One of the highlights of the year for me is going to conventions, in fact for the past fifteen years or so it has been my holiday more or less and albeit a working one! So each year I get bowled away by the hard work that goes into these cons, and none more so than ECC or Edinburgh Comic Con!
Over the years I have been lucky enough to have been to many games, comic and movie conventions, some big, some not so big. I have seen and met many famous names, some of whom have become good friends, and I have been lucky enough to see just what goes on behind the scenes at conventions, and the tireless work that some dedicated folks do so you can have a great weekend.
There are a lot of comic cons up and down the UK these days. They used to be few and far between and I remember the old days of when almost all you had at comic cons was, well comic books and the occasional guest. Sure there were bigger cons that had a full line up of guests, normally drawn from the comic book industry, but none were anywhere as big as those that take place today!
Now it seems that almost every town and city in the UK has its own version of San Diego Comic Con, with more and more being added every year, but few conventions can find that perfect balance of mixing business with pleasure and bringing the fans what they want, a great weekend without selling out! Some of the larger cons tend to be soulless affairs designed just to grab cash from folks riding on the current wave of superhero hype that has swept the world in the past ten years, but there are some that rise above that and are first and foremost run by passionate people with a sincere love of the hobby, and a desire to pass that on at every chance they get!
One such event takes place in Edinburgh each April and attracts thousands of visitors and is often the highlight of many convention goers’ calendars. Edinburgh Comic Con grew from humble beginnings to become one of the best organised and run events in Scotland, if not the UK and it is all the brain child of one James Lundy.
I was lucky enough to manage to pin James down for a few moments and briefly chat with him about his passion for comics, the madness of organising a huge weekend long event, and his hopes and dreams for the future.
GW: Firstly James thanks for taking the time out to chat with Gamers Web, I know that you are always a busy man and constantly on the go. Every story has a beginning so I guess that’s the best place to start off with really. What was the motivation or influence to even contemplate running something as crazy as a comic book convention?
JAMES: You know what, although I am very conscious of there being a moment where I said to myself, ‘Screw it, I’m doing this’ , I have no recollection of when that actually was.
It may have been right back at the start during the recession when I closed down my video production company, deciding to myself, that if I was going to work that hard all over again, it was damn sure going to be doing something I truly enjoy.
When you work for yourself and have a family, you’re not the only person who has to make sacrifices along the way. It may be anything from missing out on social gatherings, to the kid’s not seeing you, but if this was going to happen, then I needed it to be over something that I was driven by.
Well, guess what, working in this industry in one form or another was something that I always wanted to do since I read my first comic books…it just that I happened to take the long way around.
GW: How long have you been reading comic books, and have your tastes changed over the years?
JAMES: I’ve pretty much been reading comics all my life, but started to take a serious interest in them when I was around 8 years old. That’s currently close to 36 years of being a fanboy, with aspirations of working in the industry in some form or manner right from the start.
Ultimately, I’ve always been drawn to superhero comics, and always will be. I dare say some pseudo intellectual would have a field day with their psycho babble if they ever browsed my collection, but in truth I’ve always been drawn to stories of myth and legend, where the protagonists fight the good fight.
However, the choice of genres covered by the medium has grown somewhat over the years. So I guess it’s not so much that my tastes have changed over the years, but rather the stories I like are now available in so many different genres.
GW: Can you tells us how you started off with running a convention? How on earth did you manage to get everything to come together?
JAMES: Although I enjoyed a slight hiatus, I’ve been going to conventions as an attendee since I was about 15 or 16, with my first real event being the United Kingdom Comic Art Convention (UKCAC) in 1990. Additionally, publishing my own comic books and owning a comic shop, has given me first hand experience of trading at numerous conventions all over the nation.
Academically, I have a further education in Leisure Management, which to the greater extent is a business degree with a leisure slant to it. While studying Leisure Management, to avoid taking a student loan, I started working in the security industry on the doors five nights a week, while helping at events when possible.
So, with all those years of experience at conventions on both sides of the fence, coupled with an academic education and a hands on grafting experience, it really didn’t take too much to pull a lot of it together.
However, my initial stumbling block in Edinburgh was finding the first venue, and we actually have a mutual friend who needs to take credit for suggesting the first two venues. I was chatting with Kenny Kirkpatrick in his old shop before it all started, and although I did all the donkey work, both the RAF club and Potterrow were entirely his suggestion.
Since then, we’ve moved on to bigger and better things, and I’ve had some great people to bounce ideas off along the way like Doug Adamson. Incidentally, I give Doug a lot of flack, and sometimes I wish he would just shut his mouth, but in truth he’s a good guy.
GW: Since Edinburgh Comic Con (ECC) started it seems to have gotten bigger and bigger year on year, and from its humble beginnings has moved on to larger and larger venues. Did this influx of visitors cause headaches as you would have to think long term in the size of venues?
JAMES: Having experienced a lack lustre first year at Potterrow, selling out in year two was a pleasant surprise. Don’t get me wrong, this was the desired result of all the hard work and investment which we put in, but it also meant that we immediately had to start looking for more space.
Given the number of events which have come and gone at the EICC, I suppose the enhanced social and professional responsibilities associated with such a venue, not to mention the cost, would be enough to give anyone a headache. However, sometimes you just have to push through, do what needs to be done, and most of all, remember to smile.
GW: For anyone who has been to Edinburgh Comic Con it is very easy to see that it’s a love affair with comics and all things geeky, but some of the bigger conventions seem soulless at times. With the move to the EICC and ultimately many more visitors’ year on year, how did you manage to keep the small convention feel?
JAMES: At the end of the day, it’ll always be about the people and the subject matter. I’ll rue the day when the only thing that motivates me becomes money.
Don’t get me wrong, we all need to make money. Even charities need to make a substantial amount to pay their employees, as being a realist, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. However, to make anything a success, your heart has to be in it at all times.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, if you have only got in this game for the money, you have no soul.
GW: How long does it take to plan ECC?
It’s basically become a lifestyle which I eat, sleep and breathe. I am not lying when I say almost every conscious thought I have is about ECC and how we can make it a better experience for those who attend.
As I type, I’m fine tuning details for 2019, while simultaneously planning a number of aspects for the next few years. Matters such as guest line ups can be planned years in advance, or even last minute when people have to pull out for personal or professional reasons.
One way to think of ECC is as it were a constantly evolving animal, using it’s available resources to adapt to it’s surroundings while planning for a continued existence within a future environment.
GW: Over the past few years you have guests from all different movies and television shows, how do you go about getting guests?
JAMES: Witchcraft and Voodoo.
GW: Do you have any dream guests you would love to have at ECC in the future if you could get them?
JAMES: Unfortunately a lot of my childhood heroes are either dead, or too old to travel. However, if you remember our 2017 exclusive of having the Comic Book Men attend their first ever European show, the next logical step there would be bringing Kevin Smith over at some point.
GW: The logistics of organising the con must really be crazy. Of course you can’t do everything yourself, how many folks are there on the Edinburgh Comic Crew crew?
JAMES: I’m glad you asked that question, as a good crew are an integral part to any successful event, and should be treated as such. However, it is 100% necessary that you know how each integral part of your organisation works, otherwise how would you know when someone is going above and beyond what you ask of them, or alternatively, how could you tell when some smooth talker is full of hot air.
Fortunately, I’d like to think that I enjoy a good working relationship with both our core crew members, and those who may only join us for the occasional show. On the greater scale they have all been an absolute joy to work with, and I will continually try to find new ways to show my appreciation for their contribution.
Although it would be beyond the scope of this particular interview to name everyone individually, I am eternally grateful that I have had the good fortune to meet each and every one of them. It doesn’t matter if they attend every show, or are no longer with us for whatever reason, any contribution that they made towards moving ECC forward is something they should be proud of, and nobody can ever take that away from them.
GW: Edinburgh Comic Con is pretty famous in the cosplay community for its relaxed attitude and promotion of the hobby. Do you feel that this is down to the close ties you have with the community itself, or perhaps something else?
JAMES: I’ve always been in complete awe of the skill and dedication that cosplayers put into bringing some of my favourite characters to life, which I suppose shows on the numerous occasions when I stop to ask for a photograph.
Ultimately, although I wouldn’t know where to start when styling a prop out of foam, I do know how to play to my strengths. It’s no accident that James and Gemma look after the cosplay side of ECC, and why people such as yourself have guest hosted the championship.
At the end of the day, any good reputation within the community would be down to the people involved, and if there is one thing I do know before anything else, it would have to be people.
GW: From wargames, card games, traders, artists and guests, Edinburgh Comic Con seems to have almost everything that the huge conventions in the States have, is there anything that you would love to add that nobody seems to do here in the UK yet?
JAMES: Yes, but that would be telling.
GW: Finally as I know how busy you are. Can you tell us what your favourite comic book character is and why? I already know but I am sure that many reading this may not!
JAMES: It has to be Blue Beetle or Booster Gold, as when you strip away everything they are just a couple of regular guys trying to make a difference. They’re not perfect, flawed like the rest of us, but still always seemed to be able to push through.
A quick gallery of Edinburgh Comic Con in full swing, 2017/2018
All images © Edinburgh Comic Con/Marc Farrimond Photography All Rights Reserved
Edinburgh Comic Con takes place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), The Exchange, 150 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th April 2019. For tickets and further information, please visit the official website. My many thanks to James for taking the time out to chat with us at Gamers Web!