There was little ceremony about The National Comic mart passing hands, but there is obvious evidence online and in the venue that an event which is borderline institution has changed management, so I made it my business to get into the National Hotel, venue of the re-branded ‘London Comic Mart‘.
The company ‘Showmasters‘ who run some 27 events and conventions a year have taken over the mart, an interesting and unusual move. Considering Showmasters use Earls Court for their London Film and Comic Con, this event is a real gear change.
It’s a Comic Mart, something that has been lost I think, it could be the Bluecoat chambers in Liverpool or back at Westminster. There is a timelessness to it.
As I walk in, I immediately see bargains. Comics just a month or more old, at 75p. Many retailers have seen that clearing through unwanted stock, creates revenue and drives their business forward and I chance upon such a dealer. Recent comics at great value are a thing to behold, and there are flurries of arms at each and every box, a politeness exists though, as both men and women flick through the boxes looking for bargains.
It’s the wide variety in the rooms that stands it apart. A stall selling signed Jerry Robinson Batman prints for a tenner, next to original Will Simpson Aliens comic art and Old Robotech toys figures.
I am taken by the variety of animation cells one dealer has on offer, and the vast amount of old British comic art at another. Under a stall of over 100 boxes, just in case you fancied a browse, there are DVDs just open and there for you to see, no one minds if you get down and look.
There is so much of the unusual. You might find that gem you have always sought, but you will definitely find comics, people with lists ponder their lot as the search fervently, while relaxed regulars, are instantly informed of new oddments if interest. The dealers know their markets, they see what people are buying and point out related or similar titles, just in case, mostly scoring on target, and well at 75p or a £1 a comic, you can’t go wrong.
There is much talk of Justice League 1 already on ebay for over £20, and of course there is demand for a variety of ‘last issues’, both Marvel and DC
I am impressed by Evening News June 8th 1944 for £18, with a Rundsteadt headline, and astonished at the 10 and 20p boxes. And wonder whether all those Dr Who fans would think a Tom Baker Doctor Who Annual from the late seventies would be worth a quid. Graphic novels seem to be in abundance, and one stall has about ten Boxes at £3 or 4 for tenner. I browse and buy a few items.
The dealers and regular characters are also worth the visit, there are collectors here who have been in the trade and collecting for a very long time it is pretty obvious that they are well known, and there is something of the ‘London feel’ about the place. Young guys looking sharp, street dressed youths, a slight mix of back grounds and ethnicities and of course now and again the hard cockney accent comes across. It’s a lot more like London than many of the middle class white boy conventions I am used to.
There is character and definitely people of a different era present. This is a mart, and therefore all the dealers are in a way out there hunting for the best product to turn around and sell, you can bargain, negotiate, and of course find value. Where would you find a box full of San Diego exclusives, from Peanut Badges, to a Holy Terror Promo card to the Captain America Sheild. Here in London, miles from that balmy west coast city, smiling sellers know that for those of us who couldn’t travel, and are yet fans and have desires, want these strange trinkets.
I speak to Dave Finn of Incognito Comics, a massive stand selling premium back issues, Golden and Silver aged gems, some rated some not, his stand is beautiful and his comics on display Museum calibre. ‘Its definitely Busier’, he quickly says, ‘and there’s been actual advertising, I can see it growing, and Jason likes it’. Dave is selling a sketch of Marv by Frank Miller on a huge piece of board about eight inches by fifteen, and its this which makes me smile, as well as the Alex Ross original, where would you find such things.
I yearn for that type of individual element, which I sometimes fail to get in comic shops which are equally the same as the last. Sure, its the staff that makes some shops, but I want the unusual, the hard to find, the unexpected.
As for the owner of Showmasters, Jason Joiner, himself a massive Star Wars collector, (Guinness book of records rated the largest) was once involved with the Westminster Marts, but went on to pursue other events, so he has willingly come back to his roots to something he feels is important.
I briefly speak to him, at a quieter point later in the afternoon, ‘I”m pleased to be here, and I am going to build it. ‘ he says, ‘it’s very old school, which I like and appreciate, but the opportunity arose and I took it’. This is not his usual fare, but he has plans ‘signings and there is another room to grow into’ are part of his vision. ‘it’s a good start today’.
And I tend to agree, it was a good start, and there was definitely a buzz going on, and I noted a few people making good use of the Indian ‘All you can eat’ Buffet next door, and the seats in the lobby were always full of chatting comic readers, if there was a bar nearby, it might just be perfect.
It was free in, which is always a good price and a great way to spend an hour or two on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
The London Comic Mart runs monthly, with the next couple being scheduled for Sunday 6th November and Sunday 4th December at the Royal National Hotel, London WC1H- more details on the official site.