From The Trenches: A Guest’s Eye View of True Believers Comic Festival 2017 by Jessica Martin

True Believers 2017 Souvenir Mug
Photo: Jessica Martin

Comic creator Jessica Martin, one of many talents at the event, reveals how she’s now a “True Believer” after her trip to Cheltenham this weekend… 

On Saturday 5th February, I was a guest at the True Believers Comic Festival in Cheltenham. It was my second visit, my first being two years ago when the event was launched. I had a great time back then.. even with my much smaller display of goods on my exhibitor table and two years on, I had a good time again and proud to have my fully grown graphic novel, Elsie Harris Picture Palace taking pride of place on the table.

Other guests included John-Paul Bove, Jess Bradley, Mike Collins, the Etherington Brothers, Paul Grist, John Higgins, Jack Lawrence, Ben Oliver, Cam Smith, Rachael Smith, Des Taylor, Dylan Teague, Vince Hunt and Andrew Wildman, with plenty of other comic creators and independent publishers also at the event.

Excuse me stating the obvious to those here familiar with the culture of comic cons but a convention is far more than a cold, fiscal exchange of goods and cash. If a financial consultant were to advise on whether these events were worth investing time and money in… all that would exist would be the big brands with toys outweighing the comics and books. And who would ever risk creating something new again?

True Believers 2017 - General Shot. Photo: Olly MacNamee
Photo: Olly MacNamee
True Believers 2017 - General Shot
Photo: Olly MacNamee

No… what I perceive to be the attraction of conventions is in the word itself. A coming together of like minded people. People who have escaped the Mugglehood of everyday life and come to a place of magic. Where people spin and sell stories with extraordinary imaginings crafted in words, lines, colour and costume. Conventions are addictive in the most positive way. Any creator or fan does not come to a convention thinking that this will be the only one… there will be talk of the next one or the last one. An adventure to be continued. Each event will offer up is own incidents, characters and memories.

So fresh off my memory ram, is this year’s True Believers festival. I was invited to guest exhibit almost a year ago by the organiser Stuart Mulrain. The very first time I attended was through the recommendation of Barnaby Eaton Jones, another writer. This time round I sensed I was invited because of my growing reputation as an indie comic creator. And I was delighted for Stuart that this new festival, funded entirely by comic fans on Kickstarter, was thriving enough to continue another year with some stellar names on the list. The event is held at Cheltenham Race course and is an inviting space for both traders and guests.

All us guest exhibitors were treated really well. Our travel and accommodation were catered for and it attention to detail was outstanding… down to being able to park our car right outside the venue doors and have one of the many assistants or ‘agents’ come to help carry our goods in. This hospitality is in the vein of other independent comic cons like ICE run by Shane Chebsey as a way of showing respect and taking the stress away from writers and artists who may be spending a long day engaging with fans, speaking on panels, and drawing commissions. Yes… I know how lucky I am!

We had between 7.30 until 10.am to do our get in before the crowds were admitted at 10.30… a civilised start to the day. The tables were well spaced with good room for two banners behind each. I was on a very illustrious row… Dylan Teague on my right, Des Taylor and Ben Oliver to my left… artists whose work I am in awe of.

Even before the event opened, there were “agents” getting in early to talk to or buy from their favourite creators. A unique element of comic conventions is that so many of the volunteers helping out are fans or would be creators themselves. So the conversations are rarely about the weather, the telly etc but usually someone sharing their hopes of sitting behind their own exhibitor table or how they have a genius idea for a gothic alien hybrid trilogy that’s going to take the world by the cahunas.

And then familiar faces might stop by. A customer who bought your work at the last convention and has come back to see what you’re up to or another colleague on the indie comic journey. I was delighted to see my chum Andrew Richmond, who frequently attends and helps out at cons, with his own thriving indie comic empire Wrench Productions on another row. Before long we were brainstorming ideas and he’d come up with a pithy storyline I could illustrate.

That’s what is so magical about conventions. Ideas are being borne out of thin air and people are being inspired by all the work on display. It’s like a gathering of creative allotment owners.

Des Taylor, Jessica Martin, Dylan Teague and Ben Oliver at True Believers 2017. Photo: Olly MacNamee
Des Taylor, Jessica Martin, Dylan Teague and Ben Oliver at True Believers 2017. Photo: Olly MacNamee

One of the highlights of the convention was being part of an hour long panel with Des Taylor, Dylan Teague and Ben Oliver, moderated by Olly MacNamee. We were asked to share our stories of how we got into comics and what our processes were. Even though we were all very different personalities (Dylan and Ben said they wished they could be as “passionate” about their work as Des and me) I would argue that we are all governed by the urge to make art and when starting out in our quest to become pro, we all learnt through constant drawing, finding mentors in real life or through admiring or imitating their work and not letting anything, not even self doubt stand in the way of pursuing it.

Dylan Teague. Photo: Olly MacNamee
Dylan Teague. Photo: Olly MacNamee

Dylan Teague, for example is a quiet, humble person who produces exquisite drawings but when he started out he got the standard rejection letter from 2000AD but persisted and then got his work past the gate keepers and is the top artist he is today. As did Ben Oliver, another master artist.He had a formal degree in Illustration but says he never gained anything in practical terms from that. He first learnt his skills in acrylics and spray paint through watching another artist who inspired him.

Des shared entertaining stories of how he created a graphic novel because his wife had challenged him to top the Valentine present he’d given her one year and another time when he’d been illustrator for the official Michael Jackson fan club and got to meet the man himself. Instead of being sycophantic he’d said “All right mate? You’d better to be good tonight, cause I’ll be watching”. No shrinking, timid creative soul is Des Taylor. And what a poster boy for fortune favouring the brave. It’s important to hear these stories because it reiterates for anyone standing on the threshold, that though success is not a guarantee you won’t get anywhere at all by dreaming and not doing.

By the time we got back to our tables the afternoon had only an hour or so to go. My trusty assistant, Bob had sold a respectable amount of comics and prints in my absence…probably because there was clear access to my table and I was not there chattering in earnest conversation!

True Believers is more than happy to encourage cosplayers
True Believers is more than happy to encourage cosplayers. Photo: Olly MacNamee
Photo: Olly MacNamee
Photo: Olly MacNamee

I had a brief stroll round the other tables and it was great to see so many female indie creators like Rachael Smith, Sarah Graley and Rozi Hathaway present too. I wish,as always I had more time to be a punter. But there’s always the next con. Or the possibility of a new con. Whilst we were there, there was a young woman rallying up potential exhibitors for a con in Chichester. A great town for a comic festival.

So we ended the day bidding fond farewells and with new insights as to how we might prepare for our next convention or fresh ideas to turn into a new story. And some more money in the tin from people invested in our work. What a compliment.

Now I’m home with fond memories of a day well spent and just so I won’t forget, a branded mug with all the names of the guest creators gifted to us from Stuart Mulrain.

That will soon have a clutch of pens in it as I work my way to make more good reasons to exhibit at a Comic Con.

Jessica Martin. Photo: Olly MacNamee
Jessica Martin. Photo: Olly MacNamee

• Jessica Martin is an accomplished actress, singer, artist, author and illustrator, and has spent over thirty years performing in theatre, comedy, television and radio. Her comics, Vivacity and It Girl and graphic novel  Elsie Harris Picture Palace, have been met with critical acclaim. Jessica specialises in bringing the glamour of old Hollywood to life on paper, in her distinctive black-and-white film style. As an artist, Jessica regularly does commissioned portraits and, most recently, a poster for a brand new London musical revival. All three titles are available from Jessica’s online shop)

• Bookmark Jessica’s blog for news of latest projects or follow her on Twitter @jessica7martin | Official site: www.artymisspublishing.com

• Special thanks to writer Olly MacNamee for permission to feature his photographs in this “From the Trenches” report; follow him on Twitter @ollymacnamee

• For the latest news about True Believers, returning to Cheltenham Saturday 3rd February 2018, visit: http://oktruebelievers.com – it’s well worth visiting even if you can’t get to one of their events, because it’s jam packed with comic creator interviews!

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.

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