Birmingham International Comic Show 2007

The weekend of 13th-14th October saw the second annual Birmingham Comic Show take place at Thinktank in central Birmingham, this year boasting guests such as Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan. The venue was inside an impressive looking building that also housed a science museum and an Imax theatre, but appeared to be located in a redevelopment area that the council have so far neglected to redevelop. Indeed, if you actually followed the signage to Thinktank, you may have been lost in the wilderness of the Midlands forever, such was variation in directions for the same building.

That aside the venue was very pleasant, and made a nice change from the usual hotel/convention centre that usually play host to comic gatherings. Although I missed the launch party on Friday night where I hear much carnage ensued, I did make it early on the Saturday morning in order to beat any queue that may have managed to locate the correct building. Imagine my surprise when upon arrival I was confronted with a somewhat large chain of people, all waiting for the doors to open. Luckily, or so I thought, I had advance ordered my tickets, and so waited patiently to be ushered past the cash paying masses.

Well, that didn’t happen. It turns out a lot of people had pre-ordered tickets and with the recent postal strike (and what I assume was a cost-saving measure) no tickets were actually posted out before the show. As such, the cash paying queue streamed through the door, whilst the rest of us had to wait for a rather confused man to individually go through a list of names and try and match it up to the rather impatient queue of people before him. A minor hiccup but one that needs resolving before any future shows, having people who have been queuing for over an hour missing talks because they can’t get into a show they have already paid for is not the best start.

An impressive number of talks and events had been lined up for the two days, covering everything from erotic comics to manga, quiz shows to colouring classes. After checking out the main dealers hall, I went to the “Comic Artists Flip Out” panel. This consisted of Alan Davis, Staz Johnson and Mark Buckingham drawing as many sketches on presentation flip-charts as possible, which were then raffled off to the audience. It was great to see three different artists approach to the task. Alan Davis managed to steadily work through a number of sketches ranging from D.R. & Quinch to Nightcrawler. Staz Johnson managed the most by volume, including a couple of Batmans and a Judge Dredd. Mark Buckingham took the most time with his sketches, opting to draw pencil outlines before picking up the markers to flesh them out. His one concession was one of his background Fables characters – “Mrs-Easy-To-Draw”, whom consists of a large circular body with a couple of sticks for legs. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of people were lucky enough to walk away with skethes, including Mark Farmer who won one of Staz’s Batmans. At least he didn’t win an Alan Davis sketch.

I stayed on for the following talk “Writers on the Block”, the premise being that writers covering the fields of comics, novels, TV and animation would discuss their motivations and methods of working. Present on the panel were Mike Carey, Paul Cornell, Paul Larson and Si Spurrier. Topics of discussion included the realities of being a writer, the pressure of deadlines, and the discipline of actually writing. Cornell noting that he writes 500 words for a novel per day, or 5 pages of a comic, or 5 pages of a TV show. This gives him the motivation, and once he reaches his target, the rest of the day is his. When asked about how the writers hone their skills, Paul Larson noted that he works on his TV work with a writing partner that gives him someone to bounce off. Cornell stated he always seeks out the harshest criticism of his work, and quipped that as a Doctor Who writer, this is very easy to find. A discussion on good and bad editors followed, and also on trusting artists. Unfortunately, the whole panel came to an abrupt end when the writers were ejected from the room to make way for Mike Mignola.

As guest of honour, the Hellboy creator was a big draw, filling the room with people eager to hear him talk about his career and the future of Hellboy. Briefly touching on the beginning of his career when he drew covers for TCR and then Marvel, Mignola mentioned his dislike of working on Alpha Flight, and that he got superheroes out of his system with DC’s Cosmic Odyssey. Moving onto the subject of his most famous creation, he acknowledged that he daren’t tell director Guillermo del Toro the ending to the Hellboy story in case he uses it in Hellboy 3. Asked about his returning to drawing as well as writing the series, Mignola declared he doesn’t intend to do this as the challenge for himself is in the writing side of the process. However, he did admit there are a number of key scenes that he will be illustrating as he has had them worked out for years.

On the subject of baddies, he claimed that Nazis make great villains, they have good uniforms and a tendency to have worked on the craziest schemes such as giant robots. He also admitted that he came up with ideas for Nazi schemes for Hellboy only to watch documentaries much later and find out they had actually been working on similar ideas! He revealed that the next Hellboy series – “The Wild Hunt” will have backup tales of a Victorian group who are the forerunners of the B.P.R.D. The novel that Mignola co-wrote with Christopher Golden, “Baltimore”, was originally meant to be a Graphic Novel, the novel was subject to a bidding war from publishers and has now been optioned as a movie, with David Goyer lined up to direct.

Covering some other areas of discussion, Mignola stated it was unlikely there would be a third animated Hellboy feature as the first two have not sold too well. Asked about his influences, he stated German Impressionist films such as Golem and Nosferatu. He also described one of the most surreal moments in his life so far was being invited by Disney to come and help out on their Atlantis animated film. Mignola arrived at the Disney studios to find that the artists had blown up examples of his work and documented exactly what made his artwork so unique in order that they could use the style in the film. Mignola admitted to understanding hardly anything they said when explained how he draws. Asked if he would like to direct a film, he replied not really “it’s so much work!” Finally, asked if he had had any issues in America with the character seeing as how his name contains the word “hell”, Mignola stated he hadn’t so far. In fact he had received letters from church ministers who enjoyed the series, and also from the Church of Satan stating the same! The panel finished with the auctioning of the artwork that graced the programme guides, consisting of Hellboy and Jack B. Quick by Mignola and Nowlan. A slow start eventually saw some competitive bidding between two people that eventually saw the piece go for £1300, the proceeds to go to charity.

The Saturday evening involved the usual attack of a local bar. I seem to remember some sock puppets, lots of booze, and being asked repeatedly if I remembered a British comic character that had the head of a bee by a certain writer.

Returning on the Sunday, the volume of people was just about as high as the Saturday, but with weekend wristband still intact, getting into the venue was a lot swifter. As with the previous day, it was good to see a lot of families wandering around. The organisers had made a lot of effort to make sure there were activities for kids, including drawing workshops and screenings of Manga shows. My first stop for the day was to hear Kevin Nowlan in discussion about his career. Little did I expect the aforementioned Manga screenings would be so loud in the adjoining room that they would be blasting through all afternoon, adding some unintended comedy sound effects to the talks.

Kevin Nowlan talked through his work, starting with his influences from newspaper strips such as Peanuts when he was a child nearly 30 years ago. A self-taught artist, he went to a trade school for commercial illustration before finding it too restrictive and going off to work on fanzines. He started in the industry doing a few Marvel covers before being given Doctor Strange. Talking about his increasing work inking over his career, Nowlan admitted that just inking is obviously quicker than pencilling and inking everything by himself. The discussion touched on the number of licensed comics he has worked on, such as Aliens and Superman/Aliens, his collaboration with Alan Moore on the Jack B. Quick character, and his latest covers for DC’s Metamorpho.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the interview was his return to complete a book he started working on over 20 years ago. Steve Gerber wrote a Man-Thing story back in 1986 that Kevin started work on, drawing and fully painting, it took up so much of his time that he had to pre-sell all the pages just so he could pay his bills. 20 years later, he’s about to restart where he left off. Let’s hope it isn’t much longer before we get to see the completed story.

Following straight on from Kevin Nowlan was the return of Mike Mignola alongside Hellboy artist Duncan Fegredo for a look at their work on Hellboy: Darkness Calls. A fascinating look at how Fegredo constructed the artwork from Mignola’s scripts that included thumbnails was shown in a series of slides throughout the panel. It was very interesting to see how the pages developed from Mignola’s script ideas to Fegredo’s finished pencils and inks. The differing approaches taken by each artist certainly showed some of the complexities of getting the creator’s intentions on the page, whilst the artist tries to imprint his own take on the artwork.

The final panel I attended was “Iron-Casting”, hosted by The Geek Syndicate and being recorded for a podcast, the guests were Adi Granov and Esad Ribic from Iron Man and Silver Surfer artistic fame. Ostensibly an excuse to mess around for an hour, this was great fun. Eric Ribic proved to be one of the funniest comic guys around, most of what he said is unprintable here, Adi Granov seemed rather bemused at first but soon got into the swing of things and was joking along with everyone else. In-between the laughter there was some brief discussion of the work the artists had done, and Adi talked a little about helping out on the new Iron Man movie. Ribic’s next work is Namor with Pete Milligan, whilst Granov is working with Jon Favereau on where shellhead goes up against Fin Fang Foom.

This years Birmingham Comic Show was great fun, the mixture of panels and events was varied enough to cover the different interests of the public, and the number of guests present was a good indicator that the UK can sustain a number of comic events like this and Bristol. A little more planning for next year should solve some of the logistical issues such as the entry problem, and placing loud TVs right next to quiet panels. I will certainly be interested to see what next years will bring.

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  • JAMES DODSWORTHJames Dodsworth - Born and raised in Yorkshire, residing in London since 2000, James has a Law Degree and works for the Anti-Financial Crime Office of a International Asset Management Company. He is a writer and editor for But his main claim to fame is living next to the pub where Shaun of the Dead was conceived.