We’ve all been there when it comes to the traditional convention. You’re stuck in large halls, bare and unaware of anything in the outside world (particularly the weather). The air conditioning is nonexistent and so over the course of the day the temperature starts to get unbearable. And with that comes the smells and sweat that seem to cling to you wherever you go, whether they’re yours or not. You get squashed against people you’ve never met, giving that awkward smile as you try and maneuver past…
So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I agreed to go with Literature Editor Steve to Comics Salopia in yesterday (1st June 2019). I love Shrewsbury, it’s a town I try and visit it as much as possible as it has that traditional English old town feel. Surely a convention (ok, festival) would be somewhat different here. Yet this wasn’t what convinced me to go, Steve mentioned the guest list and I was sold (more of that later).
We arrived just after nine to get our passes and to get the lay of the land. This wasn’t your typical show. All the different parts were spread out over the town of Shrewsbury and for me, this is what makes this show so unique. Not only do you get to do the traditional convention things but you get to do it in the background of Shrewsbury. The main part was on the castle grounds, with stalls selling comics and a few toys. Yet the guests fluctuated between different areas. Some were at the castle grounds, then at other times they would be in the old square, where you could gaze on the Tudor buildings that hang over the town in their splendor. There were stalls in one of the shopping centres and there were even some in the old prison.
I’m sure for some of the guests it was a bit of an ordeal to move every couple of hours (Steve and I were carrying Bryan Talbot’s bags at one point), yet for me this really helped the show. Everyone could be seen and it allowed fans to also get to see the town while meeting their favourite artists and writers. It also helped to publicise the show as you couldn’t go anywhere in town without being able to see and meet someone associated with the festival.
Yes there was a lot of walking (isn’t there always) but instead of being stuck indoors, it was outside in the gorgeous weather, in a traditional English town. There were no massive queues and always fresh air. It’s set a rather high standard of what is possible for shows like this, let me tell you!
Of course the main attraction are the guests, and for Steve and me, Star Wars guests. The first we got to meet as soon as the show started was Kieron Gillen. A big name at Marvel and someone who is just finishing his current (and hopefully not last) run on the main Star Wars series. He was in the square with other artists, a couple of people in front. He was a pleasure to meet and we spent a rather lengthy time discussing all things Star Wars, particularly the end of the current arc and Doctor Aphra. What was really great was that we never felt rushed, it was like talking with an old acquaintance… And of course we got our comics signed!
We then found our way to the bottom of one of the shopping centres where we found the two guests that had convinced me to make the trip; Elsa Charretier and Pierrick Colinet. It’s not difficult for me to say that these are my favourite duo in Star Wars comics, regularly writing for Star Wars Adventures. It was with a giddy fanboy smile that I said hello to them and we began talking. They were so gracious with their time, talking to us about how they got started and their work on Star Wars. It was the highlight of the day for me…. and of course we got out comics signed!
Nick Joseph was also there, who was Major Arhul Hextrophon the medal bearer in Star Wars: A New Hope, signing photos along with DVD’s about the character he played. For the little ones, there was also a Jedi school, where they could train with Andrew Lawden who was a stand in for Liam Neeson in The Phantom Menace. Both could be found in the castle grounds outside.
It may not be the biggest show for Star Wars, but Comics Salopia is one of the most enjoyable that I have been to in a long time. Unlike other shows, I never felt rushed, I could really take the time to meet some great writers and artists. For me, that in itself is worth more compared to meeting more guests but spending less time with them. This with the unique advantage of all being done on the backdrop of Shrewsbury. If you want a show with a difference, you can’t go wrong with this. I imagine when I go next time (there’s no doubt I will be) I imagine there will be a lot more fans…