A new periodical magazine, COMICSCENE UK, is setting out its stall in checking out all the latest news in comics and comics-related pop culture, in the main across the globe but mostly focusing on UK creators and content. It’s a cracking read with some brilliant features, and you’ll be able to find it on W.H. Smiths racks and comic book stores as we speak, as well as being able to order it online.
I’ve been incredibly flattered to be asked to contribute a new regular feature on comic cons, providing some of my own insights into the current landscape of convention events, a schedule of upcoming shows I think you should be checking out, and also interviews with main players in the con scene. My first article has an interview I held with Jaime Milner of Wales Comic Con, and you can find that piece in the current Issue #2, but I also submitted the questions to Shane Chebsey (ICE International Comic Expo / Comics Salopia) as a companion interview to share with you here – enjoy…
Shane Chebsey is one of the most recognised figures in the UK comic convention scene, being the man behind numerous comics-centric events over the past decade and a half, shows which have brought creative talent from across the globe to his shows. In more recent years, Shane has been behind the popular and successful ICE International Comic Expo events across the country, spearheaded by the flagship annual event in Birmingham, and he is also now part of the team behind Comics-Salopia in Shrewsbury which has its inaugural show this June. For more on ICE, head to https://internationlcomicexpo.wordpress.com/ and find out more about Comics-Salopia at https://comicssalopia.com/
THE CONVENTION COLLECTIVE: Shane, you’ve been doing this a while now, with varying degrees of success – what do you feel is the hallmark of a successful and popular comic convention, here in the UK?
SHANE CHEBSEY: I guess it depends what you care about as an organiser. Not losing money is good! For me, personally, it’s knowing that everyone who attended had a good time – we’ve only ever have five complaints in twelve years, so for me that’s a big success. Critical success matter as it means you can build your fanbase organically and, if you get good feedback from the fans, it shows your doing something right.
TCC: Attendee feedback and interaction is the most important element of a comic convention, I feel – what have been the most frequent responses you’ve been getting back from your attendees? What have you been hearing on the grapevine?
SHANE: Obviously you can’t please all of the people all of the time. There will always be someone who didn’t get the sketch they wanted or who didn’t find the back issue they were after. These sort of things are beyond my control. I concentrate on the things that I can control.
We change venues in response to visitors and exhibitors comments for example. Things like parking and loading are very important to many people so we’ve responded to that feedback as it’s been the main gripe about previous venues.
TCC: I’ve been to a number of conventions in recent years where the idea of a comic con simply hasn’t stuck, simply due to where it’s been held. Can a convention rise and fall by the simple fact of being held in certain areas of the country? Is it all ‘location, location, location’?
SHANE: Yes, I think we’re your event is happening has a huge impact on attendance. You can research a location, but sometimes the only way to find out is to put on a show there: advertise the hell out of it and see what happens.
Sometimes there’s just not enough local internet or fans to support and event as we found out with ICE Margate – lesson learned. We put on a great show there as you know with top guests, but simply not many comics fans locally. Most of the people who came travelled from miles away, not many locals. And we spent twice as much on advertising as we do for our other shows.
If an area is socially deprived or without much arts culture, that can also have an impact.
TCC: The bigger the convention landscape gets, the more the need for slicker presentations, more prestige venues, more content, more panels, more international guests, more more more… How demanding have the convention going audience become in recent years? And how difficult does that make it for you to deliver?
SHANE: The expectations from fans get bigger and bigger – there is incredible competition now compared to when I started twelve years ago – also the expectations from many creators are higher. Some now charge appearance fees on top of expenses.
The big media shows are putting the stranglehold on the Comic Conventions as we can’t pay the huge appearance fees some artists and writers now expect due to the big shows.
Small non profit independent shows that are all about comics are struggling without a doubt. For me it is about always offering something different that the big shows simply can’t offer. More intimate settings, more time talking to guests one on one and higher quality panels and talks.
We deliver all of that. It’s a friendly atmosphere at ICE with no.massive queues, no stupidly high signing fees and obviously a much stronger focus on comics. Our fans love their comics – and we love our fans.
TCC: Prices for certain guests and their appearances have appeared to skyrocket in recent years, also. Where can the blame for this be laid, do you think – organisers, feeling they have to make the most of the boom before it all goes tits up; special guests, sensing pound signs in the air and making hay while the sun shines; or simply the demand for content based around international properties? It’s easier – and cheaper – for a UK convention to book a Bryan Talbot rather than a Brian Michael Bendis, for example…!
SHANE: I think a combination of factors have caused the recent hike in signing charges and appearance fees. Comic creators have seen actors getting stupid money for appearing at shows. In my opinion, far more than they should be getting in many cases, and the creators want a piece of that action.
And why not? Who can blame them? As long as there is supply and demand it will continue.
Unfortunately, it means many comic creators have now priced themselves out of comic Conventions and meeting your hero at a convention is quickly becoming an experience only for the very wealthy. That makes me sad. However, there are still lots of creators who love a proper comic Conventions and will continue to support them and continue to give back to the fans who support their work. God bless those guys!
TCC: What do you think the takeaway theme of 2019 conventions is going to be? More last-minute cancellations or a tougher stance by the organisers? Back to basics or even bigger things to come?
SHANE: I think 2019 will be a year of change. Yes, as in 2018, I think we’ll see more events go bust but I also think we’ll see the more innovative organisers changing their business models and re examining how they can make a comics event financially sustainable. I think what will happen is that only the very best events will survive as fans become more picky about with shows they will attend.
It’s not just about the big name guests anymore: it’s about the whole Convention experience. There had to be something for everyone at a good convention and it needs to be stress free for fans exhibitors and guests alike and we’ll keep working towards making ICE the best experience possible for everyone within what our budget will allow. Hopefully, the fans and the creators will keep coming along and supporting what we are doing and we’ll keep delivery great events.