Thanks to the gang at the con for once again providing an organised and friendly event. It's still one of the only comic cons in the UK where the emphasis is on comics and the artists and writers behind them and it's dedication to that in the face of an ever expanding calendar of non-comic cons should be celebrated.
I actually toyed with not attending in the days leading up to the con as I've been suffering with conjunctivitis for a few weeks (I'm pretty convinced that I picked up some sort of infection whilst playing in a park fountain with my kids in Palazzolo, Italy). I'd acquired some new eye drops however and decided to see how it went. When Russ picked me up at 0845 on the first day of the con, my left eye was stuck together and was, to say the least, itching a great deal.
I admit that I may have mentioned my eye a few times on the journey down to Russ. I like to think it took his mind off his own health issues having had a mild heart attack 3 weeks before the con and subsequently having an angioplasty and stent procedure, being weak from eating steamed veg and not beng able to enjoy coffee and cheese any longer.
It'd been a long time since we'd shared a journey together as LSCC is the first convention that I've been to this year (although Russ has attended many cons, some of which may have had some comic pros there). He enjoyed the journey immensely as he didn't have to (couldn't) drive.
Usually we'd have spent the entirety of the time talking about the book we'd spent 3 years collaborating on. However, a month or so ago I gave up and quit. I'd finished my fully edited (except for punctuation and grammar but that's a proofreaders job) part six months previously. I wasn't able to talk to Russ about his as yet unfinished part as he refused to see what he'd written as anything other than a work genius and the best thing he'd ever done. It turns out he wasn't joking, he really feels that way. I was less inclined to agree. So I stepped away, giving Russ full authority to do whatever he wanted with the entire project including all the cover art, formatting and content. I felt a great sense of relief that it was over and moved onto other written projects of my own. It turns out that Russ was right three years ago, it was a terrible idea to collaborate with one another.
Also, despite the best efforts of British Rail (Preston, the new epicentre for failed and prolonged journeys featuring general ineptitude and chaos), the journey was brief. The tube, a wonderful feat of engineering, led us to our destination without issue, and we arrived only a few minutes after the con started despite taking it easy for the sake of Russ. There weren't the usual long queues of fans waiting to enter outside the venue, but then again, we were late and it was a Friday lunchtime.
Pre con commission of Carrie Fisher.
Russ was sharing my table so he could sell his new Kirby print (a reworking of the Sgt. Pepper album cover with some ill advised character placement.) and we were sat on the upper balcony in the artist's alley room, separate from the main hall where all the retailers and major signing areas were based. It was nice and cool up there as many people who made it up to us mentioned.
I settled down and arranged all my equipment to find that I'd left my brush pen at home. An error as I use it constantly at cons. Still, it was better than a folder of art like in previous years.
I was still struggling to see properly out of my left eye, my good one, and felt the need to apologise for the appearence of my bloodshot and scabby eyes. Still, rather heroically, I started sketching almost immediately. There was a good footfall throughout the artists area and sales were brisk although the con was pretty quiet overall, which I put down to it being a working day. Russ mentioned his recent heart attack to anyone who came near the table. Thankfully, a consultant we both know introduced the correct terminology and established that the prefix 'mild' should be used when speaking about the heart attack. Thanks, Malcolm.
One I took to sell, Hulk from Thor Ragnarok
The time flew by and we left, cases in tow, to find food having skipped lunch. Using technology that was, until recently, unavailable to either of us, (I entered the 21st century after someone gave me an I-phone, frustrated by my unavailability) we located a Wetherspoons, handily placed across the road from the Angel tube station. I like Wetherspoons, they all have the same menu and prices no matter where you are. We missed out on the action after the con ( Jeff Chahal had a great time. He also had blue tinted hair.) as we were staying out on the Isle of Dogs at Russ' daughter Chloe's student digs. We each had our own room as most of the residents were away for the bank holiday weekend. Payment was a sketch of Captain Picard. A very fair price for three nights accomodation in London! It'd be great if I could trade art for other things too. Two Picard's and a Shatner for a weekly shop for example.
On the train ride out to Chloe's, Russ pointed out the tube station where a scene from Rogue One was filmed. When we arrived on Chloe's street Russ couldn't remember the house number. He said he'd recognise it from the back (it's part of a complex) because it was the farthest on the left. I've no idea why he didn't recognise it as the farthest on the right from the main street (it was). He thought it may have been number 9. It was 6.
A3 Spidey watercolour I did to sell at the con
I slept for about 7 minutes because I was panicking about my eyes On the Saturday, upon arriving a few minutes before the con started we went for a look round. Jeff was lying under a table. His hair was even brighter blue for some reason. I considered accepting his offer of sharing a meal out but it was important that Russ stayed calm. Jeff likes to wind Russ up about his daughter Chloe. It may have proved terminal on this occasion. I managed to find a copy of an issue of Superboy I'd wanted since the mid 80's. Russ was blown away by how good the story was. It's issue 132 if you're interested. I also picked up a low grade copy of #147 with the awesome Swan/Adams art on the cover.I found the Saturday was pretty quiet. It was also a different crowd from the Friday, people out for the day, kids, some cosplayers (not at all the same number as usual though). I got to know Chris Weston a little (great guy as well as a great artist drawing very underpriced yet very impressive and versatile sketches!). Turns out he's been working on The Last Jedi in the character design department.
Harley sketch cover that was for sale
Had a long chat with John Bamber about what the last strip I drew for his Mythtakes series was. He insisted it was the 9th Legion. I had no recollection of that at all...it took me until Monday morning to realise I had drawn it and it was one of the best strips I did for the book! You were right after all John.
Saturday evening we ate at Chipolte. I'd been a fan since I had a burrito from there whilst at the Baltimore con a couple of years ago. After returning to our 'hotel' we tried playing the sketch game (for those unfamiliar the idea is to pick an artist, alive or dead, and then to name the character you'd most like them to draw. There are right and wrong answers, for example: Romita Sr; Gwen Stacy is the corret answer, Green Goblin is wrong). However, Chloe's absolute lack of comic knowledge ended that pretty quickly so we moved onto 'guess the song and artist' using Spotify. Turns out that Russ doesn't know anything about music from the 80's or in fact any era (except irritating guff and one trick 'funny' artists.)
I look despondant in this picture from the con but I wasn't. I was probably just tired. Actually, it's probably just Russ' lack of skill at taking photos.
The con was different again on Sunday, quiet but busier than Saturday with a more art and comic fan based vibe from the crowd. The convention, overall, felt like 3 different cons in one, which I've never experienced before. It was unfortunate that there were the train station closures to contend with and also the Notting Hill festival compounding the travel situation. The con was great though as it was well organised and friendly and there was a lot of merchandise choice there for fans as well as many artists and writers in attendance. I will say that the Sunday did feel a little rushed as part of it closed at 2, part at 3 and the panel part of the con after that.
The plan was to visit the National Portrait Gallery afterwards. The Angel tube station was closed because of some kind of fire alarm warning. It was an 800 metre walk to the next one and Russ wasn't sure he could make it at first but harnessing an inner strength and fortitude previously unseen, he did. We spent about half an hour in the gallery and there was a nice Holbein drawing of Henry the 8th. Russ fooled me into looking at some modern stuff but I scarpered before I lost it.
Fifteen minutes before closing time we entered the National Gallery next door. It'd been over 20 years since I'd been there and I had no idea where the good stuff was anymore. I was hoping to view some Holbein art (last time I was at the gallery I had no idea or appreciation of how good he was. Also, I hadn't spent 3 years writing a book set during Tudor times then either). As we were being ushered out at closing time I spotted one in an adjacent room and the guard was kind enough to let me go! Fantastic.
A really great painting by Hans Holbein the younger. 1533. Note the weird shape at the bottom of the pic.
Here's the weird shape when seen from an acute angle. Pretty nifty for a painting that's almost 500 years old!
Me, in the Grapes. Awful photo by Russ and his weak camera. You can possibly make out Gandalf's staff behind the counter.
The view from the balcony of The Grapes. If you imagine loads of wherries on the river and less lights it could be 500 years ago...
Russ' car upon returning the Poulton-Le-Fylde. A mixture of fruit and bird excrement.
In conclusion, the new style con had many fine points and was a success; well organised, friendly atmosphere, great venue, relaxed, the fans loved the space, good selection of merchandise that was 90% comic based, good selection of guests, both writers and artists. Easy access by Tube (well, discounting all the closed stations), plenty of places to eat nearby. I think the timing of the con could've been better and I think that the date (and unfortunate travel situations) affected attendance. I do prefer the February/March date myself!
My eyes still aren't right...Hope to be back next year.
Here's a late addition, Russ Payne's version of events...here