For the first time in what seemed to be an age, Russell Payne was travelling to Bedford with me. I say travelling with, but in reality, he was driving me there. I'm unable to drive as I've never learned. I've travelled on the train to NICE before, but it would've involved setting off in early July to arrive in time and an extra £300. So, Russ agreed to drive after my former chauffeur Scott bailed on me (to be fair, he was starting a new job in something tedious involving software and screens).
Russ arrived on time to pick me up. I blame that for the things I forgot to take with me. The plan was to arrive at 6pm. I'd not been in a car with Russ for a while and I'd forgotten he doesn't believe in, or understand, anything about stopping distances.
We arrived at 545. Unprecedented. I put the smooth journey down south to the Sat-Nav. A svelte Jeff was waiting at the reception. He insulted Russ and we were given our keys.
We sat in the bar for a while as people bought pieces of art from my folder. Whilst my friends were rifling through my bags, I chatted to the ever-pleasant Mark Buckingham about Miracleman. It took us some time to realise that the key cards for our hotel room only worked because the door was already open when we entered. We managed to lock it upon leaving the room, only to find that it didn't open again. The limp handle and the fact the entire unit listed to the right was a clue that all was not well. The man from reception was convinced it was simply a case of us being too simple to use the cards. Exonerated, he couldn't open the door either! We were assured it'd be functioning when we returned from our meal.
A sketchcover I sold in the bar, Friday night
We ate at Wetherspoons. The food was warm. Two friends, Alex and Michael ordered about 12 meals and 3 litres of cocktails between them. I ate a dry veggie burger. Russ ate something but he inhaled it so fast I've no idea what it was.
Upon returning to the hotel, Jeff asked Russ to compere a panel the following morning; Sketch and Chat with Ben Oliver and Dylan Teague. They'd no idea what that entailed. No one had. After high level comic talk, we headed for an early night around 1am. We'd forgotten that our room was inaccessible. No longer, we were in! The early night became a memory when Russ started talking and throwing questions around. He finally fell silent at 0430 so I could grab a few hours sleep.
Russ had to make money over the weekend. His plan was to share my table and sell Jack Kirby based prints alongside some actual Kirby comics from his collection. He reckoned that if he sold all the comics then he'd make £800.
Breakfast was excellent. Sat with Greg Staples and Dave Kendall, both great guys and artists and talked about the lack of opportunities for kids to create and use their imagination within today's school system.
Set up at the con was simple. I sat on the left as the light was slightly better (we were in the second building where there's only one window about the size of an egg box to light a gym sized area). Russ kindly let me put some comics I didn't want/have space for anymore in the box with his. I did point out that his comics were massively overpriced. For example, I had the first appearance of John Stewart in pretty decent shape, signed by Neal Adams, for a tenner more than Russ had an FF 19 in 'left to die' condition. But Russ was convinced he'd sell out, like he did at LFCC. I enjoy his blind optimism.The panel with Ben Oliver and Dylan was cancelled. No-one will ever know what it was going to be about.
The con opened with an explosion of people. I didn't manage to start sketching until two hours later, I was so busy selling art, meeting fans and signing comics. This year, for the first time for years, the sketches were normal; Hobgoblin, Black Cat, Wolverine. I did do an Obi-Wan on a blank variant that may have been a mistake. I said I wouldn't do any likenesses as it takes an age at cons with the constant breaks for chatting and the guff reference. I did a portrait of Prince once that took hours. I tried to do an Alec Guiness. Russ helpfully pointed out, as soon as I started inking, that the blank was an Anakin and Obi-Wan so I should have been drawing Ewan McGregor. I also did a Quislet sketch, not many of those around!
An action shot of Watson and Payne. I look like a medieval lackwit. Terrible hair.
Russ posing as reference for a Hobgoblin sketch.
I sold a fair few of my comics and even managed to shift one of Russ' while he was compering a panel about concept art with Greg Staples and Adi Granov. Russ had realised that I was right about his comics (he had a Lois Lane with part of the cover missing, I think it'd been sat under a tractor for 40 years, priced at £20. It was worth 50p, at most) and halved all his prices.
One comic I sold was to a young lad. It was a golden age Flash comic that was beat up, but the price reflected it. I did a deal for him and he was dead happy. It's really encouraging to see someone so young who cares about the Golden Age stuff and is so obviously excited about finding an issue like that. I remember being that age and the excitement I felt upon finding something unexpected, old, and affordable! Everyone in the area had their mood boosted by several points.
People brought me gifts! Thanks Nige and Ben for the Legion stickers, badge, hat and the art book! Had a brilliant chat with comic retailer Tony Addison about old school bmx. I had no idea he'd been a rider for Mongoose when he was a kid. Ace.
We dined with Mark Farmer, Julian Clarke and Rob Rundle, all members of the Legion of Superheroes APA, conversing over excellent Indian food. We walked past the restaurant where at least 80 of he con party were eating and saw Jeff serving people. He really looks after his guests.
Later in the afternoon. I think Ben Le Foe, Russ and myself were talking about how insane Paw Patrol is.
Russ, Mark Farmer and I retired to the hotel bar. Pretty much everyone else was still eating at the collective meal Jeff organised, so it was quiet. Except for the wedding party. Mark regaled us with industry tales and we talked about old artists and writers. A really cool moment was when Mark talked about his favourite covers of all time (he'd been asked to pick his top ten for a recent article) and we began to finish each others sentences; 'that Bat Lash one where he's,' and the other person would say, 'behind a grave.' Or, 'the Hulk cover where he's' and the other finishes, 'holding up the logo.' The same thing happened with Joe Jusko when we spoke about covers. Seems there's a collective agreement about what constitutes a great cover!
One story Mark shared, from the early days of his career, was when he appeared on Wacaday (a kids TV show from the mid to late '80s presented by Timmy Mallet) with Jim Shooter. Barry Kitson was supposed to be there too, but didn't turn up. The idea was to show kids how a comic book page was created with Shooter explaining, Barry talking about pencilling and then Mark inking the piece. It went wrong when Mark was asked to ink wearing a massive werewolf hand. The tale involved a wardrobe malfunction involving Patsy Kensit and other general failures. Mark has the show on tape but it's not something anyone will ever see unfortunately.
A4 White Queen pre-con.
My eldest daughter messaged me whilst Mark was talking to us about what it was like inking Gil Kane. She asked if we could watch an episode of Fringe together that night. She hadn't noticed I'd not been at home for the previous two days.
I awoke the next morning with a spotlight shining in my face. Thanks, Russ. It was better than the constant snoring I'd endured though. He was eager to get to the con, wanting to sell everything so he could eat upon returning home. He'd added more prints he'd had concealed in his car boot, a Kirby portrait he'd digitally vomited on and a Galactus that looked as if a young child had drawn it and then accidentally pressed some keys whilst using Photoshop. He didn't sell any.
Russ drew the above. He copied it from an Artgerm drawing. If anyone wants to buy it then I'll make sure you're barred from next years con.
Russ may not have made any money, but he made a lot of people happy. His Kirby talk went down very well and was met with a standing ovation from at least four people. Although he didn't do the promised rap, which was a huge disappointment to all.
Nice is more of an art event, less what passes as a 'comic con' in the UK. There aren't hundreds of cosplayers wandering around, a random Batmobile parked outside, a bloke dressed as a clown for no reason at all. There are no celebrity guests or people who may or may not have been in an episode of a tv series from 1978. There are no artist guests posing as industry professionals who've never worked in the industry. Those events are fine, they're what comic cons are today, kid friendly, for the family. But Nice is different. It's a con where 30 or so artists and writers, pro and self-published, are gathered to sketch, sell art, sign things(for free) and talk with fans. It's a convention for people who collect art and want to meet the creators. It's very laid back and relaxed. Jeff and Bub, and the rest of the team, do a great job putting it on each year. It's not put on to make cash, cramming as many people through the door as possible. Instead, it's a con based around a love of comic books and the creators who work on them.
Neo Joker, pre-con commission, A3
Jakita Wagner, A3 watercolour, pre-con
A4 Banshee watercolour, pre-con
Russ was tired when we set off for home, having carried a heavy box across Bedford. It was my fault as I had one final art deal to do. I have Cam, Bub's eldest to thank for that! The first warning sign that everything was going to jump the shark came when Russ went all the way around a roundabout and then, after another circuit, headed back to the hotel car park. After escaping that loop, it happened again at another roundabout. Then, Russ ignored the Sat-Nav.
'It's ok, when I was coming back from London a couple of weeks ago, it said the motorway was closed and it wasn't. They just want you to spend £8 on the toll. It adds ages to your journey. I can't afford the toll.'
'I'll pay,' I replied, an edge of fear entering my voice. As we drove past the lane for the M6 toll, neither of us expected what lay ahead.
'See,' exclaimed Russ triumphantly, 'our journey time has gone down by 20 minutes.'
It took us over 2 1/2 hours to travel about 5 miles. My nadir came when we heard reggae blaring from a van window. I don't like reggae, I hate it. I know, it's a valid music form...but...no, it's really not for me.Russ wound my window down to ensure I enjoyed it fully.
We arrived home at 0130.
Update from Russ: ''I was going to go to the bank yesterday to pay in all my profits, but I spent them all on a Curly Wurly instead.' You can read a slightly disingenuous version of the weekend from Russ' point of view here.