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The Sunday Symposium - Episode 1: Industrial Identity

Welcome the first Sunday Symposium!

What is this?

Think of it as the multi-media reincarnation of the Wednesday Waffle. If you’re new here you might not remember the Wednesday Waffle because we haven’t done it for aaaaages. It started out as a weekly chance for me to pontificate about stuff but time constraints have meant that Wednesdays have been largely waffle-less since the end of the second lockdown.

Well, now we’re having another go, and we’re moving to Sunday because mid-week is just too busy. For now at least it’s going to be available as video on our YouTube channel, text on this very website and audio on our podcast feed.

I don’t think this will be weekly – other duties and calls on my time will make that impossible, but we’ll see. You can watch the Video version below:

So, what am I waffling on about this week?

Glad you asked. Couple of things really, although they’re both related to the same thing – being a part of “the comics industry”.

Let’s start with Cons.

You see, I’ve been reading comics since the mid-eighties, but really began hanging around the comics industry since 1994, when I want to my first UK Comic Art Convention – popularly known as “UKCAC” with my best mate Burge. By modern standards it was a small affair, partly in a hotel just off Russell Square and partly in property owned by the University of London. But that’s where I met Terry Wiley – a man who would years later be a massive support when I took over the shop – and his writing partner Jennifer (although that wasn’t the name she was using then). I met artist Dave Hitchcock that weekend too. Terry, sadly is no longer with us, but I’m still in touch with Jennifer and Dave all these years later.

Back then, though, I don’t think any of us thought of ourselves as “industry”. Me and Burge were just regular punters while Terry, Jennifer and Dave were “small press”. Indie creators who made their comics in their spare time, tucked away in a corner of the University building’s mezzanine floor. The “real” industry was across the street where the likes of DC, Dark Horse and Image had their stands. If I recall correctly there was some dismay that Marvel hadn’t bothered showing up, something they have never bothered with since, either – and yes, I’m judging you Marvel...

This was, after all, the mid-nineties. Comics was at the end of the speculator boom, awash with gimmicks- die-cut, gatefold, foil embossed, holographic, glow in the dark, pop-up, lenticular and animated covers were all the range as publishers tried to out-do each other in terms of “flash” and forgot about the importance of stories. Within a couple of years Marvel would be filing for bankruptcy- so saving all that money on air fair didn’t do them any good - and almost all of the big publishers would have vanished from UK cons.

UKCAC itself was not long for the world.

The last London based event was in 1997. Presumably to save costs, the whole shebang moved to Manchester in 1998 but that was the last gasp. It was a fun event though, and where I met the now infamous Rich Johnson, currently of Bleeding Cool but then posting his reviews and rumours online (at a time when lots of people – including me – didn’t have a computer and were not on this new fangled internet thing) as “Rich’s Ramblings”. That was also the weekend where I first became aware of Kev F. Sutherland, who would pick up the UKCAC baton and run the Bristol Comics Festivals, which were the events that really cemented my love of cons.

The beginning of the Bristol Comic Festivals coincided with the beginning of my teaching career, my arrival on the internet and my time as an online columnist for the website Silver Bullet Comics (later Comics Bulletin) where my weekly(ish) Fool Britannia column ran for twelve years. Through that I met a whole bunch of people who I still consider friends – although I see them once a year at whatever the big “must go to” con is.

Since 1999 a number of things have happened. First of all, comic cons became more frequent. For a long time UKCAC and its Scottish counterpart GLASCAC in Glasgow were the only game in town. But as the 2000s progressed more cons sprang up, including a little upstart in Leeds called Thought Bubble…

But in all of that time, even after I took over the shop, I have never thought of myself as an “industry insider”. I knew industry insiders. I still do. Many reasonably well known people in the industry know who I am - I once bought Joe Quesada, EIC of Marvel Comics a pizza, for goodness sake. But I have always regarded myself as being on the outside looking in. Which is why it felt so weird last weekend when I was given an “Industry Pass” for last weekend’s MCM Comic Con at the ExCel Centre in London.

For free.

Actual free.

Regie standsd in the ExCel centre holding up his Industry pass
An industry pass! They even gave me a lanyard!

I mean, seriously, it’s like they wanted me there. Not gonna lie, it was a good feeling. More than that I was invited to a retailer event which included some announcements so exclusive we were not allowed to take pics for social media. There were free drinks. Seriously. Free beer at a Con – anyone who remembers the “drinking the Ramada Hotel dry” incidents at the first couple of Bristol Festivals will understand what a costly undertaking that can be.

David Mazzucchelli and Jeff Loeb against a white wall at the ExCel centre
This is a terrible picture, but it's one of the announcements we were allowed to talk about. David Mazzuccelli (left) and Jeff Loeb (Right) announce the grand finale of Batman the Long Halloween

So there I was, chatting away to Rich Johnson, who doesn’t seem to have aged as much as I have since 1998, having a conversation with the inimitable Bob Wayne, who doesn’t work for DC anymore but was the amiably mild mannered face of DC Comics at every Bristol Festival I can think of, and all manner of industry folk from DC, Rebellion, Titan and more.

And I had imposter syndrome in the worst way. Wandering around the con in the afternoon, checking in with various comics creators was a reminder that while I might love comics, I might know a lot about them, I might even sell them, for me the “industry” will always be the people who make them and that, much as I might wish it were otherwise, ain’t me.

Not everyone agrees of course. Just before I got in the car to drive the four hours down the A1 to London I exercised my right to vote in the Eisner Awards, which as a retailer I can do because the Eisners regard me as an industry professional. While I am very happy to exercise that right and support people whose work I love – including local(ish) folk like Zoe Thorogood and Tula Lotay, it does kinda feel wrong.

I never had the privillage of meeting Will Eisner, but I have revered his work for as long as I have been reading comics. If you don’t know who he was, he was one of the earliest people to treat comics as a real art form. He was around before most of the big, golden age creators and his work still mostly holds up to modern scrutiny.* Certainly the genius is hard to miss.

By the time I was attending cons he was far too elderly and infirm to travel internationally, but at that first Bristol festival in 1999 he was interviewed over the phone by the great Paul Gravett. Seriously, Gravett was sitting on a stage with an old fashioned landline phone that was plugged into the theatre PA system. Hearing the great Will Eisner’s disembodied voice booming out of those speakers was probably as close as I’ll ever get to hearing the voice of god.


Eisner was behind the establishment of the awards that bear his name, and to win an Eisner is about the highest accolade an anglophone comics creator can achieve. And they seriously give me a vote.

I will never not find this incredible.

It was Rich Johnson who pointed out to me that Eisner himself who insisted that retailers get a vote because it is the retailers who interact with readers every day. We are the ones who know what actually sells and what people really like (people do often buy stuff that they decide they don’t like after all, so sales figures are not a perfect guide to popularity).

Which means that maybe, in spite of my imposter syndrome, I’m part of the industry after all.



*There is some racial stereotyping in some of his Spirit comics that looks pretty terrible to modern eyes. Actually, it's much worse than that sounds. About the only defence you can make of it is that it’s not worse than what was being done by other artists in the forties and fifties, but that's a low bar.


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