Saturday at the London Super Comic Con

I think this is the first comic book convention I have attended which gave me an actual, not metaphorical, headache at the end of the day; I’m trying to work out if it was because I enjoyed the con too much or if I’m an inexperienced attendee. Despite coming home to pain killers and an early night (I am so old), the London Super Comic Con (or LSComicCon for short, used as the Twitter name) was a lot of fun because it was primarily a convention about comic books.

My headache didn’t start until I came home, but it might have been set in motion by the queue to get into the con. Having learned my lesson from attending Saturday at the London MCM Expo in the same location last May, I arrived with pre-purchased tickets (a birthday present from my lovely girlfriend) – this was originally the only way you could attend, but the organisers changed their minds the night before when Stan Lee, the guest of honour, appeared on The One Show the night before (where Chris Evans got the name of the con wrong and Stan was only on for 10 minutes despite it being an hour-long show on Fridays) and they announced that tickets would be available on the day.

When I arrived at just after 10am, when the con was supposed to start, the queue to get in was outside the main entrance to the ExCel Centre, snaking down the stairs and almost to the water. I joined the queue and it took an hour (which felt longer) to get to the entrance to the con itself, which was at the other end of the exhibition centre, and another fifteen minutes of queuing in the con itself before I had got my shiny plastic pass on cord (like a backstage pass at a gig) and was allowed in properly.

An aside: while waiting to get in, I was amused to notice that there was a Zumba instructors conference in the ExCel at the same time – there would be no problems with attendee crossover there, despite the fact that the instructors looked like how comic book artists draw female superheroes: slim, healthy women with exposed stomachs and tight tops (although nowhere near as pneumatic as the women who grace the covers of far too many comic books).

My first impressions were that the space wasn’t as large as used for the MCM Expo, which was held in a different hall near the main entrance, and that there weren’t as many people as the MCM Expo. There were lots of people, but they were mainly queuing for Stan Lee: as the main draw for this event, his presence had attracted a huge crowd of people who were there just for him. He hasn’t attended a UK con for decades, so it was something of coup to get him; at 89 years old, the man is doing amazingly well, full of energy and charm, but I don’t know if he’ll be back for another con in this country.

Another initial impression was there weren’t as many cosplayers as had attended the MCM Expo. The MCM Expo seemed to be mainly about the cosplay: there were hordes of them inside and even more outside, who I began to think hadn’t bothered to enter the Expo but just hang around outside to enjoy the atmosphere. The LSComicCon had a good showing of cosplayers, the majority keeping to comic book characters (for example, there was a very good Galactus roaming the hall), and they made for an impressive sight when they were in the queue to enter the cosplay competition at the end of the day; however, they were in the minority compared with the other attendees.

One of the main attractions for me was the presence of such a stellar Artists Alley: the impressive line-up included Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kevin Maguire, Brian Bolland, Jock, Sean Phillips, Mark Buckingham, Duncan Fegredo, Jim Cheung, Phil Jimenez (Mike Deodato Jr unfortunately missed his flight, so he wasn’t there on Saturday). There were also some writers in attendance (Fred Van Lente, Mike Carey, Paul Cornell) but I wanted to see the artists. It was great seeing them in person and seeing some of them sketch (I saw Chaykin knocking out a Logan sketch with consummate ease) but I realised that I was an amateur when it came to attending a con to see artists: the long queues for the artists were full of people who had bought small comic book boxes for signing or small suitcases on wheels with stuff to sign. Having suffered enough queues for the day, I left the professionals (both the artists and the people who wanted stuff signed) to their own devices.

Instead of standing in a queue, I attended two panels where I could sit down and listen to people talk about comic books: How To Write A Comic Script and 35 Years Of 2000AD. The first had Fred Van Lente, Mike Carey, Kieron Gillen, Andy Lanning and, briefly, Simon Spurrier – he relinquished his seat at the last minute in response to Paul Cornell’s Panel Parity, allowing Tammy Taylor to take his place. It was an interesting panel, with each giving an introduction, talking about how they broke in, their experiences with different script formats (the first script Carey saw was Alan Moore’s ridiculously dense script in the back of the Watchmen trade paperback, so for years he thought that was how you were supposed to write them) and how they approach writing. The sound system wasn’t great, but Van Lente easily made himself heard (he is American, after all), and Gillen was effusive and cheeky on various topics (for him, plot and character are the same, and writers who aren’t interested in people are not proper writers in his opinion), and it was a shame that the panel had to end as soon as it did.

The second panel I attended was a cosier affair, as the three artists on the panel talked about their work. Jock, Duncan Fegredo and Brian Bolland chatted about their cover work for 2000AD (Bolland was surprised to discover that one of his old covers is appearing on a stamp for Royal Mail; he also thought that they could have chosen a better and more classic cover) as led by a chap who I assume is an editor at 2000AD but whose name I didn’t catch because the sound system was even worse in this panel. The artists were nice blokes, sharing a nice camaraderie; Jock and Fegredo were very happy to have done Dredd covers for the comic that was so important to them, and they had a lot of respect for Bolland. Bolland was a great panel member, sharing little anecdotes and talking about how he didn’t have the time he does now and how the covers and classic artwork was put together so quickly. He also talked a lot about Mick McMahon, saying that he was in awe of him and how McMahon was the one who designed Mega-City One; Jock had to step in and say how Bolland had defined Dredd to the majority of people. Another enjoyable panel.

As I said, the focus of this con was comic books and that was the great aspect of it. The booths of comic book companies such as IDW and Markosia, the small press sections, the portfolio review booth, the guests and the stalls selling comic books (I did enjoy myself picking up cheap trades and issues missing from my collection, after fighting my way through the others with similar intentions) were all about comic books and not about movie tie-ins or games or television shows. This was reflected in the audience, which seemed to skew older and had a larger proportion of men than the MCM Expo.

It has to be said that the majority of people were there for Stan Lee – the queues for signing and photos were amazing (Rich Johnston has video footage of the con and Stan at Bleeding Cool, although there should be a warning because he is an awful cameraman; it looks like really bad found footage and will cause nausea if watched for too long) and Stan’s panel, which I didn’t attend, was standing-room only – the panels I attended were only about a third full. The crowd loved him: the roars of approval when he arrived on stage and then left at the end were deafening. Perhaps they should have called it the Stan Lee Convention …

According to Johnston, the convention seems to have been a success with around 8,000 people, and publishers/vendors/creators selling everything they brought with them. That’s good news because it means the LSComicCon can continue and improve, and we can have a regular comic-specific con that is well organised and enjoyed by all attendees. Just as long as I don’t keep getting headaches by attending them.

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