So, I got up, tidy myself and packed up all the books ready to get the bus to the event. Miserable and depressed. But the bus was running on time and the rain stopped.
YAY! It might just turn out to be a good day after all.
I turned up at just after 0900 hours and walking from the bus stop approached the hotel. Immediately obvious was that there was absolutely no indication that there was an event on let alone an "International Book Fair and Comic Expo" -and no "meet-and-greeters" as you usually get at these events -in the past there have been people standing in the foyer waiting to point you in the right direction with a cheery "hello".
I looked around. Nothing. I approached the very polite and smiling receptionists who were more than happy to give me directions to the event.
So I got into the lift and headed for the fifth floor. I kept thinking "Chandeliers! Chandeliers!"
Why was I thinking that? Well, regular CBOers will remember that for one of the last good (well signed) Expos held in the Mercure, the Small Press Expo got a big room with chandelier style lights. Never thought I'd see the SP in a fancy room. So I was hoping that it was the same room. It was.
And there was no one I recognised. Would this be a repeat of my disasterous Comics and Small Press event in October? No. I said "Hello" to the two young guys from Bath on the table next to me. Hands were shaken a few jokes spouted and that was it. So I set up the table -more books than space and walked around and there were a few more "hellos" -later from Simon Wyatt, Jason Cardy, Steve Tanner -and a lot of Welsh attendees.
With no exhibitor badges -just a coloured plastic sticker- it would have been hard to know who a good few of the people were....had I not done what I usually do: check all the exhibitors/guests blogs and websites during the week so I knew who was where and did what.
Wow. I thought "This should be good" but wanted to check the place out.
Had a nice chat with one of the hotel staff in the foyer and asked about signs for the event? I was told "I think that is up to the organisers." Fair enough. Went for a quick look outside to return to the event and prepare for the thronging masses.
I found a rather worrying brown envelope on my table and the only words written on it were "Terry Hooper". Breaking into a cold sweat I got a "How do you fancy a trip to East Germany?" flash-back. I could have swooned when I found that it was two books from Time Bomb Comics' Steve Tanner!
THAT banner was just too scarily predicting what was to unfold.
Decided to double-check the table (as my old teacher drummed into us:"Never enter a room without knowing that you CAN exit it alive!") and then off to relieve Bladderking. On my return I found a rather up-tight former hipster wannanbe who really should have pulled to the curb and taken a polaroid. Yes, Darron Ralph Maffaking Hildegarde Northall had arrived.
Northall: "Just how come you got a red sticker and I got a yellow one, hey? What's that supposed to mean -I'm inferior to you, hey? Hey??!!" Once I explained that it was either a yellow sticker or walk around in his underpants all day he calmed down.
Oh! Funny story....well, more like embarassing really. The young lady who came up to me and put the sticker on my shirt to show I was an exhibitor (the organisers knew me and I was standing there with a name tag and Black Tower logo behind an exhibitor table....meh). I said -you'll have hysterics here- "Does that mean if I'm seen without the sticker I get tackled and thrown out by security?" Young lady: "That would be me" Now, she was wearing a red sweater. She was security (!) so I reposted: "Red security sweater. Wow. Hopw brave!" (I was making a Star Trek reference there, right?) I got THE blankest look in return. "It's a Star Trek reference -security man in red sweater always gets killed?" There was not the slightest breeze but the tumble weeds that rolled by. A "Oh right." and that was it.
Morning at the expo....don't be fooled -all these people are exhibitors!
Anyhow, the rakish Northall asked where the various events were and talks. Nothing was well sign-posted and let me tell you even reviews from businessmen refer to how confusing the corridors are in the hotel -at one expo I ended up with three frightened expoers in a lift in the basement. I think my maniacal laugh when the lift doors opened revealing the basement might have unnerved them.
Note to self: Do not wear a side cash pouch and camera pouch under you top because you like like a pregnant ferschlugginer! And, yes, that little red square above the t-shirt log IS my event 'ID'!
Below: Ahh, the view. Windows are sealed to prevent expo exhibitors jumping...well, me in particular!
Well, this was an "International Book Fair and Comic Expo" but there was one guest from the US(?) who I had never heard of before and he and his friend were sat behind a table away from everyone else looking very bored and not getting much attention. I really felt sorry for him. That was it.
Afternoon: Hello! It's kicking off -two kids and their dad! No, those other people are still the exhibitors.
From the Black Tower table. Yes, quite a few empty tables. And those folk in the background are, again, exhibitors -we could all get up, walk around and talk and be confident that no one would be at our tables. This really was very, very depressing.
Below: Northall -"Okay take a photo and I'll smile just this once 'for the team'!"
A quick re-arranging of the table just to keep us busy. Oddly, people would stop for a second or so and not even engage in conversation but walk off. But I'll put that in perspective by saying I counted ten or twelve people who came into the room and most seemed to know people there.
From what I could see Paul Grist was not doing a great deal....
Damn that banner again -just wiping my face in it!
Damn my camera for malfunctioning again. I only got this one of Steve Tanner at the Time Bomb Comics table. Okay, he at least sold something but he had driven all the way from Birmingham and been stung by the hotel parking fee of £12.50! "What?!" you may be shouting. I did. An exhibitor at an event at the hotel had to pay £12.50 to PARK a car there.
That was just plain disgusting. I wonder how many people attending conferences at the hotel pay full whack to park their car? That alone would make me never ever recommend the Mercure Holland to anyone as a conference or event venue.
Steve is a very nice man who works hard to promote and sell his books. Okay, so do I BUT he had travelled all the way to Bristol and had to drive all that way back. He explains that he never has high expectations so if it isn't a good day well you can't be disappointed.
Still, as I explained to someone yesterday evening, being stung to park at an event and then really just sit about or chinwag was really bad.
Plenty of stand-up signage outside the hotel. Usually you see signs placed out by the pavement for events.
Now, you might ask why this event was not attended by any international publishers? I purchased a lot of books because I planned professionally for a big event. Northall's constant "You've got too much stuff! Too many books!" was annoying but he would be right if I was the sort of person who was a dilettante. Small Press event or a big event I treat it professionally. I take stock so that people do not just see horror comics or super hero or whatever.
I am just glad that lulu.com somehow fouled up my order for the four prose books which would have cost me over £150.00. I was mad that I never had the books for the event but had I then I would have been Hulking out!
WHY was there no exterior signs pointing out that an "international book fair and comic expo" was being held? According to the organisers the hotel said there could be but then told them they could not. If this is true then I suggest the organisers contact the company running the hotel and demand a partial refund.
Read this from the Hotel website:
"Mercure Bristol Holland House Hotel & Spa is a luxury hotel situated in Bristol's city centre. This stylish hotel blends sophisticated meeting and conference facilities with 275 spacious bedrooms, the chic Phoenix restaurant and bar, 14 beauty treatment rooms and fitness suite with a 14m pool.
A focal point for events and business meetings in the city, Mercure Holland House provides state-of-the-art conference and banqueting facilities. The 12 luxurious suites have the flexibility to comfortably cater for intimate meetings of eight or conferences of up to 220 delegates with the added bonus of a dedicated lounge and break-out area.
Through the hotel’s Meet with Mercure offer, all delegate packages include free Wi-Fi and LCD projector plus inclusive refreshments from mid-morning breaks to afternoon tea.
The hotel’s conference and events team is enthusiastic and professional, tailoring conference arrangements to the individual customer's needs, resulting in a superlative service in luxurious surroundings. Conference organisers can be assured that whatever the event, a conference or meeting suite is available to suit their needs. Enhanced by its central location and sheer style, the hotel is the obvious choice for high profile events."
Now, I pass this hotel almost every day and I have seen stand-up signs and pointer arrow signs for events outside it. It is quite a common sight there and you find out a lot about what is going on in the City from these. It makes no sense that the hotel which had signage for comic expos in the past should suddenly disallow any.
The bonus event publiciser has always been the cosplayers -Abe The Alien, Star Wars troopers and so on as well as people giving out flyers. Nothing here.
A couple quick emails and I found out that none of the Bristol comic shops had been asked to put up a flyer -they have done with the old Comic Expo. None were invited to take part in the event. To which I can only respond ?!?!!
So the main publicity for the event -2-3 times a week for the last couple months has been CBO. Nothing on other comic blogs (unless you can point me in the direction of one that did mention it?)
About three times everyone went quiet as a raffle or something else was shouted out by the organisers. Please bear that in mind for a paragraph or so.
By 1430 hours (2.30pm to you lot) Northall was talking me out of committing suicide using the sharp edge of a Black Tower book ....I looked around and people were packing up!! People were saying they were going by 1500 hrs. The event started at 10:00 hours which was a mistake -Mid-day would have been better -still six hours to trade.
But there was no trade.
I think Steve Tanner packed up just after 15:00 hours but by 16:00 hours, with two hours still to go others were packing up. If it had not been for the pally atmosphere it would have been more depressing. At just after 16:00 hrs I noticed the organisers had packed up and gone. No announcement. Nothing. I tried to find them and asked one of the hotel staff "They've just gone" was the reply I received.
As everyone else packed up and left I made sure that my table was still fully set up. I'm not a comic dilettante and I paid for a table until 18:00 hours (6pm) and that was it. But someone had turned the air-conditioning units from warm to cold. Cold air was flowing quite happily. A very old and cynical trick to clear a venue.
I think it was after 17:00 hours (5pm) that I packed up and Northall and I left a deserted event room.
I was told "Oh, the organisers mum felt a bit unwell so they left".
Unfortunate but I have been involved in setting up events since the 1970s, from early computer events, business marts and even comic events. I have never ever heard of an organiser just leaving their exhibitors like idiots at an event. An announcement that someone was ill? No problem -just tell exhibitors how to contact you in an emergency and you certainly HAVE to be there to see the event draws to a close and thank exhibitors for coming.
This was probably the worst organised event I have ever been to. No real publicity outside of a Face Book page and blog and CBO, of course. NO "international book fair" -everyone I spoke to there were Small Pressers either using one Print On Demand company or another. And all the guests announced for the cancelled "Booked!" event that were supposed to be at this re-scheduled event? None.
But then the most galling email ever from the organisers:
"Firstly may I say a big thank you to you all for the support you have given to this venture. The room looked great and I thought the atmosphere was very friendly and pleasant.
I can only apologise for the lack of support from the general public although the few that did attend really enjoyed their time there. However, I don’t know what more I could have done in advertising the event and felt that the hotel could have given a more prominent pointer to the fair. That said I expect that as this event coincided with the big comic expo at Birmingham NEC that many of our likely customers were there instead of in Bristol"
Let me just say that comic fans and people in Bristol have always -ALWAYS- been very supportive of comic events in the City. It is why the Bristol Comic Expo used to be the "must go to event" of the year (see my announcement in the next posting). To seriously write "lack of support from the general public" and give that as an excuse and not expect a Bristolian to get very very angry.....
THE PEOPLE AND COMIC FANS OF BRISTOL NEEDED TO KNOW THERE WAS AN EVENT IN ORDER FOR THEM TO SUPPORT IT!
This was basically a very poorly organised comic mart and not a big international book fair or comic expo. Arts and craft, Small Pressers and a couple fellas selling comics.
Back Cover Promotions failed to deliver the event promised. Okay, first time events CAN be quite messy but this is the first one where I've heard exhibitors politely -and not so politely- state that they would never attend the event again.
There were months in which to contact bloggers, comic shops, arrange flyers to distribute -music shops in Bristol and gaming stores have been more than happy to do this in the past.
If you are an underdog then Bristol is the place to get support but if you blame your failure on Bristolians the hackles WILL rise.
From now on, when I book a ticket with events -who ALWAYS have tones of things you have to agree to- I am going to stipulate that if an event is badly organised or publicised resulting in something like this debacle, I at least get my table money back.
Next year I am seriously thinking and costing going to Steve Tanner's new Birmingham convention. Today I am just tired and very annoyed. The only thing that saved the day (and no sells so I'm down £400 this year) were the exhibitors who actually made me laugh and smile.