“We pride ourselves on being a grassroots comic convention, focussing on independent creators.” Hayley Spencer talks Melksham Comic Con 2016
Celebrating it’s fifth anniversary this summer, is Melksham Comic Con, one of the crown jewels in the UK indie comics scene and the ultimate fun packed comic day out (that actually places the emphasis on comics!). To celebrate this momentous anniversary they are back, bigger and better than ever on August 27th and 28th, across two days and three venues in the sleepy Wiltshire market town. To find out more about this years event we catch up with organiser Hayley Spencer.
Congratulations on making it to the fifth year of the Melksham Comic Convention – how will you be celebrating this momentous birthday? Jelly and ice cream or another amazing convention?
Hayley Spencer: Well, we’re hoping for another amazing weekend! We’ve expanded this year (again!), so we can offer more to everyone! We kick off the Comic-Con weekend here in Melksham on Friday this year, with a free to attend, Superhero Picnic at KomiX, our local comic book shop and main sponsor! Anyone can dress up, bring a picnic and park up at the Prince of Wales Gardens just outside KomiX to enjoy a fun atmosphere for the afternoon!
We’ll also be celebrating in style at our 5th Anniversary Party on the Saturday Night, which for the first time will be open to fans, and not just our guests and staff! For a small entry fee (which all goes back to funding future events), you get to party with us all!
What can we look forward to at this year’s event in terms of guests and activities?
HS: As always, we have super talented guests and incredible independent creators with us – always inspiring, and entertaining in equal measure! We’ve got Panels Galore, extra categories for our Cosplay Competition, which is now spread across two days, our Tabletop Gaming Room has more than doubled in size, Draw-Along Workshops – it’s a proper jam-packed weekend!
We’re bringing back Comic-Con Pictionary which went down a storm last year, that’s one to check out, and it was standing room only last year, it was so busy! We’ve got panels that cover crowdfunding, economics, mature content, relaunches and the Death of Superheroes to name just a few!
It’s been another strong year for small press and indie creators, who will be there from the small press community and how important do you think indie creators are for the continuing success of Melksham?
HS: The term Comic-Con has gotten a lot of press lately within the industry, mostly around it losing its meaning. Many conventions use the term to loosely mean anything to do with popular culture, and it’s becoming much more common these days to find that comic books are a very small percentage of what you’ll find on the convention floor. We pride ourselves on being a grassroots comic convention, focussing first and foremost on independent creators, those bringing fresh new content, the upcoming talent. It’s so exciting to see new things at Melksham Comic-Con, even from those who have been with us from the very start. Our attendees love catching up with them each year and seeing what’s next from them!
We’ve got returning creators Big Punch Studios, Jennie Gyllblad, Aaron Murphy, Shaun Dobie, Vince Hunt, Sam Webster and Jess Bradley among the stands this year, and it’s definitely worth checking out the new ones to our floor too – take your time, wander around, chat with everyone – you’ve got all weekend!
Every year you pride yourself on having a strong issue based panel (previous offerings include women in comics, mental health and LGBT) so what is this year’s big issue that is being tackled?
HS: As we’re an anniversary show this year, we’ve combined a lot of our issues from previous years and we are looking at Diversity as a whole. Bringing different stories, artwork, storylines, and also creators who don’t necessarily fit the “stereotype” (whatever that is!), and what they bring to the industry to make it a more interesting, vibrant and exciting place to work and enjoy! I’m very much looking forward to really making Melksham Comic-Con the place to be if you want inclusion, acceptance and individuality, mixed in with geek celebration and pride!
You’ve had a busy year fundraising for the event, what have been your highlights from the MCC/Brians Social Calendar for the past 12 months?
HS: It’s been a hell of a year for the Brians, both in work and play! We’ve all changed a lot in the past five years, and this past year, as ridiculous as it sounds, we’ve all grown up a lot too! In amongst having babies, getting married, and expecting more babies, we’ve still managed to put on two incredible fundraising events that we’re going to struggle to top for future years!
Our Annual Quiz and Pudding Night in February was our biggest one yet, with nearly 300 people cramming into the hall for a night of trivia and pie! It’s always a ton of fun, and I’d hihgly recommend people come along next year – a bargain night out with friends, and all the dessert you can cram in!
In April, we hosted a very special black-tie benefit evening, to raise funds not only for Melksham Comic-Con, but also the Bath Royal United Hospital’s NICU and Maternity Unit. Very special guest Bruce Wayne joined us to give his support, but all went a bit pear-shaped when he was poisoned during his speech, and the whole place was hijacked by a number of Gotham’s Most Wanted!
Harley Quinn took over the live band, The Joker forced everyone to keep partying while the Penguin and Riddler taunted and teased our guests.
In the end, all ended well, with the Bat-Signal shining and the Caped Crusader swinging in to save the day!
You can see more details and photos of all our fundraising efforts in this year’s programme, which you can pick up at the entry desk for free across the weekend!
There has been a lot of discussion on the UK Comic Scene this year about ‘what makes a comic convention?’ – obviously you guys don’t have worry about the amount of comics content you offer, but how important do you think it is for the convention circuit to make sure comics are well represented at conventions and do you find it more challenging going up against so many new events this year? (many relying on name guests from TV and film) Do you have an advantage having a bit of a legacy and a history?
HS: I wouldn’t say we do have a legacy, or a history actually! We’re still very much a relatively new convention, and a very small one at that, with no real room for expansion past this year. What we do try to always be though, is a comic book convention, for comic book fans. That’s what our team is made up of, it’s what brought us all together, and we wanted to create a convention that we would be excited to attend if we weren’t the ones putting it one!
We don’t see other, new conventions as competition either. We know what we want to do, we know we are delivering year on year, and we know there is always room for improvement. We aren’t interested in ripping people off, we don’t pay our staff, we keep our prices as reasonable as we can. If anything, we work on a small budget each year at the moment, because we are trying to be as accessible as possible to as many people as we can reach! We can’t afford big name movie stars – but that’s not what we’re about. If that’s what people want, then thats brilliant, there are conventions out there that cater for that. But we want to be able to show people how it all starts. With an idea. That a person, a normal person, just like you and I has, and they have the drive, the motivation, the desire and the talent to take it further and create something amazing with it.
And through Melksham Comic-Con, we all get to be there at the very beginning.
It’s been a tricky few months for comic creators in light of the UK Brexit vote, are you feeling positive or apprehensive about the coming 12 months as a comic shop owner and convention organiser?
HS: As a store owner, it’s pretty scary right now, but that’s a whole other interview! As a convention organiser it’s not really affected us. Yet. We stick to and love our British guests, we use local suppliers, designers and printers wherever possible, so everything stays within the UK. At the moment we’re under a cloud of uncertainty ,and we’re just having to wait for that cloud to lift and see what the bigger picture is.
And finally what events or guests are you most excited about, and are there any particular events you think people should check out?
HS: Oh, all of it! We’ve really crammed stuf fin this year, trying to make sure there is something for everyone! Frustratingly, it simply won’t be possible for everyone to check out everything though as we do have to have multiple things running at the same time to make it all work. But I recommend everyone study their programmes first thing, make a note of what you want to check out, sychronise your watches and then immerse yourself in the glory of Melksham Comic-Con!
Don’t forget to thank your Brians as you see them – they’re volunteering their entire weekend (and more!), to make sure you’re having a great time – ask them to take a group picture of you and your friends, or to get in on the photo with you! They’ll love it!
Melksham Comic Convention is being held at the Melksham Assembly Hall, August 27th and 28th. For more information visit www.melkshamcomiccon.com. Advanced tickets are no longer available but you will be able to buy tickets on the door.