‘Peruse – that’s a good word. Put that in your report.’ Holly Rose nudges me conspiratorially. ‘Peruse our comics,’ we coo alternatingly, scanning the milling convention crowds for another victim to be ensnared by our sales pitch. Happily for Orang Utan Comics, the event is the London Film and Comic Con and the eager and the willing comic aficionado is in rich supply. The bright and beautiful covers of our books do half the work for us.
It’s three o’clock on Saturday and the Olympia Grand Hall is heaving. A neon-green dreadlocked cyberpunk glides past a Dovahkiin. Elsewhere, a father clutches a life-size Gremlin replica, letting his bright-eyed sprog steer him towards Star Trek merchandise.
‘We only have three Hypergirl hardbacks left,’ Ian Sharman, the co-writer of the science fiction fantasy adventure, states, marking the sales book. That Hypergirl has drawn positive public response isn’t at all surprising; the art and the vivid colours are bright wrapping for a package that delivers adventure and optimistic encouragement to the reader. It’s a coming of age story, detailing how the plot’s protagonist, the teenage Charley Matthews, lost in foster care finds her inner hero and the bravery to hold her own in the bizarre world of Weirdsville.
David Wynne, the comic’s artist sharing the writing duties, would later tweet “7 year old girl just came to table (with mum, obv) & basically fell in love with Hypergirl. Which is kind of the point of all this” At this particular moment, however, he has barely time to nod an acknowledgement; he’s half-way through his three-minute speed sketch challenge. The dark knight of the OUC table is a mysterious specimen, seemingly fuelled solely by coffee. It’s a busy weekend; needs, musts.
‘What if you don’t finish it in three minutes, what happens then? Do I get my money back?’ jokes a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle enthusiast, watchful of the timer on his iPhone and the flurry of pencil and marker a few feet away.
‘It hasn’t happened yet,’ David signs a headshot of Donatello with a flourish. Another happy customer. The speed sketches are attracting a lot of interest. Mr Wynne would later reflect that challengers with a wilder, more elaborate request often get a less finished and less detailed sketch than those with simpler orders. Aside from xenomorphs, ninja turtles and Batmen (it’s always a plural for David) it was the Borg Locutus who was the trickiest to fulfil.
‘How are the commissions going so far?’ I ask him later. His answer is a satisfied pat of his coin and note laden pocket.
The OUC is doing well too, with such a variety titles on offer the Indy label manages to tick a box for every corner of geekdom. There are zombies and horror in Dead Men and superhero satire in Hero: 9 – 5 (‘political boobs’ as one recent review described it), there’s futuristic science fiction with Alpha Gods: Emergence.
This weekend another title joins the roster, as Shrapnel: Case Files issue one (brought to you by the imagination of Holly Rose, art of Katrine Rasmussen, colours by Yel Zamor and letters courtesy of Ian Sharman) leaps onto the OUC scene. The story inhabits Hypergirl’s universe, albeit with a distinctly darker and grittier twist, and introduces Shrapnel; Weirdsville’s boy vigilante and, Lalla Olivier; a bored young secretary who stumbles across more than she has bargained for.
“…you’re about to jump as gracefully as possible into the wonderful, wacky world of Weirdsville; you’re about to learn all about Shrapnel.” Writes Holly Rose in the preface. “You are also about to learn that as much as superheroes and beating thugs up is fun, people and their little lives are far more interesting and important.”
Truly, there is more than meets the eye for Shrapnel and we invite you to take your first steps into his world with Case Files #1.
It’s late afternoon on Saturday and it’s time to depart; more comic work awaits at home. But, as I cast a glance back at our OUC base, I see more than books and banners flying high above them, what I see is a group of cyberspace drifters, creatives who have gravitated towards each other through a shared passion for art and storytelling. Ask many of our comrades and they will agree that comics is a nutty place to call home, but its rewards are like nothing else.
The remaining hardback copies of Hypergirl all found their homes on Sunday.