We spoke to Jeff Chahal the man behind Bedford’s Comic Convention – NICE Con, to find out more about this year’s festival and what to expect whether you’re a comic newbie or longstanding fan.
Tell us what lead you to setting up Nice Con?
Jeff: “I’ve done comics my entire life, I’ve loved reading comics. About thirteen years ago, myself and my brother decided we should open up a comic shop in Bedford – our hometown – because the comic book shop that was there at the time wasn’t very good to say the least. It’s been thirteen years! Five years ago or just over, I thought right I want to do a convention. My brother said ‘You’re mad, good luck – it isn’t what people think it is,’ five years later, its still going…I couldn’t do it without the support of comic book professionals, it just wouldn’t happen.”
What can comic newbies expect?
Jeff: “We get a lot of new people. The thing I always point out is the great thing is when people say, ‘I don’t know anything about them, I don’t know who any of these people are.’ I say well, you know what you like and you literally can walk around, and think ‘Ooh I like that artwork let’s see what’s going on here.”
“These people – Nice Con guests – will be there doing sketches, paintings, they’ll have original artwork that they’ve already done with them. Writers will obviously be talking about what they’re working on. You can just go round and see what takes your fancy. When you’re actually there and you have no agenda it’s a far more relaxed experience than going there and saying yea I’ve got to see that guy, and that guy and standing in queues all day long. A bit like going to Glastonbury and saying right I’ve got to see these five bands you rush around like an idiot seeing those bands and then you realise that you miss loads of great acts that you’ve never heard of before because you didn’t know to look for them. When you’re just wandering around taking in the atmosphere, you get a far richer experience.”
What curator’s picks do you have – what should people keep an eye out for?
Jeff: “That’s a difficult one, essentially a comic convention is an art show. It’s all down to what people like. I’m a big fan of a chap that’s coming called RM Guéra, whose coming from Barcelona, he was at the show last year, I really, really enjoy his work, so I always look forward to seeing him and seeing what new stuff he’s got with him. That’s personal preference. I can certainly point people in the direction of the stuff that I enjoy but what they enjoy is a different story altogether.”
“We’ve got a chap coming called Adi Granov – Adi’s stuff is pretty amazing it’s all hand drawn, even though it looks like it’s digital, he’s technically incredible. Adi did design work for the first Iron Man movie, they looked a body of work he did with Warren Ellis and thought really like that, he got a phone call from Jon Favreau and he said, “Do you wanna come to Hollywood and did designs for the movie. He worked on Avengers, Thor, various Marvel movies that people go in their hundreds and thousands even millions to go watch. These are the people that create the stuff that makes those movies work, without them, you wouldn’t have half the stuff that you see on the screen.”
People seem to like the charm of Nice Con and how it feels different to other conventions
Jeff: “People need to understand that Comic Con, I hear it all the time – I’m going to Comic Con. These large London shows all except one actually have very little do with comics, the business model is very interesting. If you look at most of those shows they charge you to get in, they encourage you to dress up in cosplay, go as batman Spiderman, Deadpool or whatever, then they say yeah it’s lots of cosplay. So they actually charge you to be the entertainment at the show. You pay for that. Once you’re through the door, everything that you do, they actually charge you for that, if you want an autograph you pay for it, if you want a photograph taken with somebody you pay for it. Essentially they charge you if you want to do anything there, you pay for it.”
“Most people that do go to those shows also don’t read comics, they have very little interest in reading comics; they’re there because they like a TV show, a video game, a movie, they’ll buy `the t-shirt, they’ll buy the lunchbox, but they won’t actually buy the comics. Comics have always been a very small industry, and they will continue to be so. It’s almost the bastard child nobody wanted to deal with, but they are happy to pretend that they like it.”
“Our business model is completely different to that. You buy a ticket on the door, what that ticket gives you is access to some of the worlds top comic professionals, most of those shows in London, Birmingham etc don’t actually have comic professionals. We literally do get some of the biggest names our industry produces.”
So, you’ve had a lot of international acts and people coming down to Nice Con
Jeff: “We’ve had Alan Moore whose the number one writer on the planet. We’ve had Brian K. Vaughan last year, who is probably the hottest writer in comics globally; he also worked on comic books like Lost. We’ve had Garth Ennis; all of these names will probably been nothing to you to at all. They are pretty heavy hitters. Garth has got a TV show running now called Preacher.”
“We’ve had Charlie Adlard who works on the Walking Dead, which obviously is a huge TV show; but people will come along and they’ll think well, I’ve never heard of him, what does he do on a TV show. Which always make me laugh a little bit – because well without that guy, and without Robert Kirkman, that TV show wouldn’t exist. They create the characters who are then played by actors on the screen. These guys do the creative work, they make the world that these people populate, without them you’d have nothing.They’re the people that are also least known in the industry because who looks at who writes anything you know. All you want to see is who is standing on the screen, apparently they do all the work.”
So, does Nice Con provide a bit of recognition for people that aren’t always recognised?
Jeff: “Absolutely, don’t get me wrong in our industry they are highly respected people. If they walk up Bedford High Street, they’re not going to be recognised – there’s no reason for them to be recognised. Let’s say one of the characters from The Walking Dead, if they were walking up Bedford High Street, it would be in the Times & Citizen or the Beds On Sunday. People would be stopping them for autographs and selfies. Charlie Adlard could walk up the street and nobody would know who he was. He’s the guy that creates the characters that these people sort of hero worship.”
Have you ever had collaborations from creatives meeting at previous comic cons?
Jeff: “Phil Winslade whose a long standing artist in the industry, worked at Marvel, DC; he ended up working with Garth Ennis on a book, they hadn’t collaborated in years. Last year, Brandon Ivan flew in from New York, he met a lady who was a guest at the show and decided he really liked her artwork, and they’ll be doing a book together. There’s lots of things in the background that I’m not even aware of because people do these shows for networking as well. One of the things that people don’t understand is that in the comics industry, if you’re writer you’re generally sat in a room on your own writing, if you’re an artist you’re sat in a room on your own drawing. So when people go to shows, its generally the place where they’ll meet people they’ve been working with for years and sometimes the only communication they’ve had is email or telephone. But never actually met, it’s a great social weekend as well – a bit like a family wedding!
“NICE Con is one of the few international comic conventions in the UK. If people want it to continue to be in Bedford, that’s one of the problems that we have is that the Corn Exchange is probably a little bit snug for us, we could quite easily expand it and go bigger but we don’t have a venue in Bedford. I want to keep it in Bedford because it’s home and it’s nice to do something in the town, even though people say “Oh nothing ever happens in Bedford!” Well actually stuff does happen in Bedford but we also need the local people to come out and support it, so that we can continue to do it.”
NICE CON, 3-4 September, Bedord Corn Exchange.
Children’s tickets for Under 14’s are £1
Children’s workshops for Under 12’s are on morning and afternoon on Saturday and Sunday.