Over the weekend of the 26th and 27th of November the very first Edinburgh Comic Art Festival (ECAF) took place in Summerhall, once the old Royal Dick Veterinary School’s buildings, now one of the festival city’s leading arts hubs, with studios, workplaces, venues for exhibitions, talks and more (always something going on there), and just as important, a good bar which happens to have its own micro brewery and gin distillery on the site (essentials for a comic convention, I’m sure many of you will agree). I know a number of us in Edinburgh have been thinking the city could use something like this, so I was disappointed when the first attempt last autumn was postponed and then delighted to find out that it had indeed been re-organised and was happening this year.
Summerhall is right on the edge of the Meadows, a huge and popular area of parkland near Edinburgh University and a pretty bustling and busy part of town. The Summerhall folks had put ECAF on the first floor and given two very large spaces for the comickers to lay out their wares, so there was absolutely plenty of room. It was fairly quiet when I got there early Sunday afternoon but in the couple of hours I was happily wandering around checking out comics and chatting to creators there were some wee surges and it got busier quite a few times, which was good to see.
I chatted to a number of the creators, some new to me, some welcome old faces who it was nice to see again. Gary Erskine told me he’d had quite a few folk browsing who weren’t regular comic fans but did come to this arts venue for their many other events and exhibitions, so this was new to them but they were game to see what it was all about if it was on at Summerhall, and we both agreed that this was a good thing, letting us reach outside the bubble of the comics community (I’ve experienced similar at the city’s massive book festival where we’ve seen readers who aren’t normally comic readers attending some of the events, drawn by the subjects being covered and so being introduced to some of what the comics scene covers today). Gary also made the point that it was important for comickers to support new events like this and how it’s only support from both the creators exhibiting and the readers attending and buying that will help build these events into regular occurrences (after all even now major events like Thought Bubble and others took time to build up to what they are now).
Ambling happily around the two main room (there were also other venues inside Summerhall being used for comics workshops and for talks, but sadly I didn’t have time to get to any of those). There were a lot of creators present and I was pleased to see that, as with a lot of other Indy-based comics events, there was a good mix of female creators (the Indy scene often seems much better on the gender balance side of things, I think). With so many creators readers were spoiled for choice – on offer was just about everything from the Indy and Small Press stable, from the traditional black & white, hand-stapled comic or ‘zine to very slick, professional looking publications in full colour, beautifully produced and printed, tiny matchbox-sized comics which folded out (I got a lovely little triple pack by Ell J Walker, all bound up nicely in string, like a tiny comics present, I just couldn’t resist these tiny treasures).
As is often the way I probably spent too much – when a lot of the comics on offer are only three or four pounds it’s pretty easy to buy a few. Then some more. Then some more until you realise oops, that’s all mounting up a bit! But then again it’s always more fun to pick these up at a festival or con, from the creators, when you can look at them, chat with the authors, rather than just ordering online (handy though that is), and at the end of the day it costs creators to be there so it’s no bad thing for readers to be supporting them by buying some of their works so they can continue to make the titles we love to find. There were all sorts of subjects covered from the always-popular auto-biographical to all-out fantasy, sports, gaming, humour, and from we twenty page reads to more feature-length works, and I came away with a decent mix in my own personal haul, not to mention picking up some lovely art (more than a few folks had some lovely illustrations, prints, cards, notebooks, designer paper and more as well as comics), the latter being my start on my Christmas shopping (some friends are getting some nice art picked up at ECAF!).
I’m hoping that the organisers decide that this year was worth building on and that ECAF happens again in 2017 and gets that important chance to build and grow and become a part of now pleasingly busy UK comics events calendar (when I first started the blog we only had a handful – Bristol and Birmingham were the only really big ones, there were a handful of smaller gigs like Caption, now we’ve got a load of events of all sizes across the whole of the British Isles). It was a little quiet sometimes but it usually busied up a bit too and for a first time it wasn’t too bad (more word of mouth and a higher visibility for next year would help too on that score), and certainly the creators I talked with seemed fairly happy with how it had been going for a first-time event, and they all seemed quite happy with the organisation.
Summerhall, if you’ve not been there before, is a good venue for something like this, a busy and popular arts hub, and there were other exhibitions also running, so you could combine your comic browsing and going to the talks and workshops with having a look at some of the other art exhibitions. For a break during or after your browsing there’s the Royal Dick (yes, I know, it does sound like a name from a Carry On movie), a nice on-site pub and eatery with a nice courtyard for outdoor drinks and food too (weather permitting!). And importantly the bar is both dog and family friendly, so if you’re going with your four legged friends or taking the sprogs you can go in there with them to relax too after a hard day’s comic browsing! Here’s hoping we get a second ECAF next year as I’d love to see this become a regular event. I’ll try to post up some reviews of some of the comics I bought at ECAF in the near future.