The Secret of the Unicon

I was intrigued and excited to hear about the Unicomics event. A comics festival at the University of Hertfordshire, just a short train ride from my own town!

I did wonder what it would be like, though. While London events attract a wide number of visitors from across the metropolis and beyond, this was a small fair at a campus on the edge of a satellite town. Who would be there? Students, I supposed…

Unicon took place in a covered area known as The Street, with the stalls conveniently located for traffic, though somewhat oddly positioned in wide gaps along its length. Decorated with international flags and large portraits of university staff, this corridor played host to talent from the UK comic scene large and small – from X-Men to Beano to DIY small press. I met some local comics enthusiasts, a number of families (brought to the event by a Ben 10 cartoon showing and a comic-making workshop courtesy of Sarah McIntyre), some visitors on a faculty open day and a random old man… and a few students. Not sure where everyone else was.

Though not a very busy day, it was a pleasant time. Give me free cups of tea and I’ll always be happy. It was good to catch up with the comics folk, including my regular table buddy Joe Decie, and I even attended an interesting panel discussion, which I rarely take the time for when manning a table. In this case, I may not have missed much table action even if I’d been at all the talks, but hey, I’m not complaining. The topic of Comics & Music was one which the panellists – writers Kieron Phonogram and Matt Sheret, and comic creator Sean Azzopardi – admitted was too broad to tackle entirely successfully, but they did cover some of the links between the two forms, the crucial difference in these media (time in reading dictated by the reader), and their attempts to capture music in their art (e.g. each page of Phonogram #2.7 choreographed to ‘Wolf Like Me’ by TV on the Radio, and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound influencing a dense panel grid). And not once did they resort to the cross-culture cliché of ‘dancing about architecture’.

The panel ended with inspiring talk of how one subculture can influence another, with mention of Kieron’s DJing at Thought Bubble, Sean’s prior involvement in the late London Underground Comics market stall and Matt’s We Are Words & Pictures group’s touring small-press table, and how these regular meetings encourage each other to produce new and better work (with Tom Humberstone’s Solipsistic Pop anthology an excellent and up-to-date example, launching this week). Certainly makes me want to be more ambitious with my own comics.

I also picked up today a copy of Striptacular 2 by Francesca Cassavetti (an entertaining account of the appearance at the French comic festival Angouleme by Francesca, Sean, Oliver Lambden and Dan Lester, under the name B.A.S.T.A.R.D.S); Sarah’s hilarious Dear Diary mini-comic illustrating her teen journal entries; Many Happy Returns by Jan Wheatley, the effective first part of a serious comic set around a family in the 1970s… and I also bought a second-hand Chris Ware book from Douglas Noble.

After fun at the pub I watched Watchmen (the Director’s Cut, which was good, but very long) before going the short distance home. Although when my friend dropped me at a station I just missed a train, and had to wait an hour for the next one. At least I had plenty to read.

I hope this was just the first of many UniComics festivals; they have the enthusiasm, facilities and location, they just need more promotion. Keep an eye on their activities by clicking here or joining the Facebook group.

My next fair will be the London Zine Symposium in Shoreditch on May 29th!

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4 Responses to “The Secret of the Unicon”

  1. Sean Azzopardi Says:

    Nice write up Al, having never chaired a panel before, it’s good to hear that it was entertaining.

  2. Sarah McIntyre Says:

    Great to see you there, Al! x

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