Despite the critical and sales importance of “Bande Dessinée” in France, American comics have had trouble finding an audience outside of movie theatres. However, slowly but surely, it seems the scene is expanding thanks to global successes like The Walking Dead or localized initiatives with the emergence of new publishers such as Urban Comics. The Paris Comics Expo is part of this new wave. From October 27th to October 28th, the Espace Champerret’s Hall C hosted the convention for its first year.
The Paris Comics Expo seemed to personalise the state of comics in France. The venue was small (less than 2000 square meters) but packed with exhibitors and attendants, without mentioning a quite important media presence with at least two major TV channels and a geek-centric one filming during the weekend. All the French editors had made a point of making an impact with their presence. Urban Comics, for its first convention appearance, had decided to make an impression: its booth was the biggest, displaying its many new series’ in deluxe hardcovers, while its outside screen displayed trailers for the New 52, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s Daytripper, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchieli’s DMZ and others. Clearly, everything was done to impress potential customers.
Panini Comics, publisher of Marvel in France had a smaller presence but was heavily hyping the Marvel AR app with a massive façade jumpstarting the app. Unfortunately, the lack of good reception in the hall as well as a lack of room to lock on the picture made it impossible to make use of the app.
This was characteristic of the con: while the enthusiasm was palpable and efforts were made all around to assure the smoothest experience, it seemed like the organization was very shaky from all sides.
The map of the con was posted on the site the day before the show, leaving many oblivious and unable to prepare properly. In the same way, each studio and publisher had brought its own artists, yet no page centralizing this information was available. It became impossible to know exactly who was there. Planning was definitely needed as the Paris Comics Expo, despite its size, was packed with amazing treats for comic fans.
The panels were barely advertised by the organisers and took place in the same room as shop booths and at the same time as cosplay photo-shoots. To be fair to the organizers, considering the size of the venue, they did as best as they could.
All the different exhibitors would organise their signing sessions differently and most worked smoothly.
However, the show’s main session ended up being the least accessible. As you arrived, you would learn only by asking that it was only those picked (between 5 to 8 per session) through a draw that would be able to attend the different sessions. However, the organisation would change as the weekend went on in an effort to adapt but at the expense of clarity for the attendees. Consequently, quite a few people ended up getting several sketches while others got none. It is unlikely that any cheating happened as organisers tried to even the odds for everyone when they noticed, but some people were clearly very lucky.
Urban Comics had similar troubles: while they didn’t use a draw, many people would just leave their bags to indicate they were in the queue and then pursue other interests, which prevented other people from getting a sketch when they actually made the effort to stay in the queue for the whole day.
Those two exhibitors had the most difficulties for two reasons. The first, obviously because of their newness on the scene that provides its lot of challenges to overcome but the main reason being that they had brought their A-Game. Urban Comics had no less than four artists at their booths, far from small fish: R. M. Guera, the artist on Jason Aaron’s Scalped and on the upcoming Django Unchained miniseries, Riccardo Burchieli from Brian Wood’s DMZ and Northlanders, Jock, whose bibliography would be too long to list, so let’s just say Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow: Year One and Scott Snyder’s Batman and, last but not least, Sean Murphy known for his and Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian as well as his own Punk Rock Jesus.
It would be too long and tedious to make a list of the guests but by walking around the con, you could also stumble upon Tyler Kirkham, Romano Molenaar (current artist on Birds of Prey), the awesome Roland Boschi (Jason Aaron’s Ghost Rider, Wolverine Max) and many others.
The atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed, as the artists would take their time to exchange with the con-goers while sketching. Even when they tried to hurry, to please as many people as possible, they would stay friendly and easy to talk to about their works, their craft and even more “philosophical” subjects in the case of Mr. Murphy.
It was obvious that everyone involved, from the artists to the crew was trying their very best to please everyone and to keep an enjoyable atmosphere. What it lacked in professionalism was well compensated by the heart they put into it.
The panels themselves, though sparse, were particularly interesting. Chris Allo (ex-talent co-ordinator at Marvel) and John Higgins (colourist on Watchmen) headlined two master classes (You had better have good english skills to attend though), they also included a panel on the creation of a comic magazine with local comics journalists, as well as a conference on real-life superheroes with two local RLSH as well as a French photographer who published a book on them as well as a sociologist. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find their names anywhere. While the idea of real life super heroes is very easy to dismiss, this panel proved very insightful and interesting.
To complete the panorama, two cosplay contests took place during the weekend: one for children on the Saturday and one for adults on the Sunday, which allowed to show quite a few impressive costumes. It was also interesting to notice how many female cosplayers (and attendees in general) were there. It does seem to show some form audience expansion going on at the moment in the small world of comic book fans.
The Paris Comics Expo had definitely something to offer to con-goers and could, with time, become the true Parisian reference as far as American comic book conventions are concerned. Clearly I’m not the only one to think so as Urban Comics as already confirmed its presence for next year and it looks like media presence will be even bigger. Some organisational aspects have to be re-thought but I eagerly anticipate next year’s announcement and look forward to go again.