On a very warm, sunny Saturday a whole bunch of comics fans descended on Edinburgh’s McDonald Road Library for the Oxfam Edinburgh Comic Event, a day of enjoyably informal panel discussions, signings, comics sales and, naturally, a trip to the pub. In light of the monstrous events that had happened the day before in Norway the charity event opted to hold a one minute silence before the first discussion commenced, a nice touch that I think everyone welcomed. The first panel was discussing a once incredibly popular genre that now is only a niche, the war comic, with special attention paid to the British war comics, once a massive selling area for publishers, from the numerous digest formats – Commando, Battle Picture Library etc – to the weekly boy’s anthology collections like Warlord and Battle and the few modern combat-action comics still going (notably Garth Ennis’ Battlefields). With most of that previously huge swathe of comics now long gone except for the seemingly immortal Commando Books from DC Thomson (now in 2011 celebrating its 50th anniversary – a pretty remarkable achievement) discussion ranged from the panellist’s first memorable war comics tales to why Commando has survived for so long, largely unchanged too, and if there would be a market for a new war comic (the general consensus was no, that even Ennis’ Battlefields with his star name on it only attracted a niche, adult audience). Long serving Commando editor George Low was to be on the panel but sadly he was too ill to attend (see Down The Tubes here for an interview with George) but another long-serving DC Thomson alumni, Morris Heggie was present along with writer Ferg Handley (himself a Commando regular), Down the Tubes’ Jeremy Briggs, artist Colin MacNeil and artist Gary Erskine.
Later discussions took in subjects such as censorship (former 2000 AD editor David Bishop, now a screenwriter amongst other roles, talked about some surprising words and notions that writers must avoid before the 9pm watershed when writing for the BBC to avoid ‘offending’ someone), self-censorship versus common sense in writing and editing, encouraging younger readers and the use of comics by teachers and librarians and the role of comics creators in exciting kids imagination and love of reading through comics workshops in schools. Andy Diggle was especially vocal on this subject and mentioned that when his own personal workload and circumstances allowed he’d love to look into how something could be established across the country that librarians and teachers could draw on and I was especially delighted when he bigged up our own Richard Bruton, citing Richard’s sterling work (much documented here on the blog) in building a comics library in his school and in encouraging the kids not only to read but to discuss and share their thoughts about what they are reading (we’ve been very pleased to have some of the kids reviewing their comics right here and look forward to more).
As well as the panel discussions and Q&As there was a good number of second hand comics on sale, from the dirt cheap to the very collectable, including a silent auction on a set of the first 26 issues of Dez Skinn’s famous Warrior comic (out of my range, sadly, although I did pick myself up a couple of loose back issues of Crisis and Warrior as a wee treat), much of it coming from a very generous donation the Edinburgh Oxfam shops had just the other week from a collector who was emigrating and decided to give them his huge stack of comics, as well as a contribution of titles from the Edinburgh Forbidden Planet. Gary Erskine was sketching throughout, even during the panel discussions, with the proceeds from the sketch commissions all going to Oxfam as well, along with the comics sales and the tickets, so hopefully a good fundraiser for the charity as well as a great day out for comics fans.
(above, Gary Erskine sketching Captain America for charity, below a close up of Gary’s sketch of the Cap, pics from my Flickr)
At the end of a highly enjoyable day (well done all the panellists and the Oxfam organisers and indeed the nice staff at McDonald Road Library) pretty much everyone present adjourned to the excellent Mathers pub nearby where the entry ticket got us our own wee reserved space to sit back, enjoy some drinks and snacks and several hours more good-natured and increasingly drunken nattering about comics and all things geek.
This was originally written for the Forbidden Planet International blog