On Saturday 23rd April, 2016 Birmingham’s Edgbaston Stadium was transformed from a cricket fan’s paradise overflowing with knitted jumpers and test match memorabilia, into a vibrant sea of cosplayers and graphic novels as the Birmingham Comics Festival hit the venue.
The second annual Birmingham Comics Festival promised to be an outstanding convention after the success of its debut in 2015. Organisers Steve Tanner, Paul Birch and Victor Wright had their work cut out to recapture the same rampant fanfare as the previous year. It’s safe to say they outdid themselves by staging a multitude of comics-related events that started to pop up in various locations throughout the city in the lead-up to this colourful crescendo which featured some of the biggest names in the British comic book industry.
As soon as I went through the Stadium doors I was engulfed by a wave of pop-culture, make-up and costumes; a hundred Harley Quinns and Jokers buzzed around like painted bees with various collectables in their grasps.
The air vibrated with the hum of a thousand like-minded people gathered in one place to celebrate and rejoice in a unique counterculture of their very own, this was what a good con should be.
The festival offered countless things for people to sink their teeth into throughout the day, as the patrons strolled from hall to hall.
There was a wide array of panels including, ‘Classroom Comic Capers’ that discussed whether or not the humble comic has a place in education or if it should remain within the realms of entertainment and ‘Must be Something in the Water’ which cast a light on the large number of creators from the Midlands and the internationally acclaimed work they produce.
As well as the panels, there was a body painting station where highly skilled artists airbrushed mere mortals into superheroes and a cosplay competition for all those who sported a guise in Birmingham; from Caped Crusaders and Mega City Judges to a giant Lego figure, they could all be seen on the day.
For me the highlight of the event was how strongly it actually centred on comic books. It’s surprising how many so-called comic conventions are mainly focused on the cinematic side of the industry selling toys and posters from the latest Marvel or DC blockbuster; whilst the writers and artists selling their four-colour wares get overlooked.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case in Brum, as independent comic creators sat behind tables next to some of the best scribes and illustrators this side of the Atlantic; from Ian Edgington to D‘Israeli and Leigh Gallagher to Lew Stringer, Laura Howell and Hunt Emerson to name but a few.
I spent a big chunk of my day there checking out the work of those individuals and discovering other creators. I had a chance to speak to the artist behind ‘Psycho Gran’ David Leach and picked up a copy of his fantastic book ‘David Leach Conquers the Universe… So You Don’t Have to.’ I talked to the wonderful co-founder of ‘Time Bomb Comics,’ Steve Tanner and purchased his latest release ‘Flintlock,’ an anthology that will take readers from the high seas to the reign of the Highwayman. I also caught up with some more familiar faces in the form of ‘Bleeding Cool Magazine’ journalist Olly Macnamee and Alex Fitch of the ‘Panel Borders’ podcast and updated them about a new project I’m working on. Great guys.
In the course of our chat Olly introduced me to the author of ‘The Forgotten Child’ Jason Cobley another cool guy, and David Hine whose latest graphic novel ‘The Man who Laughs’ is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic that perfectly captures the spirit of the highbrow tome whilst demystifying it’s narrative.
As the day drew to a close, I dashed over to see my old pal ‘The Astral Gypsy’ Al Davison and his extremely talented protégé Yen Quach and purveyed all their art whilst Al sketched me a picture of a Victorian skeleton complete with top hat and monocle, in less than 15 minutes might I add. No sooner had I said bye to Al and Yen than I spoke to legendary ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ writer and one of my biggest influences Dan Abnett about his 2000 AD strips and an upcoming project I’m part of…
The 2016 Birmingham Comics Festival was a great event full of talented people and outstanding work that championed all that is unique and inspiring about this anarchic medium.
I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday.