Alasdair Watson visits a convention with a difference; one where they ply you with whisky from beginning to end. Oh, but it's got nothing to do with comics. He comes back with a few observations to share, and a hangover to keep.
08 March 2004


I drank quite a lot of whisky yesterday. Really, a stupid amount. Because it was extremely high quality, and free.

Well, the ticket to the tasting cost me thirty quid, but once I got in, it was all free. I spent the time walking around the event, an expo called Whisky Live, talking to people who love their work, who talk about it with knowledge and passion, and who were only too keen to give me free samples.

I talked to fellow enthusiasts, who were intelligent and articulate, who recommended to me things they thought I would like, and told me about their own love for whisky. I talked to people who knew very little about whisky, who had come with friends for the chance to learn, to be educated about the drink, its history, and most of all, its taste. There were presentations given by master distillers, by highly skilled blenders about their products, by people who were trying to do something new in the field.

The whole thing was completely sold out, and every talk was completely full.

And now I'm going to put the boot in to comics conventions.

Actually, no, I'm not. I can't be bothered. You either think that what I've described above is roughly analogous to a comics convention, or you don't.

'I was talking to people who can discuss their work with knowledge and passion.' Maybe you go to comics conventions with your passion for comics in full force, and spend the time talking with like-minded people in the industry, be they fans or professionals, and have a wild time bonding with new people over your mutual love for the art form.

Or maybe you go along because everyone else you know is going to be there, and you spend your time surrounded by sweaty mouth-breathers, wondering what the fuck you're doing there, and why you're not sitting somewhere more comfortable drinking fine booze with your terribly charming and urbane friends.

Maybe you do both, and how you feel about the whole event is a complicated thing, bound up with your mood on any given day of the convention.

Me, personally, I'm not going to any comics conventions this year. I can't afford a trip to the States, and I have a wedding to attend on the weekend of the Bristol convention. And I have to say, it really doesn't bother me. The Bristol convention, for me, has become an excuse for a drunken weekend away with friends, and a chance to buy a bit of original art. It's a lot of fun, but really, the comics don't come into it. So I'll miss catching up with a few friends, but I'm sure I'll have the chance to do that another time in the year.

But I've been trying to analyse why Whisky Live (and yes, that really is a stupid fucking name) felt so different to a comics convention, despite the fact that on the surface it has a lot in common with them (or if you're not well disposed to conventions, it has a lot in common with the ideal of a comics convention). It wasn't just the free booze. It wasn't the lack of people in Klingon suits, as they'd thoughtfully laid on their own equivalent; a couple of people in bad tartan suits. Not traditional dress, you understand. Three-piece suits. In Tartan. I think I'd have been happier if there had been Klingons.

'I'm not going to any comics conventions this year, and it really doesn't bother me.' I think what it really was, was that there was next to no networking going on. There was no sense that anyone was looking for anything out of the other people there besides conversation and booze. This was an opportunity for distillers to advertise their wares, and for people to try something new. And that was it. It wasn't a chance to try out for work, or make money or steal a march on the competition. Nor was there any sense of 'celebrity' there. Yeah, some people were there working, but it's not like they were slaving away signing or sketching; there wasn't a sense of a dipsomaniac fan/pro divide...

I'm not looking to rail against the way things are done in comics here. I just think it's interesting what effect changing a few things about what we might regard as a 'normal' convention set up can do to the atmosphere. Chiefly, I suspect, it the subtraction of filthy lucre from the equation that changes things.

Yes, obviously the event is supported by cash from sponsors, distilleries and ticket sales. Hell, maybe it even turns a profit. But it's not an event people come to with intent to buy or sell anything directly - there is a stand run by a specialist whisky shop, but it's the only one that deals with cash at all, so the whole thing feels much more relaxed, with money left at one remove from the conversations across the table.

And the all the booze doesn't hurt, either.

Maybe a regular comics convention couldn't do this, but I wonder if there's a way to make it work? To charge much, much more for admission, and then encourage exhibitors to give their stuff away for free, as promotion, rather than to sell it. To place the focus back on the product, rather than the personalities.

I should probably stop drinking...


Top Shelf has put Alan Moore's novel back into print, and this time it's got some gorgeous illustrated plates by Jose Villarrubia in it, too. You really, really should read it.

It's not the easiest book in the world, but it's immensely rewarding. It's a variation on some of the same ideas that are in FROM HELL - that what might at first look like a discreet thing (an event in FROM HELL, a place in VOICE OF THE FIRE) is always part of a much larger web of event and circumstance, and is always a product of greater forces that aren't always immediately apparent.

For me personally, reading the paperback that was first published a few years ago was one of those times when one encounters a work of fiction that forces you to stop and think about the way you look at the world. It genuinely has changed the way I think about the places I live in, or even just the places I pass through.

So go and read it. It may not be quite as dramatic for you, but seriously, this is as close to pure blast of Moore as you're likely to find, and it's brilliant. Oh, and if you're a bit put off by the opening, I can only say that you should stick with it anyway. The language gets easier.

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