Bristol International Comic Expo 2009: General Impressions

(My Bristol write-up was getting a bit long, so I’ve split it in two: General Impressions here and Highlights to follow)

Last weekend myself and my other Bumblemoo compatriots Wren and Banemoo went along to the Bristol International Comic Expo.  It was a first for me and Banemoo, although Wren had been once before.  Seeing as I was introduced to comics through manga, and have since gained a love of small press work and non-manga comics too, I saw Bristol as a good opportunity to pick up some exciting new books to read and get out of my comfort zone of sailor suited high school girls and mechs (hmm…sailor suited mechs? anyway…)

The Expo was held in two hotels this year: the Ramada Plaza held the main event and the Mercure held the Small Press Expo.  Luckily both hotels were only 2 minutes walk from each other and a 5 minute walk from the train station, making the event very easy to find.


When we got there we had a choice of two free comics to collect – I chose this little number with the Simon Bisley cover:


But free comics aside, our general impression of the Expo was more one of a series of fantastic dealers’ rooms to look around, rather than somewhere we might have wanted to spend two whole days.  There weren’t many panels we were particularly interested in –  we don’t really keep abreast of industry affairs and we’re not ‘inside’ enough to know which creators are which in the flesh, and who would be the most interesting to listen to.  However, taking another look at the website after we got back home, I think I would pay more attention to the panel lineup if I was going to visit again and try to attend at least a couple of them.  It might actually be more fun to attend as a creator, so time could be spent meeting and socialising with other creators in a more relaxed way.

As someone who didn’t know what any of the more famous comic creators looked like, I found it quite difficult to navigate around the different artists offering sketches.  It was quite crowded in the Ramada where the main event was held (an atmosphere not helped by a lack of opening windows or adequate air conditioning), so most of the bigger name artists’ tables were obscured by a cluster of people queuing for sketches or signatures, and more people trying to squeeze past.  The only artist we knew that we wanted to search for, to perhaps request a sketch, was Simon Bisley.  However we couldn’t find either him or a table with his name on it so we gave up in the end.

Even though we didn’t end up participating in any ‘special’ con activities like panels or signings, we still had a great time and came away with some really unique purchases!  I would still recommend going to the Bristol Expo to anyone who enjoys UK small press comics (and assorted mainstream publishers, and related paraphanalia), as you just won’t find the same kind of collection of niche and hard-to-get items this side of the internet.  And unlike the internet, where you would have to order and pay shipping from many individual websites, everything at Bristol is under one roof (well two rooves, but who’s counting?)


Away from the more crowded hallways, foraging through the work of a lot of the indie publishers in the dealers’ rooms was a fascinating experience; there were so many different styles of art on show, from heavily inked horror through wordy thought-provoking comics to lighthearted bits of fluff.  Most artists and publishers were very happy for people to flip through a copy of their comic and most were unobtrusively friendly and helpful.  However, to those pushy sellers who would repetedly take me through a comic’s extra features and tell me I’d get a free sketch if I’d just buy it, please try to cool off a bit or I’ll be too busy trying to get away from you to notice how good your comic is.

One thing I did notice, which might spark some discussion if people don’t agree with me, was that quite a few of the indie and small press comics seemed a little bland and archetypal.  Things like anthologies of ‘Zombies’ or ‘Werewolves’ or ‘The Girly Comic’.  Seeing titles like this immediately puts me off the comic.  Even if it turns out to be an amazing anthology of varied work, I wouldn’t know as the title would have made me think it was boring and mainstream, like being spoon fed some kind of single flavour food that the sellers know that fans will buy, similarly to Hollywood churning out blockbuster sequel after blockbuster sequel.  What was interesting to me about this was that it was the indie publishers who seemed to be doing it most, and I would have thought they would be the ones being more experimental.

…and if they are in fact being quite experimental, as my brief perusal of ‘The Girly Comic’ website seems to hint at (one of the shorts in issue one covers what you might do if you had your own gimp?), then maybe they could try using a name that doesn’t make it sound like their comic was written for male geeks to buy in order to ‘get their girlfriend into comics’ Cosmo-style.

(Disclaimer: I’m more making a general point about bland derivative works rather than saying ‘The Girly Comic’ in particular should change its name, in fact the more I peruse the website the more I want to read an issue of ‘The Girly Comic’…although I’m still kind of hoping it will turn out to be a joke name and actually be full of robot stories ^_~ )

Robot love aside, next up will be my personal highlights of the Bristol Expo, so please stick around for that ^_^


6 Responses to “Bristol International Comic Expo 2009: General Impressions”

  1. williehewes Says:

    The Girly Comic is actually good stuff, but I see what you’re saying about the name. I think it’s partly because they got started a looong time ago, when there wasn’t much girl-friendly stuff around, and the only women at cons were the girlfriends and wives of the real geeks.

    Interesting general point though, about bland anthology names. Hm…

  2. “…the only women at cons were the girlfriends and wives of the real geeks.”

    Except me and Anna. X-D

    Yes, the Girly Comic does have an off-putting name, especially for someone who is a comics fan anyway, and does not need things to be “girly” just because they are a girl, but it is great and has lots of cool stuff for boys and girls alike. ^_^

    • comicmole Says:

      You’ve summed up my feelings exactly – I really don’t need things to be ‘girly’ to want to buy them (I’ve grown up with a love of sci-fi and, before re-training in 3D modeling, was in the building industry doing surveying and I’ve never considered these things particularly ‘male’, just as things that I like ^_^)

      Also, it being ‘The’ Girly Comic sort of hints that its the only comic out there made for girls, which is a little insulting…but that could just be me reading way too much into it XD

  3. I always get this view from Bristol con also. Its way more fun if your attending as a creator/dealer, but its not like Expo or small anime cons in that there are not really many fun events to go beside it, just the comic stands and a few panels, I guess its more business orientated maybe!
    Last year when I went to Bristol the comic scene had improved alot! I used to agree with you that there were a lot of generalized comics, pretty boring amateur copies of things already out there. But last year things had changed dramatically when I attended, things were much better quality and a bit more unique! Im surprised to hear it wasnt so this year at Bristol…when I went to the uk webcomix thing earlier this year, the comics there were fantastic! so new and exciting, I bought more then I do buy of professional comics! I thought it might be the same at Bristol, although I guess you didnt mention all the comics out there, so Im probably getting the wrong idea =3

    • comicmole Says:

      I think perhaps it would do them good to look at the event programming of some of the anime cons – I don’t see why they shouldn’t have a couple of screening rooms showing some obscure comic-related sci-fi shows, hilariously bad old movies, or even some anime (maybe some of the more comic or sci-fi related ones?)

      Also, I was thinking it would be cool to, rather than just having artists sitting there surrounded by crowds and doing sketches, run some small group seminars with different artists: not ‘how to draw’ sessions, but more a seminar where the artist goes over how they produce their stuff and maybe a bit about how they got into the industry, shows some examples of their work and answers questions. This would be really interesting for aspiring artists plus hopefully interesting for those who just admire that artist without necessarily wanting to make comics themselves…

      After each seminar there could be a scheduled signing/sketch session so that anyone who attended and wanted a memento could be first in line, followed by people bringing along their comics to be signed…

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