The End Of An Era

This last weekend I attended my eleventh London MCM Expo, it was my tenth as an exhibitor. Initially I attended with Markosia, as one of their creators, but it wasn’t long before I had my own table in the newly founded Comic Village to promote my own publishing endeavour, Orang Utan Comics. So, I’ve been attending the show for over five years now, and in that time I and my colleagues at Orang Utan Comics have on many occasions promoted the show to other creators. We’ve encouraged many other indie and small press creators to exhibit at the show, who had previously been wary of attending because it was “not a comics show”…or because “cosplayers don’t buy comics.” Instead we always viewed the show as a great opportunity to reach a new audience, to meet people who wouldn’t normally attend a comic show. I’ve also attended the Midlands Expo, which has no Comic Village, at which I was more than happy to pay full price for an exhibitors table, despite the fact that we didn’t make that cost back at the show, because it’s great to reach a new audience. Also, when the people behind the MCM Expo wanted to get a Comic Village going at Memorabilia in Birmingham earlier this year, I was delighted to attend. We sold about three books all weekend, but I absorbed the cost of travel and hotel accommodation for myself and my fellow writer who attended with me, because, again, it was a chance to hopefully reach a new audience.

This weekend was my eleventh London MCM Expo, it will also be my last.

Why? Well, let me give you a bit of background here…but I’ll say first that these are gripes. We understand that mistakes happen at shows, and we could have easily forgiven them, but it’s what they led to that is the real problem.

Firstly, I never take my car to the MCM. It costs £50 to park for the weekend, so I always arrange for someone to drive me up there with our boxes of comics, banners and all the other paraphernalia we need for the weekend, and to pick me up again after the show. It’s awkward, but it works. However, last week, the Comic Village organisers sent out an email to all of the exhibitors attending the Comics Village telling us that parking permits would be available for everyone, allowing us to park for the weekend for £15. This meant that driving myself up to the show would be affordable, so I changed my plans…and it made life a lot easier for me as I had to pick up one of our writers from the other side of London on my way to the show, so it meant that we could simply drive straight there. However, there was one problem…when we got to the show, I found one of the organisers and asked for a permit, only to be told that actually there were no parking permits available for anyone in the Comic Village because they had all already been given out to the other exhibitors at the show. I explained that I wouldn’t have brought my car to the show if I’d known this and that I was very unhappy with having to pay out £50 to park for the weekend. The organiser I spoke to told me that he would try to sort something out for me and would get back to me, but that in the meantime I should go and pay for my parking so that I wouldn’t get clamped or towed away. That organiser never came back to speak to me, never spoke to me again throughout the show despite passing our tables on a number of occasion, other than to ask me the whereabouts of David Wynne (but we’ll get to that later). Let me get something clear here – I do not expect, as an exhibitor, to be given a parking permit for this or any show. However, if I’m told I can get one and I change my plans because of that, and then it turns out that I can’t have one, and I incur significant extra costs because of that – that is a problem that I expect the event organisers to do everything in their power to solve, and if they can’t then I expect a clear and unequivocal apology. This was not forthcoming, in fact the complete opposite was the case, but we’ll get to that later. This is also a matter I would have been more than happy to deal with privately, but we’ll get to why I’m not later also.

Secondly, we come to the issue of the green room. Once again, let me make something clear, I do not expect a green room to be provided for me and the creators attending a show with me at this or any show. I am not that egotistical that I think I deserve special treatment. That’s not the issue here. The simple fact is that at previous shows a green room has been provided. I and the creators who attend a show with Orang Utan Comics have made little or no use of the facility over the years. Indeed, I didn’t even set foot in it until last May’s show, where I sat with the show’s main organiser for about half an hour and had a good chat. The green room, however, for those exhibiting in the Comics Village is a god send. The Comics Village has always been situated right at the back of the show, and getting out of the show and back again to get a drink, or have a smoke (as some of the people who work with us like to do) can take a significant amount of time. At other shows we’ll often bring drinks with us to last us the weekend, but as the MCM has kindly provided them for us, we didn’t do that this weekend. That worked perfectly on Saturday, and we were able to enjoy a couple of cans of Coke throughout the day, and one of our writer/artists was able to get out onto the balcony for a quick cigarette without having to fight his way through the heaving masses of people in the exhibition hall and the entry hall. Strangely, we noticed that nobody was checking people’s passes as they entered the green room, and we all found this a little odd. On Sunday, however, when our creators tried to gain access to the green room they were told that it was for people with VIP passes only as there had been too many people in there the day before “who weren’t supposed to be there.” This, obviously, made them feel very uncomfortable. Let me make it clear again, I do not expect a green room to be provided at this or any other show, but it was reasonable to expect that as it had been available to those of us with Comic Industry Professional passes in the past (and, as I said previously, I had spent time in there at the previous show talking to the overall con organiser) it would also be available to us at this show, especially as no announcement had been made to the contrary. One of my creators complained about this on Twitter, and that’s when things started to get strange.

As I said previously, the only time that the organiser I spoke to about the parking permits talked to me again during the entire weekend was to ask me where David Wynne was. At the time he had taken the long trip out to the front of the venue to have a cigarette and buy us all some Cokes, as access to the green room balcony had been barred to him. Upon his return, however, a couple of the organisers led him off from the table. At the time I didn’t know where to or why. I’d seen what David had tweeted and suspected it might have something to do with that. Now, this was my table. I run Orang Utan Comics, I booked and paid for the tables, and the convention organisers had just marched one of my writers and artists away from the table without first talking to me about it or explaining why. That alone is completely unacceptable. The fact that they kept him in a back room and asked him to “justify” his tweets…for around an hour…is quite simply disgusting. I will leave it to David to explain exactly what happened during that meeting. I wasn’t there and I don’t want to report it wrongly. However, two things from his account really stuck out to me. The first is that when he told them that he didn’t appreciate being marched off to be told off, he was told by one of the organisers that, “I’m the guy who tells people off, if you were being told off by me then you’d know about it.” That’s threatening language and it would be inappropriate to use in any setting, let alone this one. We had paid to be at that show, we were their customers, and we do not appreciate, nor will we put up with, being threatened by them. The other point that sticks out is that when he raised the issue of the parking permits with them he was told that they did have parking permits after all, but that there was nothing they could do now as I had already put money in the machine. That is what they had told me to do! And as for there being nothing they could do about it – reimbursing me for the extra cost of parking I had incurred through their error would have been a start. I don’t see how my having already paid for my parking, as I had been instructed to do by them, in any way prevented them from doing this. Besides, as I said, the organiser I had originally spoken to about the permits had passed our table many times over the course of the weekend and had said nothing to me about the passes.

In closing, the issues with the parking permits and access to the green room are, ultimately, trivial and could easily have been dealt with in private after the show. Leading one of my creators off and “telling him off” for tweeting for an hour is not a trivial matter, however…and as that was done publicly (and I had many other exhibitors approach me while David was gone, asking me why he’d been taken off) my response to it, and my explanation as to why Orang Utan Comics will no longer be exhibiting at the MCM Expo is also being done publicly.

The London MCM Expo has, over the last year or so, attempted to rebrand itself as London Comic Con, and they claim that they make a loss on the Comic Village, and host it because they want to support the UK comic book industry. My simple response to that is that the UK comic book industry simply doesn’t need that kind of support. We are not a charity case and do not appreciate being made to feel that we should be grateful for the opportunity for being at a convention that we have paid to be at.

Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to the many fans and readers who have bought our books at the London MCM Expo. We will truly miss you and we sincerely hope you come and find us at one of the many other UK shows we will be attending both this year and next. You are all wonderful, amazing people. I have many fond memories of my times at the MCM, and I have many good friends, including my best friend, who I would never have met if it wasn’t for the show.

Over the next few weeks we will be attending Demoncon 2 in Maidstone and Thought Bubble in Leeds, and hopefully we’ll see some of you there. For next year we’re already booked up to attend Hi-Ex in Inverness, The London Super Comic Convention at Excel in London, the Bristol Comic Expo and Kapow! These are all magnificent, wonderful shows, run by amazing people with a real passion for promoting comics and the comic book industry…and if, so far, you’ve only attended the London MCM Expo, I’d urge you to give one or all of them a try!

EDIT: David’s account can now be found here.

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