You’ve heard me rant and rave before about this special don’t-call-it-a-con that takes place in a very pleasant part of the world called Kendal in the UK’s Lake District every October – for the 2014 Lakes International Comic Art Festival, I only was able to make myself available on the Sunday but that experience alone was enough to make me determined to attend the whole she-bang in 2015. Thus, on a cold Thursday at the tail end of the Summer, I found myself on a train, bound for Kendal.
I spent my journey looking over the Festival Catalogue which I’d loaded on to my iPad: the sheer breath of international talent being shipped into this small town up North, nestled away from anything resembling cosmopolitan bustle, was simply staggering, especially for what is LICAF’s third year.
The organisers were very lucky in getting some high profile patrons from the get go, with renowned artists Bryan and Mary Talbot and Sean Phillips living relatively locally – combining their individual sway and influence in the industry along with the promise of creating an event dedicated purely to the creators of quality work, made the Lakes an appealing draw for National Arts Council funding. This allowed the event to grow very quickly to the point where, this year, they were able to partner up with the prestigious Toronto Comics Festival, corralling such names as Darwyn Cooke, Stuart and Kathyrn Immonen and Seth to the town.
This group of incredible talent arrived at their hotel on the Thursday, as I did, giving them – and I – a chance to relax from their journey and then explore the local picturesque views on the Friday, including the Windows On Comic Art Trail, in which local schools and youth organisations decorate and dress up shop windows in a comic art bent, getting the entire town involved in the Festival.
One bunch that were not going to get that opportunity to explore were those involved in something of a Lakes tradition, the 24hr Comics Marathon, which kicked off at 3pm on the Thursday. While the Canadians availed themselves to the hotel bar through the evening, a dedicated group of comics creators (John Allison, Dan Berry, Jonathan Edwards, Jade Sarson, Richard Short and Emma Vieceli) pencilled, inked, coloured and lettered a full comic over the twenty-four hour period, with the intention of printing up on the Friday and selling the resulting books at the Festival over the weekend. Hardcore art attack, indeed.
To be fair, the Marathon and the Windows On Comic Art Trail were the only elements of the Festival that was up-and-running at this early stage – to be honest, I was expecting the town to get more into the swing of the event sooner, hence arriving on the Thursday, and I discovered I could have made the journey into Kendal a day later, and pretty late into the day at that. But my early arrival did mean I could relax into the weekend and get my bearings of the area on the Friday, such as checking out the first layouts of Joe Decie‘s mural that he intended to work on through the duration of the Festival.
More on the completed mural in my Sunday recap.
…and all of this before the first events of the Festival, proper: three panels on the Friday evening, taking place at Kendal’s cultural hub, the Brewery Arts Centre.
FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER 2015
First up was a screening of THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (‘Kaguyahime no mongatri’), the 2014 Oscar-nominated Studio Ghibli masterpiece, directed and co-written by Isao Takahata. This presentation served as the starting point for another of the Festival’s key themes for 2015: Konnichiwa Japan, with invited guests flown in from Tokyo and Japan in attendance and a special exhibition of glorious Japanese Girls’ Comics art, Shojo Manga, which I got to look at later in the weekend (Some pics of which, below. Patience, patience.) However, my interest was split between the two other strong presentations on offer: If Bursts Out: An Evening with Steve Bell and Dave McKean Presents Luna.
Being a fan of satire, especially that of a political bent, I plumped for the Steve Bell panel, a presentation part of the Satire & Comedy In Comic Art theme – after an introduction from Festival Director Julie Tait and local MP (also leader of the Liberal Democrat Party) Tim Farron, venerated Guardian cartoon satirist Bell walked and talked us through his early beginnings in the genre in the 80’s, through being ignored, intimidated and eventually feared by the political establishment as his career – and his venom for those in power, begging to be pricked and lampooned – went from strength to strength.
Bell is an effusive, highly personable and, as expected, passionate man, his deep burly voice telling tales of encounters with his targets at rallies and conferences over the years. The panel began with a stirring diatribe at the defence of the cartoonists of Charlie Hedbo, killed in January, railing at the importance of such work to continue in the face of violent oppression. After such a strong start to the panel, it felt that the rest of the presentation Bell was justifying his own work against much less fearsome and retaliatory foes: the British Political Establishment.
Indeed, with only one example being recalled of pressure to change and alter his work by his editors, it really felt that Bell had been left completely to his own devices over the decades. Bell had also tackled the Middle East subject over the years and his opening salvo came off, as I reflected on the panel later, that it felt he wished that he could’ve been side by side with his French brothers-in-arms when the horrific attack took place. “Why them and not me?”
It was an fascinating whistle-stop tour of a career that, over the years, has had Bell never bereft of targets and making him subsequently, through his biting lens, a leading world figure in satirical strips. A wonderful way to start the Festival… Which made the sting of missing the other panel available all the less painful.
Nevertheless, I decided to at least sit in on the final hour of DAVE MCKEAN PRESENTS LUCA, a presentation which I, from the description in the Festival Programme, wasn’t too sure on Earth it was going to be done.
Essentially, the panel was a screening of the surreal film LUNA, starring Stephanie Leonidas, Ben Daniels, Dervia Kirwan and Michael Maloney, written and directed by McKean himself. The film had debuted at the Toronto Film Festival last September, subsequently winning the BIFA and Raindance Best Feature Awards. However, the film has not made it to a full theatrical run and could only be found at very specialist screenings, meaning that this screening in Kendal would be the first time many in the audience would have seen it. And someone would be talking over the whole thing. At length! When I go to the cinema, that’s the kind of thing I usually scream at people for!
I knew McKean would be taking part in a dedicated panel later in the weekend but I didn’t know if McKean would be present for this, personally. Reading the event description, I wasn’t sure if he would be sat in a booth beside the projector, feeding the commentary via headphones, or in a picture-in-picture affair. But nope, there was Dave McKean on stage, explaining his film to an audience as it rolled.
Thankfully, he’s a wonderful, creative character, recognising the awkwardness of such a setup with a number of self-depreciating asides, and never over explaining the themes of the film to the audience, letting them interpret for themselves. When the end credits rolled, my only frustration was that I now wanted to see the film in its entirety myself and I had no idea how I would be able to do that. Is it on Netflix? Does the iTunes Movies Store have it available?? Curses!!
And that was that, the opening night done and done: heading down to the Brewery Bar for a pint or two where it seemed where all the real action of the weekend would be taking place, with luminary guests and exhibitors mingling with visiting creatives and industry types, managers of comic shops, comics critics. And, yes, some fans, too! As a warm up goes, so far so good – all very pleasant and rewarding. Onward, then, to the Main Event…