Convention Report: Jornadas de Avilés 2010

Imagine, if you will, what your idea of a "typical" comic book convention is. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be walking through the carpeted aisles, with harsh overhead lights and the sound of people all around you. Cosplayers block the aisles as photographers clamor for their photograph, and there is a distinct smell in the stale air. You walk by vendor after vendor, peddling backdated single issues, half off trades, loose toys, or stacks and stacks of t-shirts. Everyone seems to be rushing somewhere, and the artist's alley boasts an array of artists, all trapped behind their name-tag fixed tables.

This is certainly the scenario of most conventions I have been to in North America, where everyone is selling something and the artists are, relatively speaking, barely appreciated. I've always had a lot of fun at conventions like these, and at this point with so many under my belt they have practically become my home away from home. I never really questioned the structure of them, although some of the bigger convention's treatment of comic creators angered me as they pandered to the "Hollywood types" instead of appreciating the actual creators of comics. But this model of conventions has been a pretty unwavering idea that I've accepted over the years, never pausing to consider there could be a better (or different) way of doing things.

When Ben Templesmith asked me to accompany him to a "comics festival" in Avilés, Spain, I was expecting much of the same thing. Although he briefly told me that conventions in Europe were much more laid back and a little different than what I was used to, I mostly disregarded it and didn't think much of it. I was soon proven wrong, however.

My journey to "Jornadas de Avilés 2010" began with an excruciating stretch of 24 hour travel, which basically flattened me into a hissing, evil creature who desperately required sleep and a shower. After the initial exhaustion was remedied, I was prepared to photograph cosplayers and spend money on toys I didn't need. But when I went down to the lobby of the hotel where all the guests were staying, I was instead greeted by the convention staff taking everyone to a fully paid for lunch, where everyone drank wine, made merry, and got to know one another. Fully perplexed (but enjoying myself) I decided to sit back, relax, and see how Spain did comics conventions. In my time in Avilés, I met lovely creators like George Perez, Marc Andreyko, Ramon K. Perez, Jock, Gary Erksine, and other incredibly talented individuals who always made mealtimes more interesting. Lunch and dinner were both a social event, usually lasting two to three hours with animated conversation amongst professionals in the comics industry from all over the world (quite literally!).

The actual "convention" part didn't get underway until we had all filled ourselves to the brim with wine and delicious foodstuffs. Opening ceremonies finally began, but at this point I didn't allow myself any expectations. We were all shuffled down beautiful cobblestone streets and siphoned into a theatre, where a gallery of Esad Ribic's artwork greeted us. Eventually we were guided into a stadium, where all of the guests were introduced on stage to enthusiastic applause. It became apparent to me quite quickly that this convention would be unlike any I had ever experienced, as the event coordinators were so EXCITED to have their guests there. The entire city seemed to turn out just for the opening ceremonies, and the enthusiasm in the air was nearly tangible.


After opening ceremonies, we were let loose to wander the city as we saw fit. I ventured into the "tent", which was the headquarters of the festival. Although there were a few vendors (only selling comic books), the main attraction within the tent was a full bar right next to a stage, where guests were interviewed all through the week. It was fully expected that you grab a beer, sit down, and listen to your favourite comic book artist talk about the work he or she does. Ben and I sat down at a table and were immediately assaulted with fans asking Ben if he would draw them a sketch in exchange for a beer or a coffee. I soon found out that this was the "barter" system of this particular festival: Instead of buying a commission (unless you truly wanted something of very high caliber), you instead fed and watered the guests and, in exchange, they were to draw for you.

The fans were genuinely enthusiastic and boasted knowledge of people's work that I have rarely experienced. In Spain, comic books are a celebrated art form instead of a misunderstood subculture, so although there were your typical "geeks" there were also people most would not expect to see at a comics convention. Attendees eagerly clutched sketchbooks to their chest as they waited their turn to get a sketch, quietly and respectively watching the artists work.


As the week progressed, I experienced more and more of this genuine love and appreciation of comics as a form of art, and I found I preferred this laid back attitude towards conventions in many ways. In my experience, North American conventions are all about the dollar signs; at this festival I attended in Spain, it was all about a celebration of the medium and art, never mind if you made a buck or not. It was a week full of good food, good company, and some extremely talented individuals.

People like George Perez continue to attend Jornadas de Avilés 2010 year after year due to the superior treatment guests relieve. It is a government funded event — a celebration of the arts — so guests are treated like royalty. At one point we even went to the Town Hall to meet the mayor, who thanked all of the guests for bringing their talent to the city and blessing Avilés with art and creative energy.

After a week of art, good friends, and way too much booze, Jornadas de Avilés 2010 began to wind down. The closing ceremonies were an absolute blast, as they gave out awards to the guests for "most handsome artist" and "worst travel horror story". They even awarded the most "enthusiastic fan" with an all expenses paid trip and board to next year's festival, a true testament to the fact that they really appreciate EVERYONE involved.

I will be the first to admit that I believe American conventions could learn a thing or two from European ones. Although I love the predictability of North American conventions — and I would probably be out of a job without the intense media and cosplay — there are definite changes I think could occur. Personally, I feel that a lot of the private organizations that hold conventions in North America have lost sight of what comics are about; they focus on the money making aspect instead of appreciation for the guests. Though there are a couple of conventions that DO make the guests feel more welcome than others (Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA and Heroes-con in Charlotte, NC) the majority of them shove artists and writers behind tables and leave them to fend for themselves.

The treatment I recieved in Spain was unbelievable. The people there showed kindness and a love for comics that is basically unparalleled. I look forward to attending again and hope that everyone can experience a European convention at least once, because it is a truly unique experience.


Molly McIsaac likes comics and, apparently, Spain. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. Anybody going to Dublin comic con?

  2. Wow, that sounds WONDERFUL.

  3. Sounds like it’s bizzaro-con. Did you bring red kryptonite with you?

  4. Im going


  5. What Conor said.

    All I could recall about my con expereinces were cramped ailes and mindless wandering, and the thought of a con like this appears to cause less anxiety. Thank Molly!

  6. MM… sounds purrrfect… glad you had a wopin yet chill time in Spain my dear Molly. We missed you!


  7. Think I will need to add this to my things do list.  Thanks for the great article and info about cons in Europe. 

  8. That is the type of convention I want to attend. If only I knew spanish.

  9. See, you’re missing an operative word: Festival.

    There is a huge difference to convention and festival. A festival is to celebrate but a convention just deals with the work, down and dirty.

    Hence the difference. Spain DOESN’T hold a con. Maybe North america needs to start "Comics festivals".

    I’d go to them. 

  10. Convention/Festival