The UK has quite a few comic conventions. Most of them resemble hippy communes or folk festivals with reams of quirky small press titles that wouldn’t make it into a comic shop let alone a Hollywood blockbuster. These are great affairs which I heartily recommend.
What we had never had were the grand spectacles of the San Diego Comic-Cons. That was until up stepped Mark Millar (you know, he wrote Kick-Ass, Wanted, The Authority, the Ultimates, Civil War, etc.) and decided to do something about it. Hence Kapow was born, a 2 day event based in London that seeks to cram all that American razzamatazz into as short a time and small a space as possible.
The event is actually run by his partner, Lucy, and her sister Sarah. Yet despite a female dynamic duo at the helm the show has courted internet controversy for its lack of female guests; an issue which even spilled over into the national press. In an industry dominated by male creators and fans there were certainly female faces to be seen throughout this year’s show from the guests to the fans (and not just the cosplayers) to the virtually Amazonian staff.
The convention is held in the Business Design Centre in Central London making it very convenient to get to by public transport. There is also a Hilton Hotel right next door if you can afford it too. The building itself is a quirky wrought iron and glass affair with lots of stairs and levels like an M. C. Escher painting. As well as keeping you fit you fit this makes the whole event seem much cosier than the massive zeppelin sized hangers of traditional convention halls. Despite the split levels I saw plenty of wheelchair users across the site.
At just over a day and a half in length there was more than you could cram into twice the length. During each hour you had two or three strong choices on how you could spend your time from panels and speakers, autograph signings (no one charged for autographs, ever), film screenings, shopping, or chatting with the dozens of artists and small press creators showing off their work.
The guests were top notch with the heads of Marvel, DC, and Image all flying over from the US and bringing such luminaries as Scott Snyder (American Vampire, Batman); Sara Pichelli (Runaways, Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man) and Terry Dodson (Harley Quinn, X-Men). The majority of the guests were British however and it was great to see how much home-grown talent has shaped the industry. Household names such as Dave Gibbons, Frank Quietly, Kieron Gillen, Andy Diggle, Mike Carey, Charlie Adlard, David Lloyd, Paul Cornell, John McCrea, Bryan Hitch, Gary Erskine and of course Warren Ellis. There were also lots of ways to see your heroes too with panels and talks, dedicated signing sessions, live video interviews hosted by SFX magazine and some even had their own tables set up where you could shop, chat and pay for commissions.
If the moving image was your bag there was lots of exclusive footage from Red Tails, House at the end of the Street, Lawless, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Storage 24, Total Recall, the Amazing Spiderman and a full length preview screening of Iron Sky. There were lots of guests from the world of film and TV including Rick McCallum, Gareth Evans, David Oyelowo, Rufus Sewell, Noel Clarke, Nick Frost, Gareth Edwards, Russell Tovey, Tom Macrae, Adam Garcia and Lucy Brown. For the smaller screen gamer the team at Rocksteady gave an hour-long presentation about the making of the smash hit Batman: Arkham City.
An unfortunate addition brought over from the US was the queuing. Panels, autographs, screenings all recommended you queue up early thus having to miss out on anything you wanted to see in the slot before. There was even a monster queue to get into the venue when the doors opened, which meant if you were at the back you didn’t get in until long after the start time. There were two lines for convention entry and panels; with those who paid five times the price for their ticket getting to go in first. Not so for the autographs unfortunately. Most of the panels that everybody queued up for you didn’t need to bother as everyone got in. Likewise with entry as the scheduled events started an hour after doors opened.
There were generally two sorts of panels. There were the quiet and thoughtful ones that had, optimistically, a dozen people turn up. Alternatively there were big budget marketing hours that were tightly scripted and whipped people into a frenzy over DC’s New 52, Avengers Vs X-Men, and Before Watchmen. These had hundreds of people and it was their cheering you could hear in the deathly silence of the smaller rooms. There were also Celebrity panels featuring British TV Icon Jonathan Ross, actor Nick Frost, acerbic comedians Jimmy Carr & Frankie Boyle and the reclusive legend Warren Ellis, which were packed with the devoted hanging on their every word.
Throughout both days there was a signing timetable with most of the big names doing an hour or two each day. For these you really needed to start queuing before the start time particularly in Mark Millar’s case. Improving on last year (so I am told) they had cut off signs they gave to the person they thought would get the last signature. You could join after the sign but weren’t guaranteed a signature. This is definitely to be applauded but queues are dynamic things with people dropping out and people pulling the entire run of X-Men out of their bag and wanting them all signed. Being British and not wanting anyone to be left out the signs were occasionally passed back earning rebukes from the angry angels on the staff who would move them forward again. All the signers were generally good natured answering questions, posing for photographs and chatting away. You could tell which people were jetlagged or hung-over however. If you started early enough you could maybe get two or three signatures out of a two hour slot.
A whole floor was dedicated to traders selling everything from current trades to vintage issues with all sorts of T-shirts, trading cards and weird candy. There were a couple of the better known small press people with stalls too. Above this was the Artist’s Alley where the even smaller press people rubbed shoulders with artists of all genres including big names such as Barry Kitson, John McCrea, Gary Erskine, Chris Weston and Adi Granov. All of these people were happy to chat to you, pimp their latest projects and, for a small fee, draw you a commission.
For some reason there was live wrestling taking place with Lucha Britannia’s masked Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling with a superhero/ cabaret twist. This along with video screens blasting out upcoming movie adverts and live interviews made quite a spectacle as you entered. There were a lot of cosplayers wandering around too. All good natured and happy to stop for pictures. There were even some professional ones with VIP badges.
There was a cloakroom where you could check your stuff for £1 per item, lots of toilets (which did seem to all have queues), and one food outlet that had a variety of reasonably priced food. There were ATM’s in the foyer which charged you a fee but just across the road were free ones and the neighbourhood was filled with lots of pubs doing good cheap food. If you filled up on a full English Breakfast in the morning you wouldn’t need to stop for the rest of the day. Just munch quietly on a few cereal bars while you are queuing or sitting in a panel.
The staff were easy to identify and there seemed to be plenty of them. The convention program was really good with only three adverts. A clear visual timetable showed you what was happening when. There were descriptions of each of the events and who was scheduled to appear at them. There were good tips on where and when to queue and a map showing the general layout of the hall. It was also small enough to carry around with you.
This being a new convention you have to expect teething troubles and there were a few. The staff weren’t as knowledgeable as you hoped they would be and you had to find some things out for yourself. Despite stalls and booths having numbers in the program there was no key for the majority of them. If you wanted to find a particular artist you had to embarrassingly work your way through the whole alley saying “excuse me, who are you?” Even going to the organiser’s office and asking the people there they had no list and no clue. Some of the big names cancelled their signing sessions and Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch moved theirs to the morning. There was no big sign in the foyer letting you know this just a few handwritten scraps of paper pinned to the walls in odd places. There was also the fact that Saturday’s schedule lasted for ten full hours and Sunday lasted for six hours yet both were the same price. The cosplay competition was won by two small children in shop bought costumes. Anyone who had spent months and a fortune on making a costume, not to mention spending the entire day in makeup might feel a little disappointed.
Would I go back again? Absolutely. As soon as tickets go on sale I will book. Would I pay VIP prices? If they had VIP lines for autographs yes, otherwise the standard ticket will do just fine. Now I know the layout and how it works next year I will be able to cram in twice as much. Would I recommend it? Even with London Super Comic Con appearing this year Kapow is a must visit. It combines that old town hall con feel with Yankee style and spectacle. What’s not to love?
You can read more about what I did on the MOMB Comics site!