In the UK, there was a shock announcement this past weekend that the International Comic Expo (known as ICE) was not only to cancel this year’s event, but will be permanently closing its doors and its director Shane Chebsey is retiring from the con-organising circuit.
The decision to cancel ICE permanently came due to the bleak forecast in the UK economy and a significant ticket sale drop, making the show unviable.
The cancelled ICE Birmingham 2022 event would have taken place September 10 and guests would have included: Claudia Christian, Reilly Brown, Michael Golden, Glenn Fabry, Geoff Senior, Simon Furman and David Roach.
ICE has been in existence since 2014, and has annually taken place in the British city of Birmingham on a Saturday in September, often with a complementary Comics Launchpad event taking place on the Sunday focusing on seminars and portfolio reviews.
Chebsey has run ICE, Comics Launchpad, the British International Comics Show (BICS), and the biannual Comics Salopia – which took place in June this year. He reportedly plans to refocus on his art and publishing ventures.
Chebsey had initially announced ICE was to cancel and close earlier last week via private emails to guests and exhibitors. A public message was intended was released via social media on Saturday.
Saturday’s official public social media post that ICE was to cancel and close read:
“This is the official public announcement to confirm that ICE Birmingham 2022 is indeed cancelled and we are no longer running large conventions in the future.
The reasons for this are as described in detail in emails sent out to those who have pre booked, exhibited or are involved in some way.
Refunds will be issued to everyone who has pre booked.
This decision was not made lightly and was taken over a long period considering every possible option
Of course we are sorry to everyone who was coming to the show.
To the 89 exhibitors and the hundreds who pre booked and supported us and to the guests who put the time aside to be with us
To those who didn’t book… We do understand.
We are facing tough times here in the UK and it was obvious that the sudden decline in ticket sales after months of great ticket sales was due to the economy.
Hateful comments in this thread will just result in blocking.
So with all of that out of the way, the ICE Team would like to express our huge thanks to the many people who have made ICE one of the best comic conventions in the country over the last 8 years.
All of the guests, all of the extra volunteers and staff all of the exhibitors, all of the press who helped us promote, all of the Cosplayers who brightened up the venues and made the events fun for everyone and of course all of the fans.
Friendships and legends were made.
We can’t possibly list you all here but you know who you are.
We lost a few dear friends along the way too… And we all felt those losses together.
The comic industry is full of amazing people and we have been lucky enough to host many of you at ICE over the years and we’ve had lots of fun together.
ICE may be gone, but our spirit will remain.
We will continue to promote new books, celebrate talent and talk about the issues within the industry on the weekly ICE CAST LIVE shows.
This page will be transformed into the ICE CAST LIVE Page and you can expect some great online virtual events from us in the future.
So this is not goodbye, but it is the end of an era.
Love to you all.
Shane and the ICE Team.”
The email to exhibitors in question, which leaked last week prior to the public announcement, further details the difficulties and liabilities involved in running ICE, and Chebsey’s decision to cancel and retire the event, and himself as a festival director and coordinator.
“Dear ICE Attendees
“It is with a very heavy heart that I must announce that unfortunately I am cancelling ICE, and retiring from conventions.
“There are multiple reasons. Some are health related but they are primarily financial.
“After running shows for 17 years I have managed to collect a lot of data on ticket sales, and, by how tickets are selling at any given time, I am now able to predict how the show will do on the day pretty accurately.
“Up until around a month ago we were heading for break even.
“And we even had to expand the space at the venue due to tables selling out.
“However the last few weeks the ticket sales based on the average of previous years have dropped by over 200%.
“In a two week period the projection went from break even to a loss of £5000 such was the drop in sales
“I was willing to absorb that loss for the sake of the show and for the sake of you guys, and exhibitors.
“However over the last two weeks ticket sales have ground to a halt and the projected loss has increased to over £9000.
“Unfortunately this means I have to cancel as I cannot cover that loss.
“Also the stress of attempting to go ahead with no operating capital would likely kill me as my health is not what it once was.
“Therefore it is with a very heavy heart I am cancelling the show and retiring from conventions to concentrate on publishing work and art work.
“I appreciate that some people may think that this is due to lack of advertising etc etc, and although I did actually increase the advertising budget considerably this year I do concede that lack of outreach was a contributing factor.
“Unfortunately the reach of targeted advertising, which previously served us so well has diminished and social media no longer is a viable option for advertising events.
“However I am guessing the main reason there has been a sudden and considerable drop in ticket sales is the cost of living crisis and the impending recession as ticket sales have been healthy until recently so we were in fact appearing to be reaching enough people despite the challenges with outreach we were facing.
“Add on to this two headline guests recently cancelling last minute and a few exhibitors cancelling and the decision was unfortunately made for me.”
In that same email he adds,
“I appreciate that you will be disappointed, I can promise that your disappointment is matched ten fold by my own as I have put thousands of pounds and hours into building the ICE brand since 2014 and I will still be losing a small fortune when cancelling this event.
“I have personally sacrificed a huge part of my life and my bank account to ensure others enjoy my shows and I have never made a penny from my efforts. (But it was never being done for money).
“To bring all of that to a close is not something I do lightly and it leaves a hole in my being words cannot really express.
“I hope that you can understand my decision and I appreciate your support and business over the years.”
The UK (like much of the world) is experiencing great economic uncertainty and extremely high inflation that hasn’t been experienced in decades. The cost of food, fuel and energy is surging with the inflation rate in Britain last month being 10.1% and a prediction it could rise to 18% next year. Dubbed by the media as the ‘Cost of Living Crisis’, many people are already cutting back on household expenditures ahead of winter in order to be able to afford to keep the heating on and food on the table. The cause of this is a mixture of Brexit, ongoing supply chain issues from the pandemic, and the wider impact of the war in Ukraine on food and fuel markets.
The news that ICE is to cancel and abruptly end may not be a unique case and the next year for cons – who are still vulnerable as they revive from their pandemic-induced shutdowns – could be a difficult one.