Tuesday, March 15, 2011

London Small Press Expo review

I have just returned with mixed emotions from the London Small Press Expo, a new event held at Goldsmiths College in our glittering capital.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who came down to see me! It is always a pleasure to meet people who enjoy my work, or who just take an interest in my varied luxury items on the day.

LSPE has in effect replaced the now-defunct, bizarrely named UK Web And Mini Comix Thing, an odd event at Queen Mary University that drew a large crowd every year but had begun to show signs of fatigue. Hopes were high that it would correct some of the faults of that event.

The venue (Goldsmiths' art deco Great Hall) was certainly far nicer, and the organisation on the day far superior. So it was disappointing that, with the doors opening at 10am, I didn't make my first sale until 90 minutes later. There were almost no punters for the first half of the show.

The situation began to improve after two o'clock, but this was in stark contrast to the Thing, where there tended to be a steady stream of people throughout the day. It was difficult to tell whether this was down to a lack of promotion, a poorly signposted, difficult to find venue, "New Cross fear", transportation difficulties or simply an ever-increasing number of similar events in the capital and further afield.

It may just have been the fault of the show's poorly-designed website, which featured ample information but made it very hard to dig out. I would be interested to hear people's opinions.

For all my reservations, it was hard to feel that the event cannot return, lessons learned, stronger next year. I still believe that there is a gap in the calendar for an alternative comics event in the UK (in the vein of Mocca or SPX) that draws talent by reputation rather than proximity. Rightly or wrongly, London is probably the place for that. But I'm still waiting.


John Dredge said...

i think new cross definitely put me off.

Unknown said...

I didn't come because I had too much to do that day (and indeed the day after). I'm even sadder I couldn't make it now as it sounds like there would have been ample opportunity for pleasant conversation rather than jostling with other punters around crowded tables.

I appreciate that, as a creator, you'd probably prefer the crowded tables though :)

Motley said...

I'm glad it has potential! I think it might benefit from advertisement on the old thing site and generally, I only found out about it when Tom and you said you were going, I'd not heard about it otherwise.

I did almost think about offering to redesign the website just because it's so confusing and difficult to move around.

I agree with you about the alternative comic event, I was intending to try and restart the Thing before I found out about this one, I might research the possibilities of such an event.

Oh just wondering if you ever got my christmas card :B

Katy Newton said...

Aha, I can help you here. My boyfriend and I came to the expo mainly to see you and Gunnerkrigg (me: tall, big red hair, you may remember patiently rearranging your stand after I tore through it looking for a teatowel and a couple of books, sorry about that). The problems were as follows:

1. atrocious signposting - one signpost on the main road and then no signage whatsoever until the door to the hall

2. there are however lots of campus maps dotted about around the university, which would have been the end of the problem if the sign we'd seen had told us where the expo was being held within the college - unfortunately it said the expo was in the "Great Hall", which does not appear on any of the campus maps we saw and of which none of the students we stopped to ask had heard

3. assuming that the correct info was on the website, the website appeared to be down - the main page was up but the "venue" and "london" links both produced 404 pages.

We ran into a lot of people wandering about in the same state of confusion as us. One girl was looking for friends running a stall who said that it was incredibly quiet, which is not massively surprising - I imagine a lot of people just gave up. We decided to head for the main building on the main road, which fortunately turned out to be the right thing to do. I am quite sure that the problem was inadequate and inaccurate signage coupled with a website that wasn't working. It's a shame because the expo itself was fab.

Marc Ellerby said...

I think there were a number of factors as to why it wasn't gangbusters, some of which you allude to, but maybe with you aside, there wasn't much of a big draw. Remember the year when Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran, R Stevens AND Rene Engstrom came over for The Thing? That was huge! Sure people like comics, online and in print, but maybe they didn't like the comics on offer at LSPE?

Goldsmiths was a lovely venue, but I got lost straight out of the tube. I stumbled on another exhibitor looking lost and confused as to where we have to go and saw similar Tweets from WJC earlier that morning. So, if the exhibitors can't find the venue how are the attendees supposed to find it? Not every one lives in the smoke and London can be pretty scary to navigate if you've never been there before. But on the other hand, if you live in London I would assume that you'd know where Goldsmiths was.

Re: promotion. Dave saw some advertising in Southend for the show in our local comic shop; poster in the window, flyers on the counter etc. Southend isn't that far away from East London but it's hardly local. However it's more than the Thing ever did. When I ran into my friend Meryl she said she didn't even know LPSE was happening until she saw about it on Twitter two days before and she attends Goldsmiths.

Dan Berry mentioned the opening times to me and Woodrow Phoenix said something similar on Twitter. Basically how starting at 10 is too early and how shows should start and finish later. The room seemed busier come 4pm but with an hour to go it didn't maximize on potential. Especially when come 5pm on the dot the tables were being loudly cleared up and it was clear everyone had to ship out. That's an easy tweek to make though.

Ack, sorry for using your comments as a blog, John. I'll get off my internet high horse now and go back to me cereal.

Unknown said...

Gotta agree with Katy Newton's first and second point; I ended up wandering around the uni for about ten minutes trying to figure out where the 'great hall' was. I think I only managed to find it by remembering whereabouts the google maps icon had been over.

M said...

Well, I knew about it slightly more than two days before, but it's because I'd been to the Thing before and was actively searching for the next one. None of my friends knew, though. As Marc said, I don't think there was any advertising within Goldsmiths itself, and there are very few impulsive stragglers about on a Saturday.

It is a confusing campus for newcomers and more signposting/valets are definitely needed next time (and I'll gladly volunteer!). I am, however, appalled that none of the students knew where the Great Hall was. WE ENROL THERE.

Gary Northfield said...

Thought the venue was great, but the poster in itself was poor and the lack of signage around New Cross was appalling.

Fortunately I live and work in the area so knew where Goldsmiths was. But there were no posters outside on the perimeter and once inside the grounds/car park I was surprised to see absolutely no posters until I got inside the doorway and there was a little one on a wall on the side.

I saw one poster tied to a lamppost outside New Cross station, but none further on leading the way to the college, so I'm not surprised people were lost.

I hate to be negative considering how well organised it was inside, but all that comes to nothing if we don't get the footfall.

Ellen L. said...

As an exhibitor on Saturday, I was very disappointed. But if I can stick up for New Cross, it and surrounding neighbourhoods are CRAWLING with artists and students - people whom we should be targeting, I think, if comics is ever going to expand its audience. After all, Camberwell and Goldsmith's are full of young folk interested in comics. But there was no way for these people to learn about the event. I saw absolutely zero signage in South London in the weeks before the fair.
A few days before the event I made a little map of the area to help visitors out and blogged it, but did so worrying that I was stepping on the organisers' toes. Now I wish I'd made my own poster, and stuck it around the local galleries, coffee shops, etc. My studiomates and I tried to share our local knowledge with the organisers but they didn't seem interested. Now, having sat through a lovely but extremely underattended fair, I wish I'd been pushier about offering to help promote.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I found the venue by spotting people coming out with minicomix swag—though I hope I would have found it out in the end anyway! Part of the confusion just comes from the way you have to walk past most of Goldsmiths before you reach its main entrance…

Not sure what to suggest about publicizing events like this. We at CAPTION HQ are frankly baffled as to what people are supposed to do to get the word out properly. There doesn’t seem to be one central comics-news web site where all such events could be listed. And we don‘t have the person power to attend every event handing out leaflets, so we have to just do what we can.

I think the SPEXPO people did a good job and will be able to improve on it next year—they will now have a better idea of where best to place signposts and so on.

Usby said...

I assumed it was quiet because the Central Line was closed which made travelling difficult (at one point while waiting on a train we were told to run across the platform to the opposite side *four times* as they couldn't decide which train would be leaving first. I wasn't expecting to be in a Benny Hill sketch!)

I think one of the Things from a couple of years ago had a similarly low attendance due to transport closures, but the promotion aspect didn't occur to me.

I guess in future I will make an effort to do what I can to further publicise events like this. Many of the people I spoke to said they had just attended because "it looked interesting", and didn't have any previous interest in comics or particular creators. That they felt a comic con would be a worthwhile thing to attend (presumably because of the low entrance fee, and the fact that the phrase "Comic Con" wasn't used on the posters) has got to be a good thing, and at least bodes well for future events.

So overall it was a good event, with a nice atmosphere - we just could have done with selling a few more books!

Anonymous said...

Like Ellen I will stick up for poor misunderstood New Cross as well (I live there, after all), and I thought her little map was lovely and something similar should have been done by the organisers.

I wholeheartedly agree with the comment about the website. The poster we had up in the shop was not very well-designed either - too much useless, repeated information in a hard-to-read font - this kind of sloppiness in design makes me angry cause it's just such an elemental thing. If you want to pull the New Cross art crowd, which is indeed substantial, you need to make your promotion look at least on par with the promotion for the other Goldsmiths events.

I think the venue can grow to be busy, it was the first one after all, but it'll need a concentrated effort in design and promotion to do so.

Anonymous said...

The website and poster design did not reflect the quality of the attending artists. It grated on me, but would this affect numbers? probably not, The Thing had an awful website too.

The venue was lovely, but very few Goldsmiths students in attendance. I wonder if they flyered the area?

I made no money, but had fun all the same. I think it could grow into a great convention. There was no tuck shop.

Unknown said...

I was a exhibitor at Small press expo as well and while I never attended the 'thing' in previous years I had higher hopes. Was very disappointed by SPX...

I'm actually glad to hear others were dissatisfied with it to, as I emailed the organisers and I feel they dismissed my concerns saying they had "favourable reports from the majority of our exhibitors" I'm glad I'm not going mad as on the day almost everyone seemed to be grumbling about the very poor attendance figures and slow sales. They also made the excuse that the poor attendance was due the Arsenal match that day...
Its an even greater shame considering the scope and caliber of artists who exhibited, it was extremely high and wonderfuly varied. The hall itself was bright and well layed out... but in New Cross. (No offence meant, its just rather out the way of anything)

Don't know if I can bring myself to part with my money to do it again next year after loosing precious time and money this time round.