Tales from the Ramada Bar: behind the scenes at Bristol Comic Expo

There will, believe it or not, be some visitors to this blog who have never attended a Comic Expo.

In fact, there will be people for whom the concept of a Comic Expo shrieks of sweat-stained hobbits in Iron Maiden t-shirts and unfortunately-tight jeans talking earnestly about whether this reboot of Reboot Man is better or worse than the last reboot whilst trying to ignore the perky girls in hot pants roller skating by….

Well. You’re a little bit right. These things do happen. But in general, going to a Comic Expo is more like going to the pub with your mates. With shopping.

Your day starts with a wander round an artisan market (see, you’re interested now) of local, independent artists. Think the Affordable Art Fair but really affordable. You might be put off by the comics featuring spandex superheroes, gleaming robot warriors and pneumatically bosomed vixens but look further and you’ll find doom, gloom, misery, comedy, vampires, bunny rabbits, angels, demons, commuters, ballroom dancers, soldiers… OK, pretty much anything that you can see in life, or on TV, or in a movie, you can find in a comic.

The people selling the comics are gently terrified that you will reject them, mock them or tell them that their work is derivative: be nice to them and you’ll find they’re just regular people who have this irresistible urge to make comics, a kind of graphical Tourettes.

Having enjoyed some shopping, you can now spend some time listening to fine debate and discussion: think Question Time without the ties. Panel sessions give fans the chance to see and hear from the writers and artists they admire, with a real proximity, genuine honesty and a great sense of humour. This proximity of the Biggest Names In Comics with the Little Guy Who’s Just Starting Out is fantastic and, if you’re the little guy, inspiring.

At some point your attention will drift inevitably to the BAR. This may be the venue bar or, given the financial circumstances of many involved with comics in the UK, the nearest Wetherspoons. Bristol Comic Expo is well known for its boozy nights at the Ramada Bar. Not the cheapest in town, but you get to sit and talk comics with progressively drunker geniuses (genii?).

Where else can you argue with one of the most artistically inspired of British comic artists that when he says you don’t need passion in your work, he’s wrong?

Where else can you hear that one of the best artistic talents of the current era used to paint porcelain dogs for a living?

Where else can you have long, long, long debates about the merits of the crossbar I?

(OK. At that point, you can at least escape to the bar and, like one of the bloggerati this year, “enjoy” a tequila and Tabasco shot. He’s still recovering.)

My point, reader, my point is this: find your nearest Comic Con (they’re coming up in Melksham, Derry, Glasgow, Norwich, Manchester, Leeds and London). Find your nearest show and go. Cast aside your pre-conceptions, let yourself wander around, be drawn in by the art, the writing, the people, and find yourself a comic to read. You never know, you might like it.


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