Convention season is nearly upon us, and the now traditional opening event of the year for us at Pipedream Comics is the wonderful True Believers Comic Festival in Cheltenham. With a great mix of creators and some of the best small press and indie stars around, it’s everything that a comic convention should be. With the convention scene getting tougher than ever, we catch up with founder Stuart Mulrain to find out what they have planned for the True Believers in 2017!
True Believers was one of our favourite events last year, what can we look forward to this year? Big names, big events?
Stuart Mulrain: That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. We’ve been really lucky again this year to have another great list of UK based comic talent; including regular favourites Mike Collins & Dylan Teague and returning guests Jessica Martin, Rachael Smith, Jack Lawrence and John-Paul Bove. We’re also delighted to have Paul Grist, John Higgins, The Etherington Brothers, Ben Oliver, Cam Smith, Sally-Jane Thompson, Andrew Wildman, Jess Bradley, Vince Hunt and Des Taylor as part of our Guest List for the first time for 2017.
We’re also lucky to again have a convention floor, made up of a huge selection of Small Press Comics, Artists & Exhibitors and Traders – including the largest number of people selling back issue comics we’ve had so far (which is great for comic collectors hunting for those elusive back issues)!
Away from the convention floor we’ll again have a great selection of panels designed to entertain and inform, the return of our Celebrate Tabletop gaming area and our Celebrate Cosplay Hall, which will again have a great selection of cosplayers on hand to share skills and pose for photos and our hugely popular Cosplay Catwalk!
Have you made any major changes from last year? Or developed any new ideas?
SM: To be honest, we’re still perfecting the various elements that have made up the event for the past two years. It’s mostly minor things that most people probably won’t even notice, but it helps with the overall running of the various moving parts of the day and will hopefully make it a more enjoyable experience for people as well (which is the overall goal at the end of the day).
Rightly or wrongly, the temptation is always there to keep pushing the boundaries of what an event can be, but I’ve personally always felt that until we’ve perfected the core elements that make up True Believers as we first envisioned it and make it what it is, our focus shouldn’t stray from there too much.
One of the elements from last year that we’re hoping to add to is the workshop room (or True Believers Class Room as we refer to it), which was used solely as a cosplay workshop room last year. This year we’re hoping to add a couple of short comic related events in there, ideally looking at drawing and writing, but that’s one of those things that if we can’t do it well, we’ll wait until we can.
The other thing we’ve done differently this year is to remove one of the panels from the schedule to allow us to have a better focus on the panels that we do have going on and sticking to the core themes we have for each (discover, educate, inspire and entertain).
This year we’ll have panels in which a selection of Small Press creators talk about their work, artists talk about the techniques they use, cosplayers talk about marketing yourself as a cosplayer and some of our guests will be talking about their work on and love of the Transformers comics. And if all that wasn’t enough, we’ll also be featuring a live Awesome Comics Podcast to round out the panels day too!
There’s been a lot of shuffling around in the convention calendar this year with LSCC and Thought Bubble moving, and others having gap years, how important has it been for you to have your spot at the beginning of the year settled?
SM: I think staking your claim on your spot in the convention calendar – and other events respecting your spot – is hugely important. I can understand why events have to move – especially as the event calendar gets busier and busier – but space is so tight now that it’s nearly impossible to do it without stepping on the toes of an event that has had that spot as their own for several years.
The big problem with LSCC and Thought Bubble moving was that they have forced two other great cons (Melksham and NICE) to have to find a new home on the calendar, either by taking over their weekend completely (as with Melksham) or being so close you force others around you to have to move (as with NICE). It’s easier to move if you’re a big event like those two or a Showmasters or MCM event, because the odds are in your favour that if you have to go head to head with a smaller event, you’ll most likely come out on top, despite the loyal following that a lot of the independent cons have and that’s scary as a bedroom convention organiser.
I completely understand people taking a gap year in their event schedule and will admit that we’ve considered doing it ourselves at the end of our initial 5 year plan. The big thing about running a convention from your bedroom in your spare time is that it’s exhausting and it takes a lot out of you. Not only is it a huge amount of work, but it’s also an emotionally draining experience so the prospect of taking a break is a huge temptation.
The thing that keeps us pushing on (aside from the fear of someone jumping in our spot as soon as we leave it open) is the huge reward of seeing people’s genuine love and enjoyment for the event we’ve created come out, both on the day and online after the event.
And have you managed to avoid being too negatively affected by the shuffling around?
SM: This is our first event since the shuffle so it’s difficult to tell at present what direct affect it will have on us or the calendar as a whole. I think – from speaking to other independent convention organisers as well – that the big thing that starts to have an effect on our events is complacency.
There is an excitement and momentum when you first set up an event (which is also where crowd-funding comes in as a hugely useful tool) that people can really get behind, but as the years go on – through no fault of anyone – the momentum ebbs away and people just take it for granted that it will always be there or that a similar event will be there to takes its place.
2016 seems to have had more conventions than ever before, how do you manage to keep True Believers different and relevant? Does timing and location help?
SM: While there are a huge amount of conventions now, there are still very few that actually have a comics only focus in both their guests and what they fill their convention floor with and of those, we’re fortunate to be in good company.
For us we never wanted to be just a comic-con, we wanted to be a community event that promotes and supports the comic and nerd community. If we’re doing our job correctly, True Believers gives them a place to get together, meet up with friends and make new ones and have the time to interact with the people who create the comics they love and discover some new ones along the way too.
Bizarre as it seems, I think our difference and relevance comes from that almost old fashioned sense of community that we give our events and our approach to things, even though that element doesn’t necessarily register with people on a conscious level.
How important are indie and small press creators to achieving that? And are there any new faces or names you are looking forward to bringing in this year?
SM: Without the indie and small press scene, there wouldn’t be a True Believers and from its earliest conception we’ve been hugely lucky to have had the support of that community. The foundations for that were laid by Jon Lock (of Afterlife Inc/Big Punch Studios fame), who did a huge amount of work in helping us get our brand and vision for the event out into the small press world.
I’ve always felt that as a comic con that focuses on comics, we have a responsibility to support and promote independent and small press comics, not only because they are a huge part of what makes the convention floor so special, but also because they are creating some of the best and most interesting comics out there at the moment.
There are a few small press creators who are making their TBCF debut this year and I’m hoping to get the chance to stop by their tables on the day. I’m also looking forward to catching up with Jon Laight and Chris Sides and their collective (who will also have a panel on the day), Rachael Smith and Vince Hunt, all of whom have created work I have been introduced to through them being a part of TBCF events and I can’t wait to see what comes next from each of them!
And finally, can we still get tickets for the day? If so how much and where?
You can indeed. If you head to www.oktruebelievers.com/tickets you can pick up an Adult ticket for £10, a Child ticket for £5 and a Family ticket (2 adults & 2 children) for £25. If you’re a family of two adults and one child, why not get a family ticket for the same price and bring one of your childs friends along too to share the day with?