By Olly MacNamee
Putting the comics firmly back into comic conventions, Shane Chebsey’s International Comics Expo (ICE) returns for a second year to The Studio on Birmingham’s Cannon Street (just off Corporation Street for those travelling from outside of Brum) next weekend and with it comes a guest list to be envied by some of the bigger stateside conventions.
In a boutique venue such as The Studio, it’s astounding what ICE delivered last year and what they intend to deliver this year. Not only have they bagged The Walking Dead’s Charlie Adlard and US stars Bob Layton (Iron Man) and uber-inker Joe Rubinstein (The Amazing Spider-man) but if that wasn’t enough ICE have also secured an appearance by the UK’s first comic book laureate, Dave Gibbons (do I really have to add an example of his work after his name?) as well as artists Ian Churchill, Mike Collins and 2000AD legends Carlos Esquerra and John Wagner. These are but the tip of the iceberg of talents from both the bigger publishers, such as DC and Marvel, although what ICE does well also is to include a plethora of homegrown indie and up-and-coming talent too.
For example, last year I introduced myself to the charming and witty writer/artist, Jessica Martin, who had only recently published her first foray into independent comic publishing with her critically acclaimed comic debut, IT Girl. A year later and a year wiser and Martin is on the cusp of larger recognition with the forthcoming release of her graphic novel, Elsie, which is currently being complimented with an art exhibition at our own Orbital Comics in London. Who will be this year’s find I wonder?
And, given that Birmingham has a longstanding tradition of nurturing (or should that be festering?) talent, there are a few familiar faces from the area in attendance, with Hunt Emerson, Phil Winslade, Lew Stringer (The Beano), writer Ian Edginton and returning Brummie, Rachael Stott (Star Trek/Planet of The Apes) adding a local flavour to the show, signing and sketching throughout the day.
On the Saturday, as well as the usual chance to get your comics signed and sketches there is a whole host of panels, from interviews with Layton, Emerson and Rubinstein to a talk from Gibbons, aimed squarely at kids. These are free to ticket holders and free for kids, who get in for naught just be turning up to with a paying adult.
But, if you want in, you probably know who else is in attendance anyway. If not, then make with the clickety-click and have a gander for yourself. It truly is immense. For me, ICE is the booming, big, brash start of the Midlands comic con season and what a start it promises to be, just from the names already mentioned.
With Saturday’s schedule bursting at the seams, I am amazed, then, that ICE have once again scheduled a Sunday programme too, albeit of a different bent to the first day. But they have, and it is equally as impressive as the Saturday line-up.
Sunday’s Comics Uncovered event, totally dedicated to professional speakers (many of whom I have already mentioned above) talking through top tips and procedures on how to get into comics, whatever your background. With an exclusive (yep, there’s that word again, but then, ICE does have a lot of ‘em) visit by Mike Marts and Joe Pruett’s Aftershock Comics on the lookout for new, fresh talent. Marts will be conducting one-to-one portfolio reviews (and spaces are, predictably, long gone) alongside a full programme of workshops and seminars that promises to offer advice all aspects of comic books, from the art of colouring with Jordie Bellaire to how to submit to DC with group editor, Jim Chadwick (and how to edit, with Tim Pilcher) as well as storytelling with Mike Collins (Dr Who), these are but a few of the enticing, well thought-out events across the day. Providing, of course, that there are no thick heads after the Saturday night.
While a high quality of guest has been guaranteed from ICE once again, sober heads the following morning cannot. So, who’s round is it again?
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn’t know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or don’t.
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