In the wake of fraught controversy arising from a Twitter storm over the weekend, and exhibitors and guests announcing their intentions not to attend, Julie Tait – the Director of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (due to run this weekend, Friday 13th – Sunday 15th October), has issued an apology on its website.
The apology comes as a number of names from the UK comics scene condemn the attitude expressed to comics journalist Zainab Akhtar (posting under the banner COMICS AND COLA). The apology was posted with the consent and agreement of Akhtar:
We would like to extend a full and unreserved apology to Zainab Akhtar. Firstly we would like to apologise for the way in which Zainab was disparaged for making valid criticisms in relation to the festival. We acknowledge that she has no ulterior agenda in expressing these criticisms and would like to apologise for making an unwarranted personal response when we should have behaved professionally, working constructively to start an honest and open dialogue.
We accept that our response and communications were inappropriate, and that they have caused stress and heartache to Zainab and others, and we would like to further extend our apology to all affected.
We are committed to working towards a more diverse and inclusive festival for everyone to enjoy and we accept that there is more we can do, and must do, to help to make our festival a more wonderful and vibrant place. We will be taking meaningful and positive actions to ensure our festival is more diverse and representative of the full diversity of the comic world, and a place that is equally welcoming to all people.
On behalf of the festival team I would like to re-iterate our deep regret and unreserved apology to Zainab.
Julie Tait, Festival Director
Tuesday 10th October 2017
Akhtar has replied via tweet, responding to the apology:
The Lakes have issues an improved apology, which I've accepted. https://t.co/tGUjXatqM7 Thank you all for your support.
— Zainab Akhtar (@comicsandcola) October 10, 2017
The apology is hoped to lead to some kind of conclusion to what has become a divisive argument in the UK comics scene, with many creatives putting their support behind Akhtar by refusing to attend this weekend’s event, including John Allison, Jade Sarson, Lydia Wysocki, Rufus Dayglo, Dan Berry and Avery Hill Publishing. (AEISD has reached out to a number of these creatives to ascertain if the apology has allowed them to reconsider their position – I list any responses I receive below:
My position hasn't changed, I still won't be attending.
— John Allison (@badmachinery) October 10, 2017
Rufus Dayglo has responded, “Personally, I am skipping it this year. I hope I can attend a diverse and happy show in the future. We need a welcoming, strong, supportive community, and that means stepping up and supporting those feeling excluded, marginalised or facing problems. We have to listen and learn. Listening is the first part.” Avery Hill have responded with ‘no comment at this time’.
Illustrator and cartoonist Hannah Berry has called for signatories for an open letter which AEISD has seen, a positive letter calling on all UK festivals and conventions to recognise the need to address the issue of diversity at such events, reflecting the audience that comics serve:
“Diversity in this medium, in any medium, should be automatic, and not just viewed as a box-ticking exercise. It’s not an indulgence – people NEED to see themselves represented. And while this remains an issue yet to be dealt with in any satisfactory way by the majority of comics events, visibility is most important of all in a festival which is attended by so many families and young people looking to get into comics. It is also a key part of an international festival, which by its very definition brings the world to the UK while representing the UK to the world.”