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The Wednesday Waffle issue #29: One year on, still here, still locked down - seeing the future...

It's New Comic Book Day! Welcome to the Wednesday Waffle! As ever, you can


Today is a landmark day for us here at Desties. Time is relative, and the way we measure it is ultimately subjective. On that basis I hereby declare that today is March 382nd 2020.

Sometime around lunchtime exactly one year ago today - the Seventeenth of March 2020 one of the managers at The Everyman Cinema came downstairs to let me know that as a result of the emerging pandemic they'd been instructed to close that afternoon. (My recollection is that it was 2pm, although I wrote 3pm in the blog post, and it seems like a lifetime ago now so I have no idea which is right...)

This is what we wrote at the time:

"The Everyman Cinema Harrogate is closed. Which means we are too - at least, the shop is not open to the public. The current plan is that we reopen on Wednesday 1st April (no, the date is in no way lost on us) - but I think it's reasonable to treat this as an aspiration rather than a fixed intention. We have no idea how this pandemic will pan out and so all plans must, for now, be considered 'fluid'."

With the benefit of hindsight the very idea that we might only have been closed for two weeks is hilarious, and our suggestion that plans "be considered 'fluid'" seems positively prophetic.

Here's the thing though. At the time, the prospect of not being able to open the shop seemed like a disaster - I genuinely wasn't sure that we would survive a two week shutdown. Turns out Desties is more resilient than I thought - in large part thanks to you lot.

But now we can see a clear end to all of this. We won't be able to open with the other "non-essential" retailers in April, but we will be back under the stairs when the Everyman is able to re-open in May, which means it's a good time to stop looking backwards and cast our eyes forward to a post lockdown, if not a completely post Covid future.

So. As we emerge blinking into the light, what does the future hold?

Well, there's obviously still a bit of uncertainty about events, and I for one will still be working on the assumption that plans will remain fluid for some time yet, but at least we can have plans again. So, here's the timetable as it currently stands:

We're not entirely decided on our hours, so we're not going to announce them until nearer the time. But the cinema will be permitted to open on 17th May, and assuming they do we'll be right there with them. That's the bit we can more or less control. Other comic related events are rather beyond our control, but there are some cool things planned.

Like almost everything else on the schedule, Free Comic Book Day sort of didn't happen last year. Having been traditionally held on the first Saturday in May it fell in the middle of the first lockdown on both sides of the Atlantic.

The decision was made to spread the release of the FCBD titles across the summer, but it wasn't the same as having a special day dedicated to spreading the good word about sequential art.

There clearly wasn't too much confidence at FCBD headquarters about May, so like so many other events this year, it's been put back a bit and we'll be celebrating the big day on Saturday 14th August when - fingers crossed - the Covid situation will be pretty much under control.

As always the titles on offer have been curated from publisher submissions more than twenty comic shop retailers who make of the FCBD Selection Committee. The Gold Sponsor titles come from the industry’s top publishers, including Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Archie Comics, BOOM! Studios, Macmillan/First Second Books, Penguin Workshop, AfterShock Comics, Titan Comics, TOKYOPOP, and VIZ Media. Check out the "GOLD title" announcement (the titles you'll be able to get at every participating store) in the video below.

The full line-up will be announced later today but will most certainly have something for everyone: from superheroes, to movies and video games, to beloved franchises, and all-ages favorites.

A spokesperson for FCBD enthused “This year’s lineup of titles has something for every kind of comic fan. We can’t wait to once again share the FCBD experience with fans, especially on our landmark 20th anniversary!"

I'll probably have a bit of a moan about FCBD at some point - as a retailer it's not an unproblematic day. But it is a great day for thanking existing customers with a bit of a freebie, giving non-comics readers a risk free way to see what's available, and giving everyone a risk free way to try something new.

And of course, this year it's more than that. It's another milestone in our return to our lives. Which is incalculably good.

But from our point of view the really big thing is the return of Thought Bubble to the Harrogate Convention Centre. As we type the centre is still a Nightingale Hospital, but thankfully it was never needed for Covid purposes and its closure has been announced - which means come November the venue should be available. I'm choosing to believe that by the end of the year large gatherings of people from around the world will be possible - and I'm really looking forward to it.

Regular readers will know how highly I value Thought Bubble. It's more than just a con, it's pilgrimage of sorts. It's a place where I see friends I've known for decades, but who I only see once a year, when we come together to geek out over comics. It's an opportunity to meet creators and discover new things and however great the online version was in 2020, it was no substitute for the visceral experience of being there and being able to pick up a physical comic and chat with people face to face.

The guest list for 2021 is looking pretty great already - the inimitable Gail Simone (who you should absolutely follow in Twitter, by the way), Ram V - whose spectacularly creepy Swamp Thing was a pick of the week just yesterday, our favourite Batgirl artist Babs Tarr and so many other talented creatives. The absolute rock stars of our industry, all coming here, to Harrogate.

It's beyond exciting!

We have our own plans for the Thought Bubble weekend, and we'll be encouraging other businesses and groups to get involved. Harrogate is a small enough place that we could get the whole town involved - the 2019 Festival succeeded beyond our wildest imaginings. After 2020's enforced pause, it's time to come out all guns blazing for 2021. We're very much up for working with anyone who wants to bring the joy of comics to a wider audience - if you've got ideas just hit us up and we'll help where we can.

So yeah.

Today is March 382nd 2020. But it's also March 17th 2021. Time to move forward - it's a brand new day.