EVENT REPORT: Birmingham Comics Festival 2016

The Birmingham Comics festival, in short, is really good! If you like comics this is the convention for you! On Saturday April 23rd I headed to the Edgbasten Cricket ground with my mate Malcolm. We both had early entry tickets so arrived promptly. Awaiting outside was a selection of replica movie cars signalling we were in the right place. Past the cars was a short queue being patrolled by a team of Judges greeting the attendees. At the front of the queue we were warmly greeted by the BCF team who presented us with wristbands and then we headed into the convention.

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The main hall was very much a celebration of comics with creators, writers and artists taking centre stage. The middle and majority of the room was taken up with comic stands and their creators. There was a smattering of geeky merchandise vendors but comics were ruling the day rather then being on the periphery. We did a loop of the stalls then began our hunt for the rest of the convention.

We returned to the main foyer, passing many photo opportunities and headed up the stairs. I knew there was more upstairs as the website said there were two floors. It would have been useful to have a little more signage pointing out where things are or maybe a downloadable map. On the next floor we entered another hall. Here we found a mix of comics, snack food and geek merchandise, with comics again proudly taking the main spaces. There were also miniature sculptures by Willard Wigan, these were amazing. This was micro art on pin heads, so really super tiny. I noted to Malcolm that it was a shame there is no way to capture this other than to describe it (I’m sure there are mega powerful cameras that will also capture great pics but mine is a regular Canon, soz). I’d seen examples on TV but had no idea how minute the sculptures were until seeing them live. At the end of the hall we noticed a room division which we assumed was for panels (again no signage).

We headed out of the hall and across the landing to the final third of the festival. This last area was a longer narrower hall that was predominately populated by Cosplayers and Cosplay groups allowing for plenty of photo opportunities. There was a small retro gaming area to the side. They had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on the NES (based on TMNT the arcade game) which I had only ever seen advertised in comics. We had a couple of goes, surprisingly it played pretty well. My problem with the NES was that there weren’t many good side-scrollers so I didn’t have high hopes for this; well it’s really good. I was way better than Malcolm who was rubbish. After he died I killed myself and we carried on. The hall was rounded out with prop stalls and photo spots including the Iron Chair (I skipped this as I don’t watch Game of Thrones, sorry world there’s just too much other stuff to watch) and Monsters Inc.

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Last through the double doors, we entered a section that at first we were unsure if we had taken a wrong turn. It was at first glance a female changing room, we shuffled about awkwardly until we realised it was the Body Paint Cosplay groups area. Their body paint costumes were amazing, I’ve seen good face paint before but this stuff is +10 art work skills. They were all awesome, but my favourite was the Green Lantern, it was brilliant, really detailed. We headed off to look for the restaurant. When we found someone to ask they pointed us back through the way we had come, it was through the closed doors after the Body Paint section.

The restaurant had a mix of hot and cold food options and we returned here a couple of times throughout the day but only for hot drinks. I saw a big tray of chicken fillets being removed from the oven and it did not look appealing. The first time we went in I had a hot chocolate that tasted rubbish, I had one in the afternoon and it turned out the mix was running out; the afternoon one was really tasty! For lunch we headed out of the venue over the road to Aldi. There’s a picnic spot right out the front of Aldi and for those that can be bothered a nice park behind (we couldn’t be bothered).

During the day we attended a number of panels which were all highlights of the event. When we first entered the correctly guessed room nothing had started. Aside from the room not being advertised as the talks location, there was no schedule so I screen captured the talk times off the Facebook page. The panels kicked off at 11am lasting for either 30 minutes or an hour and running all through the day. We skipped the first talk and dropped into the second at 11:30 God Bless America (creators from US comics talking about the comics they are working on), then 12:30 was Diversity or Damnation (Diversity in Comics) and after lunch at 2:30 Better the Devil you Know (what makes a good collaborative team).

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All three of these talks were excellent, the first and third we attended both gave a fascinating insight behind the scenes of the comic industry and the speakers were all really fun and charismatic. The middle talk provided a great debate about all sorts of different aspects of diversity within comics and other media. The speakers could have done with microphones as it could be a little hard to hear some of them on occasion. My real complaint though is the lack of attendance at the talks, the turn out was poor which is such a shame as the panels were properly interesting. It makes me sad that my fellow attendees missed out. I think a bit of this is down to the lack of promotion, no signage on the door, programme list or indication of what was going on in the room. I didn’t notice anything at any of the speakers’ tables either mentioning what panels they were in or times.

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We rounded off the day by doing a final walk around of the vendors’ halls, making some final purchases then heading back to the panels room for the Cosplay Masquerade. This was divided into two halves, the first for junior cosplayers and the second for adults. Both the juniors and adults were awesome, a real diverse mix of costumes and skill levels. The most enjoyable part was seeing everyone having fun, posing, parading around and showing off their creations, a really good atmosphere. The masquerade would have benefited from some music, either for each entrant and costume or just some mood music. There were individual winners but everyone received a certificate and was invited back to the stage for a group photo. There was a real sense of community to the cosplay show with the emphasis on inclusivity, rather than individuals or solo groups, really good!

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When the day’s events had finished the festival began to pack up for the evening’s after party. We headed back to the restaurant area where a bar had now opened up. We grabbed a couple of drinks from the bar and sat down to admire the excellent view of Birmingham. Lots of people were milling around having a good time, it set up a good feeling for the evening ahead. After a short delay the doors to the upstairs main hall were open for the night’s entertainment.

All the stalls and room division had been removed, replaced with big round tables and a performance area with a dance floor. Another small bar had now opened at the side. Malcolm and myself took a table to ourselves like a couple of rogues (or perhaps unpopular and friendless). Although the room didn’t fill up (it was a really big room) there was still an impressive show of numbers.

First up was SuperGeek who did a short but ace five song set that was a mix of parody covers and original songs, all with a Geek edge. I’d seen SuperGeek’s parody cover of Happy on YouTube so had an idea of his music. The songs and performance were great with the highlight being Geeky which successfully got loads of people on the dance floor. A great start to the evening and set the tone nicely. It left me excited to see what SuperGeek does next, hopefully adding more songs for a longer show.

Next was the Geeky Pub quiz hosted by Box Entertainment which required the downloading of the SpeedQuizzing app, I could already taste our glorious victory. Unfortunately we both failed to successfully access the WIFI network so didn’t actually enter or even download the app. A shame as I’m certain it was our destiny to definitely win! The quiz seemed really fun and everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves.

The night was finished by a huge set from Rhythm Revival who were AMAZING! They played a mix of soul, pop and funk covers, delivered brilliantly, great voices and musicianship. It would have been cool if they worked in some geeky covers or music as I’m certain when they were warming up the base player knocked out the X-Men animated theme tune. They played for most of the night with only a tiny break in their set. The dance floor was pretty full for the whole time they were playing so a very successful performance. The evening finished about midnight leaving us to stagger off for a taxi home. We both had such a good day and evening, it left us looking forward to next year.

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Overall a really good event with my only real issue the lack of attendance at the panels.  I think this could easily be addressed with better signage, maybe announcements and better promotion. The festival seems to be aiming for distinct crowds: young readers, cosplayers and comic book collectors. At the moment I think there’s a disconnect between these groups with a bit more crossover between them needed. For new readers, there didn’t seem to be an obvious entry point, I had seen lots of promotion for the event aimed at new and younger readers. On the day however the main thing for casual comic fans seemed to be cosplay. Maybe the festival would benefit from a children’s area, or emphasis on licenses comics (I got into comics through reading Thunder Cats which led to Power Pack (it’s backup comic) and Transformers). There could be a panel for new readers, where to start with comics perhaps? Or even some cosplay panels could be cool.

This is such a good event that has a couple of areas that could be addressed but I don’t want to take anything away from it. It has a really great family atmosphere running through its heart which you don’t really get with bigger conventions. From the families organising and running the event, to the families attending an amazing event with real heart! I can’t wait for next year.

Source: Birmingham Comic Festival
GS Blogger: Richard Blades

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