On 19-20 September, NICEcon returned to Bedford for the fourth time. Not heard of NICE? It’s the UK’s newest (and littlest) comic expo, sponsored by the rather wonderful independent store Close Encounters.
In previous years, the event was held in Bedford Corn Exchange; this year saw a move to the local rugby club instead. It was a much smaller venue, but overall it still worked very well, with a main room for guests and dealer tables, another for signings and another for the panels. The main room was probably smaller than the smallest at last year’s Thoughtbubble, (although the space was used extremely effectively), but rather than cut back on guests, NICE organisers chose to cut back on dealer tables instead. I think this proved to be a great decision; the guests ensured there was still plenty of gorgeous art to ogle and available to buy or commission, and there were still toys and tees to buy. For punters who still had money burning a hole in their pockets at the end of the day, it was only a ten minute walk into town to the Close Encounters shop where we were given a 10% discount. For those unwilling or unable to easily walk into town, the organisers had ensured there was food and drink available onsite, which I felt was a really thoughtful touch.
There was a great guest lineup, including the likes of Paul Renaud (in his first UK appearance), Dave Kendall, Guillermo Ortego, Leila Leiz, Dalibar Talajic, Esad Ribic, Ian Churchill, Alessandro Vitti, Aneke Murillenem, Ben Oliver, Doug Braithwaite, Duncan Fegredo, Goran Parlov, Ivan Brandon, Jamie Delano, Goran Sudzuka, John McCrea, among many others. Several 2000AD alumni were also in attendance in the form of Greg Staples, Frazer Irving, Glen Fabry, Dylan Teague and legendary artist Steve Dillon. Top writer Garth Ennis was there for the Sunday only.
On the Saturday, there were panels with Mark Buckingham, Brian K Vaughan (a UK exclusive guest), Alan Davis, Niko Henrichon and Gene Ha (in his first UK appearance), most of which were included in the ticket price (£15 for a day ticket, £25 for the weekend, with kids going for a mere one of your English pounds, which I felt was pretty good value for money).
For those not attending panels, there was the chance to wander around and watch artists draw commissions for punters. This was so fascinating, I could have happily done this all day – Simon Bisley and Barry Kitson were both especially chatty to the likes of eyeballers like me. I must give a special shoutout to 2000AD artist Ryan Brown for showing me some stunningly beautiful art for the upcoming Dredd magazine; obviously I was sworn to secrecy on pain of pain, but I can tell you that I drooled a tiny bit, although fortunately not on the art. I also got to chat to David Roach, who showed me an unsettlingly lovely xenomorph sketch which he had apparently “just found” in a pile of stuff on his desk. I’m super jealous about this, since the most exciting thing I’ve ever found on a messy desk is a forgotten mug with something growing inside.
NICEcon may be the baby of the comic expo family, but it manages to combine the best aspects of bigger, more established cons (great guests, lots to see) while avoiding the worst (overcrowding and queues…hey, even we Brits have our queue tolerance limit) as well as doing what bigger cons can’t: giving punters the opportunity to chat to the guests.
A bigger venue would be an improvement but having said that, I like NICE as it is. It would be a shame if it lost its charm and uniqueness by trying to turn into something like Thoughtbubble – which I also enjoy, but in a very different way. NICE is so, well, nice; there’s always a warm, friendly, relaxed atmosphere which is welcoming to kids and cosplayers and won’t leave you feeling overwhelmed. It reminded me why I love comic conventions. I’m very happy to see that there will be a fifth NICEcon in 2016, and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a small but perfectly formed comic con fix.
For more info: NICEcon
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)