than they used to be.

So if you want to discover the true history of comics (it actually goes back further than the first X-Men movie) then head down to the Royal National Hotel on a Sunday lunch time. Grab some Marvel Two-in-One or Strange Adventures or Captain Britain weekly. You know it’s going to open your minds, you silly-billy squares!

If you really search Facebook you can find an events page for the Mart and they have a website at www.londoncomicmart.co.uk Upcoming events are the 6th September and the 4th October 2015. You can find it in the downstairs halls at The Royal National Hotel, 38-51 Bedford Way, Russell Square, London WC1H 0DG

Many thanks for reading.

• For information on the next and upcoming London Comic Marts visit: www.londoncomicmart.co.uk

Vera actor and comics fan Riley Jones is currently looking for line work he can colour for his portfolio…

 

Antony Esmond

Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer - his hips don't lie.



Categories: British Comics, Events, Featured, Opinions

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6 replies

  1. re: back issues and cross-posting from my comment on this story on Facebook:

    I think there’s a more modern comic-reading mentality that believes everything is either (a) already available in collected form, (b) will be available in collected form, or (c) can be had digitally, either legitimately or illegitimately so the idea of picking up back-issues to fill gaps in a collection isn’t that important any more (or, in some case, even the idea of having a “comic collection”, as opposed to a bookshelf of collected editions or a tablet full of digital comics).

    Digital especially seems to be something younger (and occasionally not!) readers expect, and I’d be interested to see the way things split between digital/individual issues/trades for publishers who deal with all three. My expectation would be that individual issues and back issues are still being read, but that there’s been a switch to digital there, while trades have remained more robust in terms of physical sales. Mind you, some of the larger publishers seem remarkably slow on the digital front – there certainly seems to be a reasonable, if niche, interest in digital for the reprints I’ve been involved in, but the rightsholders there would prefer to retain digital rights to do… something. At some point. Perhaps. Maybe :-)”

    • Kieron Gillen made some good points about why, for US publishers, sales of the monthly single issue of comics are still important here on his tumblr. “Anything selling stably over 10k in single issues is a cause for celebration and joy,” he noted, talking specifically about creator-owend comics. “The creators are almost certainly extremely happy.” Despite the importance of trade collections, the big US comic publishers still, he notes make money from the single issues. “With a few exceptions, big two comics primarily make their money in single issues. That is one reason why their single issue sales matter so much more.” So those single issue sales are still relevant and a vital part of making your creation/comic work in terms of getting a return on the investment you as a creator or you, as a publisher hiring creators, made.

      As for British comic collections – well, apart from small scale reprints such as those with which your personally familiar – the terrific Hibernia collections – the major problem for fans of classic strips is that some of the companies that own the rights simply don’t seem inclined to cut a licensing deal that would make reprint commercially viable. In one instance with which I was personally involved, IPC (now Time Inc. Europe) were prepared to license their strips for reprint, but the contract and upfronts, measured against an unknown return (digital collections), made it impossible to pursue negotiation (Sadly, the company who, at my introduction, opened negotiations also behaved in a shoddy way to the staff at IPC who’d gone out of their way to try and sort a deal, which didn’t help matters). I sincerely hope anyone interested in reprinting the Steel Claw, The Spider or Faceache have better luck in future – it’s my understanding that DC Comics now handles reprint enquiries and rights.

      Other classic strips are also difficult, particularly if the strip was licensed from a TV company in the first place, as in the case of some strips from titles such as Look-In for example. Again, publishers researching rights are stone walled because the huge companies who own certain properties again can’t understand that not every license will make the huge numbers they seem to think it will. It’s all hugely frustrating. The back issue bin is your only resource to re-read many British strips in a lot cases.

    • Ah, I’d had Gillen’s piece recommended to me before but hadn’t read it yet. Interesting stuff, and some very good points from someone in a position to know. I must admit, I’m surprised that the singles are such a vital part of things for the big two – I would have expected them to be less important now, but perhaps my perception is skewed by the success of trades for other companies?

      re: British reprints. While I haven’t had the first-hand experience that David has had, those stories sound very familiar from discussions with him. Some companies are easier to deal with than others and have more reasonable expectations, which in turn makes reprints of certain strips possible, even if only on a small scale, though even there some characters are off-limits for various odd reasons. Others have entirely unreasonable expectations or have licensing departments that are impossible to communicate with. I think your understanding re: IPC’s properties is correct too – it’s my impression that DC now handle licensing enquiries – so hopefully some of the comics in IPC’s vast library will become available again.

      Licensed comics are a nightmare, which is why I suspect the only people in a position to attempt reprints there are going to be far larger publishers with the clout to negotiate with rights-holders, and even then the disappearance of the original companies who may have been involved and tracing the transfer of rights makes the whole process tremendously complex. From the Hibernia POV, there’s been reader interest in reprints of strips like Computer Warrior from the Eagle, but that’s a project that depends not only on the agreement of the DDC, who own the character, but trying to puzzle out what agreements were made with the rightsholders of the games that appeared at the time, then tracking them down to seek permission to reprint and perhaps even having to negotiate fresh agreements with them! It makes what would be a manageable small-scale reprint into something vastly more complicated and expensive to the point where something that would appeal to readers can’t be done because it’s prohibitively time-consuming and expensive without a hike in cover prices – which would then kill reader interest!

      One final point re: digital, particularly pirate copies. One of the things that has cropped up infrequently with our collections is the “oh, I read this on *insert website/torrent of scanned comics here* for free” and I do get the impression that for a good number of people, the availability of 1000-comics-on-a-DVD from eBay, or torrents containing lo-res scans of every issue of Tornado etc. has taken the place of looking for hard-copy back-issues. It’s certainly part of why we always try to make sure the whole package of whatever strip we reprint is the best quality possible, with whatever extra we can fit in, as I think there’s an element of competing with “free” for some people who might be interested in these strips.

    • You have my sympathies, Richard. I know one comics publisher who has unsuccessfully been trying to reprint “Zoids” (first published by Marvel UK) for many, many years.

  2. Derek Pierson writes: “ou’ve done it again. Just when I thought it was safe to get my head down and have a snooze …. up you come with the Odhams Fantastic comics feature. Yes, I’m sorry, but I was there for that as well. We used to get bromides from America (the first thing we had to discover was how to puff talcum powder over them to dry up the residue of ink which smeared just by looking at it!) then we had to hack the artwork about to fit the British page sizes, and then the gloriously exciting job of going through the US dialog (lol) and changing all those spellings to English i.e. program to programme, color to colour, etc. Cheers!”

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