I made a fleeting but greatly enjoyable visit to BICS, the Birmingham International Comics Show this weekend. An opportunity both to meet familiar faces who I only see at these events, and to demonstrate my hopeless sense of direction. Is it just me who is incapable of navigating around Birmingham? In the car a journey of a few yards seems to take hours. I can't drive for five minutes in Birmingham without shouting "this f-ing place" in despair at its bloody roads. Whoever designed it loved cars so much they ploughed hideous flyover motorway ring roads right through the heart of the place, and simultaneously hated cars so much they turned every remaining normal old road into a pedestrianised area. I literally genuinely honestly saw a one-way cul-de sac while trying to walk to the launch party. And the hotel we were staying in could only be reached by driving down a road (John Bright St fact checkers) which says no cars are allowed down it and that it's for pedestrians only, so when we arrived we overshot it then had to spend literally half an hour going round the block again to get back where we started, a journey that could be done in less than a minute on foot, and just as quickly by car if three ends of the crossroads of streets hadn't been totally uneccessarily blocked off leaving a wasteland like something out of I Am Legend surrounded by traffic chaos and... okay, I'm not a fan of Birmingham as a driver.
But once I was parked (in our serviced apartment which you could only reach through its car park, I mean god, they expect someone to pay a quarter of a million quid to live in some tiny echoey box in a faceless tower block - 15 storeys high I ask you - and the only entrance is through an underground car park? And how do you open the gate to get your car in and out? By wiping a box along the floor? Madness? And what happens if there's a power cut in this place? Every door, all operated by key fobs, will unlock. So, brilliant, I know how to rob a 15 storey building... okay, so I am picky about some new buildings. And don't get me started on the taps - impossible to turn off with wet hands. Some designers are idiots).. once I was parked, I just had to get to the party at the Panama Bar on foot.
My handwritten map, kindly drawn out by Hev because our printer was out of ink before we left the house, made it clear that I just had to hop over Smallbrook Queensway, and the bar would be on the other side of The Mailbox shopping centre. Easy. So I start by finding my way under the hideous flyover, I mean god how I hate concrete (I'm told Birmingham was very heavily bombed so we really have Hitler to blame for it . Oh really? So it was Hitler who neatly bulldozed every street but LEFT ALL THE CORNER PUBS was it? Yeah. And my arse plays the banjo.) So I enter the Mailbox and start walking in a straight line. You see I know the pub I'm heading for is by the canal. I've been to the canalside in Birmingham, I know it's quite low down and you look down on it from bridges, so I can kind of picture where I'm heading for (I've stayed in a hotel in the Mailbox before, why I'm practically a native). But as I enter the Mailbox I have to go up an elevator. Then up another. Then it's as I'm about to ascend to the fourth floor that I figure my memory must be playing up. There's no way I can climb to the 5th floor of a building and end up on canal level, so I turn round and go back to the entrance and try to walk round the Mailbox instead. But the next road I reach is the aforementioned one way cul de sac (because of building work, the one way street that would take me round the side is a dead end) so I get to the next road and it looks like a road to nowhere, then I get very lost, then I find myself in some very dodgy looking back streets, and it isn't until I bump into Mark (Buckingham) and Irma en route to the party that I finally get there. They are, as it happens, walking in totally the opposite direction from where I was about to go. It has taken me 45 minutes to walk the 10 minute journey from flat to pub. The trick, it turns out, is realising that Birmingham is built on hills, and that the canal that you look down on from one road, flies over another. It's an aqueduct. If it's any consolation, satnav would have been probably as confused as me (satnav is near useless in lots of central Birmingham where key junctions and roundabouts are under five storeys of concrete, but I digress yet again).
The party was full of familiar faces. It was great to see their faces. Hunt, Laura, the Goodmans, Bryan. Dozens of faces. Their mouths opening and closing. The only drawback was that none of us could hear what the other was trying to say because there was a DJ playing very loudly. If there's one thing comic fans don't need it's a dance floor. Have you seen comic fans? Urgh, the very thought of any of them dancing. All those grodey t-shirts, beards, pony tails and leather jackets being shaken in public is quite terrifying.
So it was that a number of us dispersed to find a pub round the corner, ending up at the delightfully old fashioned Tap & Spile. My hatred for the modern world, its concrete impersonality, its multilevelled disorientation, and town-planned idiocy, its remote-controlling automatism, its DJs who think making a sound like someone hammering nails into the turntable is big clever and conducive to conversation, was all swept aside by a few pints and enjoyable conversation about life, the universe and comics.
Al Ewing, Dylan Teague, Mike Collins, Lew Stringer and a bustle more chatted a pleasant night away. Suffice it to say, Friday night was fun.
I got lost on the way home, by dint of not really knowing where I was when I left the pub (I'd followed the others to get there and left before them) so the 10 minute walk home took another half hour. And getting into bed I managed to bump my head on the bedside table, resulting in a cut & bruise on my forehead which lasted through Saturday. Did I mention I enjoyed all of this, by the way?
Saturday at Thinktank (10 mins walk from flat, took 25 to drive) was a grand affair. I got to none of the talks, managing to fill my time chatting with comic creators and buying some stuff which I have yet to read. There was a Dalek, there were Star Wars characters and Batman characters and lots of happy smiling faces immersing themselves in lovely lovely comics, from which I had to tear myself in order to get to a gig elsewhere later. Names too numerous, I look forward to reading someone else's more detailed report of the weekend (which is still going on as I tap this on Sunday morning, but sadly I have both daytime and nightime gigs to go to, so BICS won't see me again till next year).
Well done BICS organisers, it looked good to me, and I hope the feedback is good.
Some photos from the event: Photos