SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER 2015
Thank goodness there’s a Wetherspoons in Kendal – a good hearty Full English was definitely required if I wanted to see everything of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival that I wanted to over the next couple of days. It also gave me the energy against fighting off the yawns – in my infinite wisdom, I had chosen a particularly dingy hotel above a pub, right in the centre of town. Ideal for quick and easy access to the Festival, not so ideal for a good nights sleep as the bells of Kendal’s Town Hall Clock clanged me awake at 7am. (Not that I wasn’t awake way before then, thanks to street cleaners, early morning deliveries and bin collections, paired up with a room with no double glazing and, as it turned out, no heat or hot water. For future reference: The R——- T—– in Kendal – avoid like the proverbial plague.)
I was glad, then, that I woke to a relatively dry morning, with the weather reports showing an absence of rain for the weekend – thank my lucky stars as my itinerary for the next two days had me crossing the town like some kind of demented pinball. One thing you can’t accuse the Lakes International Comic Art Festival of is dearth of things to see, creatives to meet, art to embrace and comics to read.
I started across the road from my particular hovel to the aforementioned Town Hall – for the duration of the Festival, this building was transformed in to the Comics Clocktower, the main port of call for the passing comics enthusiast. Two floors, four rooms, packed to the gills with comics retailers, small press publishers, exhibition tables, and artist upon artist upon artist, all sat next to each other in a very egalitarian fashion. Names such as Antony Johnson and Roger Langridge found themselves next to first-time exhibitors Wobbly Rock – more on that duo shortly…
I didn’t just attend to cover the Festival for AEISD, you understand: I also had some comic books I wanted signing, for my sins. I’m a big fan of Kieron Gillen‘s work on Marvel’s Darth Vader tie-in title and I had brought a whole pile of the run for Gillen to put his Hancock to – a shame, then, that Gillen decided to take a late morning today. In hindsight, it was understandable: the man was still recovering from an exhausting weekend previously, at New York Comic Con. I know from personal experience: U.S. to U.K. jet lag is a bitch. I anxiously looked at my watch, stuffed the books back into my rucksack and decided to come back later – I had too much to do.
I’m incredibly grateful that the organisers had seen fit to provide me with an ‘all access’ Press Pass to the panel lineup of the weekend, I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford all that I wanted to see if I didn’t have that. LICAF doesn’t charge for the whole weekend, asking attendees instead to pay for the individual panels that take their fancy. I always have a slight problem with this approach, with a all-weekend badge or ticket instead giving attendees the opportunity to wander the panel spaces freely, and perhaps coming across a topic or artist that they may not have been previously aware of.
Still, it did mean that the people in the Brewery Arts Centre rooms for the LICAF panels had bought their tickets in advance knew what they were getting into, and that there weren’t lines of people desperate to get into a room filing up outside. Everything was very organised and civil, with people filing of their own accord and moving into the venues smartly and without fuss. Arthur Dent said it best, of course: “I’m English, I know how to queue.”
My first panel of my weekend was in Screen 2 of the BAC, a screening of an film I hadn’t seen before: the 2008 award-winning animated feature Justice League: New Frontier, based on the book by Special Guest Darwyn Cooke. Cooke himself was on hand to introduce the screening personally, regaling the audience with tales of the initial contact by producer Bruce Timm, incredulous on how on Earth they were going to transform this dense and complex Justice League epic, with its mammoth set pieces, massive cast list and multiple set locations into a full-length animation in the time and budget allowed.
Looking around at the audience, I noticed that it was mostly children and their parents in the room and I would have loved to ask them what they thought of the film when the lights came up afterwards – New Frontier is a deliberately laboured, densely layered and very politically charged piece of work, set against the backdrop of a suspicious and weary 1950’s America, struggling in the throes of the Cold War, disdainful of its costumed heroes. It’s a tough watch for anyone thinking they were going to get something like Teen Titans! early on a Saturday morning. Still, it’s an excellent translation of Cooke’s stylings and I’m glad I caught it.
Out the door and straight down to The Art Of Jock in the Theatre. I’m aware of Jock‘s work from many different angles – from his work in comics, both as an interior illustrator and as a renowned covers artist, to his film concept work, to his pieces created for other companies, such as Mondo Posters. Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics kept the conversation flowing smartly with Jock starting right at the very genesis of his career, talking about his approach to projects and his art, all the way though to his contemporary work in comics, covers and films; he is currently doing pre-production design work on Star Wars Episode VIII…. not that we learnt too much about that, you understand! You could see that Jock almost imagined the red dot of the snipers rifle appearing on his forehead as the topic came up, tap-dancing to avoid discussing the subject, paranoid that anything he said may trips him up! Listen for yourself as AEISD presents the audio for this panel – enjoy…
Attending the Jock panel did mean that I faced the first clash of my weekend – it collided with a panel in the Shakespeare Centre which had been transformed in to the Canadian Comics Lodge, housing the contingent of visiting comic talent in exchange from the Toronto Comic Festival. Kate Beaton is an artist that I follow on Twitter and find incredibly amusing and engaging – hardly surprising for someone who has built up a dedicated and enthusiastic following for her online web-based strips. Hark! A Vagrant is a joy to behold and it’s no surprise that I entered a damn-near full room, her work scrolling by above her on the projector screen.
When I joined the panel, Kate was gesticulating wildly about her joy of finding a like-minded audience in this ‘new media’ fashion, and realising that her work was touching people from across the globe, crossing generational and cultural lines. A teacher in the audience told Kate that she had taught her literary class via various pieces of Kate’s work, something that thrilled her immensely – as did the revelation that a number of the students had then gone to the source material and discovered that the books were nothing like Beaton had rendered them! Different lenses, different viewpoints, different roads… something I was discovering was quite the underlying theme of the artists chosen to attend this Festival.
This was made most apparent by my next stop – I hustled back to the Clocktower where I managed to catch up with Kieron Gillen and get my books signed, as well as arranging a chunk of time to talk to him on camera, later in the day when he wasn’t so mobbed by fans and admirers: great stuff.
While I was here, I decided to check in with the table of a friend, Alex Paknadel, who was there officially to showcase and peddle his work, including the gloriously epic sci-fi tale Arcadia, published by Boom Studios (which I picked up the first five issues of – I’d like the final chapter signing when you get the chance, Alex)… but, instead, Alex was to be found raving about the work of a duo that were situated directly opposite, directing anyone that would listen in their direction – he was absolutely gobsmacked.
As it happened, Wobbly Rock Books were attracting enough attention as it was already. A Brighton-based duo, consisting of writer Amy Murrell and artist Oliver Murrell, conjure slight, delicate, complex, hypnotic, and truly spellbinding short stories, rendered in the most detailed and exquisite fashion.
I agree with Alex when he says that nobody else in the room will be able to get close to the Murrells in 6 to 12 months time: they’re just going to be superstars and out of everybody’s league. And yet, surprisingly, the Lakes Festival was in actual fact their coming out party – their first book, EGG, has only been out for a short while and their new release, TRUMPET, was getting its debut at the event. I was struck by how self-effusive and modest Amy and Oliver were – they were so modest, they had no idea of the impression they were making. Watch this space and note carefully:– they’re going to be superstars. And, if they’re not, we will only have yourselves to blame.
Moving on – and back down to the Canadian Comics Lodge.
Another Special Guest that I’m a particular fan of is artist Stuart Immonen – I’ve been an admirer of his work for many years and he’s recently taken up the reins on the flagship Star Wars title for Marvel Comics. (I had brought some of those books of his to sign, too, but they were variants and bloody expensive and I wasn’t going to just throw those into the back of a rucksack. Later, Leonard, later…)
The panel was called Chameleon and that title certainly sums up Immonen’s style and approach – he’s not adverse to completely mixing it up to serve the story he’s illustrating. Which was why I was very curious to see how the panel would go; it turned out that it would be part-conversation, part-art ‘face-off’ between Immonen and ‘moderator’ Sean Phillips, a man who himself has a particular and distinctive art style. How was this going to work?
The format was to be: the two would spend forty minutes or so, pencilling a subject, while talking about Stuart’s background and methodology, and when that time was up, swapping the pages overs and inking each others work for another forty – Immonen decided on a Han Solo piece in keeping with his current gig and Phillips tackled a theme he hadn’t drawn for some time: a superhero, namely Wolverine. Outstanding! It was incredible to see how the two interpreted each others pencils, both saying they ideally preferred to keep things loose at the initial stage and allowing the inker space to imprint their own mark.
I’ve recorded this panel so you can get an idea of how things progressed – and below are pics of the finished pieces. Aren’t they incredible?
Quick sprint back up to the Comics Clocktower – I told you I would be putting the steps in! – and managed to squirrel Kieron Gillen to the balcony above the main hall room. Kieron was incredibly generous to talk about a whole host of subjects: from his own creator-based work on Phonogram and the award-winning The Wicked + The Divine, his thoughts on UK conventions and events when compared to their US brethren and, of course, about Darth Vader and what writing the Dark Lord Of The Sith means to him…
Thanks so much to Kieron for his time – and for putting up with my ever-wandering camera work. Okay, okay, maybe I should invest in some proper gear, leave me alone…!
And that was the Saturday, done and dusted. All that was left was to head back to the hotel, drop off all the bits and pieces I’d picked up during the day, recognise that I didn’t want to be in a room above a karaoke bar any longer than I needed to be and headed out into the xhill Kendal night. A pleasant curry in the company of friends old and new (thanks to Tripwire’s Joel Meadows and also Ben Le Foe for letting me tag along) and then up to Ruskins – sorry, The Walk Inn Dead – for a couple of pints and to watch a performance by rockers Cosmic Rays, a four-piece featuring famed Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard on drums and ICE organiser Shane Chebsey on vocals. A little too 90’s indie band/’Shed Seven via Ned’s Atomic Dustbin‘ for my liking but it was a packed room, the songs had a good beat and you could bob your head appreciatively to them which, end of the day, is all you can ask for.
A marvellous first day. Let’s see if I can keep up the pace for the final stretch…