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Comic Book Showcase

Second City, First Rate

By Matt Kamen     December 14, 2006


Promotional art for DC Comics' The Phantom #1 (1988)
© DC

Four months. That's how long, from the initial conception, that the organisers of the first Birmingham International Comics Show had to get everything in place. Everything from arranging guests to securing a venue, from publicity to finances and every other little headache that comes along with attempting any kind of fan-oriented event, it was all done in less than half a year – a tremendous achievement for all involved. 

The inaugural event was held this past weekend, 9-10 December, at the Custard Factory just outside of Birmingham's city centre. Despite the poor weather, a sizable crowd turned out over the weekend for such innovative showcases as comic creator arm wrestling, robot versus monkey costume making (followed by the destruction of said costumes in an on-stage battle royale) and the creation of the 24-minute comic – certainly not the usual fare for a comic convention. Guest artists and writers were to be found all over the place, alternately giving talks, offering sketches or propping up pub counters, and both mainstream and independent comics were well catered for in the dealers rooms. 

It was also a weekend for remembrances, with a memorial to the highly influential Alex Toth. Toth, who passed away on May 27th this year, was known in the mainstream for his work with Hanna-Barbera on shows including Space Ghost, Jonny Quest and Birdman. The memorial was a fitting look back at the life and work of this great artist, who is often sadly under-appreciated in comparison to his contemporaries such as Jack Kirby or Will Eisner. 

Another comic dynasty was celebrated, as Lee Falk's The Phantom turned 70 this year. With so many artists wandering about, a clear canvas offered an opportunity for a weekend long jam session devoted to the 'Ghost Who Walks'. A total of forty-six artists contributed efforts to the extended montage by the end of the weekend, several shy of the target of seventy but the variety and quality was impressive nonetheless. 

The growing influence of comics in other media was notable, with even the underground Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers being adapted into a movie. Original creator Gilbert Shelton was on hand on Saturday to talk fans through the promo for the stop motion feature, which at this early stage looks to faithfully adapt the original comic book stoners. On the flip side, Sunday offered a very interesting panel on the challenges involved in adapting a TV or movie property into a comic. 

The panels over the weekend were a varied affair, some being straight-forward question and answer sessions while others ranged from presentations on various aspects of comics creation to interviews with respected figures in the field (Alan Davis and Mark Farmer's panel was particularly interesting, as was Matt Hollingsworth's demonstration of digital colouring techniques) to quizzes. 

A few problems marred the weekend, including a couple of absentee guests. Skottie Young pulled out at the last minute, due to either a missing passport or impending deadlines, depending on whom you spoke to. Tokyopop, due to give an introductory presentation on manga, were also mysteriously absent from the show. The two dealers halls were perhaps a little too tightly filled, leading to a lot of bottlenecking and slow stepping around people, though this is more of a flaw with the facilities on offer than the show itself. However, for an event as ambitious as this, and a launch event no less, there was remarkably little to negatively critique. Overall, I think it's safe to call the first Birmingham International Comics Show a rousing success, a sentiment shared by the organisers – the poor bastards have set themselves up for doing this all again next year. With a whole year to plan, the follow up should be truly outstanding. 

Look for an interview with James Hodgkins and Andy Baker, the two men responsible for BICS, here soon.

Feel that funky J-Pop beat!, Part 2

 

Also launching this past weekend, J-Pop Brum was a low-key affair as far as club nights go, but one that filled the basement of the Sunflower Lounge. The mix of Japanese artists was upbeat but chilled, creating a great atmosphere. Successful enough to lead to an as-yet unscheduled second event, hopefully good word of mouth will lead to J-Pop Brum growing into a regular event to both rival and complement London's J-Pop Go! parties.

Midlands Expo approaches…

 

Giving punters' wallets just enough time to recover from Christmas, the Midlands Expo – younger sibling of the London Expo – arrives at Telford's International Centre on Saturday 24th February. A one-day event that is seemingly testing the water for larger efforts to follow, the website has officially launched but is pretty sparse at the moment. The notable entry is the price of entry – a mere £5 for adults and £3 for children, with early entry only setting you back £8. While guests and events have yet to be announced, the repeated success of the London Expo bodes well for this northern spin-off.

New UK DVD Picks for 18/12/2006

 

It's a sad week when, with a mere six days until Christmas, there's only one DVD being released that's worth mentioning - with the exception of Samurai 7, below, the UK gets 'treated' to an assortment of terrible DVD quizzes and "Xtreme" sports releases. Next week should be fairly terrifying though, as studios release a ridiculous 247 new discs to vie for a nation's Christmas money and gift vouchers. Ouch. 

Samurai 7: Volume 5 

Continuing this rather nifty series, inspired by Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, we see the travelling warriors fracture further following the loss of one of their own. Smooth animation, surprising story beats and a fantastic soundtrack carry the show through the midpoint without dragging or feeling like filler material even once. The disc is disappointingly sparse on extras, with only clean opening and ending animation on offer. 

That’s it for this week. Thoughts? Comments? Hatemail? Contact me at mattkamen@gmail.com

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