Saturation Point: Have We Got Too Many Comic Cons?

NICE 2017 Convention - Cancelled

I was very sorry to hear yesterday that Jeff Chahal, organiser of the highly-regarded, comics-focused NICE convention in Bedford, has reluctantly decided to cancel his 2017 event – although he hopes to be action next year.

The decision followed news of London Super Comic Con‘s move from February to August, and the imminent announcement of another large comics show in September.

“The show has been cancelled purely because of the date alteration by London Super Comic Con to the end of August and another large comic show due to move into the end of September,” says Jeff.

LO don Super Comic Con 2017
On the move to August: London Super Comic Con – a decision welcomed by man, but not all

“September is going to be a very busy month for comic fans and we have the already established Birmingham show ICE, and a number of ‘Comic Cons’ dotted around during September too.

“Can I deliver a great quality guest list? Absolutely, no doubt in my mind of that! But, here’s the problem, with all those shows vying for your hard earned cash, the ticket sales across all the shows will take a hit. Attending creators will lose out and could lead to a substantial loss on our part too.

“Many people have worked hard over the last five shows to build NICE into something we are all very proud of, and it’s more than just a business to me. NICE is something I love and I don’t want to see it crash and burn, so with all that in mind, we’re going to take a year out and look to 2018.

“Thank you all for your support, it’s very much appreciated.”

I’ve plugged NICE several times on downthetubes and many, many people have said how great this comics-oriented event. The news was greeted with dismay from several quarters by those more interested in comics-oriented events, rather than the perhaps erroneously described ‘Comic Cons’ with a wider more populist remit, with line-ups more dependent on film and TV guests, some even sidelong comics, despite their name.

Fellow comic convention organiser Shane Chebsey  (who runs ICE) is just one dismayed by the cancellation, and Jeff’s decision has prompted plenty of discussion about what makes a comics event a true comics event overnight. I’m reliably informed it will also be a major talking point on the next Awesome Comics Podcast, too.

“This is really sad news,” says Shane, who’d attended three NICE events as either guest or punter. “Not only is organiser Jeff Chahal a top bloke and good friend, but it means one less proper comic convention on the calendar for 2017… It was a great show. 100% about comics and always with a great guest list of international creators.

“Jeff always injected his personality into the event and made it a unique and friendly experience. As fellow organisers we supported each other. Flyering each others events, giving each other advice and exchanging plenty of friendly banter.

“This event needed more support from fans… I hope Jeff can come back for 2018.

Shane Chebsey
ICE organiser Shane Chebsey: “We need more events like NICE on the calendar and less events calling themselves comic conventions that don’t have any comic creators as guests.”

“We need more events like NICE on the calendar and less events calling themselves comic conventions that don’t have any comic creators as guests.”

Shane’s sentiments have been widely echoed, by both fans and other event organisers such as Paul Trimble, who runs the Enniskillen Comic Fest.

We definitely seem to have a potential “overkill” situation in the UK, where there are now a lot of comics events, large and small, through the year, as well as the more traditional comic fairs. Organisers are staking their claim to dates earlier and  earlier, and while the number of events offers a variety of choice, it also means, potentially, less punters at each event.

The “bunching” of comic events toward the end of the year – and holding events in September – also raises concerns.

We have too many in September/October, feels comic creator and teacher Gavin Pollock. “From a teacher’s point of view, it’s really difficult to involve schools this early on in the academic year. I’d like to get more comics in schools, but all the conventions are at the start of the academic year, so there’s no time to build up to them.”

Well-established events such as this weekend’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival – with its comics-driven European-styled “take over the town with comics” format, embraced with delight by many in its Kendal location – and Thought Bubble in November probably won’t be impacted by this surfeit of comics attractions. They both have a strong supporter base for both the main event and their wider comics outreach work like the Lakes’ Beatrix Potter Reimagined and Black Dog comics projects.

For comic shop owners, there’s also the opportunity for them to take advantage of so many visiting overseas comic creators and offer signing opportunities, just as London comic shops have done (after a weekend of talking comics in Kendal, Deadpool and I Kill Giants writer Joe Kelly heads to Orbital Comics for a signing on Monday, for example).

In fact, there are now so many comics events, it would make sense for organisers to work together and share the costs of bringing in guests, with appearances at numerous events, as well as the odd exclusive offering like Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s at the Lakes, where he’s even joining in with one of the live drawing events – a convention first.

Reading the renewed discussion about comics events here in the UK, one argument fans bring up – and it’s one I’d agree with –  I think we have to acknowledge that few of the events proclaiming themselves as “Comic Cons” are actually comics oriented. There are , of course, strong commercial reasons for a wider offering of guests beyond the comics world, and there are a lot of comic creators and publishers who have told me they’ve benefited from being part of the more film and TV oriented MCM events and the London Film and Comic Cons. But there’s no doubting that at many of these events, comics are sidelined, for all the wonderful cosplay that gets so much wider media attention.

“There are a lot of fairly broad “geek” conventions, for want of a better word,” notes Hex Loader comic creator Dan Whitehead,. “The barriers are very thin these days. I went to the video game themed Play Expo in Manchester last weekend – it was mostly games, yes, but also loads of superhero cosplay, stalls selling comic merchandise, cars from the Transformers movies, film t-shirts etc.”

“I think for anyone who is in the industry, at any level, will find the number of events a little overwhelming and exhausting,” he feels, “but from a customer point of view I think there’s a welcome grass roots element to a lot of it. Lots of smaller, local events that are a welcome antidote to the big MCM type shows. I’ve taken a table at ones in Stockport and Whitby in November, places that never would have got their own convention back in the day. For like-minded people in those areas, it’s a one-off treat – not a countrywide phenonemon. I think, on balance, that’s a net benefit.”

But I think for a lot of downthetubes readers, we’d still like more comics events that are comics events – or at least lead with comics, if they’re being advertised as Comic Cons. I do hope that Jeff will be back, renewed and re-enthused for NICE in 2018. Meanwhile, let’s hear it for the teams that put on the true comics events here in the UK, large and small, those events charted here on downthetubes (as long as we’re told about them) and in more focus over on the brilliant Comic Conventions UK site.

• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is on this weekend! (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you) – we’ve got Charlie Adlard, Duncan Fegredo, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Jordi Bernet, Craig Thompson, Mick McMahon, Robin Furst, Emma Vieceli, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot, a Clock Tower filled to the rafters with comics for sale from all manner of great independent creators, exhibitions, free stuff for kids, Hunt Emerson drawing with a bonkers Finnish rock God of a comic artist Peterri Tikkanen, Martin Rowson, Tom Gauld…

It’s still not too late to drop that hot appointment on TV with X Factor or Strictly or some footie and join us: www.comicartfestival.com/festival-in-a-flash/

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", working as an editor, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years. His credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel UK and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines. He also edited STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics, including Team M.O.B.I.L.E. and The Beatles Story. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare” for Tian Books. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.