Off in the corner of the huge exhibition hall at the MCM Expo – about as far away from the autograph desks as you can get – is the Comic Village. While one of the more recent additions to the Expo’s programme, the Comic Village has developed and expanded quickly, now bringing together an impressive, varied collection of creators that, in many ways, rivals the line-ups of the larger, more specialised events. The welcoming mixture of writers and artists, selling their wares and inviting chatter from the punters, resulted in most of my time at the Expo being spent in the Comics Village, checking out what was on offer, and even interviewing a few guests as well.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the range of talent on offer in the Comic Village. Most obviously, there were a couple of recognisable, established attendees, with highly regarded work and mainstream appeal, such as Ben Templesmith (30 Days Of Night), Alan Grant (2000AD, Batman: Anarky) and Bryan Talbot (Sandman, the recently-released Grandville). Andy Diggle and Jock, the creative team behind Vertigo’s 2003 series The Losers, due out next year as a major motion picture, were also mingling around, and took part in a panel discussion about their experience during the film’s adaptation from page to screen.
Likewise, a number of publishers had commandeered their own tables, spreading their sequentially-artistic goods in front of the passers-by. Markosia Comics, Avatar Press, and UK-based publishers Accent UK Comics were present in full effect. Markosia were peddling old favourites like Rich Johnston and Thomas Nachlick’s The Flying Friar (‘Smallville meets The Name Of The Rose‘), and tantalisingly fresh product like From The Pages Of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Harker, from Tony Lee, Neil Van Antwerpen and Peter-David Douglas (reportedly the first Stoker family-endorsed follow-up to the classic vampire novel). Avatar Press had a bevvy of booth babes, including Paul Duffield, the supremely sexy artist behind Warren Ellis’ webcomic Freakangels, as well as the launch of a new sci-fi-noir project from Kieron Gillen called The Heat (read more in our interview here). Accent UK, meanwhile, were launching their second original graphic novel, from Dave West and Marleen Lowe, called Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man?, to accompany their line-up of anthologies; I had a chance to speak to Accent Editor-in-Chief Colin Mathieson about their catalogue, who said:
“We’re usually best known for our anthologies, we release one every year. That’s a bit like a showcase for new and established creators, writers artists. So we bring them together, and give them a challenge off that particular issue’s theme, whether it’s Robots, Zombies or Westerns – trying to tell a short, snappy story in their original style, in six pages or eight pages. And the other thing we do, is self-contained one-shots, because obviously people like to read a complete story. So far we’ve published two. There’s Wolfman, which is a crime-noir with a hint of horror, about London gangsters, by writer Dave West, and artist Andy Bloor. And we’ve got a new book out, called Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man? This, again, is a short story, also based in London, about a terrorist threat, where a bomb’s about to go off. And there’s this one chap, called Bobby Doyle, who’s a quiet man, enjoying a pint of beer, hears about all this bedlam and chaos with the bomb about to go off. But Bobby’s different, he’s got the power to actually stop this bomb going off, and to save people from the danger…”
But part of the fun of comics events like the MCM Expo is delving a little deeper, and finding the diversity to be found in the work of the alternative or small press creators in attendance. Other artists in the village included veterans of children’s comics, such as the Beano or the ill-fated DFC, such as Gary Northfield (Derek the Sheep), Laura Howell and Sarah McIntyre (selling her new, deliciously-disgusting kids’ book, with Giles Andreae, Morris The Mankiest Monster).
There is also a selection of self-published artists, whose work appears, or has appeared, online in webcomic form. Without the fetters of a publisher’s ledger, this is where lots of very different comics can rub up against each other – including David O’Connell’s grand adventure Tozo: The Public Servant; the thematically-bold, evocative comics of Julia Scheele, Matthew Sheret and Sarah Gordon’s We Are Words and Pictures collective; the cute pocket samurai epics of Philip Spence’s Ninja Bunny; and the slice-of-life autobiography of Adam Cadwell’s The Everyday. Each work is filled to the brim with personality and invention. I spoke with two creators out of the pack – Howard Hardiman and Marc Ellerby – about their work and their experience at the Expo. Hardiman specialises in understated, emotionally-affecting comics that are well-described by his website address – http://www.cutebutsad.co.uk. I asked him about his primary project, Badger, which has recently spawned a simultaneous prequel/sequel book, Badger: Then and Now:
“I think the glib little synopsis is that it’s the sad story of a lonely badger who lives in South London. He mopes around in Brockley in South London, goes to the shop and buys some sandwiches, sits on the bench in hilly fields and eats sandwiches. It’s all very quiet and very sombre. A woman came along earlier on, and picked up my new book, and she went ‘… I love this, and this is really good, and I really want to give you money. But I don’t think I could stand having this in my house, because it would make me too sad!’ and I don’t know if I was meant to feel good or bad about that! [laughs]”
Marc Ellerby’s major project, Ellerbisms, is a web-based ‘diary comic’, that has been running for over two years. More recently, it has become the (at times astonishingly frank) chronicle of both his career as a comic artist (with work published by both Image Comics and Oni Press) and his relationship with his current girlfriend, Anna. Alongside this ongoing strip, Ellerby has been developing a new series, called Chloe Noonan: Monster Hunter, releasing the first issue earlier this year, with a second due on the horizon. I asked him about the inspiration behind his humorous, grounded approach to the series:
“It’s about this girl who doesn’t have any powers, but she has to fight monsters, so she has to get the bus everywhere, because she doesn’t have any powers. You know, when you watch Buffy, she can run really fast, and that’s fine because she’s got powers. But her friends, they don’t have powers – Xander didn’t have any powers, but he’d be able to get to save the day as well. He’d be there in the scene, and I’d be like ‘how does Xander do that? he gets punched once and falls to the ground’. So I was thinking, wouldn’t it be quite interesting to have that as the heroine. What if the heroine didn’t have any powers. So instead of running across town, she’d have to get the bus. I like the idea of the girl, who’s quite miserable, having to get the bus to fight these monsters.”
Part of the appeal, and welcoming inclusiveness of these small press gatherings is the sense of camaraderie. When self-publishing, or working on a smaller scale, it seems the ties between creators and colleagues become more prevalent. This is evident at every turn, from online communities to collaboration – Ellerby has contributed a back-up strip to Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram series, and Hardiman, Spence, Scheele and others have work featured in an upcoming anthology called Solipsistic Pop (launching in early November).
On the one hand, it’s a self-preservative move, making the daunting task of exhibiting your work a little easier, but damn is it infectious and compelling.
Events like the MCM Expo offer you the chance to meet these artists, publishers, and mad geniuses, and to see their work in the flesh. It’s a great opportunity to get under the skin of comics.