While there have been comic events in Carlisle in the past, EdenCon is a new annual event – but that didn’t dissuade a good turnout of comic and film fans, cosplayers and gamers, despite the temptation to head elsewhere in Cumbria on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year so far. (And there is a lot this far North to tempt, as a quick scan of the Tourist Information boards at Carlisle station confirms).
(Clashing with the Birmingham Comics Festival may of course hit this smaller event’s numbers, but some fans I talked to had come quite a distance for the day, so perhaps this clash wasn’t as big an issue as it might have been).
Despite some dodgy map reading (or a dodgy Map app) that saw me arrive later than planned, taking in Carlisle’s varied and impressive subway art along the way (dodging cosplayers preparing for their day), I still managed to arrive before the event actually started and enjoy the spectacle of a rogue Dalek herding waiting fans into line outside the University of Cumbria’s Brampton Road building. The event had taken over almost every aspect of the venue, with a lively dealer’s room (admittedly, with few comic dealers and indie comic publishers, giving over instead to talented artists such as Shannon Kelley, cosplay accessories, costumes and comic-inspired clocks); a large and busy gamers’ area featuring the West Coast Gamers; and the main theatre space where Marvel artist Gary Erskine (creator of Roller Grrrls), Aces Weekly contributor Mal Earl (creator of Bulletproof Nylon), myself and students from the University with a fine selection of locally created publications were ensconced, including Bagatelle, edited by the University’s senior lecturer in Contextual Studies Nick Dodds (who was also a guest).
It was, perhaps, an unusual choice of location for our tables: but it did mean, for once, that I saw every panel at an event, which is highly unusual for me. I now know how much works goes into creating a realistic facial scar, thanks to self-taught make-up artist Hannah Dawson; can tell you that Carlisle attracts some singularly talented cosplayers such as Ki Crystal, Ben Leslie and the Carlisle Zombie Invasion, as both junior and adult contestants were judged on stage my apologies for not mentioning them all here); and that being a production manager for film and TV is something Mally Chung knows a lot about, but was unable to reveal anything of – at least anything about the last two years of his life, since he’s been working on Star Wars and like all cast and crew is under a strict non-disclosure. On other, past projects such as Clash of the Titans II, filmed in Teneriffe, he was very illuminating – and offered those interested in a similar career some useful tips.
We comic creators were brought on stage for a lively discussion on comics and breaking into the business – discussing both its opportunities and pitfalls. Steve Parkhouse and partner Annie made a very rare appearance at the event as part of this comic creator all-rounder. It’s good to see that despite 40 plus years in the business, Steve’s enthusiasm for his craft is undiminished, and to learn he’s enjoying working on Resident Alien for Dark Horse, recently rumoured to have been optioned as a movie or TV series.
Annie talked a little about her experiences as a letterer from her days working as a letterer on Lion through to how the way she works has changed down the years with the advent of new technology (Steve has created a lettering font in her own hand which she now uses to letter digitally).
Both creators have some fascinating insights into the world of comics but Steve is clearly more content to work at his chosen craft than to talk about it (for which fans of his work, such as The Milkman Murders, Angel Fire and the Bojeffries Saga should perhaps be grateful).
Mal Earl, myself and Gary Erskine were firm in our advice that if you want to break into comics then you just have to do it, by publishing your own work by any means possible, in order to make the first step. Both Annie and Steve pointed out that many creators had experience in other industries before moving into comics, and Steve was clear that you need to feel passionate about creating comics in order to deliver your best – and hopefully succeed. He cautioned that it was no easy industry to break into (despite the numerous avenues now open thanks to modern technology, including, Mal suggested, pitching to digital anthologies like David Lloyd’s excellent Aces Weekly), while Gary offered some useful thoughts on how to utilise social media to promote your work, and the (positive) disruptive impact of services like Patreon, in terms of it bringing together both creator and fan, enabling the direct funding of an artist’s work by supporters.
“I definitely encourage comic creators to utilise every available social media tool and funding options and Patreon is one that can really help support,” Gary expanded in a follow-up email. “It can also provide an independent revenue stream if an audience is there in numbers to help support.”
Mal also noted the problems associated with trying to balance creating comics and having a day job – a problem many independent artists face.
“The Internet, digital publishing, social media – the potential areas to show your art nowadays is no longer dependent on geographic location,” he said afterwards. “With this increased opportunity, however, comes an increased volume of like-minded artists to compete against! So in the end there are fresh avenues… You simply have to practice and hone and commit to putting together the best material you have, every time you show. There is no shortcut past hard work.
“I think you have to be realistic, too, about what you want to achieve and set a goal. Mainstream, DC, independent, Marvel… Self published. All are viable and grow comics as an art form, but each has its own distinct parameters and limitation. Having a [day] job cuts out the frustration of being at least able to afford small print runs of our work!”
As a guest of a convention, it’s always difficult to make a judgement on the success of an event because you’re there for very different reasons to attendees, with a different viewpoint, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll direct you to the occasion’s Facebook page, where event goers offer plenty of genuine praise for the event and thank the organising team, and have posted many more pictures of the dedicated Stormtrooper gang and talented cosplayers (and that rogue Dalek).
The EdenCon team are clearly enthusiastic and co-ordinator Johnny Marble, Becca Rowlandson et al have laid down all the right threads for future events and build on this year’s event. I wish them every success in their future endeavours.
• The University of Cumbria’s Graphic Design and Illustration department produces its own comics publication, Bagatelle, which has featured some fine stories illustrated by Steve Parkhouse. You can view a sampler of strips from Bagatelle Issues 1 – 3, including “Letters from the Wall” drawn by Steve, here on Issuu. There is more info on the courses offered by the University at www.cumbria.ac.uk/graphicdesign