The idea of a British 21st century comic convention is a far cry from the sweaty pits of beer and comics that were UK cons (or comic marts) of the 20th century. Gone are the mainly male orientated days now replaced by multi-coloured cosplayers (it were all fields and fancy dress round here when I were a lad) and various multi-media experiences. The boozy all-nighters are still there but the idea of a ‘comic convention’ has been completely changed thanks to the slow osmosis of the San Diego Comic Con into the public consciousness over the last 15 years.
This brings me to the Edinburgh Comic Con held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre; one of those concrete and grass structures that look like they were designed by people who played with Lego far too much as a child. This is one of the more recent comic cons run to the San Diego model on a fraction of the budget and attendance, but still with a modicum of ambition and the ability in organisation to match that ambition. As someone involved in comics for several decades I have to say that it’s amazingly hard to organise a con or a mart (first one I was involved with organising was in the mid 80’s) but far too often of late people organise events that they don’t have the blind clue how to get right. Advertising and marketing is often lost in the rush to create an event which the organisers themselves want to pander to themselves and their friends. Dealers and casual fans are left behind.
Not so Edinburgh Comic Con. After a wait in the biting Edinburgh wind I enter the hall with hundreds of others to meet an old friend, encounter some new ones and experience the type of show which deserves praise because this is a tight, compact convention held in a large space which looks cramped only because there’s crowds of people wanting to go wherever I do. This means I don’t get to see stalls I wanted to as early as I’d have liked which is a minor quibble which is something I don’t do with many a con these days being overpriced and messily organised.
There were many a cosplayer there. Now I’m somewhat torn on the subject of cosplayers as someone who dips in and out of working as a retailer at cons I’ve often found cosplayers will end up being a distraction or they themselves don’t buy comics as they’re too busy walking around waiting to be photographed. Although there was some of that here on the whole the cosplayers were good natured and mingling with everyone else which is good as these walls which have sprung up are simply petty. Some of the small press tables were very good as they displayed some surprisingly talented creators, though as is the case with any con, there were a number of poor titles being pushed by people who aren’t very good. Same goes for some of the prints of characters such as Harley Quinn. There were people who’d not quite learned how to draw but were superb at tracing poses from porn mags, or they’ve copied other people’s work and just altered something to make it look ‘different’. This sadly isn’t a new development as I’ve seen people do this at cons for the last few decades and I have to warn people that these type of stalls don’t last too long.
As for the talks I only saw snippets of a few but they seemed to be well attended and gave people something to do outwith of wander around. A ‘chill out’ room seemed less well attended being stuck at the end of a corridor that most people didn’t go down and that must have hurt some of the small press tables in there. This though is a small niggle for a con that was overall a great example of how to do things right in a part of the world where such events don’t happen every other week.
Organising and running conventions are hard. I’ve been there, done it. Making sure you have an event which caters to a wide spectrum is harder. The organisers here managed to create a comics-focused show which managed to bring in the wider aspects of “geek culture’’ as well as making new faces were as well catered for as old veterans like myself. There’s things they can tighten up on and get better but these are tiny things, and although the centre’s bar priced a bottle of beer at a fiver a bottle, local pubs made a brisk trade which saw people unite. The San Diego model is a risky model to copy but the Edinburgh Comic Con managed to adapt it well and I look forward to 2018.