From The Trenches: David Baillie’s “Behind The Scenes” Portsmouth Comic Con Retrospective

Thousands flocked to Portsmouth Comic Con earlier this month, and enjoyed their time at an event crammed with comic creators, cosplayers, comic sellers, publishers and more. But what was it like behind the scenes? Comics writer David Baillie, one of the larger PCC team, whose responsibilities as Artistic Lead for the event included lining up many of those comic creators at who appeared, gives us a glimpse behind the curtain…

Portsmouth Comic Con 2023 at Portsmouth Guildhall in Portsmouth. Photo: Vernon Nash
Let the Wampa wander! Photo: Vernon Nash

First, an apology:

If I bumped into you at Portsmouth Comic Con a couple of weeks ago, there’s a good chance I probably said something like ‘Hi! Hello! Great to see you, but I’ll have to catch up with you later, as I just need to run and do a thing’. I said something similar to literally dozens of people that I then didn’t manage to ever catch up with. 

I’m sorry. I really did want to talk to you. I promise!

I have no excuse other than I was the Artistic Lead for the convention this year, and I had a million things on my todo list until pretty much the closing minutes of the weekend. (At which point my list collapsed down to three items: “1. Make sure REDACTED GUEST knows a cab is booked for them, 2. Eat sushi and 3. Sleep!”)

Photo: Vernon Nash
Photo: Vernon Nash

Comic Cons are full of people I love bumping into – an intoxicating mix of folks I’ve been fans of for years, sometimes decades, and new people I haven’t met yet. And I want to know everything. What are you working on? How are your family? Why did you draw that left hand like that on Page Three of your last Judge Dredd story?! To miss out on hearing the answers to those questions breaks my tiny, frozen heart.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably had the same experience yourself. Even if you haven’t helped to run a show, it’s impossible to navigate around a comic convention without having a hundred chats on the way. There simply isn’t enough time to talk to everyone, to see everything.

And if that sounds like a complaint, let me just say that it wasn’t always that way. I remember my first comic convention – Bristol Expo 2003. I knew absolutely no one! I wandered around and watched dozens of conversations that, to an outsider, might feel a little cliquey – and I desperately wanted to be in those cliques!

I returned the following year, 2004, still knowing no one. I brought with me 200 copies of a photocopied comic I’d made all on my own. I tried giving them out individually by hand but I was shy, and the transaction far too awkward. Mighty Mike Allwood, who ran that convention, suggested I leave them on a table at the front of the Engine Shed. He even cleared a space for me! They were all gone by the end of the weekend. Two things I learned from this: One – I’m no a salesman. And two – always trust Mike Allwood. He’s good people.

Anyway, Bristol Expo 2005 was completely different. I suddenly found it impossible to walk around the Shed in under an hour! Because comics is a community. It’s welcoming and friendly. All I’d done was photocopy some comics and leave them on a table, and I was in. I suddenly felt like I belonged.

Twenty years later, and in some ways nothing has changed.

John Freeman asked me to write a retrospective of Portsmouth Comic Con 2023, and even though I was part of the team that put together the show I’m not sure I can. There was a million things all happening at once, and like everyone there I missed most of it.

But here’s what I did see: A Spotlight Q&A with superstar writer Paul Cornell, where he gave thoughtful answers to audience questions, three Meet the Artist panels with Marc Laming, Anna Morozova, VER, Clark Bint, Alison Sampson, Eoin Marron, Paul Fry and Laura Watton-Davies – in which they explained the thought process behind some of their favourite work. There was a Cape Movement workshop on the main stage with Dance Live mastermind Cherry Lambert (now I finally know how to swing a cloak!) and a Doctor Who in Comics panel hosted by Marvellous Matt Badham, featuring expert guests like Cavan Scott, Mike Collins and downthetubes’ own John Freeman. Which was particularly amazing, since John was on another panel happening at the same time talking about his work with B7 Media. I can confirm he attended both – start your speculations now about whether John has access to either time travel or cloning technology!

There was an eye-opening panel with Beano and Monster Fun creators like Andy Fanton, Laura Howell, Alec Worley and Ned Hartley in which they tried to teach me how to be funny, and then a fascinating presentation from living legend Dave McKean about his career to date, and the literal dozens of projects he’s currently working on. There were also panels focusing on the two biggest artists working at Marvel right now: Pepe Larrazz and Esad Ribic. And every one of the special guests was articulate and thoughtful when talking about their work.

I’m heartbroken that I missed workshops from Will Morris (on worldbuilding), Laura Watton-Davies (how to be an artist) and Eoin Marron (page design) but I’m delighted to say that I have a video of Paul Fry‘s standing-room-only drawing tips workshop. And I’m genuinely going to beg Mike Collins to repeat his storyboarding masterclass – even if it’s just an improvised York’s Notes version next time I bump into him at a show!

I know that sounds like a lot, but I haven’t even started talking about the celebration of Doctor Who‘s big anniversary year. Doctors Five (Peter Davison) and Six (Colin Baker) as well as Peri (Nicola Bryant) were on the gloriously sunny main stage answering questions from certified geek boffin (and charismatic showman) Dr Lincoln Geraghty. There was a jaw-dropping exhibition of replica Doctor Who costumes and props like nowhere else on Earth, and photo opportunities and signings galore.

The Gosport Steampunk Society
The Gosport Steampunk Society. Photo: Vernon Nash

The Gosport Steampunk Society were there with their Steampunk Galleon, there were two Gaming Zones, Splodge held superhero-themed arts and crafts workshops, there were dozens of cosplayers in amazing costumes (shout out to the Dream Team!) the Joker Squad with their Star Wars Experience, the Jurassic Zone and thousands of fans and their families all wearing costumes, nerdy t-shirts and masks.

There was geek-themed food and drink, a Cosplay Parade, a lesson in How To Groove Like Groot, a Comic Con Quiz and a masterclass from Ivor Novello-winning video games composer Richard Jacques. And, of course, there were traders and exhibitors and self-publishers and artists and writers and…

Yeah, it was a comic convention. And in my humble opinion it was a great one! I challenge you not to have fun at this event when it comes around next year. Even if I wasn’t working on it, I’m 100 per cent sure this would still be my favourite con on the UK comics calendar. (And that UK Comics Event Calendar is of course hosted right here at!) And I’m not being humble when I stress that it being great had very little to do with me. The team at the Portsmouth Guildhall are hard working, incredible and they all deserve some sort of special industry award for promoting comics.

I for one am already looking forward to the 2024 convention, and can’t wait to share with you who’s coming along for the ride. 

Oh, and if anyone wants to leave 200 photocopied comics on a table at next year’s show you know where to find me.

David Baillie

• Portsmouth Comic Con returns the weekend of 11th – 12th May 2024 | Web:

David Baillie is a writer and artist and Artistic Lead for Portsmouth Comic Con. he can be found online at and (occasionally) on Twitter at @davidbaillie

All photos courtesy Portsmouth Comic Con and used with permission, taken by Vernon Nash


David Baillie is a writer and artist and Artistic Lead for Portsmouth Comic Con. he can be found online at and (occasionally) on Twitter at @davidbaillie

Categories: 2000AD, British Comics, Comic Art, Comics, Doctor Who, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Events, Other Worlds, Television

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