Wednesday, 30 August 2017

London Super Comiccon LSCC 2017 review

London Super Comiccon 2017 LSCC

I’m finally back from a long weekend in London at the LondonSuper Comiccon. I was there to do a “100 years of Jack Kirby” panel. Since this was the closet UK comiccon to what would have been Kirby’s 100th birthday (August 28th) it was a happy co-incidence that this is one of the few remaining comicon’s that focusses entirely on comics, with one of the year’s best line-ups of people from the very cream of the comic industry, and me.

London Transport carefully chose the most inconvenient weekend to close half the roads and train stations, so there were no trains running from Euston on Saturday or Sunday at all. This meant getting the train down Friday morning, and coming home Monday. Generally, I’d drive, but I had a heart attack a few weeks ago and this seemed like a bad idea. Actually, I thought it was a great idea, but my wife, mother, doctor and John Watson (who would have been my passenger) all thought it was a bad idea, and I acquiesced to their reasoning. This was my first con with John for over a year I think, so it was a real pleasure to spend so much time with John and listen to him endlessly complain about his infected eye. I suggested he wear a patch and tell everyone he was cosplaying as Nick Fury, he didn’t listen.

You can read John’s version of events here, they won’t bear much resemblance to mine, one of us has a tenuous grip on reality. It’s probably me. If you do read John’s blog, mentally delete the word “mild” whenever you see it.

We got the train early Friday morning. LSCC was a 3-day event, Friday to Sunday. It didn’t start until midday on Friday though, so we made it only a few minutes after it opened. It was a new venue for the con, previous years it’s been at the London Excel, this year it was at the rather lovely Business Design Centre in Islington. The main area looked like an enormous Victorian greenhouse, with a gorgeous curved roof, all girders and glass. When the sun shone, it did get pretty hot in there, but all the artists and writers were in a separate two level gallery, where it was mercifully cool.

John and I were at Table #116, in the upper gallery, in between Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and artist Chris Weston.

Dan had a constant flow of people queuing to talk to him and get comics signed. I was really impressed with Dan, what a nice guy. To his credit, he gave each and every one of his fans a friendly chat, telling them stories, showing them art and photos on his phone, giving them all a nice experience, and he kept it up for HOURS. The man has stamina. I said to him towards the end of the con how nice it was that he had so much time for people and he replied “Hey! It’s the least I can do, they buy my crap!” I liked Dan.

Chris Weston was great too, nice guy, very humble and unassuming. Seemingly unaware of just how awesome his art was, he was churning out some stunning sketches for people, wish I’d have asked him for one now, but it always feels weird asking other guests for sketches. He was using coloured paper to sketch on, which was unusual but really worked. He did a Nemesis the Warlock for someone that I would have happily framed and put on my wall.

Friday was busier then I’d expected, John did his usual sketches, despite his failing eye. They were pretty good. He also started on the Picard sketch that he was doing as a thank you for my daughter’s housemate letting us use his room. 

Half finished Picard sketch

I was unable to sketch due to my recent severe heart attack, I’m still struggling to grip a pen for long periods. John said something about this being nature’s way of stopping me drawing. Late finish Friday, it didn’t finish until 8pm, but fortunately there was a Wetherspoons (The Angel) just around the corner so we could bask in a familiar menu before finding our way to Chloe’s. For many years, neither of us has had a smartphone, but John has given in and got an iPhone, so we used that to find the nearest pub, we were there in minutes instead of the traditional hour of walking round hungry, having a smartphone takes all the fun out of getting lost.

My Kirby panel was Saturday with me, Dan Slott, Mark Buckingham and Mike Collins. Dan couldn’t make it, but it was still a great panel, many thanks to Mike and Mark for joining in. The panel room was full, and I saw several people filming it, if anyone has a video then get in touch. As it was Kirby’s 100th, I had a few vintage Kirby comics to give away and a load of prints. The lovely people at LimitedEditionComix kindly donated a stack of “True Believers” Kirby reprints to give away too. 

LSCC Kirby Panel 2017

Saturday actually seemed quieter than Friday, which no-one could understand. Possibly it was just that less people made it out of the main hall and found the upper gallery. Maybe it was my fault and people were so blown away by the Jack Kirby panel they just went straight home, or maybe word got around about John’s manky eye and people were worried about contagion.

Saturday night we bumped into fellow artists and buddies Gary Erskine and Mike Collins, so ended up eating out with them and having a drink. You’d think we’d talk about comics, but we strayed onto subjects like online dating and Brexit instead.

Sunday was a short day, ending at the very civilised time of half three. Maybe panels went on for longer. Everyone got kicked of the main hall an hour earlier at half two, so that caused a nice final push of people coming to see us and I sold a few extra prints. I’d done a Kirby collage to commemorate Kirby’s 100th, John pointed out that my placement of the Thing was potentially offensive. I like to imagine he’s about to give his creator a nice platonic hug.

Jack Kirby 100 collage sgt pepper

The organisers moved Dan Slott to the other side of the gallery so his queue didn’t block other tables, and Kei Zama replaced him. She was a Japanese artist who draws robots and very kindly gave me a couple of her sketchbooks. 

Sunday was an excuse to wander round and actually have a look around the con. I got myself 3D scanned by the Milestones3D people and am now looking forward to having a genuine Russell Payne action figure.

In a desperate attempt to bring my wife a gift back (I didn’t think the Russell Payne action figure would be a hit) I found a Lloyd Dobler vinyl figure, (the John Cusack character from one of our favourite movies) on the Forbidden Planet stand. 

As well as being a great convention for artists and writers, some of the merchandising was particularly good too, a decent selection of old comics at good prices and an absolutely spectacular selection of original comic art, they even had some Kirby’s in there. Way above my price range, but lovely to look through.

Bizarrely, on the 27th anniversary of meeting my wife, I bumped into Simon Roe, who had first introduced us 27 years ago and who I hadn’t seen for decades. He was at the comiccon with his partner and kids, his first ever comiccon. What are the chances? Also bizarrely, Simon knows John quite well too, independently of me, they used to play MERP together, but this was the first time the three of us had been in the same room! Great to catch up with Simon, I’m still not happy about not being invited to those MERP games.

John Watson Russell Payne
This is probably of no interest to anyone who doesn’t know me. Here are John, Simon and me. 

At the very end of the con, a large folder of art containing a few of John’s paintings and a ton of art belonging to Jeff Chahal went missing. This started a mild panic. I don’t have a good track record of losing folders. The folder was last seen propped up against the table next to John and no-one had noticed it being taken. I went searching for it. I went downstairs to where the merchandisers were packing up, after initially denying all knowledge for comedic purposes, it turned out Jeff had used his Ninja skills to whip the folder from under our noses. So a massive thanks to Jeff for stress testing out my new arteries! I tried to go back upstairs and pretend to John that no-one could find the folder, but he saw through my lying face in about 3 seconds.

We had a bit of free time Sunday after the con and met up with Chloe to go around the National Galleries. John’s boyish excitement at spotting a Holbein painting was a joy to behold. He bounded ahead of us, past a security guard and when I finally caught up with him, I had to admit, it was a pretty awesome painting. Also visited Ian McKellen’s pub, The Grapes, which I would recommend to anyone, lovely old pub with Gandalf’s staff behind the bar.

Good train journey home, a glimmer of hope that the book me and John have been working on together for the past 173 years might still see the light of day. I returned to find my car parked near the train station completely covered in purple bird poo. A relatively rare fail from an otherwise good weekend. Probably the best con I’ve attended in a while, mostly because it was a chance to catch up with so many friends, writers and artists that I hadn’t seen in a while and bore them with exaggerated tales of my heart attack.

Apologies for the rubbish photos, I take a camera and always forget to take any. Here's a photo of me and John that appeared on Rich Johnston's excellent BleedingNews though!

Thanks to Gary for inviting me to do a Jack Kirby panel, especially so near his centenary, and to Gary, John and Sherwin for organising yet another fantastic, proper, comic-focussed London Super Comiccon.

Dan Slott
Dan Slott's arm and Dr Octopus

Monday, 14 August 2017

Rest, realisations and LSCC.

I'm home now, following a heart attack and an angioplasty. I had a stent fitted, which is apparently a little bit of titanium that keeps your artery open, one small step closer to being Wolverine. On Doctor's orders I am now attempting to do something that anyone else who is self employed will be unfamiliar with - Rest. I'm officially supposed to be not working, and it's made me realise that I had slipped into a lifestyle of never not working, often not getting paid, but never not working. So it's been a good opportunity to stop, kick back and watch a few movies, read some books and comics and take stock of my existence.

After much soul searching and self examination, I have come to one inescapable truth - I really, really don't like having heart attacks.

So I've now gone into a predictable health obsessed frenzy of watching everything I eat, drinking pints of filtered water and reading articles on kidney function. Cheese and coffee are now distant memories. Pizza is something other people enjoy. It's not a very interesting diet, but I do want to stay alive at least long enough to see how the latest Star Wars trilogy ends.

I also realised that my love of books has become more a love of buying and owning books without actually ever reading them, so I have a big pile next to me now and intend to spend at least a week catching up on all the things I've been putting off reading. Just finished PG Wodehouse's Something Fresh (still very funny even after 100 years) and started Ernest Cline's Armada, after really enjoying Ready Player One a few months ago. Also catching up on films - finally watched Heartbeeps, an Andy Kaufman vehicle from 1981, which was a massive flop but I quite enjoyed.

heartbeeps andy kaufman

Also watched Nine Lives, which isn't nearly as terrible as everyone seems to think, didn't realise until it began that Barry Sonnenfeld directed it, it's not quite Citizen Kane, but a fun family film and easily the best film I've seen where Kevin Spacey turns into a cat. Today I will be revisiting the classic "Warlords of Atlantis" that I last saw at the cinema in the late seventies.

More realising. It comes with having time to actually stop and think. I realised I spend too much time doing jobs just for cash. I know this is how most people live, but I'm going to really concentrate on doing work that I enjoy, and dumping a lot of the writing and art work that makes my soul shrivel. I'll almost certainly earn less, but I figure the reduction in the household cheese/pizza/coffee bills alone should save me a considerable amount.

Unfortunately I had to cancel a couple of appearance at conventions following my recent heart attack (Did I mention enough times already that I had a HEART ATTACK!!) The Hull Comiccon and the Blackpool Comiccon fell within my "must not leave the house" period, apologies to anyone hoping to see me at either of them. The organisers of both were very gracious about me cancelling, but I still feel bad, I don't like cancelling.


My Doctor said I should be fine to be a guest at London Super Comiccon (LSCC) at the end of August, where I'm doing a "100 years of Jack Kirby" panel on the Saturday. This will be in panel room 3 at 15:15 on the Saturday, not quite sure what format or content it will have yet, but I do know two important things - I will be giving away some Kirby prints and vintage Kirby comics to appreciative members of the audience and it will be the Greatest Comic Con Panel of All Time!

I was going to drive down with John Watson, but now we're both coming on the train, maybe one day John will learn to drive. For the rest of the con I'll be sitting in the Artist Alley upper deck with John Watson on table #116 in between Chris Weston and Dan Slott. It'll be nice catching up with old friends and chatting to people. LSCC is one of the very few remaining Comiccons that is ALL about comics, with tons of comic artists and writers as guests, so if you love comics and want to come to a proper comiccon, then do so. And come say hello. And come to my Kirby panel. And buy one of John Watson's superb sketches.

See you there.

LSCC 2017 panel schedule

LSCC 2017 Jack Kirby panel Russell Payne

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Serious as a Heart Attack

I loved "Vision On" and "Take Hart" as a kid. Apparently it was suggested to Tony Hart that the programme be called "Hart Attack" and he vetoed it, saying it sounded too aggressive, also it was  insensitive and heart attacks were no laughing matter. Take Hart ran from 1977 to 1983 and was replaced by "Hart Beat" from 1984 to 1993. By 1990 though sensibilities had relaxed, Tony wasn't in it and didn't have a say and a new programme called "Art Attack" began on CBBC.

In 1990, I was a bit old to watch Art Attack, but I'm absolutely sure I wouldn't have been even slightly offended by the title. After last Thursday however, I'm leaning more towards old Tony's way of thinking. Tony knew what he was talking about. It's no laughing matter. I'm 46 and I had a heart attack.

46. Reasonably, that's about 50 years too young to have a heart attack. As anyone who has seen me recently will know, I am in my absolute physical prime. I've been used as a reference model for superheroes (OK, it was Armstrong, the fat one from Archer and Armstrong), but still, I'm relatively fit, I don't smoke, I don't drink much, I try to go for walks in the fresh air. Just goes to show what a silent killer high blood pressure and heart issues can be. I don't feel ill now, apart from the occasional heart attack, I've never felt better, but the medical experts beg to differ, so I'm paying attention. I have a morbid and totally irrational fear of needles, but happily, having constant injections, cannulas and blood tests is slowly curing me of this. I still squirm like an 8 year old girl, but this is an improvement on screaming, hitting the nurse and then fainting.

I'm still in hospital, awaiting an angiogram and possibly an angioplasty and maybe a stent. The staff here are exceptional, doing a great job with good humour, obviously I'm saying this in case any of them read this so I will get preferential treatment, but nonetheless, it's true. They have a wonderful, sometimes dark and surreal, sense of humour, which I guess comes with the job, especially Marian, who has a promising future as a stand up comic. I'm on a ward with four beds, two of which have so far had Paul and Andy in, whose conversation has kept to hanging onto my sanity. It's a weird experience though, having people do everything for me, there's no mental stimulation of any sort, and nothing to do for hours, it's very much like being back in the Civil Service.

Most of my work is on hold, so apologies to all the people waiting for me to do things (although I do have a laptop and wifi in hospital I'm supposed to be resting) but hopefully I will be back on my feet and normal service will be resumed very shortly.

Here's some good basic advice though - take your meds, listen to your doctor, look after yourselves.