The fact is, with so many shows, creators are suffering from “convention fatigue”. Cons take up a lot of work time, for professionals. Very few have their expenses covered, unless they are guests of honour, and so it’s a double hit for them, in terms of time away from the writing desk/drawing board and earning money, while having to lay out cash just to appear at the show. Hence, many try and recoup their losses by charging for sketches, selling original artwork and comics, and sleeping with fans for cash (one of those is a lie). Consequently, many stayed away from Bristol this year in favour of the more lucrative London-based Kapow, due the following weekend.
The other reason to attend shows is to talk to editors and publishers about work and network. This maintained Bristol as “the professional’s convention” as there were fewer fans and everyone could just mingle and hang out with friends they only saw once a year (an important part if you are a freelancer working alone at home). But now there are so many shows, it was the first con I’ve ever left saying to many, “See you next week”!
In this climate every show has to prove their worth, and unfortunately Bristol’s stock has been in freefall for sometime. The ever-decreasing punter footfall, and lack of major “hot” US guests and publishers has seen the convention becoming less of a viable option for both fans and professionals, particularly with so much competition. Every single weekend this May has been taken up by a show: Bristol this weekend, Kapow the following, then MCM Expo and finally Collectormania. All of these shows see more punters through the door, have more exciting panels, with bigger name US guests and, frankly, make Bristol look old and tired. Most stallholders I spoke to didn’t make enough money this weekend to cover their costs, and a lot won’t be returning (to be fair, I did speak to a few who did OK, but they were targeting the non-comics readers). All this was compounded by no one turning up from either of “The Big Two” (or even “The Medium Six”), and star guest Denny O’Neill failing to appear. Plus, having checked with a local journalist, I was stunned to discover there had been no local press or publicity arranged (no wonder less than 300 people turned up). Personally, the fact that some little shits decided to steal the Comic Book Alliance’s Tank Girl banner was the last nail in the coffin.
Basically, something’s got to give, and the fat’s got to be trimmed, and it looks like Bristol is the first casualty to fall victim of the “Convention Wars”. I suspect it won’t be the last. There was a scurrilous rumour going around the weekend that the Birmingham ComiciCon/BICS has been cancelled this year.
It seems a shame that Bristol Comic Expo should end on a whimper rather than a bang. I liked coming to Bristol, it’s a nice town and it was a great convention. But I, for one, shall not be back. And I know I’m not alone.