“It’s a community event that is for and about comic book fans” Stuart Mulrain talks True Believers Comic Festival 2016
This February sees the return of one of the UK’s newest and best comic conventions as the True Believers Comic Festival 2016 is set to take place at Cheltenham Race Course on the 6th of February. After the success of last year’s event we catch up with organiser Stuart Mulrain to see what will be different about it this year and what we can look forward to at the True Believers Comic Festival 2016.
Congratulations on the success of last year’s show, tell us what were the highlights of the show for you and what have you learnt from last year that you are looking to improve for this year’s event?
SM: For me, the highlight was seeing such a great group of people come together to share and enjoy the event. The irony of organising your own comic con is that you create an event you’d love to go to and then end up missing most of it! The best thing about that though is that you get to live it through the people who were there, by seeing their photos, reading their comments and getting to speak to some of them after.
We’ve made some minor tweaks to the event and fine tuned some things that didn’t run as smoothly as we would’ve liked on the day, but on the whole we were really lucky and True Believers came together as we’d hoped it would.
What have you been up to over the last 12 months? Fundraising for this year’s show? Or taking a well earned rest?
SM: I had planned to take a month off after True Believers 2015, but there was about a year and a half of planning that went into putting that event together so I thought I’d better get stuck into planning the difficult second album! We knew we wouldn’t be going down the crowd-funding route this time, which brings its own challenges, but ultimately we knew that – as much as True Believers 2015 put the event out there – this year would be the real test to see if the event is actually something people want to go to and if it has a future.
What can we look forward to this year in terms of guests and events?
SM: Like last year, we have a great guest list which sees Mike Collins, Lee Townsend, Dylan Teague, Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield returning for a second year. Also returning is Rachael Smith, who had a table at the event last year and is returning this year as our guest. Joining them this year is Jackademus, Sonia Leong, Paul Cornell, John-Paul Bove, Lee Sullivan, Tim Quinn and Rob Williams.
We’ve also got Dirk Maggs along as our special guest for this year. Dirk wrote, produced and directed the BBC Radio adaptations of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Judge Dredd in the late 80’s and Early 90’s. When I first got into comics, I discovered Dirk’s work through my local comic shop and became obsessed with them. His cast on the Superman projects in particular are the voices I hear in my head when I read the comics.
As well as all of the guests, there is a fantastic group of artists, creators and traders on the main convention floor, selling their own created work, comics, long boxes filled with back issues, toys, pop vinyl, clothing and more. There’s a great selection of work, talent and creativity on display in one place, which is an amazing thing to be in the middle of.
And how about panels and other events like Cosplay?
SM: Away from the convention floor, we will have our panel room in action again, with panels running throughout the day looking at the Doctor Who comics and the making of the BBC Radio Amazing Spider-Man series from the mid 90’s. There’s the return of our Discover Something New Panel (in which small press and independent creators get to talk about their work) and our Comics As Education Panel, which this year looks at how comics inspire creativity. Rounding out the panel day is the panel game, Comics In Just A Minute (a comic book version of the Just A Minute radio series) in which 5 contestants talk about a comic related topic for a minute without hesitation, deviation or repetition.
The first panel of the day is our Celebrate Cosplay panel, which this year looks at how people choose their cosplay characters and costumes. This then leads into our Celebrate Cosplay Hall, in which our cosplay guests are on hand to pose for photos and talk cosplay with people. It’s also home to our Cosplay Catwalk, on which anyone who has come to the event in costume can show off their work to an audience. It’s just for fun (no prizes) and was a huge success last year with both the cosplayers on the catwalk and the crowd watching. It’s a great way to celebrate all cosplay, with people of all ages and skills getting up and showing what they can do.
What improvements/developments have you made to the show compared to last year?
SM: This year we’re also trialling a couple of new elements to the event, with a small room set up for Cosplay workshops and an area of the balcony set up for a Tabletop Gaming Area, in which Proud Lion (Cheltenham’s comic shop) will be demonstrating a selection of games throughout the day for people who are new to tabletop gaming to see what it’s all about and for seasoned gamers to try out some new games. It’s something that was born out of walking around the event last year and seeing groups of people getting together to play games on the day.
There are a lot of smaller conventions springing up around the country (Leamington, Melksham etc.), so what do you think True Believers offers fans that the larger ones like MCM or LSCC can’t offer?
SM: When we first started talking about True Believers, the thing that we were keen to get across is that it was a community event that was for and about comic books and comic book fans. And where people could get together and celebrate the thing they love with people who love it too. We wanted it to be about the people, both behind the tables (and the work they do) and who bought their tickets. We do that by putting on a relaxed event that gives people a great selection of creators, artists and traders, that gives them the time to enjoy the day and speak with people about what they do and the things they love.
It was a huge thrill to hear that some people who met up at last year’s event then got together to work on projects together. Or to get emails from people who had bought a ticket for last year’s event who were so inspired by speaking with people on the day, and are taking the plunge and having a table for themselves to put their work out there at this year’s event.
Is being based in Cheltenham a help or a hindrance do you think? Is Gloucestershire a particular hotbed for comic creators?
SM: I’m from and live in Gloucester, which is next door to Cheltenham, so the plan was always to put on an event in my home county. One of the reasons it took so long to set up the event was that we were looking for the right place and venue for what we wanted to do. The beauty of Cheltenham Racecourse is that it’s all self contained with free parking or a short bus trip from the town centre and is the perfect venue for this kind of event as we have the room to grow into it more in the future if we need to.
The other thing that we discovered is that it has a great and passionate nerd/geek community that has a great comic shop at the heart of it. We were lucky to get a huge amount of help and advice from Ben at Proud Lion and Jon Lock of Big Punch Studios in the early stages of setting it up and it was through both those guys that we discovered that there was a pretty large collection of comic creators and artists in and around the county. The best advice I would give to anyone looking to set up a convention is scope out the local comic shop (or place where the community gets together) and talk to people.
What are your plans for future events (more days, more guests more events?) and do you have a dream list of who you would like to have attending future shows?
SM: We set the event up with a 5 year plan for where we want True Believers to be at the end of that period so there is always an eye on the next event and beyond, but at the same time I’ve learned that it’s best to treat each event as if it’s your last and that way you can give it all of the attention it deserves and needs. It would be nice to see the event grow into a full weekend event with more guests and more activities, but we’re still in the early stages of learning to walk, so that probably won’t happen for a few years yet. That said, if the demand for it is there, who knows.
I do have a dream list of guests and I’m lucky in that I’m gradually working through it. There are other names on the list that I’d like to have be a part of True Believers in the future, but I’m keeping that to myself in case I jinx it. One of the great things about creating a guest list for this event is that I get to discover new artists and creators that I wasn’t familiar with before their names were put forward, or I’ve discovered more of the work of people I did know.
The True Believers 2016 Comic Festival takes place February 2nd at the Cheltenham Race Course. Visit their website to buy your ticket!