Going down to Bristol on Friday for the SPExpo, we didn’t really know what to expect. Would the split with the smaller publishers being in a separate venue make a big difference? Would the reduced numbers of tickets made available have a massive impact on footfall? Would Bristol be turned into a war zone as thousands of disgruntled fanboys rampaged through the city centre fuelled with the fury that they couldn’t just turn up and buy their tickets on the door? The answers, as it turned out, were yes, yes, and no.
The separation of the two events made a huge difference. This was no more evident than on Saturday morning when a steady line of people were queued outside the Expo’s Ramada venue in breathless anticipation whereas the SPExpo’s queue was non-existent. As us little guys were setting up our tables at SPExpo we were exchanging nervous glances, and the same question was on each of our minds: was this going to be a washout? Ninety minutes after official opening brows remained furrowed as the Mercure remained mostly empty and reports were coming in that the Ramada was packed.
Slowly however, the SPExpo kicked into gear, and whilst it may never have quite achieved the full throttle of its sister event, the SPExpo chugged steadily along in a most enjoyable fashion. The venue was wonderful. Time Bomb was in the bigger of the two rooms; a light, airy space that was only spoilt by lack of air-conditioning, that problem was sorted out once some bright spark actually enquired about switching it on. Footfall was steady throughout and those that were there seemed to enjoy themselves. Whilst never anywhere near capacity the SPExpo attendees were definitely the more discerning comics fan with much broader horizons than their spandex-devoted brethren who eye indie comics with suspicion as they scuttle past on their way to their next mainstream fix. So while numbers were low, sales were steady, and the majority of exhibitors – including us - seemed to at least cover their table costs and then some. In fact we had a more successful one day SPExpo this year than we did at the two day Comics Expo last year.
Our launch of The Sisterhood: Morningstar went well, with some good reviews already received, and sales were also brisk for Dick Turpin and the Restless Dead – quite a few sold to people who’d heard of it over the past few months and wanted to see what all the fuss was about for themselves. Several people came up to us to tell us how much they enjoyed our highwaymen versus zombies one-shot they’d picked up at BICS last year, and the smiles and anticipation when we told them about our forthcoming vampire-themed Dick Turpin and the Crimson Plague one-shot were great to see.
Only one aspect of the SPExpo fell flat – the after-show party/disco which couldn’t really compete with the usual Expo Saturday night at the Ramada. Comics fans and creators are much more drinkers than dancers it seems, and after an hour at the SPExpo party we went off to the Ramada ourselves.
The SPExpo was a one-day affair, so Sunday was spent in pure comic fan mode enjoying what the main Comics Expo had to offer. The first thing that struck me was how small and cramped it all was – such a contrast to the spacious SPExpo the day before. Those indie publishers that had been lucky enough to secure a table at the Expo were in a tiny room at the arse end of everything and whilst it was good to finally catch up with Accent UK, Futurequake, Smallzone, Factor Fiction and Moonface Press they did seem in retrospect to get the grubby end of the stick, and that some of them felt they may book into the SPExpo next year instead really said it all. To be honest I had forgotten how tiring conventions could be if you’re an attendee and by mid-afternoon I was just flaked out in the bar feeling a bit knackered and missing a table to sit behind - admittedly part of this could have been due to the previous night’s extended drinking finally catching up with me!
Over the weekend probably the biggest negative was how little awareness there seemed by Comics Expo ticket holders that the SPExpo existed. Signage and directions for the SPExpo at the Ramada was few and far between, and exterior signage at the Mercure was non-existent. So over the weekend we heard tales of fans who had no idea the SPExpo was running, where it was or how to get there. Several people (including some of the pro’s) didn’t realise the SPExpo ran for just one day and so had structured their weekend to check out the Mercure on the quieter Sunday. The announcement that SPExpo 2010 will be a two-day affair will at least address the latter but the organiser’s of both really should get together and get something in place that will better drive traffic between the two venues.
Of course the whole point of both the Small Press and Comics Expo’s are comics themselves, and between the two events there were also some great new titles to be had including but certainly not limited to:
Westerns – the latest Accent UK anthology book which is up to their usual fine standard and to me their best so far.
Tim Skinner – Andy Winter’s latest which surprised me when I heard that it was turned down by Diamond and now that I’ve read it that decision has flummoxed me even more.
Cancertown – Insomnia’s much awaited graphic novel by Cy Dethan. I’ve yet to read this one but it was easily the talk of the weekend as shifting 200 units of a £14.99 graphic novel in a weekend is no mean feat!
Atrox – Giovanni Spinella’s horror anthology published through the Comics Creators Guild with a beautiful cover and some genuinely disturbing tales.
Finally, despite the niggles Mal and the Fallen Angel team really did a cracking job of organising the SPExpo with a much shorter lead time than is usual for these kind of events and Bristol 2010 is a weekend I’m already looking forward to!