This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #9, June 1998.
The very last United Kingdom Comic Art Convention to be organised by Frank Plowright and Hassan Yusuf took place in Manchester over the weekend of 21st/22nd March 1998. After fourteen conventions in London, Glasgow and finally Manchester, the organisers have decided to call it a day.
The weekend didn’t start off too well for me, when my car’s engine spat out a “core plug” about a quarter of a mile from arriving at the lavish Britannia Hotel in the Piccadilly area of Manchester, after a 200 mile plus journey from Southend. For those not mechanically-minded (like myself), no core plug means the engine’s cooling system is deprived the luxury of water (it all falls out the bottom), causing instant overheating and loss of power. Thanks to the efforts of my passengers and a helpful pub landlady who loaned us some pint glasses full of water, we eventually nursed the ailing vehicle to our destination.
Understandably, UKCAC’s swansong was a low-key affair, but no less enjoyable for all that. There was a very poor showing from retailers (the huge Memorabilia Fair in Birmingham being held over the same weekend was preferred by most dealers), and the change in venue from London to the north-east was another likely cause of the relatively sparse attendance of fans.
However, spice was added to the mix by the first British appearance of Staros Report publisher, international agent and newly designated Top Shelf impresario Mr. Chris Staros, all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. Chris moderated a panel on self-publishing which also featured Paul Grist (Kane) and Martin and Mark (Gyre) at which I should also have been imparting nuggets of wisdom, but instead I was having an enforced little lie down somewhere.
This year’s Con was also notable for the appearance of ex-pat Eddie Campbell, Scots born but now publishing his Bacchus monthly from the distant shores of Australia. Other international guests included former self-publisher, A Distant Soil’s Colleen Doran in a hugely pink fluffy jumper, another guy who uses photo-reference Alex Ross, Bill Messner-Loebs and the incredibly talented Joe Sacco, promoting his new series about former Yugoslavia. Joe was actually a surprisingly sweet and shy guy, considering all his documented exploits in his superb two-volume Palestine series. And his self portraiture doesn’t do himself any favours either.
Despite the low attendance, I still didn’t get the opportunity to sample the delights of any panels or events as my readers kept me busy signing books and sketching in between light refreshments and hooking up with the usual British self-publishing gang (you know who you are).
So once again the highlight for me was the Second National Comic Awards, presented by the enthusiastic Mark Buckingham and the hilariously entertaining Kev F. Sutherland, even though I didn’t win anything this year. No celebrity presenters either, but an enjoyable and amusing selection of video clips punctuated the various awards (decided by popular vote) including the unseen-in-the-UK Generation X movie and the unseen-anywhere Dan Dare TV pilot, and the evening simply whizzed by. Paul Grist won the award I received last year, for Best Self-Published/Independent, but wasn’t present to collect his award as he was “having dinner with his mum.”
I was less happy on Sunday evening, when an almighty balls-up between the hotel staff and the AA (a vehicle breakdown/recovery service of which I am member) left me and my girlfriend stranded at the hotel for several hours. My carefully constructed façade of shy, sensitive artist was exposed as I ranted and raved at hotel receptionists and anyone else who happened by. Apologies if you chose that moment to ask me for a sketch of the girl in the fish tank. Eventually it was all sorted out and driver, passenger, unsold stock and car were duly transported back down the M1 to wake the neighbours detaching vehicles at 2 a.m. on Monday.
So as UKCAC as such closes its doors, I must thank Frank and Yusuf for all their efforts over the past years, it really has been fantastic fun. But now, we must look forward to the proposed Comics99 festival, tentatively to be held in Bristol next April, and organised by none other than the brains and enthusiasm behind the National Comic Awards, Kev F Sutherland. If Kev can transfer the dynamics of his awards ceremony to a whole convention and festival, this will really be something, and I would encourage all British professionals and fans to really get behind this project to give us all an event we can be proud of. And some of you damn Yankees get over here, too, y’hear?