Comics - Interview with Stuart Mulrain, True Believers

True Believers

We love a good comics event here at /G-f so were intrigued to find out that one of our own, Stuart Mulrain, actually organises one! We cornered him in the filing room and asked for more information...

Based around Cheltenham in Gloucester, True Believers Comic Festival is a comic-con that puts its focus back onto the comic books and their creators first and foremost by putting on an event that brings the fans and readers closer to the comics, creators and sellers they want to see. We took the chance to sit down with organiser and co-founder Stuart Mulrain...

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Stuart. Firstly, where did the name True Believers come from? It’s an unusual choice - is there a story behind it?

When we first conceived the event we didn’t want to just call it Cheltenham Comic Con. Nothing against location names, but we were looking for something more in the name, one that was a celebration of comic books and the comic book community. At one of our early meetings, we were talking about Stan Lee and I jokingly said we should call it True Believers so that I had an excuse to break out my (frankly rubbish) Stan Lee impression (which is actually more of an impression of Kevin Smith doing an impression of Stan Lee).

The more we thought about it though, the more it seemed to fit with what we were doing. Stan Lee always called Marvel Comics readers “True Believers” because they supported Marvel and what they do. We knew that we’d be launching the event with a KickStarter and that that would require a certain amount of faith from the people who supported us that we would deliver on what we had set out to do.

It’s a name that celebrates the people who support us and the things we collectively love. And it means I get to break out my (I reiterate; rubbish) Stan Lee impression every time I mention our website address!

Tell us a bit about how True Believers started and how you came to be involved in the events?

Andy Hanks (who does all of our graphic design work as I Am Zoot) and I had met Mojo Jones through another event we had organised and she’d asked if we’d be interested in working with her on organising a comic-con. It’s something we’d wanted to do for a while and over the next 6 months the three of us developed what would eventually become True Believers Comic Festival.

Where did your own interest in comics start and what are you reading just now?

It started whilst I was on a family holiday in Menorca on 22nd August 1993 (my 14th Birthday). My dad had bought a paper that had a small article on the back about Superman returning from the dead. There was a black and white picture of Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding’s variant cover for Superman #82 and the image and idea of how Superman would come back captured my imagination. As soon as we got back from holiday I ventured into town to go to our local comic shop at the time to get my hands on a copy of that issue of Superman.

The work Mike Carlin and his Superman team were doing, along with the Superman series Dirk Maggs had produced, written & directed on BBC Radio (the voices of which are the voices I hear in my head when I read the comics) and Lois & Clark arriving on TV caught me in a perfect storm of Superman and I was hooked and rapidly onto a slippery slope into the wider world of comics and graphic novels.

The worst thing about organising and running True Believers is that I’ve fallen behind on my comics reading, but I’ve been keeping up with IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series and Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising (I’ll buy and read any comic with Terry Moore’s name on it). Recently Dan Jurgens has returned to Superman with Lois & Clark (nothing to do with the TV series sadly) and I’ve been enjoying the first two issues of that. It’s great to have my Superman back on the page.

So who can we look forward to seeing at True Believers 2016?

With True Believers, we try to give people all of the things they love about a comic con event, with great guests, artists, traders and creators on the main convention floor, fun and informative panels in the panel room and cosplay workshops and catwalk in the cosplay hall. The big thing that we took away from True Believers 2015 was the sense of how the community came together on the day and shared their enjoyment of what was going on with friends and people that they had met on the day. It was amazing to see people enjoying themselves and relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere and the community.

The idea of the community coming together is important to us and is what the event is about, so we’ve made sure there is plenty of space at the event for people to sit and relax and spend time together. It was great to see people sitting on the balcony watching the event unfold on the floor below, or sat at tables playing games or looking at the stuff they’d bought from the exhibitors and traders who were there.

It looks from your Facebook page that you got a lot of cosplayers at your last event. Is this something you encourage? What has been your favourite outfit you’ve seen and do you dress up yourself?

The art of cosplaying fascinates me. It’s not something I have the confidence to do myself, but the skill and craftsmanship that goes into creating a cosplay and being a character is fantastic. From the beginning stages of setting up True Believers, we’d agreed that we wanted to give a space to cosplay at the event where we could have featured cosplayers who could pose for photos with people and talk to them about cosplay and cosplaying. We also knew that we wanted to have a catwalk where anyone (of any age) who had come to the event, could get up on the catwalk and strut their stuff for the crowd and show off their work.

Cosplay is an important part of comic con events but most run their catwalks as a competition, which puts some people off of taking part, but we wanted ours to be about celebrating all cosplay, no matter what skill level you have at creating your costume. It took the pressure off for people and meant that a huge number of people who had come in costume felt comfortable with getting up on the catwalk and having the crowd really get behind them and support them as they did it.

How do you see the convention expanding in the future?

We knew that True Believers wasn’t going to arrive fully formed and that it would take a few years to become an established event as part of the UK convention circuit and within the nerd community. We have a five year plan for where we would like it to be at the end of that period, with it hopefully growing into a weekend event that will attract artists, creators and fans from all over the world. Planning aside though, it’s something that will grow organically as more people discover us and what we do and decide to come along and experience it for themselves.

The big thing though is to see True Believers grow beyond being just the main True Believers Comic Festival once a year. Since we’ve started, the community has started to build around us with Celebrate Cosplay becoming its own thing, that will hopefully see monthly meet ups in Cheltenham that will allow the local cosplay community a regular event where they can meet up and share tips and techniques with other cosplayers and just come together and have fun.

The community side of it has always been the big focus behind True Believers, and the True Believers website has started to reflect that this past year, with the intention for it to eventually become an online hub for promoting and sharing news from the independent comic book and nerd community. We’re only in year two of the event being live and out there, but the community of people who are helping behind the scenes, spreading the word and supporting the event is growing and that’s a huge help in keeping the event going into the future.

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us about True Believers. Now, can you remind everyone where they can get tickets for the next one?

Advance tickets for the  are available from our website at Tickets will be available on the door as well, but at a slightly higher price than the advance tickets.

Images - Amy Griffin and True Believers.
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