THIS year's Bristol Expo wasn't the damp squib I was worried it was going to be but neither was it a patch on previous years. For those who aren't aware, the Expo's organisers weren't able to hire the usual big space at the British Empire & Commonwealth Exhibition Hall and had to settle instead for a variety of rooms and corridors at the Ramada Hotel. There was also a separate small press event on the Saturday at a completely different hotel a few minutes up the road.
All in all, this gave the event a very fractured feeling; the buzz you get from a great big room packed with creators, fans and colourful cosplayers sadly missing. They'd also limited tickets to just 500 which meant Expo was already less than a quarter the size it usually is.
Worse still, the indie and small press room at the Ramada was very small and stuck out of the way. There were times when exhibitors far outnumbered customers. Bizarrely, the bloke who played Greedo in Star Wars was also stationed in the room on the Saturday but he gave up and buggered off around 3 o'clock!
The other downside was that a lot of the people I most enjoy spending time with weren't around this year - Dec's beavering away on his 28 Days Later project, Keith Burns has just become a dad (congratulations, mate!) and Mick Trimble was, apparently, on his way down Saturday morning, only to be put off by the extortionate train fare from Birmingham to Bristol!
And while I'm moaning, Saturday got off to the worst possible start when BritForce creator Andrew Radbourne called to say his books hadn't arrived at the Ramada from the printer. Of course, after contacting the printer and generally running around like a headless chicken for an hour, it turned out the books had been at the hotel all along and they just hadn't been to look for them properly.
On the plus side, Moonface sales were pretty good. Not the usual numbers but far from a disaster. Oddly enough, BritForce and Brothers didn't sell particularly well but I knocked out loads of Septic Isle (the weekend's best seller), Hero Killers and Blood Psi. I also sold the last 15 copies of Tim Skinner which means there are none left until I can afford to print some more or put it up online (the latter's quite probable actually).
Having spoken to one of the Expo's organisers, it seems next year's event will again be held across two hotels rather than in the old exhibition hall. The reasoning is that it's simply too risky to put on a "big show" in the current economic climate. It seems a strange direction to take - especially as the Expos in 2007 and 2008 were the most successful yet and the event had become a genuine part of Bristol's cultural calendar. Once the credit crunch eases - next year or in 2011 - the organisers are going to have to graft incredibly hard to re-establish the Bristol Expo all over again. It's a risky strategy - especially with the Birmingham International Comics Show seemingly going from strength to strength and Leeds' Thought Bubble one-dayer garnering rave reviews from all and sundry.