With the arrival of February, begins the comic convention season of 2017. Once again, starting us off is Stuart Mulrain and his team’s True Believers Comic Festival (TBCF), back for it’s third year. Can this event build on the fantastic success of its first two outings or is this the year the bubble bursts? Our intrepid reporter James Blundell heads to Cheltenham to find out!
From the moment of arrival, it appeared that TBCF was going to be as popular as last year with an almost full car park at Cheltenham Racecourse and a queue of attendees in the atrium which rivalled last year’s con. However, Stuart and his agents took criticism to heart and not only supplied stewards to ward off confusion with parking but also altered their entry method, causing the queue to dissipate in 5 minutes instead of last years twenty. (There was also a great selection of signage outside!)
Once inside fans found an abundance of creators, guests and more filling the main hall from wall to wall. This year saw a rise in traders and collectors making their presence selling many of their back issues and collections respectively side by side with established comic stores like Proud Lion and Spa Town Comics giving readers chance to get more recent American releases.
Of course, this did not mean a reduction in small press which this con is known for. Far from it, creators attended in their masses, from TBCF veterans like Shawn Dobie and Andy Bloor to newcomers like Kinga Korska, all ready and enthusiastic to talk about and sell their wares. The same could also be said about the guests with old friends like Rachel Smith and Mike Collins having their ranks filled by newbies the Etherington Brothers and Paul Grist along with our own Alex Thomas getting the word out about the Pull List. There was something for everyone here, so much in fact that the balcony was opened to allow for more tables.
But the tables weren’t the only reason to attend as TBCF once again offered a full and varied assortment of panels, from Transformers to discovering something new. This year also saw the welcome inclusion of workshops intended to help those wishing to make comics, both young and old, gain the tools necessary. And then came the cosplay panel and catwalk, which has grown to be a most popular part of TBCF, with a great many costumes in view, from cinematic Thor to female Joker, Catwoman and an awesome Kylo Ren. This aspect of the con also had workshops to help the cosplayers of the world hone their skills.
However, no con is perfect and TBCF, while an amazing experience, did suffer from the problem of having a couple of narrow aisles which did appear to clog up, which became most apparent and difficult for some disabled visitors attempting to get through the crowd. Of course, this was only isolated to a couple of aisles as the majority were incredibly spacious for a con of this size. That said,the size was another small issue with TBCF being a victim of its own success in that with so much to see and do, there just wasn’t enough time in a single day. This is by no means a tragedy, indeed it’s good that they offer so much, but it did leave this fan a little disappointed that despite my attempt to see all the comics on offer, some were invariably missed. That said, there is no doubt the organising team will figure how to fix both and any others in time for next year.
Overall though, True Believers Comic Festival 2017 could be chalked up as one thing; an absolute success! Having taken on board its few issues from last year, the event returned stronger and provided a much more enjoyable experience for everyone on both sides of the tables. The question now is how can Stuart Mulrain and his team of agents top this year? Who can say only a day later, but I’m confident that if any con can build on its own success, it is this one.