Friday, 15 May 2015

Review: Birmingham Comic Festival 2015

A couple of weeks ago a new convention was held at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham. Seeing as though this is about a 40 minute walk from my house, I had little choice but to go, right?

I'm reviewing the con from more from a child perspective than a hardcore comic-reader perspective. There are a few reasons for this: this is primarily a 'toy' site, having 3 children I'm always in half a mind as to whether to take my kids along to events like these, and finally, the comic convention I'm arranging for my children s' school is now only a few weeks away and I was on the look out for comics/ideas which might work for that.

As always when I arrive at cons/events such as this there was a giant queue (though no where near as giant as something you'd find at the NEC for the MCM events) that you join the back of and hope you're in the right place. There were a few costumed characters hanging about but no giant COMIC FESTIVAL banner or anything like that. Considering it was a nice day and there was a large park packed with people close by, this was a bit of a missed opportunity. (There were a couple of, what appeared to be, American cop cars outside. Didn't quite understand those. I think they played the Police Academy theme at one point, but I'm certain no one wants to be reminded about that franchise.)

Having said that, the organisers seemed to have done their best with the advertising. There'd been articles in the local newspapers, a heavy online presence and a bunch of smaller events leading up to the big day. For reasons I can only guess at, this, apparently didn't result in the attendee numbers that had been hoped for. But more on that later.

I'd bought an early entry pass, with goody bag, for two reasons: the first was that this was an unknown event and I hadn't a clue what would be inside. At least this way I was guaranteed to come away with a bag full of something. The second reason was, again, the upcoming school con and I was interested to see what other cons put in their bags.

The bag contained a bunch of books and some seemingly random 'floppies'. I haven't read them all yet, but the books were a nice selection from the smaller publishers out there. The comic books, however, were a bit random and I can only imagine they were selected due to someone out there having over-ordered and these were the leftovers.

There was a programme, which is always handy, giving the layout of the con and the times of all the panels. The majority of the action was in one large hall, with creators having a bunch of tables then a few dealers sprinkled in. I had gone to the con with a mission to collect comics targeted at children, or at least 'all ages' appropriate. Unfortunately, walking round the creators and their wares, it was impossible to tell who their comics were aimed at. It would have been helpful to me, and I suspect others with children, for their to have been a dedicated 'kids' section, rather than me going up to each person and having to ask about the suitability of their artistic creations. This got tiring very quickly and I just headed to people, such as Laura Howell, who I knew would definitely have what I was looking for.

According to the programme there was a whole other area of the con, beyond the main hall, but finding it was not easy. There were no large signs and arrows pointing the way to upstairs and then, when you were upstairs, none pointing out that as well as the dealers area (plus some other bits) there was also the rooms for the panels off in the other direction.

The lack of signs is definitely part of the reason why, especially the early panels, were almost completely devoid of people. I really didn't expect to be able to count the number of people in the 2000AD panel on my fingers. Yes, attendance to the con was also not huge but you shouldn't have to hunt so much to find the room. The other annoyance was that the panels were split between 2 rooms, each panel lasting one hour and the two rooms offset by 30 minutes. With all the overlapping you were almost forced to pick one room and stick to it for the day. For example, if you picked a panel in room A starting at 10am, you were then forced to miss the 9:30am and the 10:30am panels in room B. At least if they'd all started on the hour you'd only have missed one.

The panels themselves, however, were very interesting. Hard to hear a lot of the time because no one seemed to want to use the microphones, but least for me. My kids would likely have fidgeted their way through.

The Women In Comics (it may have had a better official title) panel was particularly interesting and addressed (among other things) why there weren't more women creating comics. The conclusion appeared to be a lack of confidence about, not only women but people in general, about the quality of their work. A praising word goes a long way and hence why people such as Laura Howell and Sonia Leong go into schools to do workshops.

 - Have I mentioned our school con? How about that Laura Howell and Hunt Emerson are coming along? How about how awesome it will be?

The area upstairs was a bit of a mix of dealers, prop displays and body painting. At the very end was an area for Sonic the Comic with a large table with paper out for kids to draw. This was really the only bit that was aimed at children and I was very glad that I hadn't brought mine along. They'd have been bored rigid and nagging me to take them home after maybe half an hour at the festival.

As a first try the con was pretty good and it was commendable to have a comic event that's actually about comics rather than general pop culture. Next time I'd like to see a proper children's area, with everything aimed at them (including creators) in one place, away from more adult-aimed stuff such as the horror comics etc. There was certainly the space for it - upstairs had giant windows letting in loads of light and with a great view of the cricket ground which would have been perfect. There are a number of things that would easily transfer from our school con (have I mentioned that?) and and I definitely intend to write to the organisers with a few ideas for next time.

Apologies for the pitiful selection of photos - all of which are of upstairs. I simply forgot to take many.

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