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Last Night A Comic-Con Saved My Life (Spoilers: Not Really)

I had attended the first London Super Comic Con (which was held in the ExCel and had Stan Lee as guest of honour) but hadn’t been since. However, when Brian Michael Bendis was announced as the big guest for this year, I was intrigued enough to consider returning. Added to the fact that the con was moving to the more intimate (i.e. smaller) but more central location of Islington (the ExCel is on the edge of nowhere, London-wise), I decided to stump up £20 (plus booking fee) for the Saturday.

It was a lovely sunny day in London, and I made my way to the Business Centre expecting the same level of crowds and queueing as the first convention. I couldn’t have been more wrong: I arrived just after 10.30am, the time I was allowed to enter with my day ticket, showed my ticket on my phone and walked straight in, the only queueing being the security check of bags before being allowed into the convention centre. This was the first indication that the convention was going to be more bijou (in estate agent terminology).

I walked in, took a photo of the convention floor and tweeted that I had arrived, because I am nothing if not clichéd, and then started my first walk around to take it all in. I walked around the convention floor (not enough stalls selling comic books at reasonable prices for my liking, and lots of smaller boutique geek-related stalls), I watched the first cosplayers arriving, then I visited artists alleys (where I always feel bad about the popularity contest as I look at the queues for certain artists and the absence for others).

It was then I began to feel … odd.

I suddenly felt out of place. What was I doing at the convention? Why was I here? It was an intense sensation of displacement, right in the middle of an entire building filled with like-minded people.

I am not someone who buys merchandise – I’m really only interested in comic books. I’m not into cosplay. I am a shy, retiring person, so I can’t bring myself to talk to artists at their tables (I can barely look people in the eye, let alone start a conversation, even if I am genuinely interested in their work; I mean, John Allison was there, author of the wonderful Giant Days and Bad Machinery, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that, which is pretty pathetic). What had I done? What was the point of attending? Was I having a crisis of comic book identity?

The thing that helped me cope with this were the panels – listening to people who make comics talking passionately about their work and associated issues of the industry, and the attendees with their questions, reminded me that being around people who treat comics as something worth loving and respecting is an encouraging and positive thing, an atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance. It was a strange revelation to have, and perhaps an unusual place to have it, but it made me relax and slowly get into the day.

The first panel I attended was on diversity in comics, with people I have to admit I’d never heard of (no offense to those involved), but it was interesting and the panellists were smart and funny – your typical comic book person, effectively. The next panel I attended was nominally about DC Rebirth with artists working on the books, which was in the largest room. However, the artists didn’t know anything about Rebirth because they just draw the scripts, so conversation ranged away from the panel title, but it was nice to hear Terry Dodson talk about his work after I’ve been a fan for a while.

The best part of the day for me was the panel with Bendis as the sole guest, and it was the turning point for my identity crisis. The panel was supposed to be about street-level Marvel heroes and the Marvel Legacy stuff that Bendis is responsible for, and like a true professional Bendis managed to get that stuff into the conversation. However, it basically turned into a Bendis AMA, as audience questions covered everything in his career and Bendis, like the excellent storyteller he is, regaled the crowd with fun anecdotes and jokes and teases. This panel in particular reminded why I was at the convention: I’ve been a fan of Bendis since the early days of Jinx and AKA Goldfish, and being a frequent lurker on his Jinxworld message boards back in the day, and it was a delight to hear him talk about comics in person with passion and seriousness and humour and love. The story about Greg Rucka’s response to how Bendis was feeling after being the target for various alt-right people made me smile.

It was listening to Bendis that reaffirmed my sense of identity as a comic book fan in the midst of a large group of comic book fans. The feeling of warmth, inclusion, enjoyment, passion and love for comics that diffused through the room was palpable, particularly to me in a moment where I was lost in my sense of what I was doing in a business centre with lots of different individuals. The genuine enthusiasm Bendis had for comic books and for the fans – he was posing for photographs with them throughout the convention with a smile on his face and a happiness to share the love of comic books that was rather inspiring – was a tonic for the fanboy soul. I didn’t queue up to get him to sign anything (it’s never been a thing for me) but I didn’t really need to – it was great just to see other people enjoying the hobby in their own way, as people queued up for all the various creators (Kieron Gillen, Jae Lee, Terry Dodson, Dan Slott) and didn’t have existential crises about what they were doing there. I don’t know if I’ll necessarily go back to the LSCC, although I’m glad I went, but I’m grateful that I did. It helped me, and you can’t put a price on that.

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