Words & pics by Olly MacNamee
I’ll warn you now, many of the names in this review of the International Comics Expo (ICE) you might not know – unless you are passionate about comics and know your Kirby from your Ditko. Because what ICE isn’t, is a pop-cultural carnival posing as a comic con.
ICE is a comic-con that focused squarely on all things comic. By filling their roster with so many fan favourite creators, ICE allowed us (the fans) to meet our heroes and talk to them one to one; creators of characters that have become household names and cherished memories. Judge Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Esquerra made a rare joint appearance, as well as legendary Iron Man artist and storyteller, Bob Layton, Watchmen co-creator, Dave Gibbons, and Walking Dead artist, Charlie Adlard. And that was just the tip of the pencil.
ICE was also a chance for the attending speakers and luminaries to socialise with one another, as well as with their fans. There were no airs and graces on show, no raging egos and all guests were easily approachable. Indeed, knowing that Bob Layton doesn’t get paid a cent in royalties for a lot of the Iron Man merch that the Disney/Marvel juggernaut churn out, I was worried he wouldn’t sign my huge Iron Man canvas. But he did, even posing with the beast. Thanks Bob, you just made my already limited edition print even more limited (one of one, by my reckoning) and a grown man childishly happy. Now imagine that multiplied by the 700 visitors to the venue – double the numbers ICE welcomed in 2014.
The Studio venue, on Cannon St in Birmingham City Centre, was brimming with the Old Masters of comics over several floors – such as inkers Joe Rubinstein and Hunt Emerson, as well as the new Renaissance talents such as John Royle and Declan Shalvey. Wherever you turned, you were likely to bump into the great or the good of the comic book world, from both the UK and America. ICE was also a place for new voices, new names, and independent creators to get on the ladder. Many who were selling on the Saturday (such as Rees Finlay, launching his The Indie Project magazine) were also present on the Sunday – when ICE transformed, like an Autobot, into Comics Uncovered and a set of seminars, workshops and networking events presented by many of the comic book pros already mentioned.
We got the chance to go behind the drawing board, so to speak, and listen to tips from the likes of Dr Who storyboard and comic book artist, Mike Collins, DC Comics group editor, Jim Chadwick and inker extraordinaire, Joe Rubinstein – all ready to cast forth their psalms of success unto us in attendance at this alternative Sunday service. After all, in this, we were all believers.
Throughout the day editors from DC and the newly formed comic book company, Aftershock Comics, Mike Marts, reviewed aspiring artists’ portfolios. One pair I met, newbies with a fire in their bellies – Joe and Angus – took on board each and every nugget of advice, immediately soaking it up with their own plans to produce their own comic. It was clear this dynamic duo left inspired and fired up; I can’t wait to see what they produce.
Attending as both a fan (on the Saturday) and a budding comic book wannabe (on the Sunday) the ICE/Comics Uncovered weekend gave me two different, but pertinent perspectives – both of which I enjoyed immensely for what it taught me and for whom I met. People I would unlikely meet again, if not for Shane Chebsey and his hard working crew (and a special big thanks to Claire, who was willing to keep my daughter entertained while I ran around like The Flash grabbing guests).
And as for the booty, the convention plunder, I didn’t do too badly either. As well as my aforementioned signed limited edition Iron Man, I picked up a wicked sketch by locally based DC artist, Phil Winslade – depicting the anti-Justice League of America, The Crime Syndicate. Having only asked for the one character of his choosing, Phil drew the whole gang. This kind of candor, genuine interest and generosity summed the whole weekend up for me.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but when I met mine – over the ICE/Comics Uncovered weekend, they often went above and beyond what they needed to do. That good will, friendliness and open arms to us fans made this one of the best cons of the year so far.
ICE came, saw and put the comics back into comic cons. And with more local cons becoming a feature of Birmingham’s social calendar (with the Birmingham Comic Fest in April at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground) expect to see more comic related features in the near future from all of us here at Birmingham Review.
Next up, the big MCM weekender in November at the NEC. Keep ‘em peeled and stay tuned for a preview of that ‘un too. After all, word on the street is that a certain Bionic Man may be in attendance.
For more details on the International Comic Expo (ICE), visit https://internationlcomicexpo.wordpress.com/
For more venue details, visit http://www.studiovenues.co.uk/conference-venues/birmingham/birmingham-conference-venue.htm
LOST REVIEW 2015 – BIRMINGHAM REVIEW’s annual anthology will be available to purchase from Friday 27th November, online or though selected venues & outlets. Watch the website for more details.