Guest article by J.G. Fisher of Smyzer and Blyde
For many UK-based webcomickers, the UK Web & Mini Comix Thing is a regular fixture on their schedule. For the past seven years, the event has been staged on the campus of the Queen Mary University in London.
It’s a small press convention aimed at independent comic creators and web comic artists. Means, the chances that you gonna see talent scouts from 2000AD, Dark Horse or the two Big Ones are slim.
The organisers know this, too, and keep The Things real. Visitors pay £3 (£4 on the day) whilst exhibitors can get a table for about £40 and two exhibitors sharing a table is common.
“I mean , visitors of the Birmingham International Comic Show later in the year will fork out £40. And booking a creator’s table there is going to set you back a whopping £110,” says Gary who’s stopping by for the fourth year in a row.
“Sure, it’s about getting exposure, spreading the word, networking and all that. But here at The Thing it sort of all happens in a familiar atmosphere, people are happy to talk to you and everyone seems to be totally at ease.”
Time to join the crowd. The 2010 venue is the Great Hall on the QMU campus. The exhibition area is roughly the size of one and a half basketball fields including the stage area, comprising a total of 83 tables by about 100 exhibitors.
I’ve done a bit of homework. There are some familiar names around, for example at #39 where Tom Siddell from Gunnerkrigg Court is busy signing copies of his latest print edition whilst answering visitors’ questions . Hard Graft and Red Moon Rising share #64. Unfortunately, Rose Loughran who draws Red Moon couldn’t make it this year.
People have put a lot of thought into how to display their tables. Despite the sometimes limited space, everything is neatly arranged. There’s all the classic merch, such as buttons, leaflets, posters, pieces of original art, mugs and t-shirts. This year, give-away postcards seem to be it. “Goes down well with the visitors, ” Peter Vine from Hard Graft laughs.
And there are the comic books. Most exhibitors have opted to go for colour covers with B/W interior. All are good quality products and most of them are priced between £1-£5 on the day.
“We used a local printing shop in Essex,” says Tony Wicks from C2D4. “Apart from the low production costs per unit, they were able to tweak things according to our demands. ” He laughs. “On the other hand, I must have spent weeks converting my full colour pages into gray-scale files. But then, the full colour option would have quadrupled the unit price. ”
“Lulu,” says Luke from Luke Surl Comics at #37. It’s his first con. “And they delivered a product I am happy with.”
“Full colour glossy”. Amy Letts hands me a copy of Epic Fail. It’s her first con, too. She’s here to launch the first print edition of her web comic.
Table #58 and #59 provide some continental flair.
“I really enjoy being here. Lots of interaction between comic artists and visitors. ” Sarah Burrini, the writer of the bilingual comic Life Ain’t No Pony Farm, is one of two exhibitors who came all the way from Germany.
What about the web comic scene in German-speaking countries?
“So far, there are only a few who publish their stuff on the net,” she says with a grin. “But we are working on it.”
The guy (who represents a German indie comic publisher) at the table next to Sarah’s nods. “In Germany, and if you are into comics, whether as an artist or a reader, it’s still predominantly about print.” I flick through a sample of comics in German. “But a lot of comics are now being translated into English, ” he adds. “And many artists are expanding their web presence, too.”
I had been planning to listen to some of the panel discussions. Unfortunately, they weren’t on this year. Cancelled due to a lack of participants.
So, what were the highlights from a first time exhibitor’s point of view?
“I’m a pretty massive comics nerd, and so meeting a whole load of other massive comics nerds (in front of, and behind the tables) was pretty awesome,” Luke Surl says.
Any tips for first time exhibitors at The Thing 2011?
“Table location is pretty influential,” Luke explains. “I chose a table in the middle thinking that would be a fairly high-traffic area – which is actually wrong. Wall-side tables are the best for a variety of reasons – you can display stuff on the walls, more foot-traffic and you can get electricity.”
“In terms of merch, I think I should have had more variety. I mainly had the one product (the book) with a few small prints. The best tables I saw had a variety of merch type and prices. If I go again, I’d like to share table with someone else – I think it would make things easier in terms of organisation and running the stall, and would also allow more time to appreciate the con as a visitor.”
“It’ll take days to prepare. You almost certainly will lose rather than gain money. It’s as tiring as hell.” He grins. “But it’s also brilliant and addictive, and you’ll be hooked.”
Thanks to everyone at The Thing 2010 for their time and for answering my questions.