Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016

14 - 16th October 2016

Event highlights reviewed by Brian Gorman (with additional notes by SM Worsey)

Creatrix To Cartoonistas: When Women Lead The Way

Traditionally seen as a ‘man’s world’, the comics business has recently grown up quite a lot, and some of today’s most exciting new work is coming from women. Nicola Streeten was an ideal chair, and the audience (which included a decent percentage of men) enjoyed a cheerful, and informative hour. Some initial trouble with the audio-visual element didn’t manage to dampen the panel’s enthusiasm, and actually added to the morning’s enjoyment as the individual creators (including Jade Sarson, Tillie Walden, Johanna Rojola, and Hannah Berry) improvised well. A discussion on the history of women artists took in the cultural problems of gender discrimination when it came to life drawing classes. Victorian values, in particular, dictated that women should not be allowed to draw other women (and certainly not men) naked. Female artists were encouraged to draw and paint landscapes, flowers, and more conservative subject matter. It is only relatively recently, that women have been taken seriously when attempting to tackle more challenging subjects. The panel agreed that having dedicated sections of bookshops, for women creators, was a bad move, as they felt it to be very patronising, and sending out the wrong message. Gender is only one issue when it comes to barriers for creators, and other areas such as race, and social background, should also be considered. Many young artists cannot support themselves, in their early careers, and more could be done to help the more disadvantaged. The conclusion was that women are very much part of the comics world, now, and more than capable of holding their own.

Roberto Bartual: A Masterclass In Reading Comics

Limited to just 15 participants, this was a pretty intimate, informal, and fascinating talk by a man who certainly knows his stuff. Roberto was a charming, humorous, and encouraging host, and the 90 minute session simply flew by as he took us through the basics of what constitutes a comic strip. Kicking off with a four panel classic from Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’, Roberto explained just how things work when conveying ideas and narrative in sequential art. Placement of panels, composition, and (perhaps, most importantly) what happens BETWEEN the panels (in the mind’s eye of the reader) were examined, with the conclusion that the comics medium offers a unique way to communicate a story. Another example of the power of comics was a multi-panel piece from acclaimed Spanish artist Paco Roca. Sixteen small, almost identical, panels depicted a relatively static, and initially uninspiring scene in the hallway of an ordinary house. On closer examination, there was a wealth of detail, action, and unseen drama. Without patronising his audience, Roberto allowed us to question the piece, and gradually draw our own conclusions as to what exactly might be going on in the story. Once again, a great deal of the narrative was communicated in very subtle ways, with the reader filling in the artist’s intentional blanks. Following these entertaining examples of the use of panels and composition, Roberto then showed us how Alan Moore can plant a world of detail into a remarkably small space, with a page of the award-winning ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. Fascinating stuff, truly inspiring, and a wonderful examination of just what the comics medium is capable of.

You Ask, We Tell! Helping Creators Pitch To Publishers, The Press, And Comics Shops

Stephen L Holland from the award-winning independent, Nottingham comicbook retailer, Page 45, was a superb host for this essential guide to breaking into the exciting world of comics. Articulate, informed, and with professional presentational skills, Stephen told it like it is. The central message of ‘do your own thing, and don’t worry about the big boys’ came through loud and clear. Page 45’s biggest selling graphic novel of 2015 was independently published; beating everything produced by DC (which is owned by the mega corporation, Time Warner), and their biggest selling comic was also self-published (again, beating the likes of DC and Marvel at their own game). Stephen’s passion for independent work, written & drawn from the heart, was obvious, and inspired everyone in the room. Joined by Avery Hill Publishing’s Ricky Miller, Katriona Chapman (self-publisher, freelancer, etc.), and Andy Oliver (editor at Broken Frontier review site), Stephen provided a goldmine of information for beginners and veterans alike. Print runs, print companies, review sites, retailers; everything was covered, and many individuals, websites, and retail outlets were recommended. With the recent advances in technology, print-on-demand, and the gradual acceptance of comics into the mainstream (particularly in the UK), there has never been a better time for individual creators to get their work into print, widely reviewed, and on to the shop shelves. Key tips for creators included making sample artwork available online, and in some instances whole comic books (although, I wasn’t sure about this). Stephen was adamant that people who loved a comic book they’d read online, would then want to own the physical product. If you manage to get your product in a shop, don’t then offer it at a lower price on your own website, as this really upsets retailers (although, they DO expect to be under-cut by the likes of Amazon). A thoroughly entertaining, and valuable sixty minutes.

Art by Bryan Talbot

The Red Virgin: Mary & Bryan Talbot

‘The Red Virgin & The Vision Of Utopia’ is the third collaboration between 2012’s Costa Biography Award-Winning husband & wife team, Mary and Bryan Talbot. Celebrating ‘the utopian urge in 19th century literature and politics, and the origins of science-fiction’, The Talbots’ latest graphic novel is a tour-de-force; epic, entertaining, hugely informative, and beautifully rendered. Telling the story of legendary French anarchist, and revolutionary feminist, Louise Michel, the book is another triumph for the godfather of British comics, with some simply stunning imagery accompanying a painstakingly-researched script that justly celebrates a truly remarkable woman. The story of the Paris Commune, which has rarely been covered in popular culture, is an important aspect of the book; a brief period in history, but one of enormous importance (and particularly relevant in our current unsettled climate). I have seen Bryan speak at events several times over the years, and he is a naturally warm, unassuming, and inspirational orator. With many of Bryan’s wonderful visuals displayed on a large screen, he and Mary spoke vividly about the book, supplying many fascinating historical facts, complimented by their own personal voyage of discovery. The audio-visual presentation also included the added bonus of a variety of personal photographs from their epic research (apart from Montmartre and Paris, they travelled across the world to New Caledonia, a French territory 700 miles East of Australia). The Talbots make a very entertaining team, and are clearly relishing working together, and discussing the fruits of their labour. This was a relaxed, entertaining, inspiring, and eye-opening talk, enhanced by the expert interviewing skills of the evergreen Paul Gravett.

'Black Peider' and a lucky volunteer from the audience.

The Knockabout Maltroom Of Mischief

Saturday night entertainment was a superb cabaret, which kicked off with comics legend Gilbert Shelton on boogie-woogie piano. Admitting to being a little the worse for wear, the iconic Mr Shelton regaled us with some 60s classics, and the odd anecdote about hanging out with the likes of Janis Joplin. Next up was one of the most bizarre acts I’ve ever seen, and one of the funniest; Petteri Tikannen. In his guise as ‘Black Peider’, Tikannen crashed onto the stage like wrestling legend Giant Haystacks, sporting heavy metal face fuzz, and dressed in skin-tight black lycra. His enthusiasm was incredible, and I didn’t know whether it was all a big comedy act, or the man meant it. I think he bloody meant it! Screaming out hilariously derivative, 60 second ‘songs’, and brandishing his guitar like a huge phallic symbol, the man-mountain was pure raw, unfettered, energy. Rounding this surreal evening off was poet, and singer-songwriter, Rory Motion. A hilarious cross between John Shuttleworth and Jasper Carrott, Motion had the audience eating out of his hand with a succession of rib-tickling poems, and clever, satirical songs. An unbelievably enjoyable evening, in a fantastic venue (The Brewery Arts Centre).  


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