SUNDAY 17th OCTOBER 2015
After a cracking ramp-up and a wonderful first day of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal, in the glorious Lake District of England, I was looking forward to seeing the event through to the final day… I was also looking forward to the whole thing being brought to a close. One more day meant one less night in the crappy hotel I’d stupidly booked ourselves into. Hey ho, lessons learnt.
But I had another packed day ahead of me so, after what became the ritualistic sojourn to Wetherspoons for my Full English, I tripped out onto the streets of Kendal – still rain-free which was a bonus. The mutterings of locals, concerned at the apparent lack of moisture from the sky was starting to become quite pronounced. Clear skies? For any entire Festival weekend?! This was not what they were used to!
My first stop was to the Comics Clocktower to catch up with my Festival comrade-in-arms, Tripwire’s Joel Meadows who has signed up to host half a table in the Clocktower to showcase his photography of comic artists and film directors – he was doing that while still trying to arrange some interview time with a number of Festival Guests and I’d said that I’d do what I could to help in terms of filming and recording.
The Clocktower, free to entry, was bustling with plenty of footfall, eager comics fans making their way from table to table – admittedly, there wasn’t as many as the Saturday but the whole thing still pretty steady and certainly more bodies than what I saw back in 2014. The Festival draws attendees both nationwide and local, giving them a taste of quality artistry in the field of comics, and it’s so encouraging to see that there is an passionate audience, willing to make the journey.
I quickly headed down to the Shakespeare Centre where I knew that Stuart and Kathryn Immonen were holding a panel on Superheroes, taking in their collaborate efforts as husband and wife/artist and writer respectively. I knew that our schedules were pretty slammed during the day so I cheekily got Stuart to sign the tasty Star Wars variants that I had brought with me and got a nice pic of the pair of them – the couple raved about their experience in the Lake District so far and were so glad that so many fans had made the effort to see and talk to them during their stay, especially at their panels.
I thanked them for their time, and for the signatures, and hurried off to meet up with Joel for his Seth interview. As it happened, due to a miscommunication, Seth had spoken to Joel before I arrived and I missed it completely. (The second Joel tidies up the audio from that interview, he’s said that I am free to post it here for you, kind reader. Watch this space.)
Never fear, there was still plenty to check out. I hustled off to the Brewery Arts Centre Theatre where The Art Of Dave McKean panel had drawn a sold out crowd – so much so, that I wasn’t allowed through the main door for fear of disturbing the panel. Never fear, I was informed, there’s a rear door at the back of the theatre seating which I could get in through – it just meant that I had to walk through the Shojo Manga Exhibition which I was saving for today. I’ll catch that on the way out.
Dave McKean, as I said in my Friday evening recap, is a fantastic panel guest, waxing lyrical and at length about his influences and career. It’s been quite an journey, partnered with such illustrious luminaries over the years, that an audience can be given twice, thrice the time allotted and it would still only scratch the surface of the man. McKean was very generous with his answers from the audience, expanding at length about all sorts of topics; it said a lot about the skills of Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics as a moderator that they covered as much ground as they could in the hour they had.
I snuck out the back when the panel finished to drink in the incredible art of the Shojo Manga Exhibition, held in the Sugar Store Gallery of the Brewery Arts Centre. This was the first major exhibition of its type in the UK, in association with the Kyoto International Manga Museum, and visited LICAF on its first stop before heading to The Atkinson, Stockport (7th January – 14th February 2016) and the House Of Illustration in London (15th March – 12th June, 2016).
If you get the chance to see this amazing collection in person, I would highly recommend you do so. The beauty and artistry on display is simply breathtaking, with exquisite detailing and sumptuous colours – that we in the UK are being treated to seeing these pieces in person is a true delight. Wonderful.
As the Festival is holding as one of its themes Konnichiwa Japan, the exhibition was not the only Manga representation in attendance, of course: down in the Brewery Art Centre cafe, tucked away on stage at the back of the seating area, were the brilliant talents of Chie Kutsuwada and Inko who were sketching manga portraits of people who came up to say, well, konnichiwa!
I queued for a short time to get one done of a family friend from a Facebook photo but had to leave due to Joel’s scheduling of his Darwyn Cooke interview. But…! More bad news! Due to Darwyn’s hectic weekend schedule, he was unable to find free time to talk to Joel and as such, arranged to reschedule when he would be in London the following week. No good for me, mind, but I understood – I’d be seeing him again in half an hour any way for a panel I was very excited about: The Big Comic Draw!
I’d experienced something similar the previous year when Sean Phillips and Rian Hughes did an head-to head art-jam to wrap up the panels in 2014. This time, it was a three-way between Stuart Immonen, Darwyn Cooke and Ian McQue, swapping and rotating between the two art eisels and the couch in the centre where Chris Thompson would hold a brief interview and audience Q&A session.
I love these things: the opportunity to see master artists ply their trade in real time but also see the contrasting approaches and techniques, side-by-side, being applied to the same brief or subject. To see McQue and Immonen’s differing takes on Bruce Lee, or all three artists rendering of the DC Comics icon Superman, simply demonstrates how important and how vital striving to have your own voice as an artist, in any field, really is. I caught some of the panel on video, I hope you enjoy.
A quick detour after the panel via the discrete room on the Arts Centre’s top floor where Forbidden Planet had taken residence, where a signing session of Cooke, the Immonens and the phenomenal Benoit Peeters (one of the many artists who I had managed to not see all bleedin’ weekend!) was being held. Yes, another room of the Festival! I guarantee that, for all of my planning and best intentions, there was the majority of the Festival I didn’t get round to seeing – it was held in every conceivable free space around the entire town.
That being said, a general attendee to the Festival can’t have seen a sliver of the panels, either; it wasonly by the generosity of the organisers that I had been provided with a Press Pass, allowing me access to all of the paid elements of LIACF. This aspect of the Festival gave me my first main issue that I had with LICAF – maybe it was something that also took place last year but I didn’t notice because I only attended on the Sunday in 2014.
The very specialised subjects and topics being presented at panels, mostly unknown by the general public, meant that panels were being occupied by a very focused audience; there were only a number of panels that somebody could stumble across in the listing and think, “Ooh, that sounds interesting.” With panels costing from £8 to attend, you couldn’t risk simply wandering in to a panel on the off-chance it could appeal – this is the difficulties of the charging-by-panel system as I mentioned in the Saturday recap.
While the Clocktower, the Comics Family Zones (held at the Brewery Arts Centre and Westmoreland Shopping Centre), Shojo Manga Exhibitions and a few others were free aspects of the Festival, the panels held at the Brewery Arts and Shakespeares Centres – including those showcasing the invited Canadian contingent, visiting the country in a rare opportunity – were all panels charged individually. It meant you had to know what you were getting into before shelling out your hard-earned cash – and, at eight to fifteen quid a pop, that’s a hell of a risk for something that may not ultimately tickle your fancy.
This wasn’t my only issue, however – the other problem I had was with the Canadians specifically. Hang on, hear me out!
Not that I didn’t welcome them to the Festival, I for one was ecstatic to see them there, of course – however, it seemed that you only got to see these amazing talents when they managed to escape out to panels or signings. I understood the novelty of giving the visitors their own ‘Canadian Comics Lodge’ but it’s a shame that they seemed a little spirited away into their own little annexe of the town, out of the way. All the maple leaf breadcrumbs in the world wasn’t going to help with this perception – and, let’s be fair, they had come quite the long way to be stuck down an alleyway at the back of a pub.
Still, these are tiny gripes in an Festival that had so much positive things to shout from the Town Hall Clocktower about – Bryan Talbot has been quoted as saying, “Over the years, many times I’ve seen creators and retailers wearily packing up at the end of a comic convention saying ‘Thank God that’s over for another year. At LICAF, they are always jumping up and down and saying “I wish it lasted longer!” That was most certainly the case as I wandered the Comic Clocktower in the Festival’s dying minutes – exhibitors and artists who I fully expected to have packed up and started shipping out hours before were still deep in conversation with their tablemates, either being introduced to a brand new talent or networking and getting valuable advice from established veterans. It almost felt like they didn’t want the party to end.
And this is why I feel that The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is such an important event in not only the UK’s but also the world’s convention calendar. It is such an uplifting, positive and downright euphoric celebration of this truly generation-defining medium, embracing superstar names alongside truly brand new talent, but all in an environment that refuses to let anybody steal anyone else’s limelight. Kendal has such a ‘village hall’ vibe that no single entity or publisher could simply rock up and expect to be treated like the star of the show. If anything, the star of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival is ‘comic art’ itself, a medium to be treasured, to be showcased, to be loved deeply. And Kendal’s heart is as big as a whale.
(Oh yeah: one more thing. That Joe Decie mural, painted outside Ruskins in town? It was completed by the Sunday night – and safe to say, he did himself incredibly proud. Excellent work, sir.)