Now this is a comic convention!
Here in Derry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland, I found a terrific convention that takes advantage of its location with a wonderful spirit and atmosphere and a confidence that is pleasing.
The 2D festival is established in the comic convention calendar, now in its seventh year, and the calibre and breadth of comic talent was very impressive. The con takes place across three very different but eminently suitable venues all in close proximity to one another.
Sandino’s Bar is a spacious open first floor space with two adjoining lounges, one with soft furnishings to relax and in the other tables and chairs for heated discussions after the official panels. It offers the perfect mix of social space.
The stage in the bar has a commanding position and I was really impressed that over a hundred people could easily and comfortably watch a panel discussion and yet have a decently priced pint. The perfect venue for evening activities, and even as the venue changed like a carriage into a pumpkin, come midnight, with locals dancing, the lounges were exclusively for the con, and removed sufficiently to allow chat to continue while more lively characters could stay near the music and mix with the dancers.
The panels here were spot-on and I was impressed with the raw honesty of the panellists.
For instance the discussion about social media and its use was fascinating. Jock with his 14,000 followers was nonchalant and relaxed; Will Dennis, an editor with DC, was brutally honest about it and the ways not to use it, he is an insight into the industry that I liked hearing. Avoiding being an idiot or arsehole, the type of content, the variety and currency one can have was all enlightening. Tony Lee was especially appreciative of this public confessional, admitting that for several years on social media that he’d actually been that arsehole, while Declan Shalvey, currently doing the wonderful covers on “Winter Soldier”, could directly link his entrance into the industry via social media and Kate Brown was a clear and common-sense voice. Then when the mike was opened, it was other professionals asking questions, and in a way putting their heart on their sleeve, as relatively new Irish creators asked when is it right to retweet a positive review.
The thoughtfulness of this one panel alone is indicative of all the panels I saw. They were well populated with a variety of eminent speakers, yet there was a raw honest energy and there was a great sense of humour and I always felt that in the honesty there was real respect for readers in the audience. Readers – maybe more like fellow comic travellers.
The comic fair was taking place in the modern and spacious Millennium Forum. The mezzanine and atrium areas presented ample space for dealers, small press publishers and creators with auditoriums to hand for the talks and discussions.
For younger participants interested in the creative side of the business, or just wanting to be artistic, a series of workshops were taking place in the Verbal Arts Centre. I was especially impressed with Irish creators Maeve Clancy and Alan Nolan, who were well able to capture the attention, and even more so, the imagination of the kids. In fact, this festival did a great job of attracting kids, the next generation of comics readers; a good many women were in attendance as well, once again putting a lie to the old adage that comics readers and fans are mostly men. I think it was welcoming to everyone, and the guest list and sellers were indeed diverse.
Meanwhile, The Heroes and Legends show was running concurrently in the Millennium Forum, offering costumes, workshops, talks, and some amazing exhibits, while catering for younger audiences with Force Training and bringing films and comics to life. Their costuming is now at a level where one can no longer fairly say that they are amateurs or hobbyists; it is beyond that now. The Emerald Garrison ran this element, and really it meant that the weekend had something for everyone, with everything from Troopers from V to the Police Box from Gallifrey on display.
I was especially pleased to find that Herb Trimpe and Cam Kennedy were great conversationalists; I got chatting to these two greats of the industry and they were really were very interesting.
Cam had some amazing artwork for sale (see here) and it was terrific to talk to him about it while the art itself was brilliant to see. I have to say I nearly swooned at Fighting Mann and The Reivers artwork, but there was no denying that the colours on the Star Wars work was phenomenal. The chance to look at art up close is a gift, and I was grateful to see it, while prices were really rather reasonable.
Glen Fabry was another favourite working hard, and he was in great spirit, sketching all day, while elusively showing some future project work, and actively touting younger creators’ work. This was the feeling of this convention; there were so many new creators at various levels, but everyone really wants to help, encourage, motivate even, and I was stunned when I saw some digital colouring of Glen’s artwork. It was to an incredible standard.
(Glen Fabry at the 2D festival)
Will Simpson must be the master at the cross-over – he currently has two exhibits on, one in Belfast and one in Derry. His storyboards for “Game of Thrones” are indeed fantastic to see, and the popularity of the requests for art based on the series was evident when he was excited and pleased to be asked to draw a John Constantine, now a rare request for him. I miss Will Simpson, like it was amazing to hear he was at the crew screening of “Byzantium”, or to see the amazing images he is drawing for “Game of Thrones”, but when he was drawing with real ease, the hard grizzled, stubbled chin of Dredd, the thin lips and distinctive line, I just really felt that I missed his comics artwork. His Venus Bluegenes is still an amazing image in my mind.
(Will Simpson with a John Constantine sketch)
Emma Vieceli and Kate Brown have been on my news radar lately for their recent art around the tower of London which I have to go and see. They were involved with Paul Duffield in the illustrations for the find of King Richard III’s remains, by the University of Leicester. I adore Richard III for all the wrong reasons and their passion for history was palpable. Both are very busy, Emma with Vampire Academy and Kate with Young Avengers, and they also have a shared project, working on the next Alex Rider book, Scorpia, in the works. I just found their knowledge and enthusiasm for history fascinating and I do hope they find more time for the cross over between history, illustration and comics.
Smaller publishers were well represented; Maura McHugh was busy signing the third issue of “Jennifer Wilde”, released at the convention (see here for our reviews of issue one and issue two), while Robert Curley tantalisingly had the proof copy for next arc of League of Volunteers on display, due quite shortly (see here for previous volume review). Patrick Lynch was selling a variety of comics, including the anthology Stray Lines (reviewed here) and Anthea West was proudly showing the new cover for the second edition of Earthbound God (reviewed recently here on the blog).
(above: Maura McHUgh with the latest in the excellent Jennifer Wilde series, which has been a big hit with us on the blog; below: another book from the burgeoning Irish comics scene we’ve been enjoying, the next League of Volunteers)
Two titles have taken Ireland by storm in recent weeks. Stephen Mooney’s “Half Past Danger” has sold out in Dublin. Over 400 copies are estimated to have gone. Mooney did two signings in Dublin and had a limited edition print, and his comic looks fantastic. He was busy signing in between sketching, but his comic has captured the imagination for sure. Next to him was Will Sliney, who has had a level of national awareness for his Cu Chulainn that is beyond belief, including an appearance on “The Late Late Show”, Ireland’s premier weekly chat show (see here for a review and short Q&A with Will).
Both comics were being discussed; the warrior’s popularity has meant many people have read it, and being based on legends that we all know, have opinions on. This is a good thing, dialogue and engagement about comics is good and much better than silence.
Another Irish artist in this current wave was the aforementioned Declan Shalvey, his “Winter Soldier” covers as well as his work in Thunderbolts being a draw to his table. The “Winter Soldier” covers are especially well thought out, different but aptly portraying the comic, hooking the reader from the shelf.
There was no shortage of comics or talent, but it was the pleasant atmosphere that made it all so grand; the good vibe about the organisation and event had permeated through to everything. The organisers, David Campbell, Ciaran Flanagan and Garry Leach and quite a large team, did a fantastic job. I must admit, I did not get to see all the creators I had hoped to, it was so busy.
It was great to hear creators so open and yet trying not be braggarts; a number of creators obviously had good projects in the works, exhibitions in the offing and plans on the cusp of fruition, but an unwillingness to jinx them or indeed to seem presumptuous saw humility and caution. But the smiles or twinkles in eyes, or excitement was vividly painted on many faces; here were successful people celebrating comics and their part in them and looking forward.