“I gathered a small group of friends and family together, and combined our skills to create Melksham Comic Con!” We meet Hayley Spencer the mastermind behind this great UK event
Although our main focus here on Pipedream Comics is the wonderful world of digital comics on the iPad, we are also huge fans of comics in all their forms. So when a comic-related cause comes up that we feel is worthy of our support then we get behind it 100%, digital or otherwise! One such cause is the Melksham Comic Covention, now in it’s second year, and situated just up the road from Pipedream HQ in the sleepy Wiltshire town of Melksham. This local convention is the brain child of KomiX shop owner Hayley Spencer, but what on earth made her decide to set up a comic convention in the south west of the UK? And what will conventioneers have to look forward to on Saturday August 31st if they make the journey into the wilds of Wiltshire?
What inspired you to set up a comic convention in a sleepy Wiltshire town like Melksham?
HS: Melksham is my home town, so when deciding to open up my shop, KomiX, it was a no brainer to open it here, and support my local High Street. After just a few months of being open I had a loyal stream of customers, and more than a few of them had offhandedly mentioned about having a little convention here to help more people access our world. Never one to back down from a potentially good plan, I gathered a small group of friends and family together, and combined our skills to create Melksham Comic Con! Without my customers, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would the convention.
This is your second year, tell us about your highlights from year 1 and your hopes and goals for year 2?
HS: Year One was better than we could have hoped for. We had six guests and about 30 indie/small press and retailers. Not very big, but for Melksham, it was new and we were being careful. We needn’t have worried.
We predicted an attendee count of about 300 people, and we were perfectly happy with that. In actuality, we had over 600 people through the door, our tiny Panel Room was packed out all day, and traders were asking at lunchtime how they went about booking a space for next year!
The majority of our attendees had never been to a convention or expo like this before, our audience was quite young and this was their first real exposure to just how much is out there. Seeing their faces throughout the day, discovering new things, and being inspired made all the stress and worry of planning the day worth it.
This year, we’ve already sold double the amount of advance tickets as last year, and our current predictions are looking at twice the attendees of 2012. Our Planning Team has also doubled in size, and we hope to still deliver the same friendly, fun and all-round awesome atmosphere as last year, despite the leap in growth!
What do you think your con offers that the bigger ones don’t? Why should folk come to Melksham?
HS: Our Planning Team consists of about 20 people – we are all long-term friends, family members and loyal customers of KomiX who have come together out of passion for the industry.
Not everyone has the funds to attend the big London and Birmingham shows, as great as they are. Not only do you have the ticket price, but you have to get there, and find somewhere to stay too. We’re offering an affordable event in the style of the city shows, but with the heart of a local community. It all sounds a bit Hot Fuzz “for the greater good”, but when you get there, you’ll understand!
Which big names have you got coming in, how did you get in touch with them and what will they be up to on the day?
HS: We start each year of planning by writing a rather long list of who we want at our show, based on what’s hot at KomiX, what our feedback says, and what our attendees would want, as well as who we’d like! This year, we would have loved to have all our guests from last year back, and then more on top, but our venue just doesn’t have the capacity, and we wanted to deliver a different show rather than a clone of 2012. So we whittle down our list, and we start contacting them!
This year we have an excellent line up, containing the likes of Kieron Gillen, Simon Spurrier, Lee Townsend, Emma Vieceli, Simon Furman and so many more – a full list is available on melkshamcomiccon.co.uk. All our guests will be available for signing their work, artists will be sketching to order with other work on sale, and a number of them will be taking part in panels throughout the day! It’s a jam packed day, but there should be time for you to chat to everyone and find out more about their work!
Pipedream Comics is all about digital comics on the iPad, as a comic shop owner how do you feel about the growth of digital comics? Are more comics readers a good thing overall (especially for conventions) or is digital a bad thing for bricks and mortar stores?
HS: I’ve spoken to many different people about the impact of digital comics, and as someone who can’t be away from a laptop screen or my phone for more than 20 minutes without breaking into cold sweats, I can hardly say that I’m against the rise of digital. However, I personally don’t see it as a threat to print.
Digital comics are great for people on the go, much in the way that Kindles are great for people who read and travel a lot. But it just doesn’t replace the smell, the feel and the love for a good book. Comics are no different.
I recommend new customers of mine who are looking to get into new books download back issues for free from places like ComiXology – it allows them access to the world without a massive initial outlay – they can read and see which writing styles they enjoy, which artists they like, and which characters they want to know more about. Then they head back to the store, and start picking up print copies. People like to know they have got something for their money – and that is usually something physical.
What are you looking forward to most on the day and what should people make sure not to miss?
HS: You know, we’ve been so swamped with tying up all the loose ends, and making sure that we have all the little details that will pass by everyone else that I haven’t had a chance to even think about what I’M looking forward to!
Last year, a few of the other guys on the team made me go outside about twenty minutes before we opened the doors. I’d been in the venue for hours already, panicking that no-one was going to show up. I was ordered outside, and seeing the queue out the door and lined along the walls, curving down into the Market Place was just incredible. Familiar faces amongst completely new ones, cosplayers, children with their parents, you name it. I can’t describe seeing that.
This year, I recommend that everyone check out Jon Lock and Nich Angell – two indie guys who attended last year, and in the past twelve months have become good friends, and created a crossover book of their own titles! These guys are definitely ones to watch – they’re going places! The book launches at the 11:30am panel, so get in there quick!
There’s something for everyone this year, and I don’t want to spoil the surprises, but if you have children, do not leave them at home!
We’re also holding a massive raffle with over £1000 worth of amazing prizes up for grabs – as we are entirely self-funded, the money raised from this gets ploughed straight back into the convention and help towards future years!
How are the plans for year 3 coming along? And if you could have a dream lineup of guests who you want to invite?
HS: We’ve actually already started planning Year 3, which is scary and pretty cool at the same time! The date has been booked, and we’ll be announcing that at the convention next Saturday. We’ve just started batting ideas around at the moment, so we have a starting point when we knuckle down in October to start organising the 2014 show!
I always have a dream line-up in my head, and actually, a number of people on that list are here this year! If funding and growth allows us for next year I would absolutely love to get a couple of international names on the line-up – I adore Gail Simone and her work, and I am a big fan of Saga right now – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples can currently do no wrong in my eyes. But, like you said, this is a dream! We’re still in the early years, and I’m still trying to prove to locals that Melksham IS a great place for a convention – just because we aren’t massive doesn’t mean we can’t do something amazing with what we have!
The Melksham Comic Convention is at the Melksham Assembly Hall on Saturday August 31st for more information visit melkshamcomiccon.co.uk, Like them on their Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter @Melksham_Con