Friday, 20 February 2009

Hi-Ex Hi-Jinks

Time Bomb Comics has been looking forward to the Hi-Ex 2009 convention since last year's Bristol Expo when we were sat at the opposite table from Richmond Clements and Vicky Stonebridge who somehow organise Hi-Ex along with being part of the Futurequake team and holding down day jobs. Our enthusiastic confirmation that we would attend the next show, followed by an equally enthusiastic payment to secure an exhibitor's table was only mildly tempered by the realisation of where the Inverness home of Hi-Ex actually is.

From Time Bomb Central in Leicester it's A Long Way - Inverness sits at a point in Northern Scotland where you imagine there's not much of anything further up, excepting remote wilderness, snow and extremely doughty Scots - so the prospect of a 10 hour train journey was not something either Suzanne or myself were looking forward to. Luckily it turned out we could fly up there from Birmingham airport for £30 cheaper and 8 and a half hours shorter so that was the far more sensible option. As it was our flight was delayed due to Inverness airport being closed by a sudden and unexpected blizzard but we still arrived in Inverness on a crisp Thursday afternoon safe in the knowledge that had we had laid ourselves at the mercy of the rail network we'd be just passing through Newcastle. If we were lucky.

With Hi-Ex taking place over the weekend, we had some time to have a good look around. Inverness itself is best described as small but bustling, but the main attraction must be the infamous Loch Ness. Friday afternoon was spent on a small motor-boat chugging up the centre of the Loch, and although we didn't see any monsters the atmospheric nature of the Loch made me understand why some people do. With Nessie in mind we also visited what is known as "The Monster Centre" which was sold to us as Scotland's best-rated attraction to do with the Loch Ness legend. I'd love to meet who rated it this way as it really was an appalling waste of time, just a series of dark connected rooms that play poor quality screen projections. That the gift shop is bigger than the "attraction" itself speaks volumes, that the gift shop doesn't contain any books, pamphlets, guides or even comics about the monster legend or indeed anything else speaks even more.

The touristy bit done, we could now look forward to Hi-Ex. We'd been following the Hi-Ex website closely and were aware that some of th high-profile guests had dropped out, so it was great to arrive at the Eden Court venue and find a healthy mix of publishers, small-pressers and dealers nonetheless. Along with ourselves Futurequake were there, as well as Murky Depths, Semiotic Cohesion, Cinebooks, Omnivistascope and Renegade Entertainment - a real mix! As with the BICS event last year, this time the Hi-Ex was split across the two sides of the venue, with all the artists and workshops being at the other end to us. This meant that at times the dealer's room was empty of visitors, but this was invariably followed by a mini-rush between the workshops, signings and panels as people looked for other things to do. (Overall I'm not sure if splitting the event like that worked - as with BICS there was a feeling that some visitors were not fully aware of where everything was - and hopefully this will be something Rich and Vicky will look at for future shows. Certainly the size of the dealers room and the wide corridor outside of it could easily have accommodated the creators who were in the other half of the venue.)
For us it was great to introduce Time Bomb Comics to a whole new audience, and our table did a healthy trade through the weekend - our previews of The Sisterhood generated a fair bit of interest which bodes well for the book's official launch this coming May at Bristol. We'd decided to do a special deal for Hi-Ex, with a copy of each of the three one-shots and a signed Dick Turpin poster for £10 and this seemed to go down very well with maybe three quarters of our sales coming from this deal, so we'll probably be repeating that at Bristol too.

The lulls in footfall meant that there was more time for the exhibitors themselves to have a look around, and a great feeling of cameraderie developed amongst us that spilled into the evenings as the creators and exhibitors all got together in the hotel bar, usually in a great big circle, and just got to know each other. I ended up next to Al Davison, someone who I'd seen at every convention I've been to but never had an opportunity to speak to, and had a thoroughly engaging and fascinating discussion with him about his comics career - including some juicy titbits about the forthcoming Doctor Who monthly comic he's working on with Tony Lee. As well as getting to know Al I spent time catching up with Terry from Murky Depths, and letting Alex know from Renegade Entertainment that their "new talent" artist Rudy Nebres had actually been working in comics a fair few years before most of us. It was also good to meet Gary from Heroes For Sale, Inverness' sole comic shop who bought a big pile of Time Bomb Comics to sell on to his customers and therefore revealed himself to be a thoroughly decent chap!

Of course, no UK convention these days seems complete without Stormtroopers and it was good to see the 501st Garrison out in force again. There's something about these guys that just puts everyone in a good mood, and they really added to the atmosphere of the weekend - especially when frog-marching a young lad out of the building for making disparaging remarks about Darth Vader! There were also big smiles when Judge Rosie arrived - the cutest of 4 year olds in a Mega City Judge outfit, the home-made pudding bowl helmet the icing on the cake!

It was also great to see a real mix of people at the show. Apart from the expected comics fans there were families with children who thought it would be a fun day out (they were right, it was!) and smatterings of folk who really never knew comics existed as they do and seemed to be happily amazed that comics are much more than DC Thomson, 2000AD and Viz. Encouragingly, one phrase we heard a lot from visitors to the show was "this is my first comics convention but it won't be my last!"

However, the real stars of the event were Rich and Vicky who spent the weekend racing around making sure everything was as it should be, making us all feel very welcome and continually thanking us for making the trip North.

The pleasure really was all ours, guys.

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