I am such a snob. There I am, advocating for great comic cons of all styles and tastes, and anytime I hear of a show taking place in a reasonable vicinity of my postcode, for whatever reason, I seem to go, “…a comic con? ‘Ere in Yorkshire?? Blimey!”
Maybe it’s because it feeds into the whole idea that every town and prefecture seems to be putting on a con of some type or another: Halifax Comic Con, Wakefield Comic Con, Brighouse Comic Con, even the Yorkshire Cosplay Con that took place recently… so many shows (of varying quality, it must be said). And in my head, I think I lumped in Oldham Comic Con with this slew of shows that seem to be running every weekend of the year, squeezed into every corner of the country.
My first clue really should have been nearly a year ago, when I sat down with man-in-the-know, man’s-man, man-about-town Tony Lee at ICE Birmingham and he told me that I really need to keep a close eye on Oldham Comic Con as a show of great promise and potential. The look in his eye when he said it was the stare of a zealot: he’d seen the light, and it seemed was determined for me to see it, too.
So, when I blinked my eyes open early on Saturday morning to commence my ritual scroll through social media and saw tweet after tweet of people making their way along the M62 and over the Pennines, I found myself checking Google Maps, realised that I’m only 40 mins away from the damn thing and dragged myself out of bed. And people, let me tell you, I’ll never regret it. The eternal lesson is: always listen to your Uncle Tony, kids.
Oldham Comic Con 2019 (or Oldham Comic Con 3, to give it its proper title), run by Dennis Whittle is a comics-centric convention, is now in its third year and managing to attract some incredible names to its guest list, mostly small press and indie but bolstered by some impressive mainstream comics guests, including a couple of international talents. Held this year in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the show continues its tradition of being a completely free event (something that Dennis insists will always be the case), encouraging a crowd of all ages through its doors – it was such a joy to see so many kids darting around the room clutching Marvel Sticker Boards, participating in what amounted to a treasure hunt of special guest signatures, breaking that often hard-to-breach wall between attendee and guest and allowing those behind the tables to then lead into their books and artwork. Clever idea.
Let’s just talk about that guest list for a second: Al Ewing, straight off this weeks announcement about his considerable participation in Marvel’s mammoth project in August. Amy Chu, flying in to talk about her work on books like WONDER WOMAN and POISON IVY. Keith Williams, legendary artist on THE PHANTOM, SUPERMAN, SPIDER-MAN and UBER! on, from what I can gather, his only UK convention appearance this year – that’s insane!! Phil Winslade, Mike Collins, Dan Cornwall, Lew Stringer, Tim Perkins, David Leach, Lee Townsend, Aneke, Laura Howell, Nick Brokenshire, Kev Hopgood, Steve Yeowell, Ian Richardson… The list goes on and on and on. For a FREE CON!! It’s the reason why it was the first question I put to Dennis when I got the chance to talk to him during a very rare chance for him to sit down for five seconds: how the holy hell was he pulling this off??
I’m still not entirely sure, to be fair: he maintains that he’s getting no help from the National Arts Council, that the show is mostly funded out his own pocket (“Putting my money where my mouth is…!”), most if not all of his main gets are being achieved through Olympic levels of begging and persuasion (the City of Oldham allowed him to use the Hall for free, Al Ewing has said that he will do anything and everything to help support the show and its ethos, etc)… Tell you what, here’s the chat I held with Dennis, let him tell you in his own words what it has taken to put on the show, along with why he’s determined not to let Oldham Comic Con to become a monster…
And while we’re in the audio sharing mood, here’s the recording I made at the Al Ewing panel that was held at midday, where Al spilt some beans on his initial comics history, on working on IMMORTAL HULK for Marvel Comics, on the upcoming mega-project, and also teased some news about a creator-owned book that we could be seeing from him, later this year…
It just doesn’t stop. A superstar-laden special guest list. Free entrance on the door for anyone and everyone. A healthy focus on small and indie press, and exposing them to the next generation of comics readers. Panels, green screen photo shoots, VR experiences from the local university, vendors, lots and lots and lots of comics retailers (or ‘enablers’, as I like to call them!). A crowd that continued to roll through the doors, well into the afternoon. A chill-out balcony area, looking down on to the floor. A specially brewed range of ales and lagers, for heavens sake!!
Yes, there are some things to nitpick about: because the money raised by the show goes straight back into the show, the budget doesn’t leave much space for full promotion so the event has its online home as a Facebook page – never a great way to get comprehensive information out there unless you spend an inordinate amount of time maintaining the site. (Apparently, sponsorship has been garnered for next year so this can only improve.) A little more thought into the way that the venue space could be used, including the stage (the green screen photo booth was housed up there but it seemed a little inaccessible and very open to the crowd if you felt self-conscious about having your photo taken). Tiny niggles, little creases, nothing major – tweaks to take on board, that’s every convention.
In summary? The atmosphere was buzzing and optimistic, the content was appealing and interesting, the smiles from both guests and attendees alike were genuine and plentiful. To say that I came away blown away and incredibly impressed by Oldham Comic Con is a bit of an understatement – I’m very much looking to see what Dennis and his team do in 2020. And yes, it also served a fine lesson that, Leonard, on occasion, you really do need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. That snobbery will get you nowhere, lad.
Oldham Comic Con is confirmed to be returning in 2020, possibly with some big changes in terms of holding the show over two days and bringing even more big comics guests. Find out more about Oldham Comic Con by following them on their social media – Facebook at: www.facebook.com/oldhamcomiccon/ and Twitter at www.twitter.com/OldhamComicCon