Cyber Caption: It's the end of the world as you know it, but I feel fine.
Posted: Tuesday, August 5, 2003
By: Debra Boyask - SBC's International Geek of Mystery
I first became aware of Caption when I was still living in New Zealand but preparing to move to England and using the web to try to find out what went on in the UK small press wise. It's a small press convention held annually in Oxford in the late summer. Caption is easy for stray geeks hunting for English comic activity to stumble across on the web. It has a home page and a livejournal. It is well worth keeping in mind if you're planning a holiday in this part of the world.
Caption has been running long enough to have acquired it's own culture and traditions. Each year a variety of activities are organised around a selected theme. This year's was Cyber Caption, featuring special guests Carla Speed McNeil  and Bryan Talbot; a mixed media exhibition; guest lectures and interviews; a comics workshop; panel discussions; an auction of artwork ; pizza and a special performance art piece to do with some chap called Luther something or other who kept popping in and out of alternate universes and wanting to have sex with everyone.
I wasn't sure I was going to make it, as only the previous weekend I'd returned from a visit home to New Zealand. And then I waited a bit long while other people made up their minds whether or not they'd come with me, and then I couldn't find any accommodation. Fortunately, Jenni Scott was kind enough to find me a space at the last minute. So having done no comic-related preparation at all I got in the car and drove from Bristol to Oxford, passing the very special sign that says EATON and then APPLETON and makes me laugh each time I see it as if I'd never seen it before. Found Jenni's house, had a cup of tea with Jenni and Carla and their respective elbow decorations then helped transfer people and ancient MacIntoshes  (not quite as old as my old Classic was, but almost) to the venue. Then back to Jenni's, then back to the convention on the bus.
Hoards of enthusiastic go-fors were eagerly staffing the registration desk and comic sales table , moving stuff from venue to venue, taking pizza orders, making announcements and generally seeing that everything happened as it should. Jeremy Dennis , assisted by go-fors, had set up an exhibition of google mini comics, a rather cool retro media show of allegedly dirty pictures displayed on a bunch of old Macs taped together like one of those specially neat BBC props, picky picky game panels and donations of artwork for the auction. There were also Macs for drawing on with a child oriented graphics package called kidpix. Fun. That distracted me for quite a while. Impressive Cyber Caption shirts designed by clever Damian Cugley were available, as modelled here by Gavin Burrows , a veteran Caption attendee.
I attempted to attend Bryan Talbot's slide show but, having had some difficulty finding the right room, found that I had to stand awkwardly behind a door that kept opening. I gave up fairly quickly, as I'm not so good at enduring discomfort. Anyway, he's an older chap, I think he comes from Lancashire and I expect he's very nice. I guess the fact that the room was very full meant lots of people were interested in hearing the talk. I went downstairs to the bar  where Richard Starzeki was showing his friends his portfolio he'd produced recently while studying at Swindon, apparently a key cultural centre of Europe. Swindon jokes aside, there was some very beautiful drawing in that folder, so they must be doing something right.
And then a go-for grabbed me and asked me to fill in on a panel because someone was missing. In ten minutes. The panel was on Pixels versus Paper, which is certainly a topical topic. The panel  was chaired by Paul Gravatt, and panellists included Terry Wiley and Jeremy Dennis. I think most of the audience  had rather more interesting points to make on the topic than I did. I guess the organisers were desperate or something.
Later that afternoon, special guest Carla Speed McNeil , summoned specially from abroad, was expertly interviewed by Jenni Scott. Carla is an excellent speaker. She had much helpful advice on making and distributing comics, all very relevant to a Caption audience most of whom are producers as well as appreciators. Her discussion of her comic stories and artwork and fluent story telling in the context of the interview actually motivated me to go and find a copy of one of her graphic novels straight away. And anyone who knows me knows I'm not much of an easily lured fangirl (in spite of the fact that I went looking for something by Alan Moore after Comics2003 for entirely different reasons and which I still haven't read).
Post-pizza entertainment that evening was a rather bizarre experience for me - a dramatic re-enactment of one of Caption guest Bryan Talbot's comic series. Luther , a chap with talcum powder in his hair, engaged in various discussions with his co-players who had mix and match props including wigs, false moustaches, plastic breasts , toy guns, funny hats and balloons. Drug puns seemed to be a feature. Everyone kept talking about having sex, but they didn't actually get to do it. Even though I had no background understanding whatsoever, some of it seemed as though it might be terribly funny, and I did laugh quite a bit retrospectively when Jenni and Carla explained some things about the comic series later on that night.
I spent some time sitting on the stairs outside the pub smirking at the amusingly drunk people and hearing about how raves had been banned from England (because the farmers need to get to sleep). Then Jenni, Simon, Carla and her husband Michael said they were heading off, so we went to a cafe for some tea and then on back to Jenni's in a big taxi. The guys seemed to be coping well considering they were surrounded by comic geekery. I suppose it could be worse and they could have chicks who were involved in something scary like giant squid wrangling.
I got lost at lunchtime and missed out on the 'World Building' panel discussion, and I heard people say that it was really good. Oh well. I was able to attend the first half of an active comic-making workshop run by Jeremy Dennis. Even if I hadn't known already that Jeremy was rather famous for these, it would have been evident right from the start of the session. It actually cleared up a few things for me about the whole cyberpunk theme, which I've always been a little hazy about. Jeremy made it sound a lot more interesting than I'd previously though it was - particularly with the whole retro 80s hair and stylie dark glasses angle. Why didn't anyone ever tell me before that it's all about the clothes?
Unfortunately I had to leave the workshop early, because being the uptight neurotic freak that I am, I feel obliged to be home well before dark on a school night. But hopefully I'll see the results of the workshop online at the Caption site at some point, and I have my Caption t-shirt  to remind me of the weekend.
Just to conclude with a recommendation, Carla Speed McNeil is an excellent convention speaker. She's clever and interesting and funny, and she can spin a story on just about any topic you care to mention. She's an expert at self-publishing and has made a successful career for herself in comics on that basis. If you're considering who to invite to speak at a convention, you should try to get Carla - I don't think you'll be sorry you did.
Want to Know More? Check out some other Caption tales:
1. Boot-load of vintage Macs.
2. Jenni attempts to capture Jeremy's pastry on film.
3. Gavin Burrows - he's from Brighton!
4. I don't remember this guy's name, but don't you think he looks awfully like les enfant terrible of Auckland comics?
5. Richard Starzeki, The Naked Guy and some other important people drink beer, look at artwork and discuss pandas.
6. Veteran small presser Terry Wiley at the panel on 'Paper versus Pixels', chaired by Paul Gravatt in a peach coloured shirt.
7. 'Paper versus Pixels' audience including Mooncat (front left). The chap wearing a hat and standing up is called Dan, and there's a Rubins sister in the background.
8. Special guest star: Carla Speed McNeil.
9. Small Press sales table.
10. Alex auctioning off an assortment of comic art.
11. Two of these people are called Goodman.
12. Alternate universe switching Luther and one of his love interests.
13. Another of the indefatigable Luther's love interests.
14. Comics journalist Jay Eales in the bar.
15. Editor of 'The Girly Comic' and information scientist, Selina Lock.
16. Introducing one of her famous practical comics workshops, Jeremy Dennis.
17. Workshop participants set to work, ably supported by Jeremy.
18. A Caption t-shirt & badge - souvenirs of a neat convention experience.
Check in next week for some reviews of the comics Teacake picked up over the weekend.
If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me