Yes! As you may surmise from the title of this post, there was a comics thingy on in Kendal in the UK last weekend, and I attended it.
Taking place over three days and a whole host of venues, the best description of it comes from one of the festival’s founders, Bryan Talbot (more on him later!), in the official programme:
“Thirty years ago I attended my first major European comics festival in Lucca in Italy and it blew my mind. Here was an entire town en fete, a public celebration of the medium we love. Ever since then I’ve had a dream of a UK equivalent and now, at last, it’s here.”
So, yeah, this was different from your normal comics convention, in that it was spread all over the town in a really excellent way. A whole host of venues contained related events, with most shops and buildings seeming to be involved with it in some way. Apart from the main venues where the bulk of the festival took place, there were charity shops putting their comics to the fore, chippies selling Spider-man prints, opticians having schoolkid-created comics in the windows, the shopping centre containing child-aimed comics workshops, empty buildings with comics-themed decals in the window, not to mention nearly every shop containing posters and flyers for the event. Plus, the event has its own rather tasty ale ‘Tall Toad’, illustrated by Gilbert Shelton!
Oh, and there’s a Batman flag flying above the town (which I sadly don’t have a photo of).
(a poor scan of the Bryan Talbot-illustrated map of Kendal)
In a marked contrast to other comics things I’ve been to, there’s less an atmosphere of the attending comics readers being weirdo outsiders (not that there’s anything wrong with that) plonked into the middle of a world of staring, mildly-amused/disgusted ‘normal’ folks, and more an air of “Cool! Fun! Festival atmosphere! Get involved!”. It’s of interest to people who know fuck-all about comics too, y’know? The fact it deals with comics all across the spectrum helps, too, from your superheroes to the Beano to the Phoenix to Viz to autobio stuff and on and on oh man it was basically a right treat.
The festival was chock-full of guests and events, and to list them would be tedious and difficult. So, instead, here’s a scan of part of the pretty invaluable and free programme:
(PROGRAMME ASIDE: a favourite part was the misprint where the description for the Tamara Drew film was actually the description for The Crow. Laffs!)
There were a whole bunch of events I didn’t manage to attend, sadly, for various reasons such as finances, them clashing with other ones (there was such a wealth of riches!), and good old public transport from the hostel I was staying at letting me down. Would have loved to see the Trina Robbins talk! So what scheduled talks did I attend, eh? THESE ONES:
THIS IS MY LIFE – THE ART OF MEMOIR with Al Davison, Katie Green, Mary Talbot and Nye Wright
To quote Eddie Campbell: “The trouble with first hand personal-account comics is that the authors generally do not go to much trouble to make their lives interesting enough.” Luckily, all the creators on this panel are so interesting I’d quite happily listen to any of them speak for an hour. As it stands, it was a really rewarding talk on each creator’s work with memoir, including a short runthrough of their comics, why they chose the format they did, what benefits comics have as a medium etc…
Al Davison in particular had some great (if horrible) stories, describing the problems he came up against from his publishers in the 80s regarding his memoir The Spiral Cage, detailing his life with spina bifida. Seems he was told not to include a happy ending, as people want tragedy from their stories about disability, and he was also told not to include scenes depicting his naked body, as it’d put people off. He also spoke about a period of blindness he went through, and how he drew pictures of his friends and family, as well as things around him, in order to maintain his sense memory. I really need to track The Spiral Cage down, really.
I also enjoyed Katie Green discussing her effective decision in Lighter Than My Shadow to portray an eating disorder as a rather horrific abstract scribble instead of as a literal monster. It looks like a cool comic that uses the medium well, and the hope is that my Significant Other will purchase it soon, so I can read it.
It was an amiable, informative hour, and I came away with the impression that these were some neato people, for sure.
The panel was also the beginning of what felt like an accidental stalking of Mary Talbot, who was also in the next two panels I attended…
MAKING HISTORY – SALLY HEATHCOTE : SUFFRAGETTE with Mary Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and hosted by Mel Gibson
Taking place in the local library, this panel concerned the upcoming comic Sally Heathcote: Suffragette written by Mary Talbot, and drawn and lettered in a collaboration of Bryan Talbot and Kate Charlesworth. The three discussed their creative process with the host Mel Gibson (not that one, etc), detailing research they’d undertaken, both visual and textual, colour choices they’d made, the painstaking process of recreating documents from the Edwardian era and so forth. Also discussed was the importance of the Suffragettes, the realities of working class life, and all that good stuff.
It’s got me rather pumped for the comic itself, which looks pretty excellent, to be fair. It’s an era of history that most people have a passing familiarity with, even if it’s just “A woman jumped in front of a horse”, and it feels like if it was handled correctly, a Suffragettes-based piece of popular culture could totally strike a chord with a wider audience (granted, I may have stolen this opinion from my aforementioned Significant Other, but it doesn’t mean I don’t agree with it).
The Suffragettes had some fucking cool merchandise, incidentally. I did not know they had dedicated shops! ALWAYS LEARNING.
Once again, everyone involved with this panel seemed like Good Eggs. What a nice festival!
On to Mary Talbot Event #3 (and Bryan Talbot Event #2)…
THE NINTH ART? chaired by Mary Talbot, with Dan Franklin, Paul Gravett, Posy Simmonds, Joe Sacco and Bryan Talbot
This was a discussion, in a lovely art gallery, concerning comics being known as The Ninth Art (as it is in France), the barriers stopping comics being seen as a legitimate art form in the UK, and a brief foray into the pluses and minuses of digital comics.
Rather distracted by two old men in the audience who kept talking to one another (they may have been Comics Dignitaries of some sort, I do not know), my attention wavered throughout (the fact I was two or three pints into the booze-hole can’t have helped), but I do recall it being an agreeable, light-hearted way to pass an hour, and while it covered a lot of ground I’m familiar with from being a comics dweeb who wrote a bit about them at art college, it still threw up new nuggets of information (such as the fact that the hoity-toity French literature academics actually look down on comics. And here’s me thinking it was some sort of comics utopia there!), and the panel were charismatic and friendly enough that they could have been talking about pretty much anything and I would have enjoyed it. That Paul Gravett, eh? Boy, is he enthusiastic.
And Joe Sacco, he’s really mean to himself in his comics! The dude is pretty much a dreamboat in the flesh.
GETTING TO GRIPS WITH GRAPHIC NOVELS hosted by Karrie Fransman
Coming along to this due to having to swap tickets after missing the Sacco/Bell talk due to public transport (the staff are so nice about it!), I must admit I wasn’t too full of hope. I didn’t know a thing about Karrie Fransman, and the description of the event in the programme makes it sound a bit like the opening chapters of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which I am more than familiar with.
My mistake! Turns out Karrie Fransman’s a witty, engaging speaker, and while Understanding Comics is mentioned, there’s much more to this talk than just that.
A large part of this event is Fransman talking about her previous work, and it’s really pretty darn cool-looking, and while she does work in the more traditional comics way, she also plays with the format, applying comics techniques to different non-paper mediums such as found-item sculpture (see image above) and converted doll’s houses.
She continues this theme in the latter half of the event, involving the audience (arrrrgh) in a discussion of what does and doesn’t constitute a ‘comic’. Examples given include Grayson Perry’s tapestry (that reminds me, I need to track down his teen comics about transvestism), a Dave McKean interactive installation, and well, various other things that people might not consider ‘comics’, as they aren’t a series of panels with pictures and words, in sequence. They totally ARE all comics, but it’s interesting hearing everyone’s opinions regarding this, nonetheless! I even manage to croak out some near-intelligent words, myself, and don’t leave too traumatised (which is really the best I hope for from audience participation).
In the end, I am more than glad to have attended, and come away feeling cheerful and enervated. Yes!
This panel was about comics colouring, with a focus on the work done in more mainstream superheroey things. It begun with some examples of colouring the hosts didn’t like, which I wish had gone on for longer. I love complaining about comics colouring, ‘cos it really is mostly shite, isn’t it? The problems are recognised as mostly being down to the demands of the market, trends, and time constraints, but it doesn’t change the fact that modern mainstream colouring is frequently awful. AWFUL. Duncan Fegredo also makes some good points about the function of the gutters (white space between panels), and I agree wholeheartedly.
I didn’t think I was aware of Peter Doherty’s work, until he showed some examples of his recolouring of Flex Mentallo next to the original. Ah yes, I know him! He’s one of the good guys of modern colouring, so he is. I have previously been slightly annoyed that he did away with some of the vibrant candy colouring of the original Flex, but to be honest, with direct comparison here he gave a pretty good case for his recolouring choices, and it’s not like I actively disliked what he did with it. It’s beautiful work, no mistake.
I still miss that amazing neon blue of the townscape, though! “Ocht, you just like a nice blue” points out my Significant Other, possibly not using those exact words. And she’s right!
I agree with everything the hosts say in this talk, regarding colouring and storytelling flow and so forth, but wish I’d had the guts to ask them their thoughts on yer Lynn Varleys and Brendan McCarthys, people who use colour in a more, I dunno, visually visceral way? Colour for colour’s sake, at times? OH GOD I AM AWFUL AT TALKING ABOUT ART.
Someone in the audience asked Fegredo about his comic with Peter Milligan, Girl, and it reminded me I have never read it, and that someone needs to rerelease it, and all Milligan Vertigo short serials.
Guess who seemed super-nice and were good company? Fegredo and Doherty, that’s who. WHAT A NICE FESTIVAL, I reiterate, ad nauseum.
Well, there was an exhibition of Sean Phillips art that was enormously enjoyable. There was examples of his work from throughout his career, and, old art bore that I am, I particularly enjoyed the examples of his life drawing. It’s just good to see that comics people aren’t only influenced by other comics, y’know (though this rarely seems a problem with British creators, to be honest)?
There was also a Sean Phillips Batman image used on promotional flyers and projector placeholders, and I enjoyed the fact the cape looked like a dark explosion. Sean Phillips! His presence was strong, and I’m assuming the person I kept seeing around, that looked like a Sean Phillips drawing, was he.
There was also a building hosting Brainstorm!: The Art of Bryan Talbot, and it was pretty inspiring walking around and seeing his original art from throughout time, in a gallery setting. There was a room-height recreation of The Tale of One Bad Rat hardback which was rather smile-inducing, as were the tiny rat footprints that led around the gallery. Awwwww! I especially enjoyed the Luther Arkwright pages, though. LOVE THAT COMIC. There was a documentary about him showing, also, but I did not sit down to watch it as others were doing so. I hope it shows up elsewhere, as it looks interesting, in a genuine way, not in a “haha, look it’s Grant Morrison dressed like a fop, sitting in a throne in the 80s” way, like there was at another comics thing I attended once.
The Clocktower in town was packed with small press creators, and it was particularly gratifying to see Scotland’s ‘scene’ out in force, with Team Girl Comic, Black Hearted Press and peerlessly-named Braw Books all in attendance. I had an awkward look around, scared to peruse anything too closely for fear of having to speak to someone, and feeling immense guilt at not buying anything. Shamefully, I am so super-poor that I never saw fit to buy a single comic from any of the small press people, instead spending my few bucks on “3 shitty comics for £1!” sorts of deals from traders with ‘longboxes’. I am part of the problem.
Seriously, though, I am very poor.
I also visited ‘The Fnarr Bar’, which was a pub/café/space that’d been converted into a kind of Viz museum for the weekend. Whilst enjoying a couple of Tall Toad ales, myself and Significant Other perused the Viz-based goods placed around the room. I must admit to laughing rather a lot at Viz over the years. It excels at silly humour and an absurdist take on Beano-style characters, with endearing self-deprecation, but I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the misogyny and laddishness. Sure, it seeks to subvert that in some way with ‘Sid the Sexist’ and so forth, but while it, sigh, does that sort of “equal opportunities offensiveness”, it’s not an equal world we live in, is it? That said, the ludicrous British take on this sort of thing is thankfully miles away from the fratboy Family Guy-ish stuff.
I like The Pathetic Sharks, but. They tried to get a barbecue going, but were rubbish at it!
The Castle Dairy (not shown above) was a lovely rustic little building that housed some sort of café, and during the festival it was also home to a variety of artworks, including drawings from Stephen Collins’ The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, A J Poyiadgi’s comics made from teabags, work by Hannah Berry of the New Statesman (among other places), and also an incredibly dubious piece called Getting a Girlfriend is Easy by Gareth Brookes.
This seemed to feature a papier mache model of a black woman (PURE black, you know, like a golliwog/blackface/other racist dogshit), created by a white man, and we were given no context for this other than the title of the piece (which is in itself from something called The Black Project), and, well, hmmmm.
Other than that misstep (MAYBE THERE’S A GREAT EXPLANATION FOR IT, I DON’T KNOW), it was a pleasant venue in which to discuss art and have another Tall Toad (from a bottle, this time, not a tap). It was also here that I decided I was going to make more comics, so inspired was I by the surroundings. Lucky you.
Oh, so many memories of the festival, and so many things I never got around to doing or seeing! I spoke to a man about comics who thought Grant Morrison’s Batman “didn’t make sense”, I enjoyed the middle-aged men dressed as movie Judge Dredd (the modern one, boringly) as they seemed to be the only cosplay there and as such were charmingly incongruous, and I also sat boozing it up in The Brewery Arts Centre bar with a variety of tiny ales, trying not to eavesdrop on the table full of 2000AD creators (whose conversations I shall not divulge) who left me feeling as starstruck as that first time I saw Urusei Yatsura.
All in all, it was such a fun weekend, and it felt inclusive and inspiring (I’m overusing that word, eh?), and I never felt that I was dragging my Significant Other to events that were Not For Them(except maybe the comics colouring talk), who is mainly an autobio comics reader. There was something for everyone and oh my, it was just so pleasant and nice and amiable and I’m really going to have to invest in a thesaurus.
See you there next year?
To finish, here’s me realising a slightly creepy lifetime ambition (no tongues were used, no art was harmed):