Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2014

The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal.
Having been away from the convention circuit for a couple of years for various reasons I started doing a few shows this year to get back into the swing of things and I really enjoyed attending The Lakes International Comic Art Festival last weekend (17th to 19th October). I didn't make it to last year's event but I'd heard only positive things about it, and this year's festival certainly lived up to that. 

As one of the guests I'd been sent a lot of useful information from the organisers which helped a great deal. When I arrived in Kendal I made my way to the liaison point, where Guests Co-ordinator Sandra Wood greeted me and organised a lift to my guest house. I was pleased to see that my old pal Mike Collins (now storyboard artist on Doctor Who) was staying at the same digs and the guest house was very friendly and comfortable.

That evening Mike and I walked into town for the complimentary Festival meal at the Brewery Arts Centre, meeting up with other comics guests such as Panini UK editor/writer Scott Gray and John Freeman (also an editor and writer) who runs British comics news site Down the Tubes. After which we went to see John interview Dez Skinn at the library on his creation of Doctor Who Weekly (which was celebrating its 35th anniversary that week). 
Strangehaven's Gary Millidge being camera shy.
Unlike most other UK comics shows which are confined to one building, the town itself was involved with the festival and the events took place in several venues throughout Kendal. Also, the 'Windows on Comic Art Trail' had displays in windows of local businesses in the town centre, and banners for the festival draped across the street. 

As most comics folk work from home, often in isolation, we always enjoy a get-together at such events. Therefore it was no surprise to find most attendees ending up back at the Brewery Arts Centre bar in the evenings. Over the weekend it was great to catch up with David Leach, Gary Erskine, Davey Jones, Woodrow Phoenix, Debbie Tate, Robbie Morrison, Dave Gibbons, Jessica Martin, Kev F. Sutherland, John McShane, Gary Millidge, John Short, Doug and Sue Braithwaite, Gary Northfield and many others, including Eddie Campbell and Frank Plowright who I hadn't seen for many years. Good to put faces to names too, by meeting people such as Russell Willis and Jeremy Briggs. 

Next day, I was scheduled to do my presentation at 10.30 on the history of British humour comics so it was an early start to get ready. Although I'd been on many panels over the years this was the first time I'd done a solo presentation since one I did in Norway in 1997 (which wasn't great due to nerves I must admit). Therefore I was a bit anxious but the professionalism of the festival staff put my mind at rest and they'd set up the power point to run as smooth as silk with the 95 images I'd provided. (Thanks guys!)

The audience were let in, Hunt Emerson introduced me, and I was off. Off to a bit of a croaky start unfortunately as some dust irritated my throat but that was soon sorted and the presentation went ok I think. We'd called it 100 Years of Fun but in actuality I covered over 140 years in 60 minutes. A bit of a whirlwind journey through time, I started with the 19th Century titles The Glasgow Looking Glass and Funny Folks and ended on a positive note with today's comics including Joe Matthew's new one, Funny Monsters. I don't know how well I did compared to previous historians such as Denis Gifford and before him Barry Ono, but I hope people enjoyed it. 

Nigel Parkinson and his colourist Nika were in the audience so it was excellent to meet up with them afterwards and have a slap up feed at the local chip shop whilst talking comics.

Later in the afternoon my next gig was the Cowboy Henk vs Combat Colin 'live draw shoot-out'. Cowboy Henk being the creation of Flemish artist Herr Seele. As we were setting up it was good to finally meet Festival Director Julie Tait, as we'd previously only communicated by e-mail. Usually at these 'live draw shoot-outs' two artists have a friendly competition, drawing at desks as their work is projected on screen for the audience to see. Herr Seele, who is an extroverted but very interesting character, instead chose to start with a power point presentation of his work. I didn't mind this at all as it was fascinating to learn about his history and the development of his popular Cowboy Henk character. 
Herr Seele.

With the presentation over, Herr Seele (real name Peter van Heirseele) set to work painting a huge cubist image of Cowboy Henk while I drew characters projected onto the screen. Hunt Emerson was interviewing both of us as we worked. Probably the most surreal event I've done at a comics show but I enjoyed it and I think the audience did too. Afterwards I did a quick sketching/signing session. 

The weather on Sunday was quite wet and after my scheduled sketching session in the Comics Clock Tower I met up with Psycho Gran artist David Leach for lunch and a visit to the Magnificent White Elephant Emporium. Inside were the Viz lads Graham Dury and Simon Thorp and their bizarrely brilliant How a Viz Comic is Made lo-tech experience. Knockabout's Tony Bennett was also there so it was good to have a chat with him too. Woodrow Phoenix was on another table, displaying his giant book She Lives, a silent comic story. A book so big he had to bind it himself using the largest paper size available, and drew the story in the book itself, therefore exhibiting the original art. See it yourself in the photo below...
Woodrow Phoenix.

There were a lot of events going on over the weekend, giving visitors plenty of choice. There were talks and presentations by people such as Dave Gibbons, Joost Swarte, Rian Hughes, Sean Phillips, Gail Simone, Charlie Adlard, Audrey Niffenegger, Becky Cloonan, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Jeff Smith, Metaphrog, Emma Vieceli and others, plus exhibitions, dealers rooms, workshops, and more. The great thing was the diversity of comics, and the fact that this was entirely a comics-focused event, not part of a multi-media show. (Hardly any cosplayers too.) I'm sure that many curious members of the public who drifted into the Comics Clock Tower must have learned at least a little more about comics during the weekend, and that can only be a good thing. 
The superbly designed 52 page programme.

I was hugely impressed with the professionalism of the festival and the warm, friendly enthusiasm of the very helpful festival team. If there were any hiccoughs in the running of the event it certainly didn't show as far as I was aware. My thanks to Julie Tait, Sandra Wood, Jenny Graham and the whole team for a very enjoyable weekend indeed. The Lakes International Comic Art Festival has a positive and invigorating vibe about it, proving that comics in the UK are far from dead, and that they now appeal to a wider cross-section of people than ever before. 

Official website:


TwoHeadedBoy said...

The more I hear about this the more I wish I went to it - couldn't be helped that I was working at a different convention that weekend, but we'll see what happens next year - sounds fantastic!

Think I remember seeing Woodrow's giant book at the Comics Unmasked thing in London, unless I'm mistaken...

John Pitt said...

I would have loved to have seen your talk. Let us know if it's ever on Youtube!

John Pitt said...

OR....due to popular request, you could turn the presentation into a weekly series of posts?

Lew Stringer said...

I don't think filming was allowed John, as people had paid for the event. I wouldn't be surprised if some clips turned up somewhere though.

Ryan, there were at least three comic events around the country that weekend. It's great that comic shows have increased but it's a shame they sometimes clash now. I was invited to the London one but had already committed to the Lakes festival. There seems to be at least one event every weekend these days. Amazing. We used to think we were lucky if we had one convention a year!

Lew Stringer said...

John, your second message was posted just as I posted my reply to your earlier comment, so my comment is out of sequence.

Anyway, there'd be no point in serializing the presentation here because it was based entirely on old posts of mine. Basically it was a big screen version of my blog. All the info and images are already here.

Anonymous said...

But how do people know what to look for if they don't know the history of comics you could re post some old ones because the images sometimes vanish anyway from blogs

Lew Stringer said...

Anon, just use the search facilities on the blog. Type the name of a comic, strip, creator, or year into the search window.

Images vanish? Not to my knowledge. The only time I've seen that happen on other blogs is if people hotlink to other sites and the site owner finds out. I don't hotlink.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lew - we loved having you as a guest. Sandra.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Sandra. It was a pleasure to be part of it.

John Pitt said...

I'm pleased to know then that I hadn't missed out on anything. I often use your old posts as points of reference, so it's reassuring to know that they will always be there.

Lew Stringer said...

Well, nothing lasts forever John. If Blogger closed down, these sort of blogs might vanish overnight. That's the big disadvantage with digital.

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