The Lakes International Comic Art Festival – James Bacon Reports for FPI…
As I disembarked from the train at Kendal I was struck by the sheer picturesque beauty of the town, the grey buildings hewn out of stones, the pleasant and countryside feel, a ruined building looking down from high green land in the near distance.
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival has gained a currency that, based on my first visit is well deserved, as I had a stunningly brilliant time.
The Cumbrian Lake District town lends itself to festivals with a host of suitable facilities in nearby walking distance and so it was to the Comics Clock Tower, a central point, for me to begin this adventure.
The Clock Tower, a large ornate fine town hall is given over to the festival, and here a mix of venors, some of the larger comic concerns as well as smaller presses have set out their stalls. There is a stage with a signing roster and Charlie Adlard has a decent queue, but I note is giving everyone decent time. The four different halls and rooms give a more intimate feeling, and although it felt rather busy, there wasn’t the crush of someone’s armpit against your nose that one can occasional feel at conventions.
Immediately a number of items caught my attention:
Ivan Petrus is a Belgian artist, who has had a variety of work in the arts, but turned his hand to the First World War when he read an authentic WWI diary. He is working on a trilogy of stories, The Nieuport Gathering, Elsie and Mairi and Passchendaele.
The Nieuport Gathering was available in English, Dutch and French, the way it should be I felt, noting that this is indeed an international Comic festival. Unfortunately Elsie and Mairi is on the way in English but a Dutch one was on hand to covet. The Nieuport Gathering is a lovely looking hardback comic, and tells two stories, and cleverly uses a different set of colouring to discriminate between what is happening in which time period.
Ivan was talking to people continually, his enthusiasm to tell stories and knowledge of the mechanics and history of certain matters were fascinating to hear, no hard sell, just talk about history. He was busy painting images into the title page for purchasers, layering washes of paint. to create a lovely effect, and truly personalising the comic in a unique way with a fully painted image.
(Ivan Petrus at work away from the Clock Tower, taking to the streets to create art in Kendal)
As I wandered I realised that the smaller press in the UK is astoundingly good at the moment. I saw Sara Dunkerton and Matt Gibbs who were selling MULP, a beautiful anthropomorphic adventure with mice as the characters, and a wonderful thirties feel to it, set initially in Egypt it has a nice mix of adventure and detective story with a good team of characters, and I really enjoyed it. So I was pleased to see them here in full swing.
I have to admit I am drawn to certain things, and when I saw a sign offering one to look at a giant comic and then entitled DUBLIN, I was over in a shot.
I wondered just what this album, for that is what it looked like, but with a hand made attention to detail, and rawness that was immediately attractive, would reveal on further inspection.
Lydia Wysocki who previously worked on the Newcastle Science Comic, and who is now working on using comics in a fine variety of ways with Applied Comics Etc. had made this fabulous scrap type comic when she made a visit to Dublin.
A huge variety of scrap papers, including the backs of beer mats, torn paper, Starbucks napkins are all used to draw on, and then these were hand stitched with red thread, mementoes and bits and pieces collected added, in a rather tasteful and less is more sort of way, but also connected to the comic and it was all fantastic, a real secret insight into a trip away.
Available to view, I took my time reading this. I pondered with Lydia how much it would be worth, and we concurred that ‘A LOT‘ would be right, luckily there was something similar to sate my desire here and I picked up ‘Trails‘ a comic insight into a return trip for Lydia to Santa Cruz and San Fancisco, some eleven years after first visiting, and I enjoyed it. There is a little light shone into a persons life, looking and seeing how the differences between continents and cultures are, and it is really nice, while I must visit the Cameo Café East in Portland.
‘As if this wasn’t enough, there was a free Lino Print on a piece of map with Trails, and given I had gotten a lovely hand painted picture in the Gathering at Nieuport from Ivan Petrus, this was now the second piece of amazing that I picked up with a comic.
And that was how I felt here, amazing, it’s relaxed with stunning creators and unique and unusual work and no pressure, kindness, and artists appreciating being appreciated. I was liking this.
Becky Cloonan and Mark Buckingham were soon signing and I took the opportunity to get By Chance and Providence, a trilogy of mini comics beautifully packaged into a hard bound book, signed by Cloonan, who in character with my day, was extremely pleasant and I had managed to pick up an edition with a book plate in Dublin.
In an unusual dynamic for selling, I was impressed with Carne Griffiths intricate and detailed pen work on a huge piece of paper, using a variety of coloured lines to present a face, but this was not an altruistic artist endeavour. Carne was there promoting the Derwent Graphik Line Marker and Line Painter, the latter which astounded me. This pen gives the texture of paint and when dried one can feel it and the paint can also be immediately wet brushed to give a wonderful watercolour look. I explained I could not draw to save my life, but Carne had some stunning Art Cards to give away for the likes of myself, while budding artists were welcome to take a sample of each pen. I realised this was a purely commercial endeavour from one perspective, but from mine, this was new art and I welcomed the opportunity.
I exited, and a short walk brought me to the Brewery – where else would you have a comic festival? I wondered, but this building contains a delightful and modern art centre, where more dealers and signings were taking place as well as a limited print exhibit. I continued my journey after viewing some lovely prints, and went to the Abbot Hall an amazing museum and gallery, where some space had been given over to an exhibition entitled The Great War in Comics.
I nearly died as I entered the rooms given over to the exhibition, they were not huge rooms, but what there was was being used productively.
Some twenty nine pieces from Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun’s Charley’s War Filled two whole walls. Original pencil and ink, on board, in incredible detail. The iconic pages, for me, were there, the ones I remembered from over thirty years ago and have enjoyed in re-readings. The intricate detail up close, was just astoundingly fabulous, the care and skill. I know why I love this comic, but seeing the art like this, was such a privilege, and I spent as much time as I could studying the pages.
As if this was not enough, another two walls were filled with thirty five pages from Robbie Morrison and Charlie Adlard’s White Death. This felt like an overwhelmingly wonderful assault of the senses, surrounded by the horror of war, it was a bit intense, and I liked the density of art of display. It is nice to see the work up close, to see the effort and detail, and also to appreciate it. White Death has been a favourite, and I saw it has been reissued, in a hard back, and I am sorely tempted.
In another space with wooden tables and benches, and a healthy selection of good First World War Comics was a display of some twenty pages from works by Ivan Petrus. I was especially pleased to see a number of pages from his next work Passchendaele, and learning about the history of a Captain Donald Richardson and a tank called Fray Bentos. That is a comic to look forward to.
I walked back towards the Clock Tower, and as I did noted that shops had some really interesting comic elements to their windows, be it line art in a Barbers, or a knitted Bone and LeBrock, it feels like the whole town has embraced comics, and then some.
I continued past the Shakespeare with all the family activities, a Bat-cave themed bar, and various street activities and went into the White Elephant Emporium, where there was a VIZ exhibit and more vendors.
Here I met and chatted with Helena Nash and Maise Stevenson who are gamers who’ve designed and brought to market Grandville miniatures based on Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic work. Helena is a writer for Crooked Dice and came up with this idea. So I greatly appreciated the stunningly painted 28mm characters from Bryan Talbot’s world of Grandville a brightly lit in a noir diorama. I got in close to look at these figures and the detailing and crispness of the cast is impressive. Helena explained that they have a licence and that Bryan is a really nice guy and delightful to work with. Coming sometime in 2015 will be a skirmish miniature role playing table top game set in the world of Grandville, where you can play a number of characters. I was impressed.
I had earlier met Zainab Akhtar and then met with fellow FP Blogger, although rather more prolific, Richard Bruton, and enjoyed a quick drink, and some free comics in his and his families company. He showed me a photo of Ivan painting on canvas a Mark IV First World War Tank as part of a pop-up in the street item, I was impressed, yet we talked excitedly about Thought Bubble and I realised that this, Lakes event was so fresh and different, that it was in no way going to detract from further adventures.
Soon I was trekking back to the train station, to make a connection with a train that would speed me back to London at 125 miles per hour, and a stack of work paperwork would keep me occupied, and I had an issue of Trains are Mint by Oliver East with me for breaks, so was sorted.
A commute of seven hours may seem a little extraordinary, indeed, that is how long I spent so that I could have some five hours enjoying the festival, but crikey it was worth it.
This was a great festival and a fantastic time for anyone who enjoys comics and comic art.