Saturday, 20 October 2018

LICAF 2018 - Drowning in comics culture

Storm Callum in Kendal. Photo ©2018 Mark Stafford.
Last weekend was my one and only festival appearance this year, at LICAF, the Lakes International Comics Festival in Kendal, held over the weekend of 12th-14th October 2018. Invited by Meanwhile… publisher Soaring Penguin Press at a relatively late stage, it gave me a chance to hook up with chief penguins John and Cheryl Anderson before their impending relocation to Vancouver. It also enabled me to reacquaint myself with their new co-publisher, Tim “Bad Cop” Pilcher, to discuss plans going forward, as well as witnessing the historic signing of the contract between the new partners.

It was a soggy start, to say the least. Arriving on the Friday evening after a five hour train journey, just as the heavens opened and the wind started to blow. Storm Callum was a deluge of biblical proportions which unfolded over the next thirty-six hours or so and led to roads flooding and serious concern from some locals that the River Kent might burst its banks again, as it did less than three years ago, causing extensive damage.

Popular wisdom suggesting that getting a taxi from Oxenholme station would be a more efficient solution compared to continuing directly to Kendal proved unfounded, as everyone else had the same idea. There were no taxis to be had for almost an hour from the station, and rail travel was suspended for a while.
Tim and John shake on it.
Eventually the taxis came and from Kendal high street I kayaked my way to the Brewery Arts Centre to collect my guest badge, but due to the call of hot food, missed the announcement of Hannah Berry being announced as the new Comics Laureate, taking over from dead man walking, Charlie Adlard.

Possibly the most memorable part of the weekend (apart from the rain) was to finally meet Canadian superstar cartoonist and designer Seth at the bar in the Brewery Arts Centre. This was quite possibly the only event we’ve both attended at the same time, although his business card looks very familiar.

It was also the first time I’d met the much lesser-known and definitely non-Canadian Martin Simpson (aka “Simo”) and his wife Tish, but Martin’s time will come. I’ve been a huge fan of his since pledging to his Kickstarter anthology Misc, to which he's added his Meanwhile… serialised Needleman collection and some spectacular prints.

The rain continued to fall throughout Saturday, and understandably, this put a literal damper on things. Once everyone’s footwear has dried out though, people really started to enjoy the festival. This was my first trip to LICAF since 2014, and the event has matured a great deal and embedded itself into the community, with a huge Comic Art Trail in the form of dozens of window displays throughout the town.
ILYA's fun family workshop in the Westmorland Shopping Centre.
I spent most of the weekend perched on the end of the fun-packed Soaring Penguin Press table, upstairs in the impressive Clock Tower, sandwiched between John Freeman (celebrating twenty years of his Down the Tubes website) and extraordinarily talented newcomer Jessica on Paper.

As always, old relationships were renewed and new friends made. Among those whose paths I crossed were the pop culture hound himself, Chris Thompson, always smiling Doug Braithwaite, found Room to Love ILYA, Tripwire’s Joel Meadows, and festival organiser, the great Dane, Árni Beck Gunnarsson. I haven’t seen Árni for about fifteen years, and whose non-regional-specific accent remains uncannily English, yet even moreso.

I caught up with another blast from the past in the form of Littlehampton design guru Brad Brooks, and Flix Gillett (promoting his new Mockingbird collection) with whom I once sat on a panel at the Comic Creators’ Guild Small Press Show, held in a London pub called The Cartoon Page way back in 1996!

It was also good to meet another creator new to me, Emmeline Pidgen and and her imminent fiancee, write, musician Andrew Jolly. I found fellow Meanwhile… cronies David Hine and Mark Stafford ensconced on the Self Made Hero table promoting their gorgeous new book Lip Hook, and browsed the mouth-watering, jaw-dropping selection of graphic novels brought to the festival by Page 45’s Stephen Holland. Stephen and I reminisced a bit, particularly about the dear departed Terry Wiley and his erstwhile cohort, the thankfully still alive, Dave McKinnon.

Then there was the always effervescent Jessica Martin, the somehow increasingly comprehensible Jim Stewart and Ben Dickson showing off his monumental New Jerusalem. Great to see David Hitchcock, table-less and floating free around the convention with his gorgeous Signalman book, hardy Lakes perennial Sean Phillips (visiting with his son Jacob, a real chip off the old block) and the esteemed Doctors Bryan and Mary Talbot. Shackled to the table for most of the weekend, I managed to sneak away on Saturday lunchtime to see Bryan and Mary’s presentation of their upcoming graphic novel, the rather appropriately named Rain.

Saturday evening’s New Talent presentation at the Brewery Arts Centre boasted presentations by Jenny Robbins (Biscuits), Sabba Khan (Pluralism) and comics’ most handsome man Owen Michael Johnson (Reel Love). They were followed by Tim Pilcher announcing a new initiative, Breakthrough, aiming to give disenfranchised voices a chance at developing a career in comics.
The secret speakeasy
Possibly my biggest regret was missing Brian Gorman’s One Man Bond show - every James Bond film singlehandedly performed in sixty minutes - again, due to dinner - but Brian and I hung out a bit later. To complete a damp but cram-packed day, I was part of the audience thoroughly entertained by Marc Jackson (Grow a Pair) and Nick Connor‘s funky fresh hip-hop band The Dopes who delighted audiences at Ruskins Bar for minutes. What’s your favourite finger, indeed.

The rain finally dried up on Sunday, and the sun even peeked out in the late afternoon, transforming Kendal into a different place. I congratulated the Sergio-Award-winning Hunt Emerson, did a little bit of business with Tony Bennett of Knockabout Comics, and caught up with his glamorous assistant Nora Goldberg-Fourrel De Frettes.

Winner of the Best Worst-Kept Secret Award went to the super not very secret speakeasy on [redacted] Street, to where the select few of nearly everybody gradually found their way sooner or later. Hidden bell-rings, spectacular cocktails, charming bar staff, table service and free snacks contributed to an unrivalled retro-ambiance. Here I was finally introduced to the very dapper Englishman in San Diego (in Kendal) Leonard Sultana, another fellow mojito fan.
Waiting for the train. Photo ©2018 Tim Pilcher.
So, finally, after all the farewell hugs, Monday morning came, and it was beautiful, bright and sunny. I hooked up with Tim Pilcher and Ben Dickson to catch a taxi to the station where we bumped into Yomi Ayeni Yomster and Claire Wearn. And as luck would have it, on the train journey home my booked seat was directly opposite Seth and his wife Tania.

It was a very civilised end to a chaotic but hugely enjoyable weekend, and I must acknowledge all the hard work put in by Julie Tait, Carole Tait and all the red shirt volunteers for another supremely well organised festival.

More photos on my Instagram feed here.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Talking Inkheads

Sketchbook illustration of me holding court by Priya Kuriyan ©2018 Priya Kuriyan
The local branch of the arts group Metal invited me to give a talk to a group of comics creators at Chalkwell Hall on October 2nd as part of a five day, residential culture LAB called Inkhead, a week of study and creativity in the Essex seaside town of Southend.

Chalkwell Hall is a beautiful Grade II listed Georgian building, renovated by Metal, set in the picturesque Chalkwell Park, about twenty minutes walk from where I live. I could hardly turn down an offer to contribute to a comics event so close to home, only somewhat daunted by being asked by Metal to speak for two hours, “about [my] life in comics.”
Photos: ©2018 Metal
This was my first attempt at throwing together a PowerPoint presentation, limited to the couple of days leading up to the talk, and ultimately it surprised me on how well it went. Speaking to the creators (plus a sizeable contingent of the Metal arts group) in what was essentially 120 minutes of almost unadulterated narcissism, I used a chronological history of my career as a springboard for my opinions and philosophies about comics, creativity, freelancing and self-publishing.

A plastic folder containing ten pages of notes I had prepared for myself didn’t get opened, as I managed to ramble on regardless, and somehow my unrehearsed presentation concluded with one minute to spare. I then spent some further time answering some astute questions from the well-mannered, warm and receptive audience.

I was invited to hang around for some pea and leek soup, eaten on the terrace overlooking the rose garden in warm autumn sunshine, which gave me the chance to mingle with the LAB’s hugely talented constituent parts; Alexandre Szolnoky (Buddha Boy), Amy Ison (stepping from fine art to comics), Clio Isadora Delcour-Min and her amazing-looking Risographed zines, Carl Doherty of the Shelf Abuse blog, Daniel Locke, (Out of Nothing), freelance illustrator Dominique Duong (The Black Cloud), Emma Burleigh (My Other Mother, My Other Self), Priya Kuriyan (Ebony & Ivory), Ros Asquith (Guardian cartoonist working on a spectacular new book), autobiographer and fellow comic festival veteran Sean Azzopardi (Voice of the Hall) and Wallis Eates (Fear of Mum...Death and the Shadow Men).

The day also gave me the opportunity to finally meet bestselling local horror author Syd Moore (The Drowning Pool), as well as catching up with the other marvellous Metalheads who made the whole thing happen; writer Colette Bailey, designer Camilla Fox and painter Simon Monk.
Left: Kokaachi talk [Photo: ©2018 Metal] / Right: Sketchbook illustration ©2018 Priya Kuriyan
 After lunch I stayed on to watch two brief but concise and fascinating presentations by Laydeez do Comics founder Nicola Streeten (Billy, Me & You) and Pratheek and Tina from Indian publisher Kokaachi, highlighting their fine body of work.

The five-day exploratory LAB concluded on the Friday evening with a Drink & Draw & More evening open to the public, which I also popped along to. Each of the creators involved gave a three-minute presentation of their own work, which was a real fun half hour. As you might imagine, there was drawing, drink, music and a better opportunity to converse with the Chalkwell Hall crew in some further depth.
Left: Carl Doherty's three minute wonder. / Right: Drinking and drawing. Photos: ©2018 Gary Spencer Millidge
Comic creators who like the sound of this might want to keep an ear close to the ground in case Metal decide to do this again next year! The Metal website is here.