This weekend we heady to the sunny south coast and the Portsmouth International Comic Convention. A joint venture put on my Tripwire and the Portsmouth Guildhall this two day event had it all, from comics to cosplay to TV and film and more.
Set it the truly spectacular Portsmouth Guidhall, we arrived at the Portsmouth Comic Con to see a huge queue of fans snaking along the street waiting to get in – and this was just the ‘early birds’ who had paid for early access!, Meanwhile on the grandiose step in front of the Guildhall’s imposing, column-heavy exterior were an army of Stormtroopers, Ewoks and intergalactic bounty hunters posing for photos. With this being our first time at PICC, we were taken aback by the sheer scale of the event we were about to attend. The whole front of the Guildhall was fenced off, with a large stage erected and a temporary marquee (aka the Super Structure) set up as well. We could already tell this was going to be something special and felt more like being at Thought Bubble than your average small town Convention.
As the crowds of early birds flocked to the main hall, we headed for the super structure and caught up with Time Bomb Comics Steve Tanner (who was launching Brawler issue #1) and also local creator Russel Mark Olson (who had the incredible Black Iris available for the first time). They were both set up in the ‘super structure’ with we wrongly assumed was going to be the small press tent, but instead has a great mix of small pressers, including Mad Robot Comics, Tom Ward from Merrick The Sensational Elephantman, Alex from Word for Word Bible Comics, Mark from Hellbound Media and the unstoppable force that is the Etherington Brothers. They were mixed in with some hi-tech gaming, a speeder bike set and also some back issue sellers. On first impressions we though this was a bit of a low turn out for small press, but as we ventured into the main hall we were pleasantly surprised by who else was there!
(On a side note: We’re not sure whether mixing up the small press and big name creators was a good or bad thing. On one hand mixing everyone up meant they were not all squashed into some small press ghetto to be forgotten about, however with the small pressers spread far and wide, there was a slight feeling of being out on a limb if you were in the tent, and it definitely felt quieter.)
As we ventured inside to see what was going on, the place was packed! The Guildhall is a big venue (perhaps best known for music concerts) and the events were spread out on all 4 floors. However, once inside there are a number of twisty corridors that run around the main hall on the ground floor. Once you get higher up things spread out, but among the comic city it was a bit cramped and bustling, especially during peak times of the day.
Shuffling our way around the main comic city hall we were pleased to see small press friends like: Andrew Pawley with his Cthulu Kids book and card game; Mike Garley and Mike Stock who are just finishing off the latest Last Halloween; and also Chris Sides and Jay Martin, who were there with Here and There and the KA Anthology respectively. While they were tucked in next Funko vendors, hand waxers and Game of Thrones flag sellers, the sheer volume of foot fall in this room (which also housed the artists alley) meant they were optimistic about the day.
Checking out the artists alley, we were a little underwhelmed by the number who were there, as there were a lot of empty tables and so we headed out to pick up a program and make sure that the guests we wanted to see weren’t only going to be there on Sunday. But fortunately they all showed up later.
Exploring the rest of the venue we popped in to Comic City 2 and 4 (a running joke through the day meant no-one could locate Comic City 3 and so we hope that no-one vital was in there and that those who were in there did OK!). In there we found Dave West from Accent UK who has his new book Boy Abducted By Aliens Returns and also Soaring Penguin press, whose Needle Man was one of our top picks from 2018 as well as Kevin Gunstone from Planet of Daemons and Simon Russell from Boing Graphics who has just released the delightfully unique The Wedding of Njord and Skadi.
Having explored the other floors, which were packed with cosplay, film and tv actors, and even board games, we returned to the main comic city to catch up with some of the guest creators in Artists Alley who had finally shown up! Top of our list was friend of the site Liam Sharp, who was in the UK visiting family and to make a special appearance here. Liam’s Madefire work was a key part of the early days of the site, and so it was great to catch up with him and also hear more about his Green Lantern work for DC. Just along from him was the fantastic Kieron Gillen, who we interviewed about both Wicked and Divine and Phonogram, and it was great to chat to him about the impending conclusion of WicDiv and also his new series Die, which is an excellent take on role playing games and fantasy.
Along from him was Owen Michael Johnson, whose book Reel Love has been one of our favourites from the first half of the year. And opposite them was Martin Simmonds, who we met for the first time and was able to chat Friendo, Punks Not Dead and the excellent Death Sentence Liberty. Also in Artist Alley were Marvel legends Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas, Image Comics’ Sean Philips, Dark Horse’s Allison Sampson and DC’s Rob Williams. All in all a great range of top quality guests – although it was a bit male (apart from Allison), and this was a bit of a theme throughout the day as we realised there were very few female creators showing their work, which was a shame.
After breaking for lunch (which we enjoyed in the sunshine on the steps of Guildhall), we headed up to the panel room on the third floor to hear chats from Liam Sharp and Kieron Gillen. The panels were held in the council chambers which gave the whole thing a very surreal and grandiose setting, with the guests sat in the ornate mayors chair which made for a really one of a kind panel experience.
With the day drawing to an end (at least for us), we reflected on a fantastic comics experience. With the event carrying on until 6:00, many creators were bemoaning the long day, but with the Tripwire awards happening that evening, there was still plenty going on. Not to mention a whole other day with more panels and guests on the Sunday.
Despite some minor quibbles (signage, non-appearing guests etc.), this was a superb event, brilliantly run and a fantastic showcase for all of comics – not just Big Two creators, cosplay or small press. One of the best conventions we have attended outside London, and in many ways it reminded us of the excitement we had at our first London Super Comic Con as it mixed the friendliness of smaller events, with the scale and reach of an MCM. A fantastic day for every kind of comics fan and an event we hope will continue going from strength to strength in the years to come!