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Kapow! Comic Con:

Multi-Media Crossover Appeal

What first got you into comics? What hooked me as a Essex nipper in the Sixties was television. True, my parents bought me Look & Learn to educate me but I just read the fantastic swords-and-spaceships serial Trigan Empire drawn by Don Lawrence, and I’d enjoyed a few Beanos. But it was television that really grabbed me and made me discover the shows’ comics incarnations. Watching Doctor Who and Thunderbirds led me to the weekly from the future, TV21, with Ron Turner’s Daleks and Frank Bellamy’s Thunderbirds in glorious painted colour. “Nana-nana-nana-nana Batman” with Adam West got me to buy my first American comic book in Romford market, a World’s Finest 80-Page Giant. And those creaky Belvision animated Hergé‘s Adventures of Tintin, specifically the moon adventures, spurred me to borrow the books from the library. And I’ve been a comics addict ever since.

As proof of this multi-media crossover appeal, Kapow!, the new London convention held on April 9th and 10th 2011, mistress-minded by Lucy Unwin and her sister Sarah and championed shamelessly by Mark Millar, drew over 5,100 visitors for its first weekend with a canny mix of genre TV-, film- and games-related celebrities and attractions.

It’s always a pleasure bumping into pals and pros again, but chatting to punters, I discovered many were pretty new to comics and Kapow! was their first ever Comic Convention. None had traveled to Bristol or Birmingham because they were outside London. I met two slightly stunned teenage brothers down from Peterborough, Marvel and Millar fans via the movies and both in seventh heaven. I also met the Salter family, each member with their own favourites: Mum and Dad had read Marvel since the British weeklies of the 1970s and were now discovering Walking Dead, their daughter was into manga via anime and their son into True Blood. I heard about one young girl who bought Jim Woodring’s bizarre Frank because it was the first comic she’d ever seen without words. We all have to start somewhere and these are the sort of mixed, open-minded new readers boosting the growth in the UK market. 

Early Saturday morning, I found the Business Design Centre in Islington already heaving. Insisting that everyone pre-book tickets guaranteed a good crowd and swift admission, though I heard some visitors expected to be able to buy tickets on the door and were turned away, which seems a missed opportunity. The venue’s exterior was decked out as a huge promotion for the Green Lantern movie. I noticed even the wrought iron supports for the mezzanine floor inside looked like GL’s logo.


Crowds already buzzing at 11am on Saturday.

Over coffee, I got some interesting perspective from Pier Gallo, the Italian artist on the Eisner-nominated Superboy series written by Jeff Lemire. Although Gallo had liked having his detailed art published in classy French hardback albums, the publishers would always give him more time to complete the oversized pages but never offer him anything extra for doing so. In contrast, working for DC he was getting more pages done and paid for, even if it meant strict monthly deadlines. Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill were also in fine fettle, relishing Marshal Law‘s arrival at post-Paul Levitz DC. Mills grinned to me at the prospect of writing a crossover between his lethal cape-killer and the DC stable of characters.


Artist Duncan Fegredo signs books for fans.

Twenty-five booths around the main hall hosted the main publishers, from American giants Panini/Marvel and Warner Bros/DC to British majors Rebellion and Titan and indies like Cinebook, SelfMadeHero, Mister Who and Scar Comics (premiering advance copies of Slumdroid by Ben Dickson and Tony Suleri), while the middle rows offered temptations like back issues, current collectables (a replica Judge Dredd helmet anyone?), stunning sketchbooks with beaten-copper comics covers (I succumbed to an ace Kirby Galactus) and a healthy array of UK independent presses and self-publishers, highlights being the first two volumes of Mirabilis, a bumper book of 1990s John G. Miller weirdness and Willet & Lish’s Cartigan sample. Let there be no doubt: Britain has definitely got comics talent by the bucketloads.


Artists John Romita Jr and Frank Quitely.

One downside was the queuing. In a ‘mine’s longer than yours’ contest, Millar’s queue of course won by yards. The Salters lined up for over two hours and got John Romita Jr.‘s autograph, but people behind them were not so lucky. Surely there’s a better system for signings, maybe numbered tickets, so you know you will get it and can come by when it’s being done. Why make people queue when they could be buying? Others complained about having to stand in line to get into events. If they’re all free, is it vital to clear the rooms between each one? Better signage, maps and announcements would have helped.

No-shows like Thor director Kenneth Branagh, Marvel’s talent-spotter C.B. Cebulski and brilliant artist Mick McMahon were setbacks, but there were lots of other stars to spot, like new Millar-collaborator Dave Gibbons, Superior‘s Lenil Yu, Mark Gatiss and surprise guest Chris Hemsworth, playing the God of Thunder. The Salters were thrilled to get a photo with him as he left. Notably absent though was any female guest; despite being run by women, this was a very blokey con. It was just as well that I got into the first Stan Lee Awards, which were enjoyably shambolic with few winners or guests attending, because I was unexpectedly asked to present the first award. Not that huge an honour, as they resorted to plucking a boy from the audience to present Best Artist to Romita Jr.

Overall, this debut was a success and Kapow! returns in 2012, hopefully with lessons learned. While there is room in the mezzanine bays for extra dealers, I gather there’s a limit on how many public this venue can contain. For it to grow, a bigger space like Earls Court, ExCel or Olympia makes more sense. Onward and upward, as Smilin’ Stan would say!

Posted: June 5, 2011

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