Two weeks ago, I launched Unfamiliar Skies at the ever amazing Melksham Comic Con! I can confidently say that Melksham celebrated it’s fifth birthday in style with it’s usual combination of hilarious panels, an impressive focus on comic-related guests and exhibitors, as well as what’s possibly the greatest team of staff members of any convention – the mighty Brians!
As an exhibitor, I didn’t attend many panels. That said, I did participate in this year’s Comics In Just A Minute, hosted by the Paradox Comics Group. The panel certainly lived up to it’s legendary status, seeing high levels of attendance and frequent hilarity. It’s been a staple of the show for a number of years now and I sincerely hope it remains that way! To see how I got on, check out the video below:
I also hosted a panel of my own, Economics of Indie Comics. While I was recording it, my camcorder sadly decided to die halfway through. If you’re curious, it was based on an article I’d previously written on this very site, which you can check out here. It was definitely educational.
While I didn’t attend any other panels I’m relaibly told that the annual Pictionary contest was a good time for all, Sonia Leong ran some high quality manga workshops, and many interesting topics were discussed over the weekend, such as reboots and the constant deaths of superheroes. Despite it’s small size, Melksham continues to utilise the space available in the nearby town hall, as well as the King’s Arms pub (a new addition for this year), to offer a wide variety of engaging attractions throughout the entire weekend.
The Guests and Exhibitors
One of the key elements of Melksham Comic Con is that it’s one of the few shows that focus squarely on comics instead of using the term to excuse hosting a generic geek culture event. That was extremely apparent this year, with almost every table having comics, comics, and more comics! So, who was there this year?
Vince Hunt & Tony Esmond
The creator of The Red Mask From Mars returned with the newly released issue 3. Vince is always a pleasure to talk to, a master of dark humour and a huge suppoter of indie comics. He was joined by Tony Esmond, contributor at Down the Tubes and one of Vince’s co-hosts on the appropriately titled Awesome Comics Podcast.
Next door to Vince was Shaun Dobie, launching issue 3 of his sci-fi series Descending Outlands. It’s a whopping 50 pages, which is insane for a single issue and was a bargian price at only £5! Seriously, this thing is like a mini graphic novel and I’d like to give it a proper review in the near future.
Jack was in town offering his simply jaw dropping on-the-day commissions, some of his published work for licenses like Skylanders and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as his creator owned book, Tinpot Hobo. Jack’s got a very clean, confident and bold style that’s instantly recognisable. He also happens to be one of the nicest blokes you could ever hope to meet.
The master of manga was in attendance and hosting workshops despite being heavily pregnant. As usual, she took everything in her stride and displayed an inimitable level of grace and composure. I picked up Project Autumn at her table, a book I’ve been meaning to get for a while. It’s a veritable who’s-who of indie comics featuring a protagonist that jumps across realities, with each new world being drawn by a different artist.
Big Punch Studios
Jon Lock and Lucy Brown were represnting Big Punch Studios with their usual offerings of Afterlife Inc, 7 String, The Heavenly Chord and Big Punch Magazine. They’re like machines, churning out a huge volume of content at the moment! In fact, Afterlife Inc volume 4 is currently on Kickstarter.
The mind behind Jenitales didn’t disappoint, bringing her unique humour and fashion sense to the show whilst lighting up the room. In addition to being a great artist, Jennie excels at making sure attendees and exhibitors have a great time!
Rachel had their books, I Wish volumes 1 and 2, as well as an assortment of prints and dinosaur art. I Wish is a brilliant book, capturing a wonderful sense of childhood imagination whilst promoting themes of friendship, hard work and determination – all staples of manga – in a crisp, bouncy style.
The art teacher from Norwich debuted his new comic, Desperate Times. It’s already had some very well deserved praise on the Awesome Comics Podcast and began life as a project for Kel’s MA course. It’s a modern retelling of Hansel & Gretel which focuses on the evil stepmother and her well deserved comeuppance. Warning, definitely not one for the kids!
Selling the fantastic Ness and Doc Dino, Tom was an absolute pleasure to talk to. This guy’s contributed to some seriously good books and is no doubt destined to be picked up by a major publisher! Shake his hand now before you have to queue for 3 hours to see him.
John-Paul Bove & Jessica Bradley-Bove
These Comic Con verterans returned with a variety of prints and stickers, as well as their baby boy. Their child is unbelievably well behaved, unfathomably cute and has two fantastic parents who somehow managed to run two tables, participate in panels and look after their son while keeping their cool and being as friendly as always.
Chris Jenkins & Chris Imber
This was the first time meeting the two Chrises (accordingly to spellcheck, that is indeed the correct plural for Chris) and also my first opportunity to pick up their comic, The Last Sheriff. First impressions are extremely good! If you like the art style of Udon’s Street Fighter comics, you’ll be blown away by this! I honestly think these guys should be working with the big boys and I’m amazed they’ve not been snapped up yet!
The boys were in attendance with their impressive range of horror comics. Given the family nature of the show, they wisely decided to push Mandy the Monster Hunter to the front of the table, keeping Slaughterhouse Farm and The Disease a little further back from tiny hands. Now if only the yaoi guy at MCM could be that considerate…
Honestly, I haven’t even talked about everyone here. The list is simply that long and even giving two sentences to all those I’ve listed so far has resulted in a massive section. This proves just how much Melksham Comic Con cares about actual comics and how many guests and exhibitors they manage to get into their venue. Yet, despite this, there was ample room to move around and a relatively spacious layout. Nothing felt cluttered or rammed in, claustrophobes had absolutely nothing to fear! I find it really says everything when, while bigger conventions have diluted their comics content and started to focus more on sci-fi, movies and video games to attract larger crowds and stay afloat, Melksham seems to confidently continue and return year on year with something that has everything for comic fans without pandering to movie and gaming fans.
Melksham continues to be one of the most well organised events in the UK. It’s team of Brians made sure that everyone knew where they were supposed to be, that panels ran on time and that people could quickly and conveniently get in and out of the various venues. It’s still the only convention I’ve been to where, if you’re hosting or participating in a panel, a Brian will man your table for you. It’s also one of very few shows where the staff come by with bottles of water, biscuits and Haribo to make sure none of the artists flatline mid-show. You can also tell that most of the Brians know each other and are friends/family of the organisers from their comraderie and spirit. In short, I always feel extremely well looked after at Melksham and they take it to a level that is unrivalled by any other convention. It’s the little things that really count, and the large number of little things they do right combine into a very big, and very positive, result.
Considerations for Next Year
Even with the best of shows, there’s always room for improvement. I can’t help but think that Melksham has started to outgrow it’s venue and I think this is something the organisers know too, considering they added the local pub’s function room as a third location this year. I’m not overly familiar with Melksham so I don’t know where else it could be held, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see the convention move as part of the brilliant atmosphere comes from the fact that it is a small town con, it’s the little show that can in the best sense.
I also think it needs to shake the guest list up a little to avoid becoming a re-run of previous years. The people they have are amazing, see the huge list above, but I didn’t buy many new things as most of the exhibitors were people whose entire body of work I already owned. Likewise, as a seller, my new book did pretty well and had a successful launch however my older comics barely moved for the simple reason that all of the attendees already bought them in years gone by. I’m aware there’s always a waiting list of people who didn’t get a table and I’m seriously considering going as a civillian rather than having a table next year to allow some fresh blood in, but also so I can walk around and enjoy the convention without having to worry about getting back to my own table, maybe see this legenadry Pictionary panel I’m always hearing good things about.
Melksham is still one of the UK’s best conventions, with a huge line up of actual comics guests, an unrivalled energy and some of the best panels around. While the classic phrase of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly applies, I’d like to see it shake things up a little next year to prevent the winning formula they already have from getting stale.