N.I.C.E. 2014

Northants Internation Comic Expo, usually my last major UK convention of the year as Thought Bubble is tough to get the time off work for and usually a little too close to Christmas (ick, hate saying that word before November) for me to be able to spend any decent amount of money.  So, NICE is my last opportunity of the year to go meet some cool creators, have a good hunt for comics and maybe get some sketches done.  So, based on last year, I was really looking forward to this year’s show and, for the most part, it didn’t disappoint!  This year was scaled back somewhat in size, at least in terms of the number of sellers at the show which meant that there wasn’t even one of the good old 50p sellers in attendance.  That was pretty much the only part of the weekend that let me down, where everything else was concerned it was fantastic.  A well organised, reasonably priced and enjoyable convention which seems to attract only the nicest sellers and attendees.  I’m going to break today’s post down into three sections, first we will look at the show itself, who was there, how it was laid out and what worked.  Then I’ll let you have a look at the particularly cool stuff I walked away from the show with, then we shall have a look at the sponsors of the show, local comic shop Close Encounters.

Started off on the Saturday and, unlike LSCC, doors opened at 10am and there weren’t early entry tickets available to buy so it meant that I could get a bit of a lie in after driving from Birmingham to Bedford the day before.  We managed to time it pretty well so that we were relatively near the front and by the time the doors were opened, the queue had snaked quite far down the road as you can see below.

Inside the main room was incredibly well laid out, with tables for sellers and creators going all the way round the outside of the room, with an island in the middle purely housing more artists and writers.  There were two parts upstairs too, a balcony overlooking the main room where the “sketch roulette” took place and another room the other side of the stairs which contained more artists.  Spreading the artists over two rooms like this allowed the organisers to use last years seller room as a panel room this time around.  Addmitedly I didn’t manage to make it to any panels, there was only really the one I wanted to see which was a discussion around a popular modern comic argument; traditional art vs digital art.

There were some impressive guests lined up for this year’s show again with the likes of Esad Ribic, Guillem March, Emanuela Lupacchino, Tomeu Morey, David Hine, Carlos Ezquerra, Adi Granov and Charlie Adlard being some of the bigger names there, with many more dotted around the show.  Some were Saturday only but there still seemed to be a whole lot of people around on the Sunday too, with all of the above doing all weekend.

The sketch roulette is an interesting idea too, something I’ve only ever seen done at NICE and I think more conventions should put this into practice.  The way it worked was if you were one of the first 100 people to buy a ticket for the convention (I think) then you would be notified by email that you were eligible for the roulette.  On the day of the roulette, you’d queue up inside the convention and be sent into a room with a row of artists at tables and make your way to the next available artist.  Doesn’t matter who, you don’t get to choose (hence the “roulette” part) and then you get a free sketch for your trouble.  Pretty sweet deal, and it means you get to leave with a free sketch!  Purely just for buying your ticket plenty in advance.  I think it’s a genuinely great idea, and it’s smart from a business point of view for artists to agree to do this.  Think of it like this, if someone who has never paid for a comission or never bought any original art comes along and has this opportunity, comes along to your table and gets a free, awesome sketch, there is a very good chance they’ll want more.  But realistically, unless you are incredibly lucky, you’ll not get another one for free unless you manage to get into the roulette again next year.  There’s also a good chance they’ll remember you, as the artist, and want something else from you knowing that they really liked your roulette sketch.  It brings people into the original art collecting that had maybe never considered doing it before, it makes perfect sense!

The final thing I want to touch on were the organisers and staff that were on hand, and frankly this is one of the most important thing for me.  First, the organiser himself (whose name I was told and, like an idiot, have forgotten and feel terrible about) really surprised me.  Me and Matt headed down on the Friday evening to reduce the rushing that would be needed travelling on the Saturday morning, and when we checked into the hotel and went into the bar after dumping our stuff, we had the realisation that this was where most of the guests of the show were staying too.  We grabbed a drink, sat down, and proceeded to relax after the long trip.  After a little while, a friendly guy comes over and asks us if we were attending tomorrow, which turned out to be the organiser.  He’d been at the hotel to meet and greet the various artists and writers, was surrounded by this incredible talent who were all really friendly people, and yet he took the time to come over, introduce himself and have a chat with us about the show and comics in general.  This was huge for me, he had no reason whatsoever to come over and chat with two random guys, and yet he did, and that was awesome.  All the staff in the con itself were of the same attitude, happy to be there and happy to help and answer any questions you had.  And that’s what NICE is all about really, it’s a smaller and much more personal convention where you got the chance to have a good chat with some of the guests and nobody considered themselves above the rest.

So before we move on to all the cool stuff, here is a quick gallery of the convention floor and the upstairs artist room.

OK, so onto the bit where I ramble on like a lunatic fanboy about the stuff I bought.  First up, I managed to find the J Scott Campbell variant to Superior Spider-Man #29 (the La Mole Comic-Con exclusive) for a price I was willing to pay, it’s a variant I’ve been after for a while being a fan of both JSC and Black Cat, so that was good.


JSC Superior Spider-Man variant

After having a little look in the main room, we headed to the upstairs artist area as I wanted a sketch by Guillem March (which I didn’t bother with in the end) and while in there spotted Tomeu Morey and his little sign that said A5 sketches were £10.  Now, I know that he’s primarily a colourist, but no one would put themselves out there to do sketches if they couldn’t pull it off, at least no one that already works in the industry and has a reputation they could ruin.  So, I took him up on his generous offer and got a Batgirl sketch on Batman/Superman #1.

Tomeu Morey sketch

Tomeu Morey sketch

At a mere £10 I couldn’t say no, and I’m actually really happy with the end result, a gamble well worthwhile.  Now, by the time Morey had finished mine and Matt’s sketch requests, Guillem March had built up quite a queue and wasn’t making a list, you got a sketch off him there and then while you waited and if he didn’t get to you by the end of the day then you missed out for the day.  Seemed a bit risky, especially considering the size of his queue, and I had a blank copy of Justice League United that I really wanted a Supergirl sketch on.  So off I went, on the hunt for an artist to complete this task.  I already had Emanuela Lupacchino in mind for a comission, but as I wandered over to her table it dawned on me that she was the artist on the “Red Daughter of Krypton” arc, and to be honest it was the art that got me through those painful issues of Red Lantern Supergirl (I hated the story, still do).  Who better, then, to do this sketch?  No one it would seem, as the picture below will show.  My jaw dropped when she showed me the final result, I couldn’t believe it and while I was at her table collecting the sketch I bought an original page from issue #30 of Supergirl, page 14 to be exact.  A few things I want to say before the next pictures though, one that Lupacchino is one of the nicest creators I have met, she gave me a little insight into what’s coming with Supergirl over the next few months (nope, not telling), she was generally happy to interact and chat and altogether for the original page and comission I spent only £190 at her table.  I think that’s really good, I know a lot of artists who’d charge a fair bit more than this (£150 for the oage, £40 for the comission) and sure, a lot of those artists would be very big and popular, but look below and tell me this artist is not seriously talented.  Bet you can’t.

There were a handful of comics that I picked up throughout the show too, but on the whole it was stuff that I’m hunting down to fill gaps in the collection, mostly some JLA to be honest.  But the stuff above made my weekend worthwhile, the things you can’t get at regular comic shops, the things that absolutely make conventions.
So finally I’m going to let you guys in on the sponsors of the show, Bedford’s very own local comic shop Close Encounters.  I’d encourage you to go check out their website here and have a look at their really good pricing, but more to the point if you ever find yourself in the area, go in and have a look.  The downstairs area is dedicated to new releases, trade paperbacks/hardbacks/graphic novels, statues, toys, prints and various other goodies while the upstairs section is a dedicated back issue section.  Now, some of the back issues upstairs I felt were maybe a little overpriced, but then I found a lot of cool stuff I wanted in the “comics from 30p” boxes against the back wall.  Everything was very clearly labelled up and well organised as far as the non budget boxes go, and even popping in on the Sunday after they must have been hit pretty hard on the Saturday the place was still looking very neat, tidy and organised.  The last time we were in this shop, funnily enough when we were at NICE last year, the upstairs section was a bit of a daunting shop, messy, cramped and pretty disorganised but over the course of the year it’s all become very shopable with a nice little seating area so you can sit down in a pressure free environment and have a read.  Downstairs was very well organised too, with a nice window display of glass cabinets full of cool statues and the like, the new release rack immediately to your left and organised by publisher, then alphabetically within the publisher order.  The trade shelves were better if you’re shopping for Marvel, since Marvel had their own section while DC was lumped in amongst everything else.  That bothered me a little, as the only trade I really wanted was a Teen Titans trade missing from my collection, so I had to follow the alphabetical order of an absolute tonne of books to find T.  That minor gripe aside, I thought they’d done a great job.  The staff in there are equally awesome, very friendly and chatty even while the shop was busy, while managing to get through the queues at the till so you weren’t standing there for ages waiting to pay, they struck a really good balance.  I have to say it, they’re no Nostalgia & Comics, but for anyone that knows me that goes without saying, Nostalgia is my home away from home.  The trip to Close Encounters was made even better with a discount at the tills on ALL items in store with a quick flash of your convention wristband.  Brilliant!


So overall, I’m marking this weekend down as an absolute win.  Even though the size of NICE felt a little smaller this year, I don’t think it really suffered for it too much and even if that had made a significant impact on the amount of sellers, and therefore range of comics to buy, I would have still walked away from there with all that beautiful Lupacchino art so really, I don’t care!  Thank you to all the organisers and staff involved for making it such a fun and memorable weekend, and I will no doubt see you next year!


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