Tuesday, 18 March 2014

London Super Comic Convention (LSCC) 2014 review

As anyone who has ever thrown a party knows, creating the right atmosphere can be tricky. You can have all the right ingredients, but still end up with a funereal mess, there’s no magic recipe, no secret formula, sometimes it falls flat, sometimes it just works. LSCC just worked this year, which I’m sure was actually the result of a lot of hard work by the party throwers. It was obscenely busy, but still had a really nice friendly vibe to it. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. No-one died. At least 17 Batmen turned up.

I travelled up with two friends and a daughter. Scott who drove us down to London & dropped us off, John Watson was also a guest at the con, and Chloe who was going to check out Westminster University. Last year I drove down with John, but left most of his art on top of a cupboard in my house 400 miles away, it was a failure of epic proportions, you can enjoy John’s version of events on his blog.

This year was going to be a triumph of scheduling and preparation, a well oiled organisation machine. John and Scott only had to wait half an hour while I finished packing and we set off aiming to get to the Excel for about 7pm.

The M6 was like a very long car park. We arrived at 11pm. The fail had started.

Scott dropped us off, very kindly insisting on a door to door service despite the fact that travelling two blocks at the Excel Centre in a car means driving in a complex series of one-way spirals.

John had arranged to meet up with people at a hotel that was about 14 miles away from our hotel, so we opted to go for a direct straight line of sight walking route that involved climbing over a line of metal fences. John leapt over them like a gazelle, Chloe managed to dislocate her hip on the third fence and I was left straggling the first hurdle in almost complete darkness as Chloe and John progressed into the distance. Not entirely sure it was a great idea introducing my 18 year old daughter to the seedy underbelly of the comic book industry, but she coped very well with the torrent of filth and deviancy.

The hotel breakfast seemed more like some sort of punishment than a tasty treat you’d pay £8.95 for. Lukewarm scrambled egg, cold croissants and the only thing the juice had in common with oranges was the colour. This isn’t trip advisor, sorry, but hotel breakfasts should be a feast, this felt like a punishment. I’m too nice to name the hotel, I just won’t be travelling to that particular lodge again if I can.

LSCC was so busy this year, the queue stretched to the horizon; I worried that those at the con would be over by the time those at the end of the queue made it inside. It didn’t happen though, the same metal fences I’d scaled just the evening before were now efficiently herding punters in all the right directions. It was very well staffed, very well co-ordinated, yellow STAFF t-shirts were everywhere, despite losing the bit of paper that proved I had a pro-pass allocated, the organisers sorted me out very quickly with a pass and we set up the table in plenty of time for the mad rush of VIP ticket holders at 9:30am.

John Watson and Russell Payne at LSCC 2014

I was invited to LSCC because I volunteer for the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Centre, and to give a talk called “You Don’t Know Jack?” about the late, great Jack Kirby, the co-creator of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Ant-man, Iron Man, Thor,  The Silver Surfer, Galactus,  the Inhumans & oooooh  many, many  more. The main point was promoting the work of the excellent Jack Kirby Museum,  whip up a bit of enthusiasm for Jack Kirby & maybe even tell people a few things they didn’t know.

The Kirby talk went pretty well, more people turned up than I expected,  it was a really nice crowd who were more than happy to chant “Jack Kirby” repeatedly and quite a few came over afterwards to say they enjoyed it. I had some intelligent questions too, one gent asking about the Jewish heritage of Kirby and other comic creators, and another asking about Lichtenstein and recognising real artists from plagiarists. I was secretly hoping more for “Who’d win Thor or Hulk?” type questions but it was nice to get more in depth stuff. Also, a 16 year old girl called Emily stood and queued up just to say thankyou to me for the t-shirt she won as part of the talk, who says the youth of today aren’t nice? There’s a few photos scattered around Instagram, Twitter and Facebook of the talk, although they all seem to be using some sort of filter that makes me look bright red and overweight. Odd.

Cosplay accounted for a lot of the footfall, a suspiciously large amount of cosplayers seemed to be congregating just outside the con not wearing passes, suggesting they maybe had zero interest in comics, or just zero interest in paying to get in, but it went for the usual colourful mix. I saw Bane having his photo taken with Zarina the Pirate Fairy while a Predator holding a ghetto blaster walked past wearing heart-print Pyjamas. 

However you feel about cosplay, it’s hard not to enjoy the surreal combinations it produces. I had no idea Predators liked UB40 so much. The Cosplay competition was visible from where I was sitting across the auditorium and in a moment of weakness I stood up to watch as Princess Elsa from Frozen did a number to “Let It Go”. She threw some glittery snow in the air, it was quite magical. Some of the lovingly hand-made costumes were genuinely stunning, it’s amazing what you can do with some spray painted cardboard and a broom handle.

With all this visual spectacle going on, I always mean to take photos at comic conventions and this time I did actually manage to remember a camera and took possibly the worst comic convention video of all time-

Artists Alley was organised alphabetically, by first name so it mixed up the small press and the pros and gave us an entire aisle of “Daves”. I was sat with John Watson in the “J’s”, in between the My Little Pony artist Katie Cook and Kate Ashwin the writer/artist for online comic Widdershins. Kate writes, draws, colours and letters her comic and has been at it for years so she had a range of books collecting  hundreds of webcomic pages and a steady stream of people who knew her work. Great to see someone actually making a success of their own comic.

Jack Kirby

Funnily enough there was a comic writer there called Jack Kirby, who was sitting nowhere near us but came over to say Hi. His actual name actually was actually Jack Kirby, he showed me his actual driving licence. Jack writes a comic called Alien in the Outfield, which I didn’t get time to check out, but it references Bill Watterson so it can’t be all bad. He really should change his pen-name though, it’s like someone born in 1994 deciding to work in movies when their name is Steven Spielberg. It’s already taken. I wish him every success though.

So many other names there whose work I didn’t know, you always feel a bit guilty for not knowing someone’s work, but I don’t really many read modern comics, I still think of anything published after 1985 as a “new comic”, so I just chatted to a few whose work caught my eye. There’s still some very talented people out there, not all of them might work for Marvel or DC, but they produce results, wish I’d had more time to walk round and chat but I was sitting behind a table for 95% of the con, so didn’t really get to meet all the other guests, but did a whistlestop tour.

It was great to meet MikeGrell, the one time I felt a little starstruck, and I caught up with friends at the bar in the evening, in between naps. In fact during the whole con, I only came back with one actual comic, a gift from the notoriously shy and retiring Jeff of Closeencounters. Tiny Titans issue 1 for my youngest, a great comic series well worth checking out if you have fledgling comic fans in the house.

I did spend a few minutes at one stall that had an incredible collection of original art, Kirby 2001 covers, Eternal covers and some really nice interior pages. Way out of my price range, but nice just to be standing near them.

Very briefly saw Gary Frank and Chris Weston’s tables, they both had some original art for sale that I really liked. Dan Slott seemed to have the biggest queue, and one of the biggest beards.

There was that phenomenon where some of the unpublished and/or small press artists had amazing stands and banners, 16 foot high full colour extravaganzas with fairy lights, badges, flyers, t-shirts and professional looking art and prints in nice plastic folders, while other more established pros just had a pile of dog-eared original art, an A4 piece of paper with their name on and a sketchpad.

The very best artists sometimes make the worst businessmen, which is why I suppose you can sometimes get such great bargains at comic conventions, but it always seems a shame when it becomes about buying something just to sell it on ebay within a week to make a profit, it’s so much more heart-warming when art is bought because the buyer loves it and it is just going to give them pleasure to look at it and own it. There was plenty of that sort of thing going on too and a few of the free sketches  did for people got gasps of delight, which is what a comic convention should be about, appreciating, sharing and enjoying the art, characters and stories that bring such an odd group of people together in one place.

At one point a little girl dressed as some sort of Manga Princess came over to the table and told  me how much she likes drawing and asked me how she should draw lighting. I told her to make sure all the shadows point in the right direction. She said “OK”. 

My work here was done.

So a particularly good comic convention with something for everyone. Big thanks to George from LSCC for inviting me to give a talk. Had a great time, lots of laughs, it was a feast for the eyes, I met lots of people and hopefully helped keep the flaming legacy of Jack Kirby burning, or at least blew on the embers.

There’s loads more photos and stuff online about LSCC, try the hashtag #lscc on twitter.

If you would like to know more about Jack Kirby, visit the Jack Kirby Museum Website. There's probably videos online somewhere of my LSCC talk, but here's one I gave last year at the Bristol International Comic Expo....


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