In Review and in Pictures: Lawless 2023

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Richard Sheaf reports on the latest Lawless event in Bristol – another triumphant amalgamation of creators, fans and amazing British comic art…

For me, the Lawless comics convention is one of the highlights of the British comics year. I love being able to go to talks and signings in London, but those are one-off events with a single creator, whereas Lawless is just packed with creators and fans that you want to spend time with.

The guest list for the May 2023 show had some familiar names on it (hello, John Wagner, Glenn Fabry, and Dan Cornwell – but who’s going to complain about those guys turning up every year?) and some newer names (hello, Dave Gibbons, Mick McMahon). Staying in central Bristol this year meant I had a chance to start the convention early by going to the hotel bar on the Friday night. It definitely felt like a good idea at the time, but it turned into quite a late night / early morning – I’d still recommend doing it though. I got there quite late, but there were still plenty of people to talk to – among them, Dave Gibbons, John Higgins, Mick McMahon and Michael Carroll – along with fellow fans like James Bacon, Phillip Vaughan and Simon Belmont.

Lawless 2023 - Dave Gibbons. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Dave Gibbons. Photo: Richard Sheaf

Many hours, and pints later, as they closed the bar up, I was surprised to see Henry Flint and Clint Langley … arriving! This was truly a great start to the weekend.

9.30 Saturday morning saw a queue of fans snaking its way across the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel entrance (not too many Dredd cosplayers around at this stage to scare off the other hotel guests).

For anyone who’s not been to a Lawless before, the set-up is pretty straightforward – one room for talks, one room for creators, one room for the art exhibition and one room for traders (small press, back issues, original art). The rooms are all pretty much next to each other so nobody is ever too far away and you can certainly spend the day bumping into friends old and new.

Lawless 2023 - "Creators Alley". Photo: Richard Sheaf
“Creators Alley”. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Lawless 2023 - Henry Flint. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Artist Henry Flint. Photo: Richard Sheaf

The main room for creators is the main focus for the weekend with a great variety of artists selling sketches, 2000AD art, books, sketchbooks. There’s definitely something for every budget and there is definitely something for you if you’ve got a really big budget – all the art is very reasonably priced (Henry Flint “Zombo” sketch for £10, you say? Oh go on, then; Mick McMahon Judge Dredd sketch for £15? I’ll take two!) with plenty of individual pages of art for less than £100, it’s just that if you spent £100 at each table… so yes, you need to pace yourself and your wallet as you walk around the room.

Again, if you’ve never been to Lawless, it’s maybe hard to understand how, well, small it is compared to most events that brand themselves as a “comic-con”. On the other hand, it probably has more comics professionals than at many ‘comic con’ branded events.

I mean, how many other shows is Frazer Irving even doing this year? I’ve no idea, I hope it’s loads, but it’s probably not is it?

Meeting people like Frazer and having the time to chat to them and look at their art, without feeling that you’re holding up a queue of impatient people, is definitely one of the main attractions for me.

There’s also plenty of panels to attend – not only do these provide your wallet with a welcome break, they also offer an opportunity to bring creators together. Over the course of the weekend there were a dozen (yes – a dozen!) panels on offer.

If, like me, you only attend Lawless for one day, you’ll definitely end up having to miss some of the panels just to give yourself time to see everything else. Knowing I had to pick and choose the (few) panels I could go to meant I only plumped for two – the chats with Dave Gibbons and the one centring on Battle Action.

Dave Gibbons at Lawless 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Dave Gibbons on stage at Lawless 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf

Dave was here promoting his anecdotal autobiography, Confabulation, which he explained is a word that can be applied to anecdotes/stories that you tell repeatedly, and which get better each time you tell ‘em. It is, therefore, a manual of all Dave’s anecdotes from a life in comics – “it’s just like going down the pub with me”, he explained.

An initial fear that writing any sort of autobiography must mean writing down stories where you have to reveal truths that will inevitably upset people was ultimately avoided by Dave working out that the person who usually comes off worst in his stories is himself!

Musing on “What was the story that got away?” Dave cited the 2003 Superman story “Red Son” as his best/worst missed opportunity – all that Russian iconography! Sigh.

Harking back to his days drawing Doctor Who, Dave revealed a passion for drawing the easy to caricature Tom Baker and a real struggle to capture the correct likeness of Peter Davison – who looked like a bit of a blancmange in comparison.

Doctor Who Magazine editor Alan McKenzie taking photographs of actor Peter Davison on the set of the Doctor Who story, “Time-Flight”, provided to Dave Gibbons for reference drawing him for the publication’s comic strip

Talking about all things 2000AD Dave revealed that while he no longer has much of his 2000AD art, he does still have the pages for probably his all-time favourite strip, the Alan Moore penned “Chronocops”. This, Dave felt, inadvertently became an audition piece for Watchmen, as the strip demonstrated to Alan that Dave could draw anything that Alan asked him to!

Talking of Watchmen, Dave confessed that he’s finally made peace with the fact that all his obituaries will, inevitably, start with the line “Dave Gibbons, Watchmen artist, died yesterday…”.

Dave’s drawing much less these days, but he’s really enjoying life drawing classes and just drawing for the joy of it again. Good news though: he still harbours ambitions to draw comic strips again. In particular, he talked about an idea he has, drawing on a job he had in his youth as a hospital porter, that would re-visit the characters from The Originals, but at the end of their adult lives, rather than at the start. An intriguing prospect!

The Battle Action chat, moderated by Simon Belmont, featured writers John Wagner and Rob Williams, and artists Dan Cornwell and Mike Dorey. All of them reflected on what they’d written for the new series.

Rob Williams recalled that his weekly comics used be 2000AD and Roy of the Rovers and, if he’d been good, a copy of Battle too). John, one of the original writers on Battle has written HMS Nightshade” for the first issue, in comic shops now, having been asked to do so by Garth Ennis who, as John pointed out, was responsible for getting the Battle Action mini-series published at all.

John’s viewpoint was that the original HMS Nightshade” had ended too early, and therefore the mini-series has provided a welcome opportunity to re-visit the strip. John had also brought along a scale model version of HMS Nightshade that Dan Cornwell had constructed from a kit to use for reference – a great model and lovely to see this, and the original cover art by Keith Burns for the webshop exclusive cover for the first issue, that John had just acquired.

Dan Cornwell's model of HMS Nightshade. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Dan Cornwell’s model of HMS Nightshade. Photo: Richard Sheaf
HMS Nightshade Battle Action #1 Cover Art by Keith Burns
HMS Nightshade Battle Action #1 Cover Art by Keith Burns

Much talk of Garth’s attention to detail in all things military history followed – as well as the revelation that original series artist Mike Western had drawn Nightshade without camouflage and no ship ever went to see without camouflage – you wouldn’t get that past Garth Ennis these days!

Considering what stories he’d considering returning too John cited “Darkie’s Mob” as a possibility – although until he wrote Nightshade” recently, he didn’t think he’d ever go back to writing war stories.

From artist Dan Cornwell’s point of view, this was his First World War Two work, and he’s keen to do more. So, watch out for that.

James Bacon has already reviewed the Steve Dillon exhibition here, so I won’t cover the same ground again. Be assured though, that there are plenty of other possibilities for future exhibitions, so this essential part of the convention will definitely continue.

Early Steve Dillon art on display at Lawless 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Early Steve Dillon art on display at Lawless 2023. Photo: Richard Sheaf. Read James Bacon’s review of the exhibition here

The final room – small press, back issues, merchandise and original art was also busy. It was great to see back issues and original comic art for sale at Lawless, and I hope the sellers will be back again next year.

Lawless 2023 - Draw Off! Photo: Richard Sheaf
The Lawless Draw Off. Photo: Richard Sheaf
Lawless 2023 - The77 team Photo: Richard Sheaf
The77 Publishing team at Lawless. Photo: Richard Sheaf

Small press creators were also well represented – David Broughton was launching Shaman Kane #9 at Lawless, so it was great to be able to pick that up from him – as ever, he’s hard at work plotting out future volumes of Shaman Kane’s adventures so be sure to look out for those in the future. #10 is on its way, already drawn and lettered.

A Peter a final collapse in the bar, and a chance to have a last chat of the con with John Wagner, and others, it was time to head back to London.

Shout outs to all those I met at Lawless for the first time (hello, Jamie Beamish), returning friends (Battling Britons editor Justin Marriott, the latest issue, Issue Five, available now), and a gnashing of teeth for missing people I didn’t even know were there (artist Ron Tiner, I’m looking at you!).

Anyway, some two weeks later and I’m recovered from Lawless 2023 and am looking forward to the tenth anniversary “do” over the weekend of 25-26th May 2024 at the same location – see you there?

You won’t regret it.

Richard Sheaf

Lawless returns on 25th – 26th May 2024 | Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, Bristol 
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Lawless Comic Convention is a British based not for profit comic convention organised by fans and for fans.

Check out James Bacon’s feature on the Lawless Steve Dillon exhibition here

• In Memoriam: Comic Artist Steve Dillon, A True Legend of Comics

• Read Garth Ennis tribute to Steve Dillon on downthetubes

Battling Britons #5 is out now, available from AmazonUK (Affiliate Link)

150+ pages of news, reviews, articles and interviews related to vintage British comics. Including features on characters such as Dredger, Mike Nelson The Eagle, and Fireball, and titles such as Battle-Action an Top Secret Picture Library


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1 reply

  1. Brilliant. Evocative and Informative.

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