Monday, 20 June 2016

Hull ComicCon 2016


At the end of the M62. Massive bridge. My in-laws live there. The 2017 European City of Culture too apparently. Not sure what happens with that if we leave the European Union.

The second Hull Comic Con was great though, just great. A one day con, just the Saturday. Probably the friendliest convention I've ever been to. I was a guest last year too, for the inaugural event, and it was pretty great then, especially for a first time con. This year the organisers built on that, using the same venue (The “Asylum” at Hull University, what a fantastic name for a comic con venue) but expanded the space they used, spreading it out over three floors.

Hull Comic Con 2016 cosplay
The ground floor had all the merchandising tables and the TV and Film guests, Trevor and Simon were there with Sophie Aldred promoting their FREE audio sci-fi series Strangeness in Space. I haven't had chance to listen to it yet, but there's no excuse really is there? It's free, it's funny and it's science fiction. John Challis and Hull's very own Jon Campling was there along with his tremendous hair.

The first floor was the Retro Game floor although I never actually visited it. My brother-in-law Keegan was very kindly helping me out and he paid it a visit. It had Retro Games. 

The comic guests were on the second floor, a little out of the way, but to be fair last year the lighting downstairs had been quite murky and they put the artists next to a big window so the lighting was good. Several comic guests, so more than a lot of cons lately! Russ Leach, Lee Sullivan, Rachael Smith and Adam Cheal were some of those up there with me, conveniently opposite the room where I was giving a talk on Jack Kirby later. Initial worries that it was going to be quiet soon disappeared and it got absolutely packed later in the day, with apparently six times as many people coming compared to the previous year and a healthy turn out for my talk.

There were loads of talks too, three rooms worth, so at any one time there were two or three talks/photoshoots going on. The one on Jack Kirby was the best obviously, anyone fortunate enough to hear it was also treated to a rendition of the “Jack Kirby” rap from the Illus alum KABOOM!. LD Wilkinson put a nice photo of me giving the talk on Twitter-
Russell Payne
Jack Kirby talk at Hull Comic Con

I had a few unusual requests for quick sketches. One person asked for a “kawaii Hitler”, which I think means “a cute Hitler”. What would you do with a sketch of Hitler looking cute? Someone else wanted a sketch of an invisible Deadpool. So I just gave them a piece of paper, and they gave me £3. Odd.

As things were winding up, Simon Hickson (the one from Trevor and Simon that isn't Trevor) popped up to say Hi, probably not specifically to see me as Lee Sullivan on the table next to me was doing some work with him. Always weird meeting people whose work you admire, but he was a really nice guy and insisted on paying for one of my prints despite my best attempts to give it him. And he had a nice hat. I only mentioned it a couple of paragraphs ago, but since you probably didn't bother clicking on the link, I'm going to try again - do check out his FREE audio sci-fi series Strangeness in Space.

Keegan manning my table

The after-show party was easily the best I've ever been to. No exaggeration. I'm aware this is all very positive, but hey, I had a good time. I often enjoy the bits after a convention more than the convention itself, whether its just chatting in the bar or something more, but District 14 went the extra mile with this. There was the usual disco and charity raffle, which was fine, but they also had three events on stage, and they were all absolutely stellar quality, I'd have happily paid to see any one of them. With theatre style seating so you could buy a drink form the bar, and then find a seat in front of the stage to take it all in. First up was legendary comiccon quizmaster Tony Hitchman doing a talk/quiz on Gorillas in comics (Ape Escapism). A journey through various bizarre Gorilla based comics, covering Super-Intelligent Gorillas, Alien Gorillas, Nazi Gorillas and of course Gorillas playing baseball. 

Tony Hitchman
Tony Hitchman's "Ape Escapism" Quiz

Tony threw bananas at the audience to reward correct answers, and engraved trophies were awarded at the end. Coming third was one of the proudest achievements of my career.

Very proud. 3rd Prize.

Following Tony, actor and skilled raconteur Simon Fisher-Becker performed a slightly condensed version of his one-man show “My Dalek Has Another Puncture”. Simon has toured with this, his second show in a trilogy I think, (the first was My Dalek Has A Puncture! The last is “Let Zygons be Zygons”!!). Concentrating mostly on his role as Dorium Maldovar in Dr Who, accompanied by slides, it was a fantastic, fascinating, honest and often quite touching autobiographical/anecdotal journey. You can buy Simon's book here.

At this point I would have left feeling like it was a great night out, but then Norman Lovett did an hour's stand-up. I've seen Norman's stand up a few times, and his meandering audience interaction is masterful. I'm not sure he told a single actual joke, but it was very, very funny. A master at work.

@skaromedia did the charity raffle with aplomb. Mysteriously, the Dr Who canvas from Russ Leach and Adam Cheal's Graphic Novels were chosen by the winners before my framed original art. Must have been the poor lighting in the bar......

Add a cheap bar and pizza to this and you can see why it scored so highly. Awesome.

I also got to pick up some of Tony Hitchman's 4 page black and white comics, another blast from the past and exactly the sort of thing I don't see nearly enough of at comic cons anymore....

Tony Hitchman

Thanks to Keegan for helping me out and to all the con staff for looking after us. Enormous congratulations and thanks to the organisers District 14, and masterplanner Steve Bowman for doing such an exceptional job, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a comic convention quite as much as I did this one. Looking forward to seeing what they do next.... Find out yourself at Bridcon in October! If you live anywhere near Bridlington, I imagine that'll be great fun too.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Swindon Comic Con 2016 review

Swindon Comic Con 2016

Swindon Comic Con scored points for me this weekend for having what I think was the most unusual venue for a comic convention I've ever been a guest at. It was held in the STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon. So I spent the last two days sitting in front a beautiful old Great Western Railway Class 4072 Train. If you happened to be a TV/Film buff, a comic fan, AND a train enthusiast, then this was a pretty great weekend out!

Great Western Railway Class 4072

Drove down with Marvel/DC cover artist John Watson early Saturday morning. When I say early I mean obscenely early, I got up at 3am, picked up John just after 4am and by 8:30am we were negotiating the baffling roundabouts of Swindon. The journey was a good excuse to discuss (argue) about the book we're writing together, and I brought up some really good, sane and relevant points about plot and characters that John is now taking on board.

For Swindon, I'd bought a particularly terrible pair of shoes, but fortunately the car park was quite near the venue, so I made it there before they fell apart..

I spent all day Saturday behind my table chatting to people, sitting between author Graeme Reynolds and John Watson and opposite artist and writer Grant Perkins, selling prints and doing sketches. John Watson gets very irritated when I sketch, as he spends an hour doing a gorgeous, photorealistic, tonal drawing for people, while I do a quick sketch that he says “looks like a monkey drew it.” I try and rise above this harsh criticism and spread a little joy with my art. Look at all these happy people-

Flash and Deadfall comiccon sketch by Russell Payne

Deadpool and Batman comic sketch by Russell Payne

Tom Baker Comicon Sketch by Russell Payne

Chatted and met some fascinating people, one that sticks in my mind is children's entertainer Jacko and his puppet Nunkey (I'm presuming that's the right way round). He wandered round terrifying everyone with a loud horn and was easily the most enthusiastic dancer at the after party that night.

Jacko and Nunkie

On Saturday night the after show party was hosted by Stu Arnold a Keith Lemon/Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator (no, seriously...) and had all manner of bizarre things going on.

You had to be there really..... but I had a lovely time chatting to some of the other guests- Martin Griffiths, Graeme Reynolds, Dave McCluskey, Grant Perkins and their partners. The organisers put on food (vegetarian option too, nice one) and there was plenty going on. A reoccurring theme of this one - there was always lots going on, you got your money's worth with Swindon Comic Con.

Trying to find our way home proved a challenge, we dropped Graeme, his wife and his newly acquired Stormtrooper suit off and me, John and Dave McCluskey  parked back at the STEAM museum so we could walk from there back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the only way we knew back to the hotel, the tunnel under the railway line, was locked and gated by now so we all went on a confused midnight ramble around the A-roads of Swindon. It was funny for the first half hour but after a while I started to get worried we'd be sleeping on a roundabout and foraging for berries. My cheap shoes barely made it. We did eventually go in one very large circle, find the car again and just drove to a sidestreet nearer the hotel. Dave left to get assaulted by hen parties and we went back to the Holiday Inn.

In the hotel bar John Watson and I bumped into the multi-talented actor and creature performer Paul Warren and we stayed up having a great chat about movies, what a nice guy! Well worth missing sleeping for.

Sunday was busy too, so again didn't really leave my table, and continued to irritate John by drawing sketches for people. On the one occasion I did leave my table, I came back to find John had hidden my pencil, but I came prepared, I brought a spare and was able to make some more people happy with my quick sketches. Thanks to everyone who came by and said hello! Special thanks to Chris who came over and remembered when I used to write for the BBC Shropshire, he knew stuff I'd written that I didn't!

John Watson Swindon Comic Con
He's about to hide my pencil

So a pretty great convention, very busy, loved the venue. I did come home to a guy on Twitter saying- “we had a 'comic' con in Swindon yesterday where there were no comic related guests, but were instead tv 'celebs' like a chaser.” which was a little unfair.

I've read a lot of criticism lately about UK comic conventions with no actual comic content, and generally, it's fair comment. There are a hardcore few comicons left that still do actually cater specifically to comicbook fans, with UK and international comic artists and writers. All organised by people who love comic books - like London's LSCC, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Leeds Thoughtbubble and Bedford's NICE comic expo, but a lot of recent ones have next to no comic content – no comic artists or writers as guests, no sign of any comics to buy. Many so-called UK “comic conventions” in the last few years have been more about TV and Film than comics. The worst ones are more like craft fairs.

To be fair to Swindon though, it did have a Comic Zone with several comic guests and there were a few decent sized tables selling nothing but comics. The emphasis was still more on the film and TV stars, props and merchandise, but the organisers also tried a lot of quite original things, they had a really eclectic guest list, easily the most eclectic guest list I have ever seen РEddie the Eagle, Zammo from Grange Hill, Boycie & Marlene from Only Fools & Horses, Eddie Kidd, quite a few of the Red Dwarf cast, Andrew Lee Potts, Hannah Spearritt....sports, TV, film,wrestling & special effects guests... Youtube stars, cosplayers, authors, illustrators, movie props & cars. Giant inflatables, Britains Got Talent performers, daleks and animatronic dinosaurs. So if you wanted a good day out with your family, I know it's a clich̩, but Swindon really did have something for everyone.

Actually Zammo cancelled, but to be fair he is well known for 'just saying no'.

Massive thanks to the organisers Luke, Mark and Nathan for doing such a great job of organising a unique convention and for looking after all the guests so well, looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year!
Green Arrow cosplay swindon comic con

cosplay swindon

See John Watson's blog for his wildly inaccurate version of events.