Mint?

One of the joys of being late to the post-Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014 blog-writing party is that I can read other people’s posts before writing my own.  Some of this post is my very own thoughts on LICAF, and some of it includes thoughts on other people’s thoughts.  Such is life.  With me so far? Oh good. It’s a long post.

Each time I show my work at an event I get cranky if I don’t have time to have a look round the town/city in which the event is held, especially if it’s a place I’ve not visited before.  This was my first time in Kendal so I went on the Thursday to have a look around and have a break from work (both comics work and non-comics work) before the festival began.
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I liked seeing children and young people’s comics and art in shop windows.  I always love visiting a Boyes department store.  Dear reader, that’s where my Kendal experience started to get a bit odd.  I had a very odd conversation with a local lady who wanted to tell me all about her performance art project about the Brides of Christ.  ALL about it.  Suitably perturbed, I went for a wander around the patchwork of discount shops, tourist shops, empty shops, tearooms, the elite supermarket (I encourage you to request a copy of their Christmas catalogue – it’s both beautiful and terrifying), and the well-stocked art shops of Kendal.  Then I tried to find somewhere for a late lunch/early dinner, couldn’t find anywhere open other than a chippy, so in the interests of healthy eating ended up in a deserted Wetherspoons for a long overdue sit down.  Then I went back to my Airbnb rental to get some work done: I’m busy, and there’ll be more on Applied Comics Etc projects in a separate blog post.
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On Friday I had some wild idea of spending a morning visiting Withnail in nearby Penrith, but decided on the decidedly more Withnailian idea of having a sleepy morning for the first time in A Long Time.  The River Kent’s nice and so are its parks and swans.  The town started filling up with comics folk and I was increasingly aware of looks from locals that said ‘you’re not a tourist and you’re not a local, so who are you and what are you doing in our town?’ I was saddened but (much as I hate to say it) not entirely surprised to read of Zainab Akhtar’s unpleasant experience in a chip shop, and nodded sagely at Sally Jane Thompson’s tweet:

(Also: it was later in the weekend that I realised I keep seeing comics people who look vaguely, puzzlingly, familiar even though I’m certain I don’t know them, and that this is probably down to people looking like their Twitter profile pictures.)

Anyway.  All this context is important, and now on to the festival weekend.
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I mostly enjoyed Scott McCloud’s lecture on The Magic Of Comics: I have a great deal of respect for his work and have learned a lot from his books, so was looking forward to this chance to see him do his thing.  The event was a combination of well-presented and expanded bits from his books, a look at works he admires and his own works that illustrate specific aspects of the comics medium, and a few off the cuff remarks on comics, comics making, and comics makers that made me wince a little.  I’ll gladly show you my drawn lecture notes but he quite understandably asked that no recordings were put online, so I’ll err on the side of caution and not put my notes up.  The launch of CLAw Comics Literacy Awareness and the announcement of the first Comics Laureate was great news that got a deservedly high profile as part of this opening event, and I’m looking forward to seeing CLAw’s work progress.  Then a quick look at Terry Wiley’s new collected Verity Fair book (spoiler: it’s awesome and I’m in a party scene towards the end), and back to the B&B: too tired + too much work = get some sleep and have fun times tomorrow.

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My stall was in the Comics Clock Tower.  There was a great mix of work in the CCT.  Some highlights for me:

    • I swapped comics with some awesome new friends (Karen Rubins, Neil Slorance, Verity Glass, Rob Jackson, Mike Medaglia) and some equally awesome older friends (Terry Wiley, Damon Herd, Jack Fallows, Disconnected Press).  I’ve enjoyed reading every single one.  Some of the comics were outside my usual taste, so I was particularly glad of swapping as a way of broadening my comics horizons
    • Langdale Primary Comics Co’s first publication Lakes History Mysteries is both awesome and inspiring.  I’m knocked out by the level of understanding and expression these young artists have shown in their comics
    • Myriad Editions are working with some damn fine comics creators, so it was good to catch up with Gareth Brooks and Darryl Cunningham and to meet Corinne Pearlman
    • always a joy to see the Avery Hill Publishing gentlemen, whose work as comics creators, micropublishers, and dancers is outstanding
    • it was good to see so many comics publishers, and I’m still trying to understand whether this means they’re there only showing/selling their titles or if they’re scouting for new titles.  I chatted with the friendlier ones, bought some books, gave samples of some books, and continue to learn a lot about The Comics Industry
    • Graham Pearce‘s Re:painted prints are a life-affirming joy and almost make me overcome my prints-that-come-out-of-a-printer versus prints-made-on-printing-presses smackdown tournament of indignation
    • I bought Darryl Cunningham’s Supercrash and he drew me a picture of Uncle Karl Marx, and I bought Nick Hayes’ Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads which is already making me itch to make time for guitar practice.
    • Alex Valente‘s enthusiasm for comics is life-affirming, and the goodwill and good-looking-after from him and all the other LICAF volunteers was wonderful.  Thank you all
    • I launched my new book Trails: a book about travel, history, and being a slug, and continued to spread the word about Applied Comics Etc’s past, current, and future projects in comics + education + outreach + oh, read the website.  We’re ACE and we do loads of great stuff.

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A friend asked me what my strategy is for networking at comics events: do I go for the publishers, the creators, the famouses…?  Dear reader, you’ll not be surprised to learn that I chat with people I know and seldom see, meet some new people, hang out with people I know well, and anything that looks like a strategy is more a reflection of how overtired/overexcited/hungry I am.  It was great to meet Richard Bruton (and Mrs B and Miss Molly B) and John Freeman in person for the first time, particularly given all they do for UK-based comics and their help in publicising Asteroid Belter.  It was also good to catch up with James Bacon, which resulted in an uncomfortably flattering mention in his blog round up of the event and then a very civilised exchange of emails to explain that this flattery makes me uneasy.  (An aside to readers of Forbidden Planet International blogs: is there something significant in twice being mentioned after Ivan Petrus?)  There were also good brief chats with Paul Gravett and Scott McCloud, and as always, for every awesome meetup there was the frustration of missed connections.  Adam Murphy was a distant blur of pure comics gold, I have every intention of meeting Steve Morris in person someday, and having had the briefest of ‘hellos’ with Jim Medway I’m now absurdly overexcited by his work.

The punters were a mixed bag.  I’m very aware that not everyone will be interested in my work: my comics and prints that are a bit autobiographical, a bit not, a bit educational, a bit book art-y, a bit funny and a bit serious are a small part of the comics world.  The applied arts-ness of Applied Comics Etc has opportunities to target both broader and more specific audiences, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that progresses. For all the self-professed comics fans who were and weren’t interested in my work it was equally good to chat with Kendal residents who’d popped in to see what was going on, whether or not they had an interest in comics.  There was a noticeable absence of groups of cosplayers: the few people in costume tended to be with their families and had an overriding interest in comics books as part of a comics festival, which contributed to an atmosphere different from other hybrid comics-film-tv-fandom conventions .

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I’m getting the hang of the social media element of comics and comics conventions.  It’s hard.  Twitter was a good way of making and keeping contact with other people, but it necessarily involves briefly stepping back from the in-person event to take part in the virtual event.  I kept up with the LICAF 24 hour comics marathon on twitter and wouldn’t otherwise have known it was going on until it had finished, but again I’m conflicted: inking and finishing a comic in 24 hours is a significant achievement, but it’s not what I understand as a 24 hour zero-to-completion comics marathon.

But anyway.  I had fun times with great people.  I swapped comics, I sold comics, I gave comics to potential publishers and reviewers, all in the interests of sharing my work, setting up future collaborative projects, and having more fun.  When I got back to my non-comics job after the weekend a colleague asked how it had gone, then matched my ‘good but hmm…’ response with her own experience of mid-1990s Kendal conservatism.  I think it’s an interesting choice for a self-proclaimed festival town.  On the one hand there are a number of venues within walking distance rather than one huge beast of a convention centre, there’s a great deal of buy-in from local organisations and businesses, and there’s a strong chance that Kendal will be able to benefit from the opportunities around the social and financial benefits arts festivals can bring to struggling towns.  On the other hand it’s not particularly easy to get to by public transport, had an awful lot of venues and accommodation down poorly-lit alleyways and out-of-hours shopping centres, and it’s hard to tell how much the town  does (or will continue to) welcome the comics folk.  I was very impressed by the organisation of LICAF both in advance and on the day, and every one of the vast number of volunteers I met was helpful, interested, and interesting.
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TL;DR? I’m glad I went to the Lakes International Comics Art Festival 2014.  Some things were awesome, some were good, others were troubling.  I’m grateful for the connections it helped me make and am interested to see how it develops as an event.

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