We drove up on Friday afternoon, stopping in Reading en-route to visit my aunt and uncle for lunch, and then continuing on to Bristol and checking into the Ramada around 6.30. Not being the free agents we usually are at these things, we ordered pizza and had a night in. I actually got to have quite an early night - a rarity at the moment with my current work schedule, so I felt nicely rested for the start of the Expo on Saturday.
The show was back in the Brunel Passenger Shed, which I think is a lovely venue for a comics show. Previous years in this location had got pretty stuffy, but the temperature was just right throughout the weekend. The other good thing was the amount of space - not only in the aisles, but also behind the table, meaning there was plenty of room to stand comfortably with the chair behind me, and to keep boxes out of the way under the table.
Ellie and our daughter (1) went for a day out on Saturday, meeting an old Uni friend at Bristol Zoo, but for much of the afternoon I was kept company by John, an old friend I had originally met through my long-defunct Chaplin UK site - we'd been out of touch for over 10 years, so it was a real highlight of the weekend to catch up.
Saturday was a good day for sales with a non-stop busy patch from mid-morning to early afternoon. By the end of the day I only had 8 copies of The Rainbow Orchid vol 3 left, and I thought I wouldn't have enough for the Sunday. But Sunday was a very slow day, and while I sold a good few volume ones, and a couple or more full-sets, I still ended the day with two volume threes left. The advantage of the slow sales meant that I was able to have some decent chats with people, which made up for not being able to be sociable in the evenings.
My table was next to Joel Meadows, editor and publisher of the long-running Tripwire magazine. Joel was marvellous company throughout the weekend and I must point you in the direction of his Unbound appeal to help get the amazing 20th anniversary Tripwire special published. From what I've seen, it's going to be brilliant. It was also great to chat to Ben Le Foe who is involved in the London-based Comica, and is a fellow enthusiast and aficionado of European comics.
In addition, I had a long and interesting discussion with Daniel Clifford of Art Heroes. Besides being a top chap, Daniel is a definite force for good in comics and is doing some truly wonderful stuff - do go and check out his website and wares. I won't list all the nice people I met at Bristol (a robust list) but I would like to give special mention to Simon Gurr, whose terrific art is to be found in the new Scarifyers comic, making its debut at the show, and it's also always good to see Ben Dickson, who has conceived and written the very intriguing-looking Kestrels, being drawn by comics legend Mick McMahon.
This year's Bristol Expo has come in for a bit of criticism, some of it understandable, but some of it, I think, a little unjustified (eg. convention helpers expected to be of a standard able to deal with any brawls that might kick-off!). I was pretty relaxed about the show as it was my first one for over a year, my first with The Rainbow Orchid vol 3, and I was happy to have some time to have good long chats with people. I'm also really lucky in that some of my expenses are offset by my publisher (I do have to buy all my own book stock, though). Still, from a purely financial point of view, I made enough to cover my table costs and one meal for me and my family. That still leaves travel, hotel for two nights, other meals, and time away from work when I'd otherwise be earning at the drawing board. I would imagine it's pretty rare that someone comes out of all that with a profit to show. It's not all about money of course; meeting readers and fellow comic creators is very important, and there is value in people seeing me and my book even if they don't buy it.
There were a couple of minor quibbles I had, but that would be the same with any show, and they're certainly nothing worth making a fuss over. Overall I had fun, got some time out of the house, got my books to some new readers, and met lots of nice people within a very pleasant atmosphere.
There is a bigger problem, and in a way it's kind of a nice problem - there are now a lot of comic shows throughout the year stretching what is quite a small (though growing) scene. It used to be that UKCAC or Bristol was the big annual comics event, but now you can take your pick, often from several in a month. On the same day as Bristol there was the inaugural CamCon in Cambridge, and the buzz word at Bristol seemed to be Kapow! - the big London show taking place this weekend. Quite a number of comics people I usually see eschewed Bristol in favour of Kapow!. I had been invited to take a table at Kapow! but decided against it - tables at Bristol were £78 and £140 for the London show, not to mention all the hassle of getting stock into the city and then paying for accommodation too. Still, it does seem like it will be a very well attended event and I would certainly consider it next year.
It'll be interesting to see how things develop over the coming couple of years. It'd be nice to see comics move out of its niche market and opening up to a more general audience (I'm lucky to have a book that seems to do equally well at literary festivals or comic shows), especially to children - a noticeable minority at comic events. Steps are being made in the right direction, and it may be a case of a flowering comics industry adjusting and finding its feet as it starts to venture into some of that mainstream territory. Let's hope so.