MCM Winter Expo 2012

(Why yes, I am referring to them in the same manner as the Japanese refer to Comiket, though those are a couple of months later, entirely dedicated to comics, and four times bigger XD)

Last weekend I went to the MCM Expo, which is held twice a year in London’s Excel Centre. Also known for hosting various Olympic events. I actually got myself organised this time, and caught the same train as my friend from King’s Lynn, so we went together. I also finally gave her a Nendoroid (small, chubby figures of characters from nerdy things… where’s the Doctor Who ones?) I’d bought in Japan. She was with various friends in costumes, who said “We’re a bunch of freaks”. Except on the way down the train I’d walked past a loligoth zombie with her face all in stitches, so yeah. I’d intended to dress up as a 30’s American gangster, to “promote” Pulp Detective. In the event, I forgot to even take the first issue of Pulp Detective and shove it in people’s faces. The small WH Smith in the King’s Cross Underground didn’t have it either. Why yes, I would have bought a second £3.25 copy just to shove in people’s faces.

Anyway, on arrival we promptly lost most of the people from the train, who had spent the journey playing Mario Kart and screaming. The journey to the venue was uneventful… apart from when a few Japanese girls accosted my friend (dressed as computer-generated singer Hatsune Miku) and wanted pictures taken with her. Then they asked us where “the Harry Potter place” was. We also met a cowboy on the underground, but he was on a pub crawl, not going to the con XD. Also my friend’s friend, dressed as the second doctor (though with the hair of the fourth XD) decided to spend the rest of the day in character, which was amusing (he saw many of his future selves). We waited for somebody else, who was cosplaying a “Pyramid Head” from… some game. We had to wait for him to change, which appears to have involved taking most of his clothes off, which somehow took ages. His costume was very good, so loads of people wanted pictures taken, he also insisted on walking to the queue “in character”, dragging his huge sword. We decided to leave him to it.

The queue was as fun as ever, with many hi-fives and fist bumps. There was also a few “mexican wave cheers”, but as big as the MCM queue is, it was a bit too small for those to work properly. You really need 110,000 people, stretched across a gigantic field, with AC/DC at one end. Later on we tried to start a mass singalong, but unfortunately nobody else knew the words to any Spitting Image songs (or 19th century German propaganda anthems). Oh we also got everybody clapping at one point XD. After the qeue was finished I lost the other two by stopping to have Thai curry AND sushi… well you didn’t get very much of either. The sushi was the nicest pre-packaged kind I have had in this country, which isn’t saying much.

Once that was over and done with, it was on to the main hall! I’ve always said they should expand the convention into two halls, instead they appear to have taken out the partition between two and turned them into one huge one. It was far less crowded than it was in May, and even the small press “comic village” had a decent amount of space between tables. It was also the first place I headed for, of course! There was plenty else going on along the way, mind you. KITT was parked in the middle of the hall, and there was a Yu-gi-oh / Magic card tournament nearby. Also costume competitions, talks and that. All of which I sailed serenely and ignorantly past, I had comics to buy!

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The complete haul

Japanofail issue 6 (of 5) is a collection of very funny gag strips, I’ve lost track of how many of them I have, mind you. Better have a dig in the small press drawer.

I also got a couple of Victorian-set stories, though both involving elements of “Steampunk” and magic. Widdershins is pretty funny, and remarkably for a “vaguely manga”-type modern story, doesn’t depict Victorian Britain as “just the same as it is now but with a few gas lamps”.

Twisted Dark is great big 200 page wedge of horror for only £5, and Tortured Life is a new full-colour comic from the same creators. This one about a man who is able to see how people and animals will die when he looks at them, so becomes a hermit, then finds somebody who is apparently not going to die!

Allsorts is from Sweatdrop Studios (in-depth post really is going to be made one day, honest! …or just look them up yourself) and is an all-ages comic. There’s actually a few Sweatdrop comics that would be great for children, but which have swear words added for no reason. It puts me in mind of “daringly” watching 12-rated films when you are 10, or spotting one swear word in a translated manga. Completely pointless! Anyway, Allsorts is A4 sized and very thin, a format just like a traditional British weekly. Mind you it’s also £5 because it has a small print run and many people worked on it. It even has a text story! Though knowing the Sweatdrop lot, this was no doubt inspired by seeing text stories in The Phoenix, rather than a knowledge of the history of British (or real history of Japanese) comics. Also from Sweatdrop is Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami – a parody of Shoujo Battle anime from the late 80’s, which makes no sense to me, probably because I haven’t watched what it is parodying!

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Oops, some airfix paints fell conveniently into place

But the best buy of the con was this Doctor Who book. IDW in the US are producing their own Doctor Who comics (including a crossover with Star Trek) independently of the strips in Doctor Who Magazine or Doctor Who Adventures. The cover was signed by artist Al Davison! I’m keeping that one in an old Phoenix envelope. The story itself is about the tenth Doctor in the world of Hollywood during the roaring 20’s. I seem to remember a brief reference to that in one of his last TV episodes – making the book a neat ‘gap filler’.

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Posters n postcards

The most interesting thing I got was Sound, a compilation of Vietnamese comics(!). The theme of the collection is Sound, though there’s also plenty of stories with a ghostly horror element. One story, perhaps inevitably, mentions the war and another gives an insight into Vietnamese culture – they have a “Civil Defense” who are like Britain’s PCSO’s, only organised along military lines. The artwork is mostly Japanese style and the production of the book is in line with UK small press anthologies. I suppose Vietnam’s comic industry is tiny, under-funded and anaemic, with a very blurred line between the “small press” and “professionals”. Just like Britain’s comic industry, in fact!

After a lot of wandering about looking for my friends and appreciating cool costumes, I spent the last of my money on some Japanese porn comics and came home, going through several flurries of freezing cold rain. Winter is truly here now, so stay indoors with your favourite picture-books. My next convention will probably be the Spring MCM or Camcon II… depending on dates! There is a convention in Leeds next weekend, which The Phoenix will have a stand at, but that’s a bit far to go for a day trip, from here.

MCM Expo, May 2012

I’ve gone to several of the MCM Expo’s now, always the ones in London (though they are also in Birmingham, Manchester and, er, Telford). The London ones are twice a year, in May and October, and go on for three days! But I only ever go on the Saturdays. One of these days I’ll book a hotel and get the full experience. Plus I’ll make some costumes!

Anyway, On the past occasions I kept forgetting my camera, but this time I remembered. I’d been looking forward to it for a year, as last October I went to an Anglo-Japanese society Karaoke night that “got out of hand” the day before. Ahem.

I woke up at the normal work time, and first went into Ely to take some ridiculous photographs. Here is the Ely funfair:

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At 7-ish in the morning, so nothing was going on

You’ll notice it is taking up half of one of Ely’s central car parks. Now while the city does have a “park and ride” it’s really not big enough to justify having one. Plus most of the shops in the centre are girly clothes shops anyway. If you have a car, going into Ely is only suitable for quickly buying some small things, otherwise you’d go to Cambridge. So really the council wants to make as much central parking available as possible, otherwise they will just kill the town off.

Of course the funfair was once held here:

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But that’s near this:

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And so people complained that having the funfair there was “disrespectful”. And once again “rethpect for peopleth sincewy hewd beweifs” was allowed to stand in the way of progress and efficiency. Sometimes I wish we were more Chinese, I really do. Mind you the government will no doubt adopt the worst parts of China, like a national firewall, in time.

Anyway, with that lot out of the way I set off for the actual event! It’s in the Excel Centre in Docklands, which is so big you probably really can see it from space! It’s even got it’s own DLR station, and as you get nearer on MCM day the trains start to fill up with people in crazy costumes, talking about anime. Oh and about which station they are going to change at – any of the three after Bank Underground station is fine, honestly!

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A friend did an ‘interesting’ photoshoot around here. You can see this building in the background XD

Having changed trains you then stay on and are taken right to the convention’s front door! Apparently via Fukushima…

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Should we be this close?

After that there’s a “bit” of a qeue. I arrived earlier than I normally do this time (11-ish as opposed to 1-ish), so the qeue was shorter. It also seemed to be moving a lot more quickly. In previous years there’d always be people stopping to take photos of each other’s costumes, but I didn’t see as much this time around. Maybe there was some crackdown on it announced on the official website.

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Spot you!

I didn’t see any queue-jumping either, in spite of the formidable, impassable barriers that had been set up:

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Some of them were even raised off the ground!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t have no friends, we just choose them better! And meet up with all 60,000 of them twice a year…

Anyway, after queueing for about half an hour – 45 minutes, and a great many hi-fives, I finally got the “Adult Entry” wristband. For some weird reason you then ‘queue’ again to have somebody put it on you.

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Ooh, aint ‘e bold

And with that, I was finally in the convention! After walking past a vast area of empty hall. Like I said, the Excel Centre is giant. I bet you could fit all of Camcon in the room that the qeue is in. Strangely, though, they rent these two rooms but the convention itself is only held in one. The other is half-filled with the queue and then is half empty. Surely it would be better to put  some stands in there as well? Leave the main hall for the “big attractions” (Marvel, Viz Media, new games etc) and have the artists and small press in the other half of the queue hall?

As it stands, the room that the convention proper is held in can get worryingly overcrowded at times. They’ve also tinkered with the layout this year. There’s a popular (and controversial) stall that sells Yaoi, which used to be in one corner, but this time was right inside the entrance. There was also a ‘walkway’ between large merchandise stalls running at 90 degrees across the people coming in. The comics area was also strangely laid-out, with the small pressers in ‘lines’, but then with Marvel against the wall, right in the middle of the far end of the lines – resulting in major blockages. Still, it was easy to get to the small press tables!

Sweatdrop Studios, who are ‘technically’ small press, but are so well-known that they could better be described as ‘medium press’ these days, were out on their own with a large stand. If I remember rightly Emma Vieceli used to be one of the main organisers of MCM, mind you XD

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I’ve been meaning to take a pic like this for ages, in-depth post coming soon!

Saturday was incredibly hot, though the main convention hall was well ventilated and/or air conditoned, so it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. I had to keep ‘topping up’ with deodorant mind you! I bought a few odds and ends including Bakuman book 11, which I promptly left behind at the stall selling a British comic called Formera. I went back and amazingly it was still there, I also bought the two volumes of Formera currently available. It “looks like One Piece”, as I said at the time. But I’ve never read One piece (and at approaching 700 chapters I’m not about to start!).

After that It was time for lunch. There’s a giant hallway running through the Excel Centre, which on this occasion was completely open (on a previous occasion half the centre was closed off for a medical conference – the look on their faces as they came through “our” bit as priceless!). There’s loads of little fast food outlets all the way along with a greater or lesser degree of seating. They’re quite “reasonably” priced too – considering they have a large captive audience in central London, anyway!

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This is just over halfway along (with the shorter part behind me, mind you!)

After that I decided to venture outside. On previous occasions I’ve never actually realised that anything was going on outside the building (mind you some of those previous occasions have been really cold). But actually there’s a big plaza and riverside area with a grass embankment to sit on, a stage set up on a lawn with live(ish) music, and a ‘dance’ area where people do silly dances like Caramelldansen. I only discovered all of this a few weeks ago when I looked at Youtube videos of past expo’s. BUT this year they moved the stage to just outside the main entrance, so you could hardly miss it!

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A girl that was doing Jpop dances

Most of the performances I saw were basically girls who have memorised the dances to manufactured pop music performing them. Except of course this is manufactured pop from JAPAN and so ,no doubt, has an ancient and noble samurai tradition behind it. I wonder if these sorts of events in Japan feature girls doing the dance moves to “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, or something?

The reason the stage had been moved to just outside the main entrance was because there was another event going on further down, promoting the benefits of swimming. At least it had attracted additional ice cream vans and also a load of portaloo’s, so the qeues were smaller!

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Once upon a time this was all disreputable boarding houses filled with disguised detectives.

Oh and just another picture to give you an idea of the scale of the thing. The stage area is up those stairs, between them and the building!

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Desertified

I had a couple more wanders around the convention hall, bumped into a few people I know (including the organiser of Camcon!)  and bought some more bits and pieces. Including a couple of books from June Manga, who label them “yaoi”, though I understand yaoi is a term for pornographic comics. June’s comics are actually romantic stories with varied settings. One I got before was a police procedural, and this one has two stories, both dealing with love-hate relationships turning into, erm, love-love ones. Mind you the stories could do with more action, what about a tale of romance between two strangely-long-haired Desert Rats during El-Alamein?

I also got a book called One Cell from a company called Lomsofd Manga (which I kept misreading as “Lowestoft Manga”). It’s “backwards”, despite having been originally written in English. Plus the art style looks more like an exaggerated stereotype of manga, I think somebody’s having a larf! Also on the shopping list was a couple of books from Ushio, who does some very funny material in his “Japanofail” books. Oh, and another title from Sweatdrop Studios – the second part of Strangers & Friends, which is about mysterious murders in Wooton Basset.

The best thing I got, though, was a huge reprint book of Hokusai Manga, which was the first thing to be called “Manga”. One literal translation of manga means “random sketches”, and that’s what Hokusai Manga was! You’d have a couple of pages of insects, followed by Noh masks, followed by people doing everyday jobs. There would sometimes be ‘literal’ illustrations of famous proverbs and things too. Hokusai Manga was originally planned to be just one book (published in 1814 – during the Edo Period, when Japan was closed off from the world and basically a Medaeval society), but ended up running to 15 volumes published over 64 years (though the last one was discovered and published 30 years after Hokusai’s death). The books were supposed to be a kind of guide to drawing, but ended up being bought in their thousands by a whole range of people who just liked looking at the pictures. I can see why, there’s something enchanting about them. Many copies even found their way out of Japan and influenced and inspired artists in other countries.

After a bit more wandering It was time to go home. I deliberately aimed for the new part of King’s Cross station. I remember major building work going on there when I was going to Plymouth with my granny for the eclipse… in 1999! It’s kind of hard to believe I won’t ever be squeezing through a narrow tunnel of wooden hoardings next time I go.

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Don’t I have another blog for non comics pictures?

In all, a fun convention, though I didn’t buy as much as I expected to (still spent the expected, large, amount of money mind you!). Perhaps in October I’ll do the full three days!

Red, White & Blue issue 1 and Camcon

All the way back in May 2011, I decided to ‘retrospectively’ ask IPC for permission to use Sexton Blake in my Red, White & Blue comic, and got turned down! So I decided to re-launch the comic, now with a new detective called Norman Saxon, and three black and white serial comics instead of two. The initially-planned release date for the new issue 1 was July, then September. Then February 2012, and then “Camcon 2012”, which was held on the 12th of may. I was up until 1 in the morning the night before printing and stapling! This in spite of the fact 10 of the 15 comic pages had already been drawn. I’m still hoping to make the comic bi-monthly eventually, though. Mind you only the first issue has a 25,000-odd word article about the history of British comics in it, which took “a while” to do (and still has a few mistakes – see under the History tab!).

So what does the finished product look like? Well I’d already posted the cover design on here, but the final has been altered slightly – mainly to “double date” it (I wish it had ‘only’ taken those four months to produce) and also to point out not every issue will have 40 pages!

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Same price as the old 24 pagers, though!

The two serial strips from the old version have returned. The first parts of them have been re-scanned and the script has been altered slightly. I’d actually intended to re-draw a few of the worst panels, but didn’t get time in the end. Oh I also added unobtrusive “previously published” labels – more as an excuse than anything, it’s not like many people ever saw them the first time around!

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I’m planning several “fictional people in real events” stories to make the comic “educational”. Including the Falklands War, Taisho / Showa-era Japan and the Great Storm of 1987.

Joining the two old strips is a new one – The Gun. It’s actually based on my  “first” (not really, but the actual first one made no sense at all) adventure comic, which I created from the ages of about 11-15. In the old version the world has been randomly carved up into two weirdly-named armies, who are fighting World War 3 (in the vein of all those war toys with “goodies” and “baddies” from no specific country). The new version is, of course, more realistic.

Oh wait, no it isn’t! Instead a huge, brainwashing cult has captured a huge territory stretching from Zimbabwe to western China, and is now aiming to take over Europe, Russia, the Arabian Peninsula, China and Korea. No doubt certain people will take the concept of a “huge, brainwashing cult” centered around the Middle East threatening the world the wrong way. But actually the enemy are going to be more based on that sort of smug, ivory-tower, “this is the correct way to live, you uneducated plebs” person, than on Muslims (who are not all the same anyway, if you’d bother to spend 5 minutes wiki’ing it). The first part of the story just introduces the main character and explains how the war starts – the enemy are called Intersoc, and have been inspired by Eurosoc, an orwellian dictatorship that briefly takes over the EU. World War 3 in this story is fought more like World War 2, but with jet planes and cooler tanks. The lack of nuclear weapons blowing everybody back to a radioactive stone age in 10 minutes is explained away unconvincingly – but if you want to read that, buy the comic!

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There will be an Etsy shop eventually. OR I may syrup-ticiously have a small quantity on sale at the Saturday of this year’s May MCM.

Of course, the main attraction of the comic is the complete detective story in each issue. The first one is around 11,500 words long and introduces Norman Saxon. The early continuity of Sexton Blake (in fact, quite a bit of the later continuity too!) was very confused and contradictory. As I’m coming up with a new character, I have given him a solidly-defined age, house, assistant and skill set right from the start! My old Sexton Blake stories jumped around, ranging from 1900 to 2007. Norman Saxon, though, is going to be firmly set in the Victorian / Edwardian period. The first two RWB stories are set in 1900. The first Trident story will be set in 1899.

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I think I need to work on scene composition

And, of course, there is that article! The version currently available under the History tab is version 2, the print version is actually version 2.1 – it has a few minor spelling and grammar corrections. There are a few others required, though. The next online version will be 2.2 – and will also contain pictures! The only picture in the printed version is the title. The aim of the article is to give the readers (who will mainly be at these conventions for US / Japanese comics) a new enthusiasm for British comics, and so it is a bit biased and ‘fluffy’. That said I took care to make sure all the facts were correct, and certainly avoided “the Dandy was the first British comic with speech balloons”-type waffle.

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In the far future an absolutely corrected version may be printed as a book with lots of colour pictures and sold seperately.

Oh and the back page contains profiles of the characters in the RWB, both in the current issue and those coming in the near future. That’s near future issue numbers-wise anyway!

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Hopefully by the time I get to the football story I’ll be a bit better at drawing distinctive faces!

With the comics printed and packed (and my huge stack of Roy of the Rovers sorted out, finally), it was time to pack and sleep. I even got everything into one case!

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It weighed a bit.

I’d also been attempting to record a Camcon video diary, but have scrapped it for two reasons. One, when I’m “talking to myself” (or machinery) my voice goes even more high pitched and pathetic than it already is. Two, I blu-tacked the camera to the dashboard of my car and made several ‘amusing’ comments during the journey, but I’d forgot there was a delay before it started recording, so all of those clips were of me turning the camera off again! I decided to just quit while I was ahead.

In the spirit of promoting British adventure comics, I also decided to create my own T-shirt with a Phoenix reference. I also took the latest issue and showed it to a few people on the day. Conveniently my 1p comics (always a draw, once you tell people the price) and the latest Phoenix both have rampaging dinosaurs on the covers! So let’s hope the guys and gals in Oxford have a few more subscribers before long.

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I’ll wear it at the MCM later this month too!

I’ve never been one for Cosplay, though I’ve since had a few cool ideas that might not be too difficult to make. But promoting The Phoenix comes first!

Anyway, having arrived at the venue decently on time (fortunately some horrible roadworks right in the middle of Cambridge have now been finished) I went around and started to get set up. As well as RWB issue 1 I also had the only issue of my old Scum Slaughter comic and a couple of 1p comics. I needed some “padding” so took various duplicates from my collection, including a load of 80’s Roy of the Rovers, and some older Union Jacks. Also a couple of volumes of The Windsor Magazine, a Victorian Strandalike. A few people had a look at them but didn’t buy them – far too heavy!

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The only picture I took at the con proper. The table closest to the camera was for an enigmatic “Cielia” who never turned up XD.

As you can see, the room was rather small, and so the walkways were very narrow. The tables were extremely close together, me and the girl behind me kind of had to take turns sitting down because we couldn’t both do it at once XD. But then again I prefer to stand up at these sort of events, you can engage the customers on the same level. Some “general anime memorabilia” merchants were next to me, and appear to have booked “back to back” tables so they could sell to people passing on either side of them.

As I didn’t have quite so much stuff I was set up in only a few minutes. I decided to start drawing some better signs for my table, though only got one of them partly done before the doors opened. I didn’t exactly have a decent range of pens either! It’s Cambi, the Camcon mascot, with Britannia fighting off clutching zombie hands. Or would be If i’d had time to draw them. I also forgot Cambi’s glasses and boots.

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 Next time I’ll make the effort and watercolour up something proper

The con was underway! And as usual I got generally ignored XD. A few, ahem, “older” guys came to the table. attracted by the Roy of the Rovers’s. But in the end I only sold 3 RWB’s, 1 Scum Slaughter (the guy loved the look of it, wonder what he thinks now?), 2 penny comics and a couple of secondhand items. Oddly I assumed the really old ones would go like hot cakes but they didn’t sell at all, I did dispose of a Union Jack from 1932, though.

I was opposite Sweatdrop Studios, which is not the best place for an obscure comic to be! Their table(s) were mega-busy virtually all the time. Still in a quiet period Emma Vieceli did actually realise who I was from some odds and ends I’d posted on thier forum XD. I was also able to collar a Thai girl who I’d previously been talking to (along with other Sweatdrop members Sonia Leong and Morag Lewis) at the previous week’s Hanami Exhibition. She’s interested in the history of the comics of all nations, and so I was able to sell her an 80’s Roy of the Rovers. I bet “I sold a Thai girl an 80’s Roy of the Rovers” is a googlewhack and a half. She later came back to ‘complain’ that it was full of football stories XD. But I was able to persuade her to part with hard-earned money for a certain other publication with a big article about comic history in it.

Other amusing incidents include some old guy who asked me how long I’d been interested in “manga” and didn’t seem impressed with the answer of “since May 2009, and I only read one!”. Some other guy also bought an RWB off me but then seeded my table with a load of leaflets for a tabletop RPG convention. I quietly shifted them before I had people coming and asking me about it XD. Also saw a few people from my Japanese classes, but didn’t sell anything to them. They were well-warned in advance!

The room was cold in the morning, but later in the day I discovered the painful way that one whole side of it was made of thick glass – it was like an oven! At least I wasn’t facing the window, I felt sorry for those guys. As time went on the number of visitors dwindled away and I went on a buying run of my own. I didn’t get much as there was a “last flicker of the candle” rush of people just as I’d extricated myself from behind the tables XD.

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The 9th Art book I actually got for free, it’s a regular(ish) anthology of comics creators from Cambridge and Oxford. I doubt they’d like what I’d send them, though! “White Violet” is one of Sweatdrop’s most interesting sounding comics, but one I’d somehow not bought until now. Vampire Freestyle is an adorable and amusing series by Jenika Ioffreda, who is insanely dedicated and attends ALL the cons! Even otherwise-unrelated craft fairs and goth conventions XD. I’ll do a proper review of the series one day. Sidekick appears to be a series of comics in which the main character keeps jumping genre (and mocking them). In the first one it’s a slice-of-life type story, but in another issue he finds himself in a sci fi space battle. A western looks to be on the cards too! Also there’s Fantasy World, which I’ve barely looked at (good, clean art though), a Sonic sketch and the conbook. The conbook also contains a short strip and a one-page cartoon about comic collecting, by me! There’s a few other bits of incidental art and loads of little Cambi designs.

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Oh and I got kitty/squirrel ears. They make my own ears look even bigger!

After the con closed down there was a break of an hour or so, in which I took my case back to the car (that was fun, I had to drive out of the space, chuck the case in, and then park again – in a multi storey! Lucky it wasn’t busy). After that I ate, did a bit of drawing on a big roll of paper, saw some other friends and watched a little anime in the tiny, boiling hot screening room. I don’t normally like anime but, well, there was nothing else going on. Also Dominion Tank Police has entered my “must watch” list. It’s cheesier than Space Mutiny!

Later on there was some singing and that. Zonic, aka Ziggy Newman, the organiser of the con, performed some of her own songs. Some of these involve putting words to music from the Sonic the Hedgehog games! Then the Cambridge-based clubnight Psychocandy rounded off the night with a load of geeky music including club remixes of the Nyan Cat music, a metal version of the Ghostbusters theme, Twilight by ELO and of course The Timewarp XD. Didn’t hear the Mandelbrot Set song, but you can’t have everything, eh?