Even later in Bristol

A column article by: Regie Rigby
Yes, late again. And next week I’ll be a long, long way from any kind of PC, so I’m going to make up for it with this, bumper edition – think of it as an eighty page giant of a column. After that, I promise, I’ll get my arse in gear and get back to the old publishing schedule… So, we were at Bristol. Last time I promised I’d get permission from the lovely Bevis Musson so that I could show you a couple of pages from his latest comic the Dead Queen Detectives. Sadly I then forgot all about it. Fortunately Bev is made of more organized stuff than I am and e-mailed me. But you’re still going to have to wait ‘till next time, because I’ve got a problem making the images work. Yes, I know, but as you read this I’m sitting on a windswept beach in Scotland, and I can’t sort it from here… It’ll be worth the wait though – there’s the Queen Victoria Comedy page just waiting to be posted, and I have to be honest – the first time I read that I laughed so hard I snorted red wine out of my nose, which I appreciate isn’t an image you want in your head, but it’s still true. For me, Dead Queen Detectives is right up there with Malcolm Magic for sheer, unadulterated fun, and however much I like my graphic narrative grim and gritty, you just can’t beat a good chuckle sometimes… I suspect that’s why I enjoyed Lee “Budgie” Batnett’s conversation with Dave Gibbons so much. Gibbons, of course, is something of an artistic giant - the man who wielded the pen (or possibly brush) on Martha Washington, The Originals, Watchmen and so much more. Budgie these days is perhaps best known as Phil Barnett’s dad**, but he’s also the creator and writer of the much loved Hypotheticals panel, about which, more later. The point here is that Budgie and Gibbons know each other, and clearly get on rather well. The conversation therefore was both relaxed and revealing as Budgie and Gibbons explored the great man’s career - including the time he spent as a Superhero, running across the rooftops of London in tights and a cape.*** They also discussed Gibbons’ work on Watchmen, and the forthcoming movie (which seems to have the creator’s seal of approval, at least in Gibbons’ case. Moore of course automatically disassociates himself from all movies of his work.) It was an entertaining and actually rather enlightening look at the work and views of one of comics’ most influential modern artists, and Budgie revealed a new side to himself – who knows, now Michael Parkinson has retired… The other really good thing about their little chart though, was that it dragged me out of the Engine Shed and into the Expo’s other venue, the Ramada Plaza Hotel. I like the Plaza. I don’t stay there anymore, this year I didn’t stay anywhere, and last year I took my caravan down and parked it down by the Bristol waterside****, but it’s still a nice place to hang out. The Plaza serves as the venue for the “cultural” side of the event. The stalls and the costumes are all over at the Engine Shed. The Plaza hosts the discussions, the panels and the Awards dinner, as well as providing a place for a goodly number of Expo attendees to stay. The separation of culture and capitalism isn’t total though, and it has become the norm for there to be a couple of stalls selling indy comics outside the talks rooms. This I suppose provides a little bit of overflow for the increasingly crowded Engine Shed, as well as giving you something to do while you wait for the panel you want to watch to get started. Sometimes there are real gems to be found out there on their own, and this year was most certainly no exception, because this year I discovered http://www.astrofunk.co.uk>Astrofunk. I haven’t loved a comic this much at first sight for a while. I mean, it’s right up there with Vogarth and Malcolm Magic. Indeed, when I saw the title of the comic I immediately thought of Vogarth, and wondered if this was some sort of sequel, given that the skeletal hero of Vogarth was Astropunk. But no, the two comics are unrelated - http://www.astrofunk.co.uk>Astrofunk is utterly original, and truly fab. It’s a funny book in many senses of the word. There is great slapstick here, and some good one-liners. It made me chuckle. But it’s also funny in a weird way. We start with two graffiti artists, somewhere in an asteroid field, scrawling away on a Deathbot, which they accidentally activate. Then we have a little rabbit like creature called “Captain Fuzzball” facing down some kind of intergalactic villain type. Then we discover that there are a bunch of these rabbit creatures on the asteroid, and that Fuzzball is their defender. And there’s a threat on the way… This really should be silly and inconsequential. I’m sure you’re more than capable of looking at the rather simplistic synopsis above and picking out the plot holes there. Why would you be doing graffiti on an asteroid for a start? Couple this with a thick lined and hugely cartoony art style and you’d think that this was a lightweight throwaway read. But you’d be wrong. You’d be very, very wrong. Oh, to be sure there are elements of silliness in here – to be honest that rather seems to be the point. But actually that’s the thing that marks this book out for the work of genius that it is. Anyone can make great drama out of serious looking people being serious all the time. It’s building tension when your hero is two feet tall, pink, with buck teeth and floppy ears that takes the skill, and that’s exactly what writer/artist Ross Burt has done. This really is the sort of thing that restores my faith in what comics can do. This is kind of joyous free expression that I’ve always loved in comics. The little short story at the end, featuring Captain Fuzzball attempting to steal carrots from the planet of the Snowmen is pure, pure delight. Honestly, go find yourself a copy of this and see what I mean. It’s like nothing else I’ve read recently, and I’ve seldom enjoyed a comic more. And so, http://www.astrofunk.co.uk>Astrofunk kept me amused at the Plaza, not, in truth while I was waiting for Budgie to interview Dave Gibbons, but later, while I was waiting for the Budgie/Gibbons collaboration that is Hypotheticals to get underway. Hypotheticals is now part of the Bristol tradition – it’s been running since the year 2000, and I honestly couldn’t imagine the Expo without it. The format is simple. Panellists are transported to “Earth Dave”, a parallel world where everything is different and yet, totally the same. They are then presented with a series of hypothetical comics related situations and asked - hypothetically - what they’d do if they were faced with those situations while they were filling their professional functions. The panel this year was one of the best, featuring as it did the Queen of Vertigo comics, the wonderful Karen Berger, alongside the lovely rising star Emma Viecelli*****, Jon Browne, comics retailer of fame and repute, and the simply wonderful double act Walt and Louise Simonson, who may well be my favourite people ever. Keiron “Phonogram” Gillen and of course our own Lee “Budgie” Barnett completed what must be one of the best balanced and most entertaining panels for a while. This year the script had them tackling the thorny issues of creator rights – Walt Simonson in particular was refreshingly candid in his answers on this subject – and corporate interference in editorial decisions. Regrettably, as an audience member I made the same deal with the panel that everyone else in the room made. In order to ensure that people with professional reputations to maintain feel able to give free and unguarded****** answers we all agree that what is said on Earth Dave stays on Earth Dave. This is always frustrating, because there is always a wealth of hugely funny and often wise comment to be had at these events. I generally feel that on the whole the panellists would only come out well if their hypothetical thoughts were spread to a wider audience. This year I am absolutely convinced that the obvious wisdom of the Simonsons should be broadcast for the general good of mankind. I’d love to have the pair of them over for dinner sometime******* – they seem like great company to me. But, a deal’s a deal. I promised not to repeat anything, so I won’t. Just trust me. Next year? If you go to Bristol but don’t go to Hypotheticals? You’re missing the heart of the weekend, because that’s what Hypotheticals is. If you’re in the UK and wondering whether it’s worth making the trek over to the West Country to attend the Expo, well, even if everything else was rubbish (and it isn’t) Hypotheticals would make it worth the trip. Really it would. Oh, there are so many reviews still to do. I promised you the girly comic, and the new stuff from the Goodman Bothers, and then there’s pretty much everything from the Markosia stand. But I’m out of time, and out of space. The reviews will have to wait, and it’s time to draw this review of Bristol to a close. It was a good year, and I’m sad to have missed so much. But the essentials were there. Events like Bristol exist to give us a chance to meet, to be social. Bristol is the weekend that gives the lie to the tired old stereotype of the comics reader as a sad, spotty loser with no friends. The friendship, camaraderie, and, let’s not dodge the word, love that radiates through the event is tangible. It really is impossible not to love Bristol, and this year above all years I’m grateful for that. In November, the party moves on to Birmingham, and I’ll certainly be there big style. Right, sorry, but I have to go. The clock is ticking and the road north is calling me out. No column next week – but we’ll be back, finally, totally on schedule and generally on tip top form as of Wednesday June 4th. Play nice ‘till then… *And if not, why not?! You are so missing out… **Sorry Budgie mate, but I did hear you described in those terms… ***And yes. He did. He was the junior bloke in the office when they decided they wanted a superhero to be the face of the comic. Nobody else wanted to do it, so Gibbons became “Big E”, and was often pictured on the roof of the office building. ****I should stress that there is a campsite down there, I didn’t just park up randomly. *****Who, I believe won one of Tony Lee’s golden Champagne Glasses for being the “Hottest Creator”. ******And therefore entertaining. *******And yes, Mr and Mrs Simonson? That’s a genuine invitation. Next time you’re in the UK, you’d be most welcome.

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