A preview by Sarah Miles
I sat down with comic creator Simon Birks on Free Comic Book Day, to talk about his newest project, Meanwhile… Comic Con, a brand new convention launching this September in Chichester. As the convention is going to be on my doorstep, and with guests such as John Higgins (Watchmen, Judge Dredd, Batman) and Alan Martin (Tank Girl) preparations are well underway, it’s time to find out why we should be be jumping in on this latest event…
Hi Simon, it’s great to meet you. Let’s get straight into it – What initially inspired you to start a new convention?
Well, here’s the long answer to a short question!
Marielle and I run Blue Fox Comics, a small UK indie publisher based in Walberton, near Chichester. I’ve been writing for more years than I intend to remember, and have always loved comics, ever since my nan used to buy me Marvel UK Spider-Man comics in the 70’s.
Over the years, I’ve written in many genres, from film to play to novel, but it wasn’t till around 2011, that I decided to start to write comics. In 2013, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to get my first comic drawn, we began going to the major comic-cons, looking for a new artist. It was, as I’m sure it is with most convention goers, a very eye-opening experience.
I fell in love with the indie comics scene pretty much immediately, and after speaking to several artists, we found RHStewart, who we knew would be perfect for Sinners [note – I’ve read Sinners, it’s great fun and well worth a look!] Over the coming few months, issue one was drawn, and we successfully used Kickstarter to raise the funds for printing. In March 2014, Sinners #1 was printed, and we attended our first convention as a small press comics seller. Now, less than two years later, we have six comics on our table, with just as many in the pipeline for 2017.
We’ve got to know a lot of friends through the convention scene. We’ve travelled all the way to Glasgow last year, and for the second time in a row, we’ll be exhibiting at ThoughtBubble in Leeds, one of the major cons of the year.
At the beginning of last year, Chichester gained it’s very own comic shop, and Owen and Tom very kindly said they’d sell my comics. Since then, we’ve been frequent visitors, and have been heartened by the amount of support they receive from Chichester patrons.
So, with that background, it seemed only logical to put on a convention there, especially since it’ll be so close-by!
Where did the name come from?
With so many conventions appearing (which is good news!), we were keen to have a name that stands out – not just Chichester Comic-Con. As previously mentioned, we attend ThoughtBubble in Leeds regularly, and liked the way it was named after a comic book term, but a subtle one.
So, we put our brains in gear to try and come up with something in a similar – but unique – vein.
The name Meanwhile… came up quite early, in truth. It’s always a classic caption on comic book pages, and it transposed well for a con. The litmus test for us was how did it sound when you said ‘Are you going to Meanwhile… this year?’ It sounded right, and we also liked the phrase ‘Meanwhile… in Chichester’.
It was a win-win-win for us!
The opening credits of our comics podcast start with the word Meanwhile…, so it sounds good to us too!
What experience do you have of organising or attending conventions, in the UK and beyond?
We’ve been going to conventions, large and small, for the past three years, and have a good understanding of how they fit together.
Marielle is a community fundraiser for a charity, and thus organises events regularly, which is a fantastic bonus. Not only that, but we’ve organised several projects recently, including writing, directing and producing a webseries with Norman Lovett from Red Dwarf, and shooting a feature film last year. These types of projects require a lot of planning, not only beforehand, but on the day, too.
Wow, you have a lot on your plate! Bearing in mind all of the projects that you have, and your own convention experience, what do you think Meanwhile… has to offer, that other events do not already provide?
Location is the obvious one. Chichester is a beautiful city, which people will want to visit and come back to. We also want to have the very best of both Indie and mainstream comics on show, as well as offer a board-gaming tournament (or two), lots of great cosplay and maybe even a few surprises.
Chichester College has great facilities, and is in a great location, within easy reach of the station, and also offering free car parking for the convention.
We’re going to offer a convention for all ages, and for all experiences. We promise it’s going to be a lot of fun!
That sounds amazing. I love Chichester, and was really pleased to hear that there will be a convention that I can visit with my family, whiteout having to travel to London or even further afield. What do you hope to achieve from Meanwhile…
We’re hoping for something for everyone. It’s a big claim, but that’s our mission. We’ll be announcing some more great guests in the coming months, as well as competitions open for all. We want it to be a learning experience, too, with interactive lessons in all things convention!
We’ll definitely be inviting big names from the comic scene, we know how much people love to meet their heroes. We’re also making sure we bring in some up and coming names, too, as variety is very important.
And finally… I think all comics fan have a wishlist of creators that they would like to meet. If you had a wishlist of guests for Meanwhile…, and I’m talking anyone, anywhere, who would you want to see there?
Wow, big question. Comic-wise, I’d love to have a few of the big names here. I’m not going to mention any names, far too much jinxing for that, but I love reading all types of comics; from the infamous The Walking Dead, Sandman and Chew, to lesser known Letter 44, Spire and Low.
There are so many talented comic creators, the task is narrowing down who to invite!
Ha ha, that’s a very cautious answer, but I hope that you can get some of the people you are thinking of there! I look forward to attending the convention in September, and am already planning my cosplay, I hope to see lots of TC friends and family there too!