As in 2009 and 2010, though this time with our 20-month-old daughter in tow, Ellie and I drove up to Belton in Lincolnshire to stay with my wife's father and partner (always lovely), getting up early on the Saturday for the further hour-and-a-half's drive into Leeds. I had no idea how sales might go over the weekend so I decided to be optimistic and brought quite a few boxes of The Complete Rainbow Orchid - very heavy - as well as the newly printed Rainbow Orchid Supplement and a sensible stock (I thought) of individual volumes. This is where having a 20-month-old child came in very useful, as she could walk and I could commandeer her buggy to convey boxes from the car park to the venue.
I was in the larger of the two halls, New Dock, and as usual had made my first sale of the day before the doors officially opened. That set the tone for the rest of Saturday as things hardly let-up and I was selling, signing and sketching pretty much non-stop. Apart from a couple of furtive nibbles, I didn't get to eat my lunch until leaving the hall at about six in the evening.
The Rainbow Orchid table enjoys a visit from Accent UK: Colin Mathieson and Dave West
With my wife and daughter off and about in Leeds I was on the table by myself, and while being so busy is great, I am aware of people coming along, waiting for a bit, and then wandering off as my head is often down while sketching and chatting to someone else. With no one to help out and engage them I do wonder if I miss out on new readers. Can't complain though! The whole weekend was terrific for sales and I sold 128 books in all, including 71 Completes and selling out of volume 3s.
I won't list all the lovely comics colleagues who stopped by to chat - too many - but I must give mention to my table-neighbours, the fabulous Laura Watton on one side and the marvellous Gary Erskine and Mhairi on the other. Laura gave me a copy of her wonderfully titled and highly entertaining comic Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami, and Gary and Mhairi were very generous with their space as they allowed our buggy to be parked next to their table when Ellie came back to the hall from her town travels. Having nice neighbours does make the whole weekend that little bit more pleasant and easier - so thank you, both!
I'd also like to give a special mention to artist-extraordinaire Graeme Neil Reid who astounded me by spotting and naming a very obscure cameo in The Rainbow Orchid (it's on page 113 of The Complete, or page 37 of vol. 3, if you're up for a challenge ... or failing that, the solution is revealed in The Rainbow Orchid Supplement). I'll just mention that we're both David Lean fans.
One thing that made the show a little different was that my table was one of five playing host to the Phoenix Feathers collection game. On my table were several phoenix feathers to be collected by children and taken back to The Phoenix stall in the Armouries in exchange for goodies and prizes. It was great being part of it and it brought a lovely added focus to my display. The Phoenix was a strong presence at the show with much activity from several of the regular artists, including Neill Cameron, Gary Northfield and Dave Shelton.
There were no negative aspects to the weekend. The only slight pain was that the official hotel (the Marriott) was quite a bit further from the venue than I'd imagined, and with our little daughter with us, it was a bit of a trek. Most people I spoke to were staying at the Holiday Inn, right next to New Dock Hall, and it might make sense, if possible, for that to become the official/recommended hotel in future years.
This year's show was host to the inaugural British Comic Awards for which there was a very fine selection of nominees. The winner of the Best Book category was Nelson, a project in which I had a very small part but is really the vision and product of editors Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix, and made possible by publisher Blank Slate Books. Next year a very limited edition will be produced and today I was up at the Royal Festival Hall to sign 130 insert sheets for it. As well as myself, a handful of other contributors had not yet signed their names and I was joined at the signing table by Posy Simmonds, a British comics legend and someone who's work I read, own, and admire very much indeed - it was a real thrill to meet and chat with her.
Signing Nelson inserts with Posy Simmonds at the Royal Festival Hall, London
So, back a week: another Thought Bubble was over and we packed up on the Sunday (thanks to Colin Mathieson for his help with box carrying), and made our return trip to Belton for a lazy Sunday night, a slightly less-lazy but still pretty lazy Monday, and then a night drive back down to Sussex.
A huge thanks to everyone who came to the Rainbow Orchid table to buy books, say hello, or even just to browse, and an equally huge thanks to the Thought Bubble organisers and volunteers for another terrific show, the comics event highlight of the year.