A warm welcome, great atmosphere, fantastic guest line up and variety of dealers made for a day that exceeded my expectations, hosted in the uniquely beautiful venue of Enniskillen Castle.
There is something to be said for a smaller more intimate setting; the fan effort manifesting itself in visible entertainment and enjoyment for other fans. Enniskillen Comic Fest has bucket loads of enthusiasm. Paul Trimble and his able team of volunteers are an energetic and vibrant bunch. As an example of the effort and good nature, one volunteer Rachel Collins was super helpful, first to guests, then working the front desk and also helping with con sales and raising funds for charity, and like Paul and the rest of the team, they were All excited, pleasant and just a pleasure to interact with
I got along early as I was hoping to meet as many folk as possible, talking about the Dublin 2019 Worldcon Bid while also keen to satisfy my hope to pick up a sketch, new comics, and maybe some artwork. Hopes that were met.
The Castle is a series of seven buildings all modernised and now including a museum, heritage and visitor centre. The buildings have retained their original names such as The Keep, Barrack House and Magazine. Throughout, a wide range of dealers, comic creators and small press publishers were to be found.
I started with Cam Kennedy who had some wonderful original artwork with him. I was stunned to see mid-80s Judge Dredd available; such iconic and strong imagery and action, also pages from Fighting Mann from Battle and some Star Wars including some fully coloured pages from Dark Empire. This variety was the perfect mix, and I was rather impressed. Cam, to the delight of youngsters, had some small head sketches ready. Cam and Isobell were delightfully pleasant to chat to and they also had a great selection of prints available. A great start with some fabulous art.
I got chatting then to Gillian Ni Dhiomsaigh (above), who edited Red Sands by Ciarn Marcantonio, Cormac Hughes and Triona Farrell. We chatted about the importance of good editing, something that can be missed out on especially in the small press world, where, let’s be honest, one makes do with what resources one has. Red Sands though has shown that a larger team, dedicated to ensuring a decent finish, can pull off a nicely done comic. One cannot review the comic itself without mention of Farrell’s amazing colours, for instance, and it was nice to chat about the importance of a tight edit.
Next to Gillian was Eoin Coveney, artist on the Alienist (see above), which he co-created with Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, for 2000AD. Eoin was also involved in a lovely cross border project commissioned by Monaghan County, Armagh County Museum and Craigavon County Museum to create a comic featuring three key Irish people who served in the First World War. Entitled ‘For Valour’ it has a lovely cover by Stephen Mooney who also took on scripting duties. Eoin aced the art, and it is magnificent, while Triona Farrell did the colours to a very high standard. Coveney’s draughtsmanship is incredible; he captures uniforms, facial features and scenes brilliantly. The nature of a trench is caught in a splash page, and the stories give an interesting historical perspective. It is available free to down load. I decided to ask Eoin for a Charley Bourne, and I was well impressed.
In the Barracks, I got chatting to Kinga Korska, whose book ‘Brain Fetish’ has received fabulous reviews. Also on sale is her Colouring Book for Adults, that was subtitled ‘Not Recommended for Minors, Sensitive or Depressed People’ and was so much more than a colouring book, capturing a humour that an observer of humanity of the calibre of Kinga only can. Brain Fetish is an incredible and insightful view into what makes one happy. In her own words ‘The network of mutual commitments, emotions, affinities and animosities – these things rule our functioning, influence our mood and set the quality of our lives. It is the relationships with our partners that can make us deeply happy or unhappy. If you want to build strong and satisfactory relationships, this graphic novel is perfect for you. It will also help you to put your own relationship into perspective and diagnose the causes of the most common problems arising in a life shared with your significant other.’ A fascinating perspective for readers.
(above, Kinga Korska, below, David McDonald)
I was pleased to see David McDonald here also, as David is a prolific publisher of out of print works through the Hibernia Comics imprint. Bakers Half Dozen, with art by Mike Western is one such collection that is a fabulous war story to read, originally in Speed, it pulls no punches and is gritty and vicious. David has published Doomlord ‘Deathlord’s of Nox’, ‘It’s Ghastly, the untimely demise of Scream!’ and especially of interest to me was ‘The Tower King’. Originally in the New Eagle this Alan Hebden written comic tells the story of Mick Tempest, struggling to survive a collapse of society as London loses electricity and is plunged into a ‘medieval’ style anarchy. With incredible artwork by Jose Ortiz, it is a lovely collection, limited to 200, and was in demand given the close proximity of the author.
I noted that early in the day, there was a tall stack of Battle comics, which by the end of the day, had been considerably reduced. Indeed, the cross over between 2000AD and Battle Picture Weekly was not lost on anyone here, and many were very keen to learn more about this influential comic, following on from the talk given the previous night.
I was pleased to see Jennika Ioffreda selling Vampire Free Style collected edition available. This is a delicately drawn and beautiful comic, in a manga style, starring a black cat that can talk, a witch who was not yet accomplished and a Prince who was seeking his love. The artwork is very smart, the idea is sweet and it is well put together, with nice sharp production quality. This is no doubt that this is urban paranormal romance at its most approachable, and really enjoyable.
Carlos Ezquerra had a constant queue, and was in great demand, he was sketching all day, except when he was on a panel. The Fest managed that really well, indeed, better than many larger conventions, by issuing numbered tickets to people queuing, allowing them to take a break, too. Carlos is incredibly friendly, and sitting next to him was John Wagner with a beautiful set of prints for sale, by Carlos. I was quite taken by the friendliness of these two gents, indeed, something that was indicative of the whole event and everyone along. Carlos was happy to draw any of his characters, and so I saw Military Vampires, Mestizo, Judge Dredd, Johnny Alpha, and many more sketches in the hands of ecstatic fans. The chat in the queue was pleasant, and fans were seen helping one another out, agreeing to post signed items and generally of fine spirit, happy to show rare or unusual items.
(the one and only Carlos Ezquerra)
I was very impressed with the manga style illustrations of Katie O’Kane, who seems to be incredibly prolific, and had a wide variety of brilliantly drawn and coloured prints and items for sale. I was quite taken with her art, available as it was in very accessible and affordable forms. Although her manga is of the finest quality, I was also impressed to find some of her work for Inktober, including a stunning image of Notre Dame, in a style that I was not expecting. A really dynamic illustrator.
Glenn Fabry and Clint Langley were both very busy drawing sketches. Both were using huge A3 pads and doing stunning pen and ink work, and it was lovely to see both working, using their own preferred materials. I watched Langley voyeuristically as he seemed to vigorously splash ink, but the finished works were so polished and amazing, while Fabry is so deft with the pencil, strokes like fluid movements, steady, strong, fascinating to watch.
PJ Holden had his recent work with Garth Ennis available, The World of Tanks collection. Carlos Ezquerra had done the first two comics in this series, but for personal reasons had to step off, but into the breach entered PJ and he did a superb job on this very traditional feeling World War II comic. Under the hugely poplar online game as a brand, Ennis has written a very astute war story, and I thought that both artists did a really smart job. The British Tank crew are green, and as they fight their way in France in July 1944, they find themselves in a rather unusual Cromwell Tank during the time of Operation Goodwood.
As ever, Ennis uses a small piece of history, and soon I was researching it myself, reading about what occurred, beyond the panels of the comic. This portion of the war was a tough one for the Allies, reports say that they lost some four thousand men in the operation, while over two thousand German prisoners were taken. Around a hundred German tanks were destroyed, depending on which book you read, from two hundred and fifty to five hundred British tanks were damaged or lost. The British had Churchills, Cromwells, Shermans and Sherman Fireflys against Panzer IV’s, Panthers, Tigers and King Tigers.
I did find a story about a King Tiger that was spotted by a Sherman of the Irish Guards, under the command of Corporal James Baron. The Sherman took towards the Tiger II, at speed, shot at it and then rammed it. Baron’s commanding officer, Lieutenant John Gorman, had said “to use naval tactics… we shall have to use the speed of the Sherman and ram it” if they encountered heavier tanks. Baron was awarded the Military Medal, further information on him here.
Back to the comic, the conflicts that are fought are not simple; they are gritty and complex, and reflect the nature of the War and in this Barracks, in Enniskillen, it seemed fitting to be able to peacefully enjoy stories and comics and not worry about conflict.
As I walked around the small spaces, one never felt that it was too busy. Actually, I tell a lie. There was a very decent crowd around the Solstice Stand. Solstice, written by Danny McLaughlin and drawn by Nathan Donnell., now in its second issue, is ‘A fantastical world of mythical grandeur that will take your breath away. Gods, both benevolent and malevolent, interfere with their “Wars Celestial”, In the face of all death, one girl has to live up to her family’s legacy.’ and seemed very popular.
It was really quite an extraordinarily nice day. Alan Hebden was in good form, and happy to chat as he signed. When I called past his table, he was busy signing Starlords and 2000ADs. Alan Grant likewise was busy, and I saw Steve MacManus selling his book, ‘My Life in the Nerve Centre’ all day.
The Heritage Centre had a children’s area and also the Beano team, and they were all working really hard. Lew Stringer, Nika Nartova, and Nigel Parkinson entertaining as well as drawing and engaging with families while Alan Nolan, whose children’s comics are hugely popular here in Ireland, was likewise very busy.
Cosplayers were out in abundance; I saw a super Wonder Woman, Moana and Harley Quinn. Younger fans abounded in home-made and off the shelf costumes, having a nice time in fine sun and I definitely saw a Deadpool. The Sector House 13 cosplayers had turned up in force and were looking very well. The Judge costumes looking quite excellent next to the Titan ex-Judge prisoners, a really nice comparison.
(above: Joanne Alexander as Judge Archer and Jane as Judge Anderson; below: Jane as Judge Anderson, Simon as Judge McKnight, Joanne Alexander as Judge Archer , Simon Graham and Ian (in orange) as escaped Titan judges, and Debbie as judge glass )
Laurence McKenna was in the Barracks and had a new fanzine from the same group. The first issue entitled Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000AD fanzine was very smart and professional looking. The standard was consistent throughout the zine and I was rather impressed. The lead Judge story ‘Justice Perverted’ is really well done; digitally enhanced photography with a simple classic Judge procedural and a tightness that worked well, I was well impressed. The pull out poster is gorgeous and the Future Shock drawn by two skilled artists with very different but extraordinarily adept styles made for a lovely juxtaposition and allows the reader the right break, while the Judge Death story was very cleanly done.
(Laurence McKenna with copies of Sector 13)
Fitztharg, the bearded cousin of Tharg, introduced the zine and amongst other comments said ‘For those living in Belfast in the 80s and 90s stories of armed armoured cops and wars fought between blocks of flats for reasons no one could fathom seemed written especially for them. The pages of the ‘Galaxy’s greatest Comic’ offered escape…2000AD helped…the legacy of those stories is the Sector 13 group, a diverse group in every way’ which sounded very positive. Sector House 13 meet every last Friday of the month in The Parlour Bar, Belfast, at 7.30pm.
Screenings and talks went well. The Fest had some really nice prints and t-shirts available and an auction, all raising funds for charity. Too soon, unfortunately, I had to head off. I did not get to chat to all the excellent artists and writers who were along, taking notes sometimes from afar, indicative of the calibre available. Una Gallagher, Yanick Paquette, Ryan Brown, Ian Richardson, Dan Cornwell and Davy Francis all seemed busy. I felt I had a terrific day. Enniskillen is a comely town, so quiet and nice, and I enjoyed it a lot. With some fantastic places to eat and drink, the town is very beautiful, the castle an incredible venue for a Comic event, and the event itself a lot of fun.
For a report on the special 2000 AD fortieth anniversary event at the Enniskillen Comic Fest, see here on the blog