Hi-Ex comic-con in Inverness

On Saturday I took a very pleasant trip northwards from Edinburgh to Inverness to attend the third Hi-Ex, crossing over the mighty Forth Bridge (images of the 39 Steps playing in my mind as always when crossing this huge landmark which rears from the Forth like a Steel cousin to the Loch Ness Monster), around the coast of Fife, sun glittering on the Forth and the North Sea, Edinburgh across the water glimpsed in all her magnificent, volcanic majesty in profile against the still rising early morning sunshine. And on north, through Perth, through hills becoming mountains, still retaining their snowy caps even as daffodils and crocuses signal the rebirth of the land and spring at lower climes. Highland Cows and the occassional deer are glimpsed as the train climbs through the peaks of the British Isles, ears popping to remind you that you are ascending into the Highlands as the train rolls on, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. One of the simple pleasures of attending Hi-Ex is that most basic of travelling delights, sitting back and looking out the window. We’ve now got an admirable mixture of comics events in the UK, from the Indy press events to the big guns of Bristol and Birmingham, but I’d wager few of our comic cons offer such stunning landscapes on your voyages to them, right through the Cairngorms National Park, the last, great wilderness of the United Kingdom, home to our highest peaks. Yes, I know, this is indeed a blog about comics, but forgive me for waxing lyrical on my homeland (BTW, Visit Scotland, I’ll have that endorsement check now, please), but seriously, if you are travelling northwards to Hi-Ex then enjoying some of the finest scenery in the entire kingdom is a part of the pleasure.

(“these aren’t the comics you’re looking for, move along…” Some of the 501st directing visitors where to park their landspeeders at Hi-Ex, click the pics for the larger versions on Flickr)

(Hi-Ex co-organiser Colonel Richmond Clements, with artist Alex Moore. Not pictured, leading brand of stain remover who were sponsoring Rich’s ensemble)

It’s been a great day, as anyone who followed my and other attendee’s Tweets will attest. With the Eden Court venue having a very good complimentary wifi several of us were able to log on and enjoy posting updates on Twitter and a bit of live-blogging. Several times I cyber-squatted next to Dave Evans and the FutureQuake Press table to post some updates; I have to say there’s something enjoyable about being able to sit cross-legged with a laptop across your knees posting updates on the con and even getting some photos onto the web. Gone are the days when we attended conventions, wrote up our report in the local inn afterwards then either handed the copy to a fast pony express rider to carry to the editor or used the new fangled telegraphic device. By the time I stepped off the Edinburgh train the Saturday Hi-Ex (there are many more events on the Sunday) was in full swing – after a short walk along the Ness I came to Eden Court and a plethora of Imperial Stormtroopers guarding the entrance, a whole bunch of the 501st on parade. Inside I was to find that Hi-Ex has grown – when I came to the first convention two years back most of was in the adjoining 19th century Bishop’s Palace. Now the main room in the Palace was used for the role playing gamers while the dealers and the artists now shared one much larger space than before in the main theatre, in the spot where at the first con the panels were held. The theatre seating cleverly recesses backwards into the wall leaving a great two-storey space, plenty of room for the writers, publishers and dealers to set up their tables and for the crowds to get around.

(some of the artist’s tables – Alex Moore, Gary Erskine and Simon Fraser just visible from this angle)

(Looking down into the main hall with the artists and dealers’ tables)

And crowds there were – it was impressively busy by midday and quite a few of the dealers’ table and the artists had good crowds around them. Dave Evans with his FutureQuake Press table told me that by mid afternoon he thought he’d done as much as he’d do at a busy day at the Bristol comic con, so he was a happy bunny and there was busy traffic around all the table. The artists seemed to be doing a steady trade with original artworks being browsed and sketches drawn and again I noticed that the contingent of manga artists, along with the Beano crew, were a big draw with the younger convention goers (Asia Alfasi seemed to have a constant line of folks waiting to get a manga portrait made and her mini-comics tied up with ribbon were things of beauty). Actually again, as with the first Hi-Ex, I was struck with the number of kids who were there and clearly having a ball, it’s a very family-friendly event and although I don’t have a breakdown of guests I got the strong impression a number were local families who had come in because it looked like a fun event, complete with face-painting, sketching and how-to classes. Sarah McIntyre and friends were obviously enjoying themselves with the kids and I noticed she was constantly posting up more artwork some of the delighted kids were making with her.

(Sarah McIntyre and her other half Stuart – you have to dig Sarah’s Gerry Anderson UFO-era retro SciFi costume and shiny white space boots!)

(Dave Shelton with his Good Dog, Bad Dog, part of the very first wave of DFC Library releases which we’ve been enjoying. Fortunately the dogs were all house trained)

There was a good mixture of folks in the main hall – guests ranged from some of the small press crew (I’ve come home with several fun looking mini-comics, which I will post more on later) through to very well known names. In addition to the aforementioned Sarah McIntyre, Asia Alfasi and Dave Evans there was Gary Northfield, Gary Erskine, John Higgins, Jeremy Briggs (flying the flag for Down The Tubes), the boys from the Indy Scottish superhero movie I mentioned recently, Electric Man, Simon Fraser, Cliodhna Lyons, Will Pickering (fresh from doing a stint as an extra on the John Landis Burke & Hare movie – clearly not content with just being the artist on the B&H graphic novel), Colin McNeil, Kevin F Sutherland, Charlie Adlard, Graeme Neil Reid (who I somehow kept missing), Cam Kennedy, Andi Ewing, the Com.X boys, Roger Gibson and Vince Danks and from the Harker comics (solid faves around and more. Panels included discussion on horror comics and the European scene and Kevin Sutherland managed to entertain and more than likely scandalise some with the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre which had me roaring with laughter (seriously, I know many of you have seen bits of the Falsettos at various cons or the videos Kev posts on YouTube, but if you get the chance to go and see the whole performance, take it, you’ll thank me. His Sock Puppet Star Wars is genius).

(Dave Evans with the latest issue of FutureQuake)

(Asia Alfasi’s manga portraits were hugely popular and despite being so busy she always seemed to be smiling)

Co-organisers Richmond Clements and Vicki Stonebridge, ably assisted by a team of enthusiastic young helpers, were buzzing around radiating a fascinating mixture of urgency, pleasure, concern, tiredness and happiness that I generally associate with convention organisers. Rich was especially fetching in his dapper three-piece white suit, somewhere between Randall & Hopkirk, Deceased and a scary Southern evangelist minister crossed with Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Comics anyone?). The now annual Hi-Ex charity auction took place in the afternoon – Rich told me he was pretty pleased with the amount they had raised between the auction and raffle (we’ll get the final figure later in the week, but unofficially it was looking like £1500 quid when I had to leave) and, in a very touching gesture, a number of the artists present came up to Rich to present their own further contribution in the shape of money they had made from their sketching during the day. Since I know many artists who attend comic cons rely on paid sketchwork as part of the way they can make a convention financially viable for them that’s a really generous move on their part and huge kudos to them.

(Roger Gibson and Vince Danks, the team behind FP blog fave Harker)

(Cliodhna Lyons, Deirde and Kyle Rogers with a fine array of mini-comics – including some in Irish Gaelic they were showing to some of the Scottish Gaelic readers of the Highlands. On the basis of Mr Rogers’ mini-comics he is a very sick man and I look forward to telling you more about that later)

All in all a cracking day out for kids and big kids alike – the only small niggle for me and, as I heard later, others, was the bar staff were rather bad (I gave up after several minutes of them taking turns to ignore me, heard later there had been other problems with service, which seems downright unprofessional not to mentions self defeating given the sheer number of visitors Hi-Ex was bringing in to the venue). But other than that minuscule aside I had a great time, even better than I had at the first Hi-Ex, and I loved that. It’s grown nicely, there’s more space, more guests (guessing the arts council funding must have helped a bit too and how great was it to see a comics event getting arts council help?), but it’s still at a nice, human scale that makes it very easy to move around, talk to folks and simply to enjoy it. Congrats to Vicki, Richmond and everyone else who made the third Hi-Ex a great success and here’s looking forward to it continuing to grow in future years.

(an Iron Man fan – perhaps he should have come as Big Daddy! – with adorable but getting a bit sleepy mini-fan’ there were a lot of very happy looking kids wandering around Hi-Ex)

(hunting the most dangerous of all prey – comics fans...)

I know more of you who were there will be posting your own write-ups and pics from Hi-Ex, so please do send in links to those postings (and also the folks who were at Schmurgencon or The Thing over the weekend too) and we’ll try and post up a links round-up for them for everyone; there are more photos from Hi-Ex on Flickr here.

Banning

My friend Pádraig Ó Méalóid had a bit of an upset recently – organisers of the Octocon SF convention contacted him to tell him he was banned from the convention for his ‘attitude’. They then take the extremely cowardly route of saying they refuse to explain further what their reasoning is and will not debate it. Now I don’t know what their reasons are (since they make vague accusations but refuse to back them up properly), but to say there are reasons and then refuse to give them or to engage in civilised discussion makes me naturally lean to the suspicion that actually they don’t have any proper reasons that any independent person would consider serious enough to ban someone from a convention (something I’ve not heard of happening before, its pretty unprecedented, especially involving a well known member of the SF community). In fact sod being polite, I’d say that whole approach smacks of petty mindedness and childishness – by all means, Octocon organisers, explain properly and I and many others may revise that opinion, but if you won’t then I can only assume your being incredibly foolish.

Secondly I’ve known Pádraig for years; we both wrote extensively in our own spare time for The Alien Online promoting good writing; he’s written articles, essays and interviews (most recently a fabulous, in-depth piece with Bryan Talbot which we ran on the Forbidden Planet blog – part 1 here, part 2 here, highly recommended) and run successful conventions. He’s supported good reading and good authors and artists for years and as such has gained the respect and friendship of many in the science fiction and comics communities, fans, readers, writers and artists, from new talent to some of the best known names. So for Octocon to take this unprecedented action to someone many of us hold in high esteem (as well as considering a personal friend) without real explanation is not only going to give us a negative impression of them, its going to make quite a few of us rather angry to see him treated in this manner, to say nothing of it smacking of a rather undemocratic and unaccountable approach by evading establishing reasons or proper explanations, which is, frankly, baffling. I await them giving some proper explanation for this to prove they aren’t simply being vindictive over minor criticisms. And meantime I won’t be encouraging anyone to attend the convention.

Liveblogging from Bristol

My friend and regular on the science fiction and fantasy convention circuit Cheryl Morgan is embracing more comics culture (well done, Cheryl) and is liveblogging and Tweeting from this weekend’s annual Bristol International Comics Expos, one of the major comics gigs in the UK (and usually a lot of fun), with guest input from Paul Cornell and Tony Lee and hopefully some others. Some other chums, the guys from the excellent Geek Syndicate Podcast, are also hoping to do live audio blogging and mini podcasts through the con, assuming the tech holds together.