7 October 2009

Con Report: BICS 2009

Alexi Conman went to the BICS 2009 convention. As of this year, 'BICS' now stands for 'British International Comics Show' instead of 'Birmingham International Comics Show', yet it was still held in Birmingham. Geographical inaccuracy is technically avoided by the fact that Birmingham is in Britain, yes, but surely the information being provided is less specific than it had been previously?

The change in nomenclature is apparently for two reasons (both of which do, in fact, seem fairly reasonable):
a) in case it wants to move or run events elsewhere at some point down the line.
b) with Bristol's con downsizing somewhat earlier this year (and for the forseable future), BICS is now the biggest of the UK comics conventions and wants to tell everyone that.

This was Alexi's third year attending, and, predictably, he enjoyed it again.
The Friday launch party was good fun, and whilst it didn't quite live up to last year's shinding due to not having comics pros playing live music (such as the tremendously-named 'Giant-Sized Band-Thing', who thoroughly rocked at BICS 2008), there was beer and a free buffet, so it would be churlish to complain.

With several long-term comics projects, non-comics projects and general procrastination in the works at the moment, there wasn't anything of a specific business-like nature for Alexi at the con, so he generously agreed to assist the champions of small press podcasting Small Press Big Mouth (if you haven't already, listen to their fine podcasts immediately! IMMEDIATELY!) with promotion. This mainly involved looking dopey, spilling coffee on them and carrying flyers around.

In between this exertion, Alexi saw some good panels. First up was the immediate success of perennial favourite 'Comic Artists Flip Out' - watching Alan Davis, Staz Johnson and Mark Buckingham sketch on flipchart pads is of course excellent entertainment in its own right, but Alexi was also fortunate enough to win a brilliant sketch of Nightcrawler, huzzah (if by some insane fluke of chance Alan Davis ever reads this - thanks Alan).

Also on the theme of live art, just before having to run off to catch a train at the end of the con, Alexi caught half of Garry Leach's live painting demo. His talk about painting techniques had been an unexpected highlight of BICS 2008, and were it not for the necessity of catching the train, Alexi is sure he'd have been even more impressed with seeing the whole process live this year.

On the WTF? front, Steve Marchant introduced what would be an interesting talk about his work in education (and a new web resource called Cartoon Classroom to increase connections between schools and comic artists) with a baffling/hilarious sort of quiz thing which involved:
a) him wearing a dress and a shower cap and pretending to be The Watcher.
b) him using "advanced Skrull technology" (cardboard masks) to transform members of the audience into The Thing, Batman, Judge Dreddd and Moonknight, before doing a sort of parallel universes quiz with each of them.
c) the contestants who did the best in the quiz (Dredd and Moonknight) having a playoff competition to see who could send an inflatable Spider-Man furthest with a single punch (Dredd).
Entirely commendable.

Slightly less exciting, but very interesting were the Geek Syndicate's '70 Years of Marvel Comics' and the Comics Insider panels, both of which talked about the future of the medium, between them covering the standpoints of creators, big publishers, small publishers, distributors and comercial outlets.

There was a lot of talk about digital distribution, particularly with regards to monthly comics (as opposed to graphic novels/trade paperbacks), and it does seem to make sense. Monthly comic sales are falling, but web distribution may be the way to get new readers in, with comics shops taking more of a role as simply specialist bookshops, dealing mainly in book-length collected material.

When Alexi can more effectively organise his thoughts, he may stick a blog post here about how comics designed specifically for devices like the iphone present their own opportunities and challenges in terms of how the medium works (e.g. how the gutter is no longer part of the visual syntax if each 'page' is basically just a panel). However Alexi finds talks like those just mentioned even more fascinating as they investigate not just one issue, but the many interlinked issues that affect 'comics' as a whole: the content and how it uses the artistic medium and how that is affected by the methods of delivery to the readers and how this is all organised functionally and financially by the industry. Difficult to fully analyse it all objectively but very interesting stuff.

Alexi generally dislikes technology, so was pleased to pick up a substantial bunch of quality UK indie and small press comics made of actual paper when meandering around the many stalls at the con. He looks forward to reading all of them. He also got drunk with some very nice folks (shoutouts to anyone actually reading this) and possibly came third in a Chinese buffet eating competition.

For anyone looking for a more inventive con report, you will almost certainly not do better than checking out the one by Cy Dethan (scribe of 'Cancertown'), done as a Fighting Fantasy / Choose Your Own Adventure thing. Brilliant.