What a month we had celebrating all things comics and comic book related over April at the Birmingham Comics Festival 2016. Building on last year’s freshman offerings, this sophomore showing was braver and bolder, with a good mix of events both entertaining and informative, and all inclusive in one way or another. A festival for the people, if you will. Our roving reporter Olly MacNamee gives us his guide to the month’s activities.
From the book signing by Mike Carey (Lucifer, The Unwritten) at Birmingham’s all-new looking Waterstones, promoting his new book, Fellside, at the start of the month, to the Nostalgia and Comics hosted Big Quiz Night upstairs at the Victoria Theatre Pub, and the exclusive screening of the excellent, warts-and-all FutureShock documentary and accompanying Q+A with Ian Edginton, Ian Richardson and Phil Winslade that closed off the month long geek-out at the MAC, this was a huge step up from the handful of satellite events that accompanied last year’s festival. And, as someone who was invited to get involved (again, a huge thanks, Paul), I can reveal now that the talks for next year’s festival are already underway. Talks that should see Birmingham host comic book related events throughout the year to encourage hardcore fans, like ourselves, as well as reach out to long lost fans of yore and newbies too.
Watch this space, is all we can say for now.
The highlights of this world’s finest festival were many. They included those moments that aren’t scripted, if you like, not planned for intentionally. From Mike Carey being pleasantly surprised by the arrival to his book signing of one particular group of young children, who were all actors in the film adaptation of his previous novel, The Girl With All The Gifts, some of which was being filmed on the mean streets of Birmingham last summer, to the lucky winner of the Big Quiz Night, who walked away with an original piece of commissioned art courtesy of the ever-affable Dr Who comics and storyboard artist (and, indeed, all things Dr Who) Mike Collins, to the young brother and sister surprised to find they had won the children’s cosplay award at the comic con, these are the moments that memories are made of. Seeing an unassuming legend like Ian Kennedy (Commando) sitting undisturbed, and unnoticed by over 500 doodlers at Simon Myer’s and Nigel John Hopkins’ superhero themed Drink and Draw was a moment I chuckled at, watching as my friend stood, mouth on floor, speechless when I pointed him out across a very crowded room.
Over the years I have lived here in Brum Town, I have witnessed, and indeed, been warmly welcome, into the growth of a comics’ community. One with deep seated roots that can be traced back to a time when Birmingham was one of the first cities to organise a comic con (at The MAC, and thanks to the likes of Phil Clarke, back in the day), a city that even today can count the likes of comic pros, Mark Farmer (Captain Britain), Ian Edginton (Batman ’66/Avengers), Laura Howell (Regular Show) and Lew Stringer (The Beano) as citizens and a city that, thanks to the likes of Nostalgia and Comics (a shop that must surely hold the world record for staff named, Dave, as well a one of the oldest comic shops in the UK, and Europe), has helped nurture this community. As Britain’s ‘second city’ it can sometimes feel as if we are a leading light, thanks to many super friends I’m met along the way with so many astonishing tales to tell too.
As for it’s legacy, well that we hope, has already started. The Festival’s Comic Con (April 23rd) once again focussed on comics and comic book talents, with the likes of Steve Pugh (Animal Man, The Flintstones), Dan Abnett (Titans, Aquaman, Earth 2) and Leigh Gallagher (2000AD) all in attendance and ready to mingle. Many a youngster were enthralled by these people, and so the seeds have been sown. In many cases, some of these artists were returning for this second year to add legitimacy to the ‘comic’ in ‘comic con’ and the feeling throughout the day was laid back, congenial and accessible. Each fan had all the time in the world to shoot the breeze with their favourite writers and/or artists, and at one point I even found myself talking to David Hine (Second Sight) about the possibility of getting him involved with a worthwhile event organised by one go-getting local 6th Form ‘yoof’, George Bastow, for the Birmingham Literary Festival this autumn. Comics as literature? Surely not? Like I said, watch this space.
With the ongoing campaign to get kids and less literate communities reading (student, Alex Birch’s Wild About Comics) and the establishment of the Reg Bunn Award at the comic con (recognising one individual’s emerging talent and/or personal achievements, with this year’s going to local young artist, Nate Madden), and a barrel full of plans still to discuss, I have no doubt that next year’s festival will be even bigger, bolder and brighter. Knowing the organisers determination, I don’t doubt it.
Roll on April 2017.