“There’s something very cool about seeing a medieval priory come to life with colourful art and cosplay that makes the event kind of unique and quirky!” Stuart Mulrain tells all about the True Believers Summer Variant 2018

With it’s unique location in a medieval friary, and it’s chilled out atmosphere, the True Believers Summer Variant was one of our highlights of last year’s convention circuit. With only a week to go until the big day this year (August 5th at Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester), we caught up with organiser Stuart Mulrain to find out more about what’s in store and the pros of running an event in a quirky venue!

Last year’s summer variant was one of our favourite events of the year, but what can we look forward to this time? Bigger, better, more guests?

Stuart Mulrain: That’s very kind of you to say thank you, we’re really glad you enjoyed it (your bribe will be in the usual place).  The event was only ever meant to be a one off to fill the gap left by Melksham Comic Con while they took a year off, but quite a few people said they really enjoyed it and wanted to see us do it again.  So because we’re suckers for a bit of flattery (and knowing that Melksham wasn’t coming back) we thought we’d give it another go again this year.

To be honest, we loved the feel of last year, a small and relaxed event with a great crowd of people through the door all interested in what we were offering, so we’re looking to bring more of that this year.  We’ll have a couple more tables this year, with more Small Press creators and artists over the two halls.  We’ll also have a couple of traders selling back issue comics (a must at any comic con) and some collectibles too.  Basically we’re hoping for more of the same, but better.

Who is going to be there and what is happening on the day? Any new launches, panels, interesting guests you can tell us about?

SM: As with our previous events; we’re really lucky to have a great mix of new (to Troobs anyway) faces and returning favourites joining us for the Summer Variant this year.  So, on the returning Small Press front; we’re delighted to be welcoming The Etherington Brothers, Andy Bloor, Beyond The Bunker, Steve Tanner, Sarah Millman, The Inheretic, Nick Prolix, Wiggly Pet Press and yourself back to the event for a second year.

Making their Summer Variant debuts this year are the Awesome Comics Podcast Team (well, Vince and Tony, the actor who plays Dan isn’t available on that day), Little Heroes Comics (who will be launching issue 2 of their charity comic at the event), Russell Mark Olson, Swampline Comics, Deadstar Publishing and Cog Life Comics and making their True Believers debut are Susie Gander, Horde Comics, Sian Jefferson and Raechel Leigh Carter (aka Tinynoggin), which I think gives us a larger small press presence than last year.

We also have a larger selection of artists this year, with 12 tables of artists (from the Gloucestershire area and beyond) selling their work, a couple of tables selling back issue comics, a couple of tables selling toys and collectibles, a cupcake table and small press horror novelists CL Raven, who will be selling their books.

Away from the convention floor, we have two panels on the day, both looking at making comics.  The first one – moderated by Tony Esmond – will look at the craft of writing comics, with Steve Tanner, Sarah Millman and Andy Conduit-Turner and the second one – moderated by Vince Hunt – will look at the craft of drawing comics, with Russell Mark Olson, Susie Gander and (making a rare panel appearance) Lorenzo Etherington.  Both panels will look at how the panellist think and work when writing/drawing and offer practical tips and cheats for creators of all ages and abilities to get them creating their own comic or looking for something new to apply to their own work.

Creating comics and art is important to us, so we’ll also again be running a superhero life drawing session run by I Am Zoot, but this year we’ll have 2 of our cosplayers acting as models for people to draw.  Sarah Millman will also be running her Making A Zine workshop on the day, which was hugely popular when she ran it at the February event and offers a great way for kids and people starting out to start creating quick short comics.  We’ll also be continuing the soft launch of our TBCF Creates banner, with a drop in activity area on the day that will feature the return of out Draw Something Sunday jam sheet (taking our weekly Facebook drawing project into the real world) and some activity and colouring sheets for people to take part in.

It is set in a really unique venue, how important do you think that was to last year’s success and the appeal for people to come to this years?

SM: Picking venues has always been important to us when putting the events together and for the summer event we wanted something that was in contrast to the setting for the main event, that gave the feel of a comic focused summer fayre (for want of a better term).  Blackfriars is a huge character in what that event is and an important one.  Whether it played a part in the appeal of the event for people, I couldn’t say, but I hope it did.  After all, there’s something very cool about seeing a medieval priory come to life with colourful art and cosplay that makes the event kind of unique and quirky.  Plus the grass courtyard offers a great area for people to relax in the sun with their new comics and have a lazy Sunday read, or take part in one of the activities we’ll have going on out there (weather permitting of course).

If you could run a Con in any kind of venue to make it more interesting or unique, where would you choose?

SM: I really annoy my wife because I pretty much look at everywhere we go with the view to how a convention would work if it was held there.  We took the kids to see Santa in a cave once (it was a proper grotto event, not just a random cave in the woods) and as we queued and moved around I was trying to work out the logistics of putting a comic con on in the cave. 

I always liked the idea of a comic con on a cruise ship, but somebody else has kind of done that so the moment has kind of passed for the novelty of that as an event.  I think a unique venue or setting can add a lot to a convention, but if you don’t figure out the logistics of how it would run for everyone involved (on both sides of the table) it can also take a lot away from what you’re trying to do.

We’re in the middle of a heatwave at the moment so do you think that will encourage people out to come and see what’s going on? Or are comics fans a sun-phobic bunch?

SM: I really hope so, but if they’re looking to get away from the heat, it’s lovely and cool inside the venues halls too.  To be honest, conventions are in a stage of flux at the moment, with attendance on the decline across a lot of events (even the big ones) so all of us as organisers are looking for that thing that will encourage people back.  Hopefully the prospect of a convention that will offer the option of doing comic type things outside (see above answer) might just encourage a few people to try something different on a (hopefully) sunny day instead of just melting at home and maybe even encourage a few regular convention goers to try something that offers an outdoors without having to leave the venue completely.

And finally, how are the plans for the main True Believers going? And any plans to do another anthology?

SM: Plans are going well at the moment.  With the change of venue for next year we’ve had to figure out how things will work at the new venue and work with them on making that happen, so it’s a bit like starting from scratch in some ways and has taken a bit longer to get the ball rolling on certain aspects. 

That said, we opened up applications for tables at the event, which were hugely popular (which is quite overwhelming to have so many people want to be a part of the event, despite the changes) and we’re still gradually working through those and opening bookings up to successful applicants and the confirmed bookings have started coming in. 

We also thought we’d try something a little different for the poster for the event and decided it might be a great way to celebrate the community surrounding the event by making it a jam piece.  So I knocked up a rough outline and we put a shout out on the Awesome Comics Talk page on Facebook for artists to draw a character to fill one of the spaces on the poster, which Andy is then going to seamlessly work his magic on to make into the 2019 poster.  If all goes to plan, we’ll be revealing the finished artwork at the summer event.

Another anthology is already in the works and will be featuring comic stories by Emily Owen, Gavin Mitchell, Tony Esmond, Susie Gander, Nick Prolix, Asa Wheatley, Kat Willott, Iestyn Pettigrew, Jon Laight, Steve Tanner & The Inheretic all taking part (at the time of this interview).  We also have fantastic cover art by Andy Clift, which we’ll also be revealing at the Summer event.  The comic will again be sold to raise money for the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, with all profits going to help them (in a small part at least) continue to do the amazing work they do.

And beyond all that, we’ve been looking at our plans for where True Believers will go beyond the 2019 event, what we want to see it become in the future and how we can make that happen for 2020.

The True Believers Comic Festival Summer Variant is on Sunday August 5th at Blackfriars Priory in Gloucester from 11am – 4pm. For more information and to pick up tickets visit www.oktruebelievers.com

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.