Following on from a successful convention in February, the city of Sunderland once again opened its arms to comic fans on Saturday 30th May with Wonderlands, the UK Graphic Novel Expo. This time the location was the University’s CitySpace building in the centre of town, the focus predominantly on the longer format for sequential art and writing. Free admission meant the event was open to all and, although it was recommended that some of the workshops would need a pre-booked place, there was never a sense of too many people in one place at one time, maintaining the relaxed and informal atmosphere that was noticeable on arrival.
In the main hall, smaller publishers rubbed shoulders with the bigger players, but without any sense of rivalry. All were there to promote their products, yes, but all had that same sense of enthusiasm; there was never any pressure to buy, just an eagerness to share their stories and experiences. Panels and workshops throughout the day reinforced this, perhaps none more so than Bryan Talbot’s insight into his creative process, from first spark of inspiration through to finished concept; even those who've been reading comics for a quarter of a century took something new from this fascinating sixty minutes.
A warm and inviting atmosphere made Wonderlands feel like an event for everyone. The larger comic conventions can be somewhat daunting to the uninitiated, and those responsible for organising Wonderlands should be applauded for creating something readily accessible to old and new readers alike. This was a celebration of the creativity and sociability of the comic book community, a showcase for the range of subjects on offer; from stories about superpowers or tales tackling serious social issues, there's something for readers of all ages and backgrounds, for those looking to be informed as well as entertained.
Although a relatively small event, Wonderlands delivered everything it promised. Well-organised without being oppressive, it will hopefully pave the way for future events celebrating the graphic novel and showing that publishers, large and small alike, are embracing the comic book as a format to tell diverse and fascinating stories.