James reports from the Enniskillen Comic Fest 2018
A new venue for one of the friendliest and most relaxed comic conventions in Europe allowed considerable expansion for Enniskillen Comic fest. The two hour journey from Dublin on fine roads, allowed incredible countryside to be viewed, and soon we were over the border, seamlessly into Northern Ireland and in the lovely town of Enniskillen.
The new venues, St. Macartin’s Cathedral Hall and Blakes of the Hollow proved to be an excellent expansion space, and just right for this event, and yet the atmosphere and community spirit was not in any way diluted. As ever, now in its third year, organiser Paul Trimble was backed up by a dynamic crew of local enthusiasts, and with such local support many had also travelled to be here.
The first event of the weekend was held in Blakes of the Hollow. This Victorian pub is a vast sequence of bars, the back bar is exceptionally traditional and boasts a hand carved door depicting scenes from Game of Thrones. The atrium is airy and Gothic in style, and up and around and around again we find what I consider the attic bar, called Level 7, there is a wall of blue lights illuminating Dan Abnett and Michael Carroll for the evening’s entertainment.
(with thanks to the Enniskillen gang and S. Trimble for letting us borrow their photos from their Facebook, plus a few more from James)
Abnett spoke of a desire to write Captain America; he did write captain Britain but seemed to fancy the idea of writing the Super Soldier, in a credible way, not as a superman but a symbol of hope. ‘Love a crack at that.’ he said. (Marvel, are you listening?) Matt Smith of 2000 AD came in for some considerable praise, the best editor to work for, where less is more it and what input and feedback is brilliant, precise and key, a surgical ability. He also spoke of 40k where he has invented language based on a misspent academic career studying Anglo Saxon. Brilliantly I thought, he won’t correct names as pronounced by people as it’s their pronunciation. He explained that what names sound like, the voices and personalities, are in your imagination, a personal element that the readership are welcome to interpret and enjoy as they imagine.
Too soon the evening was drawing to a close, and then some drinking began. I must report that at one stage, I had absolutely no idea where I ended up, but was in Co. Fermanagh, some miles from Enniskillen, the sky was brilliantly dark with the stars to be seen, and the bar crowded with pros and fans enjoying chat, cans, and even red wine. Thankfully I was able to finish the night, back in town, with a Spice Bag, an Irish Chinese specialty, courtesy of Michael Carroll.
The con opened, and Macartin’s hall was alive. The selection on offer was strong, I am continually impressed with the calibre of dealers, professionals and the many small presses that come here. It was a pleasure to see the care and attention deployed.
Jock was signing but also sketching, so some chairs were in place to allow the short queue of fans to sit and chat while waiting their turn, I thought this was rather brilliant, courteous to those who may not be able to stand in line, and it also engendered a queue cameraderie, as those present pondered what select item they would buy, which limited print, or variant comic. Jock was really quite lovely and nice, and was happy to draw the unusual as well as the popular, indeed deigning to do a fighter pilot from Star Wars The Last Jedi, which he had worked upon, the amiability was excellent.
This was a festival of talent, and I was indeed exceedingly pleased to get the chance to chat to Will Simpson, who is one of the most pleasant people in the industry, although this could truly be said of everyone here. Will has been hard at work on Games of Thrones for many years now, and has cultivated quite the following, but has plans to get back into some comic projects. He had a lovely couple of sketch books for sale, which were nice to see, as well as prints, and of course he was happy to sketch. His style is missed, well I miss his presence in the pages of comics, I am certain GoT fans may not complain so, understandably, but I look forward to his thin-lined dynamic style gracing pages again.
I got chatting to Gillian Ni Dhiomsaigh, from Rogue Comics who was full of enthusiasm, and indeed I took the opportunity to seek insight. Gillian was ‘thrilled to be back in Enniskillen and looking forward to meeting new faces, and perhaps recruiting some new rogues for future projects.’. This made sense to me, they had a lot on offer. I asked how the con was; ‘I got to share a panel with four fabulous femmes who are contributing fantastic work to comics right now – Jessica Martin, Una Gallagher, DaNi and Rogue’s own Clare Foley,’ which sounded pretty awesome.
(Photos borrowed with permission from Enniskillen Comic Fest’s Facebook and S. Trimble)
Gillian went through the strong offering that was on display for me ‘from Ciarán Marcantonio and Cormac Hughes we have “Red Sands”, our Max Max meets Buffy sci-fi horror title; Wayne Talbot and Brian Corcoran’s crime thriller “The Broker”; Colm Griffin’s dark coming-of-age superhero tale, “Ocean City” & and Clare Foley’s stunning adaptation of “La Grande Breteche” by Honore de Balzac. Kevin Keane, artist for Rogue’s upcoming cyberpunk graphic novel “Neon Skies” is also here, selling prints & commissions.’. I was rather impressed to be honest and you can find more details here.
Eoin Coveney, artist on the Alienist from 2000 AD was on form and it was lovely to hear about recent projects. I have been especially impressed by his work for the American broadcaster PBS, including a story told by Harris Wofford an advisor and Special Assistant to President Kennedy.
Colin MacNeil, Glen Fabry, Ryan Brown, and Boo Cook were all gents, and engaging, and busy sketching and enjoying the day. They really do give so much to the fans, it is so nice to see the sketches clutched and shown to anyone who wants to see, all with smiles, prints and comics signed and held with pride. We are truly very lucky to have a community where such interaction between the professionals and fans occurs, and privileged that so many are happy to do something as personal as a sketch.
Dani was in fantastic form, all the way from Greece, it was great to see her and even better to hear that she would be drawing a story in the all-woman creator upcoming 2000 AD Summer Special, although details were scarce. The list of names for this issue is quite some stretch, and I ending up I really positive discussions about it a number of times. I am very impressed with the scope of talent that is coming together for this special. Babs Tarr drawing an Emma Beeby-written Judge Dredd story, I cannot wait to see the Lawmasters, and the line up is incredible with some real favourites.
I reckon that this will be a popular comic, and indeed I look forward to it greatly. I think there is much room in comics fandom for more from Rebellion, and this is a move in the right direction, I hope that sales justify further adventures in addressing the gender imbalance among creatives, while delivering high quality stories. I also hope some of these creators get a chance to develop their own stories and characters for Rebellion, and that Rebellion finds the market to expand. We as readers need to welcome such expansion and I hope that more comic pages can occur, as the talent definitely deserves the page count.
I also had spoken to Carol Conoly about the output of Irish comics last year, and she had a list for me to consider: Frozen Waste – Aaron Fever and Clare Foley, Sparse powerful art with skilful use of colour, telling a story about the loneliness of immortality. Ship Wrecked Vol 1 – Aaron Fever and Triona Tree Farrell and Zakk Saam. The contents of vol1 were initially released online in 2016. A light-hearted look at the accounting department of a spaceship.
The Waves That Break – Aaron Losty and Becca Carey and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and Dearbhla Kelly and Dee Cunniffe and Michael Doing. Three stories, linked by a shared theme of parental death. My favourite of the three was Coldman, in which a vampire tempts a woman a way to save her father from death.
Cambalache – Aelur Sadgod. Ambitious story of the misuse of magic. A very unique art and colouring style.
Stray Lines Vol 3.- Allan Dunne. Alé Mercado. Niall Breen. Philip Barrett. Gar Shanley and Elida Maiques. Ken Mahon. Paddy Lynch. This anthology comic continues to give opportunities for diverse voices to showcase their work.
The Witch And The Forest – Julie Nick, beautiful, dialogue-free art with an environmental message
PJ Holden was on hand, who has done some amazing work on some stunning comics, and I was chatting to him about his work on the Garth Ennis-written World of Tanks, currently in its second series, Citadel. Ennis deploys the realities of history to good effect, depicting British Matilda tanks in the Battle of Kursk on the Soviet side amongst the T-34s, while the Germans have Tigers, Ferdinands and Panzer IVs. I was impressed with the first issue, featuring crews from both sides, and especially with Guards Sergeant tank driver Natalya Pukhova as she positively deals with the new British tank.
Ennis has consistently portrayed angles of the Second World War that most may miss, it is probably not well known that T-34 commander Aleksandra Samusenko and T-34 Tank Commander Irina Levchenko were both highly decorated women, while T-34 Tank Commander Aleksandra Boiko who raised the money for her Tank with her husband who was her engineer, or Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya who after the loss of her “Fighting Girlfriend” were amongst the some 800,000 women who served on the Soviet side in the second world war, with nearly 200,000 of them decorated.
PJ has made the move from pencil and ink on paper to digital, not unsurprising, and he gave an example of some of his work in action. It was fabulous to see the art come together in such a way, but it also allowed an interesting conversation about those fans who like to buy art, and indeed, the professionals who are happy to sell it. I previously discussed with Dominic Harmon that it really isn’t a vital component knowing whether the art is digital or acrylic from a tube, once it looks nice and is pleasing and the market for prints is well and good, indeed some prints seem to have hit new levels of demand, and still, it is lovely to see the blue pencil or the hints of where pencil was used. The first issue of World of Tanks Citadel was a cracking read, and really tightly illustrated with fine accuracy for vehicles and uniforms.
Laurence McKenna sold me the third issue of Sector 13, Belfast’s 2000 AD fanzine. I was impressed that since last year a further two issues had come out, and indeed reprints of the first two had occurred with new variant covers. I was rather pleased with ‘Do you remember’ story, one of the better stories I have seen in a fanzine and overall the production qualities are really high, while it is good to see creators develop. I think the cover by Ryan Smithee was especially striking. Sector House 13 meet every last Friday of the month in The Parlour Bar, Belfast, at 7.30pm, and I noted that locals Glenn Fabry and Ryan Brown are regulars there with the fans.
I also saw David McDonald and his very tidy comic stall. David has another publication on offer ‘Fleetway Files’ available from his imprint, Hibernia comics. This beautiful magazine examines IPC’s comics division, taking in all the angles, from Football to Girls comics. Interviews and contributions from the likes of David Hunt, Barrie Tomlinson, Bob Paynter and the late Gil Page. Never seen before artwork by Ian Kennedy and Vanyo and a 16 page pull out section a ‘Treasury of British Comics Sampler’ 106 pages of ‘great stuff’.
Meanwhile the con scene n Ireland is really very active and there is a huge amount going on, all of which is very exciting. Talk was all about what is next, and there is a considerable amount going on this summer in Ireland and I chanced to speak to Janet Ní Shuilleabháin, chair of Octocon and was exceedingly pleased to hear that Coleen Doran would be a Guest of Honour. It feels like we are in good comic times, and it is great to see such a multi talented creator invited, deservedly so, with such a body of work, from Sandman to Spiderman, it will be great to hear her in person.
It is busy times, and so I recorded the upcoming events, I’ve only noted some of the comics guests at each con, but it gives a fair flavour of what is happening, and how vibrant the scene is:
Celtic Comic Con in Portlaiose on 23rd 24th June with Phillip Barret, Triona Farrell, Ryan Brown, Leanne Hamilon and Glenn Fabry Small Press day Dublin 7th July as previously reported here on the blog.
Dublin Comic Arts Festival (Dcaf) 29th July
Dublin Comic Con August 11th and 12th in Dublin, sees Micheal Dorn, Karl Urban, Lori Petty, Michael Carroll and Janeshia Adams-Ginyard and others.
Octocon, Crowne Plaza Blacjhardstown, 19th to 21st October, Colleen Doran is a Guest of honour.
Comic City in Derry on the 27th of October. Rachell Stott, Dearbhla Kelly, Declan Shalvey, John McCrea and David O’Sullivan.
Michael Carroll had been doing duties on panels, and so I was able to get a few 2000 ADs signed, his stories on Judge Dredd have been very good, and I have really enjoyed them, and I wasn’t alone – soon a queue formed up and issues of the Meg and Progs were produced to be signed. Mike has some great stories to tell and there was talk in the queue about his ability to interconnect stories, and also about his recent novel, his fourth for Rebellion. Judges Avalanche, set in 2033, where things in the US are not at all good and Special Prosecutor Eustace Fargo has introduced new and difficult laws, which are met by protests sounds like a wonderful examination of Mega City history and all expected to enjoy it.
I picked up The Dead Hand by Kyle Higgins, Stephen Mooney, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowes, which was a stunning read, really cleverly written and beautifully drawn, I was immediately hooked on this new title, and loved the end of the first issue, expecting and trying to guess a totally different direction and pleasantly surprised. I also picked up Analog issue 1, by Gerry Duggan, David O’Sullivan, Jordie Bellaire and Joe Sabino and crikey, I laughed, there are some exceptional lines and enjoyed this comic too, quite a lot, the art is really interesting in style and tells the story well and it was a great cliff hanger to end on and a wonderful near future concept, subtle in its execution but quite the fabulous future perspective.
As I left Enniskillen, for ten hours worth of a journey back to High Wycombe, I was well stocked with good reading material, I knew that there were future issues that I would want to be getting, looking forward to further issues and new projects, and of course next years Enniskillen Comic fest, planned for May 2019. A lot to look forward to.
Many thanks to Gillian and Carol for their input in this article.
Many thanks to Paul Trimble and the Enniskillen team for the welcome, and for allowing us to borrow some of their photos.