Wonderlands Expo 2017

Fans of graphic novels were in their element recently with the return of the ever popular ‘Wonderlands’ Expo to Sunderland. Now in its third year, this free celebratory event was held at City Space, Sunderland University, and paid tribute to the comic in all its forms, with a wide variety of workshops, panels, stalls and talks.

Ordinarily home to the Sunderland City Predators, a converted basketball court was the stage for a variety of stalls, featuring work from a plethora of talented national creators and designers. Artists like Track 11 Design, Drew X and Castle Rock’s Bob Turner were on hand to provide caricatures and commissions as well as examples of their latest work. Others, such as Alan Henderson’s The Penned Guin, provided a humorous example of parody and design with selections from previously established catalogues.

Guests of honor gave talks throughout the day, with a particular fan favorite being Liverpool born John Higgins, colorist on Watchmen; the seminal series from DC Comics written by Alan Moore and later a major motion picture directed by Zack Snyder. “We can’t believe how friendly people are” John said, “The Northern friendship is just magic. I think the thing I enjoy most about it is that you get to meet the fans. 90% of the time we spend at home is in a darkened room drawing, so to actually get out and meet fans is just so important and the fact that the University is presenting it in such a considered way we can give a bit back about how we created the characters and share that knowledge is fantastic”.

In a time where more and more graphic novels are making that leap to the big screen, John discussed the Watchmen adaptation: “I loved it. It was so close to what I’d like to see on screen. For me it worked on so many different levels. The fact that they actually got a tint of my colour in it, even though it was a completely different medium they had a tinted cast to represent my input, I thought it was so adventurous and definitely brought in new fans”

The events strong foot fall was just one indicator of its popularity and continued success. Organizer Hannah Matterson, Events and Development Coordinator for MAC Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that Wonderlands [is] back for a third year. We’ve worked hard to make sure the event stays free and we’ve been awarded money from Arts Council England to help support the event.”

Providing an introduction for younger people, ‘The Wonderlands Anthology’ was a brand new comic book available for free – a collaboration between pupils at Farrington Community Academy and St Aidan’s Catholic Academy in Sunderland – where students contributed their own short strips for inclusion and then collected their published work at the event. It was another reminder that Wonderlands catered for all ages and exposures.

Beano illustrator Nigel Auchterlounie travelled from Whitley Bay, on hand to make a rare public appearance at Wonderlands showcasing works like ‘Bunny Girl and Pig Boy’ and leading an informal design workshop. “It’s great here, I’ve never been before” he remarked, “I think events like these are important in widening culture, showing another medium, there are so many other ways to tell a story than television – like in comic books”.

Bob Turner of Castle Rock, who travelled from Edinburgh to host his stall, said that comic books are about looking at how stories are composed. His latest project, DTH, follows a non uniformed narrative, as he explained: “It’s about looking at how stories are constructed, for me the emphasis with Castle Rock is about producing something with that didactic element. It’s entertaining but there’s something interesting there, I want to encourage people to look into something themselves.

I think there are rules people follow in comic books whereas I look for the unusual pass through in design and narrative. Comics for me, have something you can’t do in cinema, you can’t do in other mediums. They bring a sense of creativity and expression”

Other attendees to the convention used comics in more serious, yet still entertaining light. Comics vs. Cancer are an innovative forum in which Scottish writer Gordon Robertson used the medium to talk about taking a stand against cancer. “I was diagnosed with cancer” said Gordon, “I wanted to write a blog about it. But there’s so many great cancer blogs out there, things that are heart rendering.

I didn’t have that bad of an experience [with cancer] so I felt I couldn’t do that…I created a comic called ‘Arse Cancer’ and that’s where it went. I taught we could use it to raise money for charity. I had bowel cancer, my first wife died from breast cancer and my current wife has also had breast cancer. Humor is a great way of getting things across we wouldn’t normally discuss, so if it helps people recognize symptoms it could save lives and make a real difference.”

Wonderlands ended on a high, being a positive event for Sunderland, encouraging people to expand their minds, get to know a little bit more about graphic novels and share similar interests. A resounding success for the region.

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