SUNDERLAND COMIC CON

PrintE-mail Written by Alister Davison

The Seaburn Centre threw its doors open on the cold Saturday of February 21st for the inaugural Sunderland Comic Con, billed as the ‘north east comic book festival’, a two-day event presented by BHP Press, who have already established a reputation with similar gatherings in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Add to this the patronage of Dr Mel Gibson (insert joke here, she’s already heard it), Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot, and expectations were understandably high.

Initial entry to the hall revealed a smaller space than other conventions, and a somewhat alarming amount of bare floor. No crowds teemed through the gaps between stands (the breakdown of the Metro public transport system didn’t help this), there were only two major comic book vendors, and the heating didn’t seem to be working. Yet, a warm atmosphere filled the room, a buzz of enthusiasm coming from everyone within those four walls, a sense of excitement and anticipation that would remain all weekend.

The hall soon filled up, but never too much, meaning that the stands were easily accessible. Much was on offer, from small-press and independent titles, back issues for serious collectors, as well as a smattering of merchandise. Stalls could be perused at leisure, rather than being dragged along past them by the rest of the crowd, which proved to be a welcome relief. Mega City Judges mingled with Ghostbusters and Imperial Stormtroopers, providing entertainment for young and old alike, and a cosplay competition ensured there was plenty to catch the eye.

Over on the main stage, a full programme of panels and discussions was on offer with a range of comic creators. Each of these was fascinating in its own right, the speakers informative, amusing and inspirational, be they legends in their fields or emerging talents only just breaking through to the mainstream. A Doctor Who panel pulled in the biggest crowd, but it was writers Robbie Morrison and Al Ewing themselves that proved to be more interesting than the Time Lord they write adventures for. Saturday’s talks were so impressive, I actually found myself wondering if it would be worth attending on Sunday; surely I’d already heard everything I wanted to?

Fortunately, I was wrong. Sunday’s panels were equally as fascinating, an insight into the smaller press titles following Saturday’s big names. Issues with temperature and microphone problems had been solved; even the tables had been rearranged to better utilise the floor space. Something else had changed, too; if Saturday was a nervy start, Sunday was more relaxed – cosy, even – and all the creators were readily available for relaxed and friendly chats, happy to sign anything that was put in front of them. There was no hard sell from anyone; in fact, some were extremely generous.

Everyone who committed their time and resources to the Sunderland Comic Con should be commended for building an environment that encouraged conversation and the sharing of ideas, while also providing a sense of community and a family spirit. While some who attended were disappointed that there were only the two major vendors on sight, I’m sure word will get around about how good the event was, encouraging more of them to set up stall next year.

Overall, the weekend felt more about the creators and the stories they tell, rather than the merchandise that spins off from it. All displayed a passion that was contagious, a heart-warming dedication to their craft, suggesting that the UK comic book scene is on the brink of a new renaissance. It’s an exciting time to be a comics fan, and the more events like this that take place, the better.

Credit for all photos goes to Paul Green.

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