Northants International Comic Exhibition (N.I.C.E for short) is a smaller convention located in the small town of Bedford in the UK. One that I am attending for the second year in a row after having such a great time last year, usually this is my last major convention of the year giving me a great opportunity to hunt for comics I would never usually find and meet some genuinely great people and generally have a great weekend.
Surprisingly for a convention of this size it has no trouble attracting some massive names in the industry. For example this year had Adi Granov, Esad Ribic, Guillem March, Tomeu Morey, Charlie Adlard & Emmanuela Lupacchino to name a few. Most of these were booked for the whole weekend, sketching and meeting fans with a good number of smaller names in the industry there is a guarantee that at least one of your favourite creators will be at this event.
Starting at 10am on the Saturday with no early entry is a fantastic allowing attendees to get a bit of lie in but, still leaving plenty of time to get everything you want to get done during the day. We managed to time it pretty well so that we were near the front of the queue and what shocked me from last year is how much the convention has grown in attendees as shown by the snaps I took in queue below.
Heading into the convention hall everything was really well laid out with plenty of space between tables and ample room to meander from table to table taking a look at all the really cool stuff the exhibitors bought with them. Some of the bigger creators were also in a smaller exhibition room upstairs allowing for the bigger queues to be spread around various parts of the hall instead of confined to one space showing great care by the organizers in the placement of their guests so they are not too crowded.
Panels are also on offer with a full weekend worth scheduled at a smaller hall that was part of the overall complex being used (which was an additional room for sellers last year). Admittedly no panels interested me at this convention. However, there was a good variety of panels, from creating art for digital comics vs traditional comics, comics as satire and a career retrospective looking at a small number of creators work on Judge Dredd.
One of the things that makes N.I.C.E a truly unique convention is the Sketch Roulette, this is such a simple idea that for the first 100 people to purchase a ticket for the con they are entered into the sketch roulette. The idea is that they have a number of creators that are assigned an hour slot and you head up to the roulette and redeem a ticket and get assigned an artist (hence the roulette). You may not get the artist you want but hey, you walk away with a free sketch for literally just turning up. I was lucky to get a ticket last year and got a free Batman head sketch from Guillem March.
The staff at this convention are all immensely friendly and well informed answering any question and pointing us in the right direction when we were not sure where a particular creator was located, even stopping to have a chat with us. The hotel we were staying at was where most of the creators were also staying and heading to the bar on the Friday night which was buzzing with creators and convention goers alike. Picking a small table to relax and have a quick drink me and my friend Nick were approach not long after by a guy who turned out to be the organiser of the con, who stopped to have a chat about comics and seeing things from the retailer/business side of the industry (which was very eye opening). He thanked us for supporting the convention but, just wanted to come and have a quick chat (which was huge for me and Nick) and it is indicative of the nature of this convention, everyone is there to celebrate comics and have fun, no one is above one another and you can speak to creators and fans alike on a very human level which, is refreshing when compared to some of the larger cons were for example you’re not going to be able to have a lengthy chat to a Scott Synder or Dan Slott about anything due to the demands on their time.
With that being said here are a few snaps taken from the two days:
The con was also partnered with Bedford’s local comic shop Close Encounters, which whilst it is does not have the same feeling as my local store Nostalgia and Comics (then again I don’t think any shop ever comes close to the shop you regularly frequent) it was a great store to take a wonder round. The staff were friendly and willing to chat about anything and everything and the store is laid out so well. Trades, figures, new issues and merch was all located downstairs and upstairs is given over to the great selection of back issues. Everything is tidy and well laid out and being a con attendee you get a 10% discount in the store, so as you can imagine a small (large) bit of time was spent in the store hunting for books that I just can’t find anywhere else.
Sadly I did not get a pic of the downstairs are of the store (I got carried away grabbing books) but, here’s a few pics taken of the store whilst I was wondering around:
The only negative thing for me at this con was that the amount of comic traders had been vastly scaled back from last year. As the second hall had been given over to a panel room instead of being used for dealers and artists as well there were only 5 – 6 traders there which was disappointing for myself as one of the main things I love to do at cons is root through long boxes for comics! It’s not that much of a negative as it meant that I was actually a lot more focused in my purchasing only grabbing the issues for series and runs I am trying to get together instead of grabbing 500 books because they are cheap and I may want to read them. It’s not a criticism per se as there were still plenty of books to look at and pine over (like Amazing Spider-Man 300, I will get a copy one day) but, it would have been nice to have a little more variety as shown by the previous year there were a few tables available so the space was there.
On a personal note though, I had immense amounts of fun and came back with a great deal of swag and even managed to get a few things I had been after for a long time. Like New 52 Batman Issue 1:
And the Green Lantern Play Arts Kai Variant, this figure may not be to everyone’s taste but, my god do I think this looks gorgeous, here he is with pride of place on my book shelf nestled in between the real Hal Jordan and Thanos (Thanos isn’t pleased, he thinks he should be in the centre):
And well…all of this swag:
And I carried on with my original art collecting in the form of a sketch cover from Tomeu Morey for £10! ($16 U.S, yes he was that cheap!) At that price I had to get a cover from someone who has worked on so many of the books I love. I have a mission to get my favourite characters sketched up as members of the Green Lantern Corps and make a wall of my own personal lanterns so here is Tomeu Morey sketching the one and only Amazing Spider-Man as a Green Lantern:
And the finished piece:
He looked very nervous at this request and was really worried that I wouldn’t like it but, I think he did an awesome job for such an odd request, thanks Tomeu, you’ve gained a fan for life!
Overall N.I.C.E is a small personal convention that really allows you to interact with creators in a nice relaxed setting without the hustle and bustle of a major convention. It’s well run by friendly people who know and love this industry and is always pencilled in my calendar when it’s announced. If you are in the Bedford area when it is on or want to make the trip I highly suggest you do, you will not be disappointed.