The UK has a lot of anime conventions nowadays, but despite how good these events can be they remain quite difficult to attend.  You always have to pre-plan, registering and paying in advance and, as most of them run for three days, finding hotel accommodation and arranging transport.  They also have limited places, which is why the majority of anime fans attend events like the MCM Expo instead.

The advantage with the Expos is that they're cheaper than conventions, you can buy a day ticket and more importantly you can just turn up on the day and pay on the door.  However, whilst the MCM Expos are spreading across the country with shows in London, Manchester and Birmingham, there are plenty of similar events that have often been running far longer.  The Bristol International Comics Expo is one of them.

Last year the event was held across the Ramada Plaza and Mercure hotels near Bristol's Temple Meads train station, but after an absence of a couple of years the bulk of the event has returned to the fantastically located Brunel Passenger Shed at the train station itself.  The large hall was put to good use with retailers, artists and small press comic writers taking up the majority of the pitches alongside a small bar and food stall.  There was also a Maid Café in one corner and a small presentation area in another, whilst small side rooms held a seating area, games room and the bizarre but hugely entertaining Travelling Museum of the First Tea Company - a tea-based alternative history exhibition put

together by steampunk artist Geof 'Dr Geof' Banyard.  The majority of guest signings, Q&As, workshops and seminars that form the core of the event were held in the nearby Ramada Plaza hotel, as were the few cosplay activities that clung on to the event programme by their fingertips.

Anime has been insidiously creeping into many of the UK's established comic and sci-fi expos and shows, but surprisingly Bristol International Comics Expo has largely bucked the trend.  A few years back companies like Tokyopop and even Manga Entertainment were here, but not now.  In fact the only familiar faces from an retailer point of view were convention regulars Genki Gear, elsewhere there was Forbidden Planet and a smattering of independent comic shops  but to be honest the event leaned heavily towards independent artists and small press comic writers with very little in the way of anime to be found.  Surprisingly Sweatdrop and Manga Shakespeare were conspicuously absent, this event clashed with Cambridge's CamCon and it looks like they decided to go there instead.  This left a few anime-inspired artists, such as the Red Garden Artist Group and the excellent Jess Bradley, a handful of cosplay workshops and a cosplay masquerade as the main points of interest for anime fans.  It's a shame there isn't more manga here, as it does form an important sector of the comics market in the UK, but the Bristol Comics Expo is a champion of the British small press, and there's plenty to like in this regard.

However, it's not just small press on offer for attendees, the Bristol Comics Expo has an established reputation and this helps it bring in some big name Western artists and writers such as Mark Buckingham, Mike Carey and David Hine - all of whom have worked for Marvel and DC Comics - as well as fantasy artist Anne Stokes, the distinctive Simon Bisley and many others.  For fans of Western comics there's plenty to like, the guest list is very UK-centric but they are big names and you could rub shoulders with many of them in the Ramada Plaza bar on the Friday and Saturday evening. The Ramada hotel boasted some good panels and presentations focusing on upcoming DC and Marvel releases as well as

comic history and a celebration of leading British comic 2000AD.  The Cosplay events were held in a large room in the Ramada Plaza Hotel and felt largely like an informal gathering at times.  A cosplay dance-off had been cancelled due to lack of interest but the workshops were quite well attended and there were plenty of cosplayers who took part in the masquerade and an impromptu procession from the hotel to the Passenger Shed. 

It's difficult to recommend the Bristol International Comics Expo to anime fans, unless they also have a strong interest in Western comics or the UK independent comic scene.  The Expo does what it does well, but with just a handful of cosplay events, a maid café and two or three retailers selling manga or anime merchandise it's hard to justify the £9 daily entry fee from an anime point of view alone.  The last time the Expo was held in the Passenger Shed it had big colourful banners outside and drew bigger crowds, gaining some passing trade from the curious people leaving the train station.  However, this time it seemed a lot more low key, with the main entrance tucked away behind a café and only a small plain sign on the fence near the main road to indicate it was on.  It was so low-key that I actually walked straight past the entrance and nearly went in through the back door, and I'm sure the £9 ticket price also dissuaded passers-by from giving it a go.  Considering the Passenger Shed effectively hosted a comics market whilst the nearby Ramada Plaza handled the big name guest Q&As and signings I find it surprising that there wasn't a cheaper ticket that only gave access to the Passenger Shed to tempt in the general public.  It seemed like a missed opportunity and with the event held only a week before the larger comic show Kapow! and opposite CamCon, it would have been beneficial for it to draw in as many new faces as possible.  From an anime point of view events like this one are a bit of a Catch 22, the only way to increase the anime presence is to show that there's demand by attending, but with little anime presence there's less incentive for anime fans to go.  The small cadre of cosplayers seem to have pitched it right, creating their own cosplay corner of the event and trying to bring others in.  Maybe if they continue to make their presence known anime will start to take hold here too.

For more information on the Bristol International Comics Expo, check out their website here.