Nerd Cons in Brum: International Comics Expo

Once upon a time, there was a comic book convention called British International Comics Show (or Birmingham International Comics Show, if you lived in the West Midlands). It was held first at The Custard Factory, then at thinktank at Millennium Point, and was two days of people selling comics, talking about comics, and even drawing characters from comics… provided you had enough money to pay the person drawing them.  It was fun, and Dave Gibbons always showed up.

However, one year Millennium Point decided to hire their floorspace out to somebody else. The people behind BICS were hurt, but decided to try somewhere else. That somewhere else turned out to be a Holiday Inn, of all places, for the rechristened Birmingham Comicon (not to be confused with MCM Birmingham Comic-con, which I will cover one of these days). It was still fun, and Dave Gibbons still showed up… but something had gone. Maybe it was the confusing layout of the new venue, or that it only went on for one day, or maybe it was the simple fact that organising a convention is bloody difficult work. Whatever it was, it meant only one thing; there would never be another BICS.

But if BICS could not return, it would eventually have a worthy successor, and last year it got just that. Brought into this world by ex-BICS organiser Shane Chebsney (and a Lottery grant), ICE was a brilliant return to form, held now at The Studio; I actually had an ineffable sense of relief just seeing something like Cinebook‘s stall in one of the trade halls (Cinebook were one of my perennial favourites at BICS, and were directly responsible for getting me back into European comics). If I had one criticism, it would’ve been making all the panels exclusive to everyone who bought the £65 VIP tickets – quite a distance from the £5 early-bird tickets. Well, that and Dave Gibbons not showing up. And the weather being the most humid I’ve ever seen in this country

However, this year they decided to make all panels open to everyone who’d bought a ticket, and they were definitely worth seeing! I still regret not seeing John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra discuss the future of Judge Dredd, but when you get to see Joe Rubinstein – one of the best inkers in the business – and Bob Layton – the Iron Man artist – discuss their amazing careers, I’d say it’s a decent trade-off. Special mention also goes to the justly-acclaimed Hunt Emerson for giving a frank discussion on his adult comics (and yes, I would love to see a trade collection of Firkin’s Limericks).

Another definite highlight was the final 2-hour panel from Messrs Nugent & Monteith of Geek Syndicate; I’m afriad I can’t claim to be a big fan of the podcast (I didn’t know it existed until yesterday) but it was great seeing Rachael Smith and Rachael Stott, two of my favourite up-and-coming artists, being interviewed. The other interviews were all interesting, especially Jessica Martin; I’m disappointed in myself for missing her graphic novels, but I will rectify that mistake at the earliest available opportunity! And of course, The Great British Sketch-Off at the end, with that ‘showstopper’ sketch (everyone who was there will know what I’m talking about, and everyone else should remember that ignorance is bliss…). As I said, I’m not that familiar with the Geek Syndicate podcast, but I will definitely add it to the list of podcasts I regularly listen to…

But, nitpicker extraordinaire that I am, I have to bring up my own petty bugbears; I was pretty stoked to see Dave Gibbons among the list of guests, but then I realised he was only coming in to do one panel aimed at kids, and to help out at today’s Comics Uncovered, an event more focused on helping potential comic book talent hone their skills. Also, Cinebook didn’t show up this year. That’ll teach me to not read press releases…

Well, it looks like ICE is here to stay, and thank goodness for that. I confidently predict bigger and better things for it… possibly a larger venue? Crowd space was pretty good this year, but how long can that last before ICE becomes a victim of its own success?

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