The first annual Lancaster Comics Day was a huge success, proving that a comics centric event can draw healthy crowd sizes, have comics professionals mingling with small press and retailers and talk intelligently about the medium. Held on a Sunday in the Lancaster Library it was admittedly a small affair (the organisers, the Friends of Lancaster Library estimate some 200 plus attendees – double their expectations) but I didn’t hear one groan or moan all day. And in the grand tradition of all good UK Comic events we all ended up in a local pub afterwards.
The day was split over two floors, the ground floor had all the stalls, a coffee and comics cake area and a drawing section for the kids (we remember that kids like comics? Right?) And up on the first floor was the hall where the talks took place.
We were treated to a couple of talks. 12 noon saw the Breaking Into Comics panel which was possibly the highlight of the day, featuring writer Tim Quinn (Doctor Who Magazine, Sparky, TV Comic and Marvel, to name but a few) Andy Diggle (Daredevil, Shadowlands, The Losers, Thief of Theives), Tom Ward (Merrick – The Elephantman), with ROK Comics editor and former Marvel UK editor John Freeman on questions. The real jaw dropping moment came when Tim was asked how he got into comics and described a career path that had him beaten cruelly at Catholic school, becoming a professional clown at a Blackpool circus (working with Charlie Cairoli), a gag writer (at the age of seventeen) for the likes of the Two Ronnies, Little and Large and Jimmy Cricket before finally getting to write “Hungry Horace” for DC Thomson’s Sparky comic – his dream job.
The panel members represented some definite generations of comics creation, John and Tim reaching back to British weeklies with companies the likes of IPC and DC Thompson, Andy with his stories of dealing with US comics companies like Marvel, DC and Dynamite and Tom with his use of social media as a strategy during this newly minted Crowdfunding Age. Points were discussed about the changes in the landscape that have resulted in a present day where social media can be utilised to break into the industry. All men added some really interesting points of view but it was Andy Diggle who for me summed it up best: “If you are good at it, the industry will come looking for you.”
The panel agreed that breaking in is still about selling yourself and getting in the face of those that hold the purse strings but this can now be done in so many ways. Tom pointed out that even-though times have changed, it’s still about the hustle. With so many people thinking they can just waltz in with minimal talent you have to prove your ability to attract the right talent and support.
The talk – which ended appropriately with the announcement of the winners of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival’s Lost in Space challenge, which features many aspiring comic creators – attracted a lot of thought provoking questions from the audience and it was one of the best panels I have been to for a while.
The second panel of the day was titled Doctor Who in Comics and featured creators who had worked on Doctor Who in a comics medium over the years since 1964 when ‘Doctor Who’ and his ‘grandchildren’ John and Gillian first appeared in TV Comic. (That is, if you don’t count a parody strip called “Doctor What and His Time Clock” that edged out the official strip by a couple of months).
On the panel were Eddie Robson (Doctor Who Adventures), Andy Diggle (Doctor Who at IDW), Tim Quinn (Doctor Who Magazine) Dave Taylor (Doctor Who at Titan Comics) and John Ridgway (Doctor Who Magazine) with John Freeman (editor at Doctor Who Magazine) once more on the mic. All gave anecdotes about their history both reading and writing the character. Interestingly John pointed out that the reason back in the day that the Daleks didn’t feature as much as you might think is because they were too expensive to license from the BBC, hence villains like the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen featured more in the comics as they were much cheaper.
The problems with writing new stories for licensed characters was also widely discussed and the access to upcoming plot points relevant to the TV series and consequently the ongoing comic. Also really interesting was that more often than not spoilers or major plot twists are not communicated to the comics created for fear of fanboy leakage but often coincidences of plot similarity were common, especially in recent times. For example when it wasn’t clear what changes would be made to the TARDIS interior on one series Dave Taylor the artist in question was told “Keep the backgrounds quite dark, so you can’t see the detail.”
Great love was shown for the Doctor Who writing of Steve Parkhouse and his refreshing slant on, especially, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. Coupled with John Ridgway’s trippy yet traditionally UK centric images they made for imaginative stories that often reflected some interesting tones in the televised episodes.
This was a great panel that benefited with a slide show from John featuring Who comics in all their different guises over the decades (despite the technical difficulties).
The sales floor was a hubub of business for the whole day. When not on a panel Andy Diggle chatted with fans and pros alike. There were also some great retailers with everything from splendid back issue sales (I bought a case load of Bronze Age goodness), new small press titles, prints, T-shirts, drawing materials and even a few steam punk dragons for sale. A games room run by the local House Lancaster Gaming Group was busy through the day, the local Oxfam had a book and comics stall and ran a raffle for some original artwork, including work by John Ridgway, Dave Taylor and stall holder and artist Carolyn Edwards. The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, who supported this Lancaster event, also had a table and brought cake!
This was fabulous day and it’s great to hear that the Friends of Lancaster Library are already talking about running the event next year. I don’t think I’ve been to an event where the guests mingled so freely with the attendees. My mind was blown when John Ridgway sat next to me in thee coffee area and talked about a new book he is developing. (I am currently on the train – I think they are still in the pub!)
Many thanks for reading.
• Lancaster Comics Day: www.lancastercomicsday.uk (currently directs to a page here on downthetubes)
• Follow Lancaster Comics Day on Twitter @LancasterComics
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.