Tuesday 4 September 2018

NICE 2018 Postscript

After a year's hiatus, NICE was back and just as great as always. If you're looking for a comic con that is an actual comic con, then go to NICE. It's one of only a very few cons in the UK that is actually based around the artists and writers who work in the industry. It's also a con where creators and fans are treated with kindness, where the fans are treated as people and not things to fleece, and the helpers and staff are, well, helpful. It's a relaxed atmosphere and the signatures are free.

Something else that's different to other UK cons is sketch roulette. Basically, as an incentive to buy tickets early, the first 100 people to purchase a ticket to the con get a free sketch by one of the attending artists. The draw is at the con and is random. I thought the one's I drew were ok, I spent a bit of time on them and they were posted online earlier in the year. Subsequently, other artists started inking theirs...then some started colouring them,. People seemed intent on topping the ones that'd gone previously. Things got a little out of control. Basically the sketches are pretty darned great for free, or if they were done as paid commissions for that matter. I'm just glad I did a watercolour for the art auction (another new addition this year to help with the costs of the con). All the artists were happy to contribute, an indication of their enjoyment and continued support for the show. I went with a Venom piece for the auction as Jeff hates the character so I knew he wouldn't keep it for himself.

Sketch roulette pieces 

As readers of this infrequently published blog are aware, Russ Payne has often driven me down in the past (occasionally I've used the trains...for pity's sake, what an utter disaster) but was a guest at Hull recently where he did a talk about Kirby's New Gods so was unable to attend NICE. My longtime friend Scott was happy to drive me down however. He had no intention of attending the con, knows nothing about comics, and is quite unable to deal with anything outside of his usual realm of existence (he sits in a custom built shell testing software in his back garden all day), but offered to take me, unasked. Jeff was puzzled at his willingness. The answer is simple, it's not becasue I'm great, it's because he has 3 young kids and a wife. He was getting a free weekend! The idea was that we'd drive down, have a curry and he'd head down to Swindon on the Saturday to see his friend. Who it turns out wasn't even going to be there. He was in London. Scott's unpopularity at home was cemented when our wives decided to camp in his back garden with 8 kids. My wife sent me some photos and a video, it wasn't pretty. At least I had the excuse of working whilst away.

The journey down was as expected and it didn't even begin well. The Subway sandwich was looking good until the guy behind the counter making it decided, against all reason, to add sweetcorn to it. Unh. Scott had devised a route that veered off the M6 somewhere around Stoke as there was a thick red line of futility after that point on Britain's main motorway. It'd involve A roads, but doing 50 on an A road was better than crawling down the M6 past 50 miles of empty work vehicles and cones. To be fair, I did see a digger driving slowly at one point, and 3 people. One was chatting on his phone, the other two were talking to each other. Way to go guys. To be fair, maybe someone had stolen all their spades, drills and safety goggles. 2022 is the hoped for date of the completion of the smart motorway. That's going to happen, isn't it...

The M1 was less of a car park so we made a little time and arrived at around 5. Scott's nervous around swearing so it was good to be greeted at the hotel by Jeff. He was pretty restrained and only dropped 7 or 8 grade A expletives in the minute or so we spoke to him. He showed me Alan Davis' sketches for the roulette. Awesome. Scott headed off to the room for a shower as he'd been whining about being moist in the car.

I stuck around the bar for a little while, talking with Mark Farmer, mainly about two spiders that were looking for a fight on a window overlooking the river. Of course radioactivity came up (it's a comic con) and we decided that if bitten, the reality was we'd die, or pass out and fall through the glass into the river below to become Swan Man. His ability would be to break arms and bite faces. Or Trout man. According to Mark, he'd have two legs, that's as far as we got. After a brief, but animated chat with Alan Davis about the greatness of Gil Kane, I headed off to the new Close Encounters store with Jeff's brother Bub and Don McGregor where I perused some of the wonderful oversized artist editions (Byrne X-Men, Kane and Romita Spidey, Barry Winsor Smith Conan). People started messaging me as they were hungry so I headed back over to the hotel.

Some topics of discussion for the evening were the recent Lake Como con and the prices for sketches and original art there, a great account of someone finding a tattered copy of Batman #1 in a charity shop in the Lakes and, as would be expected, comics and art. Returning quietly to the room I was sharing with Scott at about 0230(he'd opted out of the bar, needing sleep. To be fair, he'd driven for 5 hours and was planning to be up at 6) I found him awake. The reason? He had an odd sensation in one of his toes. I spent the next few hours listening to him sigh and what I presumed to be people running baths. Were people up at 4am running baths? If so, why? Or maybe there's a giant water tank on the roof of the hotel? Either way, not helpful.

At the con I was sat next to Mark Farmer (Alan Davis was next to Mark, Alan pencils, Mark inks. £40 and £30 respectively...grade A artists for a ridiculously low price) which was great. Trevor Hairsine was on the other side of me, another great artist. Intimidation complete. Now, I've been asked to draw some way out sketches before, nothing disturbing, just out there...Kraven the Hunter for example. But nothing could've prepared me for the Saturday.

The beginning of my sketchlist on Saturday

It started with a request to draw Kurt Russell from my favourite Kurt Russell movie. Not something you'd expect to be faced with, but ok. Next...Karl Urban wearing Dredd's helmet, holding Eomer's (from LOTR) spear in his hand and wearing Bones' uniform from the recent Trek movies. I said 'sure'...I took my time over the Russell sketch, postponing the Urban one.
After an hour of trying to get to grips with the Urban one I gave up. It wasn't a sketch for a con. What had I been thinking? Thankfully the fan came back and decided he wanted it on a blank and it'd be a commission, something to do at home, with real ref! What a relief. By then it was almost dinner time and I'd only completed one sketch (and a part drawn failure) which is a record for slowness...and I moved onto Avalanche, an X-villain I'd never heard of. Things calmed down after lunchtime samosas thankfully.

I'm not going to attack, I was puzzled by what Mick was doing (taking a photo of me). I'm also still confused over the Urban sketch.

Some commissions I did for the show
A3 Watercolour, the Doom Patrol's Rita Farr as the 50ft woman

A3 watercolour of Deathbird. A complicated outfit!

Lee Merriwether

Julie Newmar Catwoman

Olivia Munn as Psylocke

A4 watercolour, Wolverine

It's always nice to put faces to names for people who I've only ever conversed with on messenger. One such encounter was with a couple of guys who were sat watching Mark Farmer ink their Davis sketch. They'd been toying with the idea of avoiding me as one of the pieces they'd asked for was the result of an inebriated evening and they were concerned I thought they were nutters. I really liked their idea, and so did their friend who it was for!

The result of an inebriated message! 

I went for a meal to a rather nice Indian restaurant that Jeff had told me about, with four fellow Legion of Superheroes fans. It was nice to chat about the Legion without having to explain any of the convolution that goes along with it, the multiple reboots, the retcons etc. Also, I discovered that we all enjoyed, for the most part, the 5YL Legion. And that Crisis on Infinite Earths ruined the Legion. I'll leave it there!

Spent the rest of the night chatting with old friends Mick and Rich and Farmer and Davis. We discussed Alan's short but brilliant run on Detective Comics, a run that went against the grain as it was at a time when DC were moving Batman to the grim and one dimensional character he is today. Neither of them could remember when Mark started inking Alan...it was probably Batman:Full Circle. The Inferior Five were mentioned, Bob Hope comics, Starlight, the Image series by Millar and Parlov (Mark and myself enjoyed it a lot). Alan and I discussed our inability to drive, a St John's market stall in Blackpool that sold comics and a Marvel creator conference when Alan repeatedly shot a well known writer in the testicles with a Spidey disc gun. The conference began with an editor walking in on his hands. Yes, the stories about the industry are more interesting than the comics. Alan always wanted to be a spaceman.

There was a wedding function upstairs and at one point, a woman came over and asked if we were attending the con. She called us heroes after we told her we were artists who worked (or had worked in my case) for Marvel and DC. It was a surreal moment. I caught a relatively early night as I'd been woken at 6 that morning by Scott's inane watch alarm that he left on for half an hour as he had a bath. He had, I think, 4 baths over the weekend.

I woke Scott up, he'd had a massive headache after returning from his day trip so had retired to bed at 930. His shins hurt from all the walking. He'd also had a Thai massage and wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. At about 3, I awoke and spent an hour or so trying to see if I could feel a breeze from the air con. It was boiling in the room. I figured it must have been on as Scott was lying on his back, the covers pulled right up, his beard laying neatly on the top of the duvet. He looked like an Egyptian sarcophagus. What a waste of time. Turns out he'd turned the air con off. Coupled with the ever present sound of running water it wasn't a classic sleep. I vaguely remember him heading off at about 7 to see some friends in Leicester.

Shared a table at breakfast with Mick, Rich and Dave Kendall. If Dave turns up at a con next year with a minder, wearing a top hat and charging £1000 for a quick sketch, then breakfast at NICE was the origin of his descent into egotism.

Sunday was quieter, even more chilled out, but never a ghost town like many cons become on the Sunday. Artists were sketching right until the end of the day. The sketches were more in the field of normality, Hawkman, Starfire, Emma Frost, that sort of thing. I signed a lot of comics over the weekend, which was nice, a full run of Hawkman at one point. I was called over to Doug Braithwaite's table in the afternoon just so he could admonish me for doing a watercolour for the sketch auction.

Note the samosas on Trevor Hairsine's table. I didn't have any on the Sunday.

I seem to be having a moment in this one.

Some pieces I had for sale at the con

A3 watercolour, based on Spider-Man 261

Teen Titans, A3 watercolour. I like to do mainstream, popular pieces that everyone can relate to...


It was a great weekend, everyone enjoyed themselves, I've never been to such a chilled out con. Check out the sketches people got online. Also, the prices were very reasonable. Most artists had a sliding scale, from finished watercolours down to quick head sketches, so there was something for everyone. If you've been undecided about attending, then give it a go! Yes, it's smaller than most cons, but that's only because there aren't 2000 cosplayers there. So many fans I spoke with had been able to grab an experience with Don McGregor, Alan Davis, Ian Churchill or other A list artists
or writers. There's an accessibility to the guests at the con that's rare. There were even stalls selling comics, back issues too, not just the usual few issues of variant guff.

Remarkably, for the first time in an eon, the journey back was without event. It was a straight run! I arrived home at 2130.

Looking forward to next year!

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