Comics Take Over Shrewsbury
Comics Salopia is a new free comic festival happening in Shrewsbury in Shropshire over the weekend of 1 and 2 June this year. Shane Chebsey, who is the main organiser for the show as well as having a lot of ICE shows under his belt in places like Birmingham, Brighton and Margate, spoke to Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows to tell us more about the new show…
TRIPWIRE: What was the genesis of Comics Salopia?
SHANE CHEBSEY: As you may know about 3 years ago I helped another company organise a Comic Festival in Shrewsbury. We had Howard Chaykin, and a load of other big names. It was supposed to be part of a massive music festival in the Quarry Park.
Unfortunately the music festival went bust and with it our budget disappeared.
We then put on a free festival in the Quarry in a big tent, which was going to be the main stage of the music festival. It was already paid for, so we thought we may as well use it.
The event was not what I had planned but we did get 1200 in the tent looking at comics.
This showed that an event without a budget and with very little advertising could elicit demand for a comics festival in the town.
Charlie Adlard and I had always wanted to put on a festival in our hometown.
Enter councillor Jane Mackenzie: While she was mayor of Shrewsbury she spoke to Charlie about doing a comics festival in Shrewsbury, as she thought it could be a great way to bring people into the town.
Charlie sent her to me for advice, and before long we had formed the Comics Salopia CIC together and were applying for funding and inviting guests.
TW: How different is it going to be to the ICE shows that you have been organising for a number of years?
SC: Comics Salopia is a totally different animal to ICE. Visitors can still expect big-name guests, inspiring events and all of the things you would get at ICE. However this is a true festival and celebration of comics spread out across the entire town of Shrewsbury.
There is something for everyone here and it’s free too. There is a kids zone spread across the Library and a children’s book shop with free workshops and activities all put together by DC Thomson and Redan Publishing.
There is also a family-focused Comics Fair set within the stunning Shrewsbury Castle grounds with lots of fun activities such as face painting, caricature artists and Jedi Fight Training for big and small kids alike.
For those who used to enjoy Comics Uncovered and like to get their portfolios reviewed by editors, we have a full program of educational events and reviews at the University, which has kindly given us the use of the full building for the weekend.
Editors attending include senior Dark Horse editor Chris Warner and IDW editor-in-chief Chris Ryall. There’ll be a rare chance for cartoonists to have their portfolios reviewed by Beano editor John Anderson.
There is a 2000AD zone set up in a block at the local prison, which is now the town’s biggest tourist attraction since it closed some years ago, The owners will also be doing immersive Dredd themed events and will be screening the Dredd movie featuring a Q&A with John Wagner.
There will be a huge indy publishers market in the town square.
There are murals being painted on buildings in the town, there is a big cosplay parade down the main street on the Sunday and a Zombie Walk on the Saturday.
TW: Describe the show’s remit in one line
SC: To bring the magic of comic art and the joy of literacy to as many people as possible, creating a truly unique, immersive and inclusive town wide experience.
TW: Who can we expect in terms of guests?
SC: By the time this is published we should have announced most of our big-name guests, so hopefully I am not giving too much away
Obviously all of the local guys are heavily involved, including Charlie Adlard of Walking Dead fame, Judge Dredd co creator John Wagner and Christian Ward who is currently doing great work over at Dark Horse.
From elsewhere in the UK we have such big names as Kieron Gillen, Frank Quitely, Al Ewing, Sean Phillips, John Allison and Sarah Graley plus many more.
However this is not just a UK festival, it is also a truly international event with guests from Canada, New Zealand, Japan, France and of course the USA.
Confirmed names include Scott McCloud, Yanick Paquette, Christos & Ruth Fletcher Gage, Tyler Kirkham, Elsa Charretier and Ben Stenbeck. We are also thrilled to welcome Disney and Dreamworks artist Nathan Fowkes and legendary designer Chip Kidd, both of whom will be doing talks for us at the University.
We are also delighted to be welcoming over from Japan renowned artist Eldo Yoshimizu, who is just now breaking into the UK industry after already being well known in France, America and his home country of course.
TW: Talk us through some of the panels that will be happening over the weekend.
SC: There is a total of around 60 different events happening over the weekend, so it’s not possible to list them all here. Some highlights include exclusive guest interviews with our big names including “Nowhere Men”, an exclusive interview by Kieron Gillen with Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson.
There will also be a Mignolaverse panel with Laurence Campbell, Ben Stenbeck and other guests.
The Beano panel with four Beano artists hosted by editor John Anderson is already selling very well with fans in Shrewsbury and there will be lots of events where professionals share their knowledge and offer advice to aspiring comic creators too.
TW: Shrewsbury has quite a comics community. How important was it to reflect the town’s own comics talent at the show?
SC: This is very important, as part of what we are doing with the festival is showing the rest of the country what a vibrant and exciting town Shrewsbury is.
Sometimes people think rural towns are sleepy places with little going on, but we have a thriving arts and music scene here in Shrewsbury. We will be highlighting that with local artists creating sequential murals across the town and lots of live music events featuring local talent, including Dan Owen, who will be performing at our VIP Saturday night event at the town’s number one night spot, The Buttermarket.
TW: Of course Charlie Adlard is one of the UK’s highest profile comic creators. How involved has he been with the show?
SC: Charlie is our patron.
He was there at the beginning and I am sure he’ll be with us for a long time to come. This event is really important to Charlie as much as it is to myself and Jane and the rest of the team. There will be a huge interactive exhibition of Charlie’s work at the Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery and he will also be Judging the “Best Zombie” competition for our Zombie Walk on the Saturday.
The exhibition will feature 3D projections, sound effects from the TV series and some live zombies as well. The artwork will be a full issue of the famous comic book displayed in a fully realised set from the series.
TW: It is a free show rather than one you have to buy tickets for. What challenges has this presented for yourself and the other show organisers?
SC: The hardest part of doing a free event is convincing people that it’s not too good to be true!
Thankfully we have had amazing support from the local council, local businesses and from the whole town in general. We are dependent on some funding and have applied for various grants to help us deliver the event to the high standard we aspire to.
We have also raised some funds from selling exhibition space. The footfall in the town over a weekend in June is around 80,000 people, so access to them will be of great benefit to comics publishers, artists and retailers wanting to reach out to new customers.
Also we have ticketed events all weekend that are paid so we obtain some income for those.
However we are keeping these ticket prices super low to ensure they are as accessible as possible. Many of the events, especially those aimed at younger children, will be free.
TW: How much support have you received from the local council?
SC: As I said earlier we have received great support from both the Town Council and Shropshire County Council. They have helped with logistics, permissions for murals and road closures for our Cosplay Parade and Zombie Walk. Where usually you find closed doors trying to organise a comic art event in a city, here in Shrewsbury we have encountered nothing but support and help.
TW: Are there plans afoot to make this a regular fixture in the UK comic convention calendar?
SC: Yes, we hope to build this event into a major UK comic arts festival happening every year in Shrewsbury on the first weekend in June. We have the will and the local support, and we feel something like this is needed in the UK, at that time of year. An event that is completely about comics and comic creators, which is both inclusive, affordable and accessible is our goal.
Information about the show can be found on its website