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First Impressions: A Beginner’s Guide to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Comics fans wait patiently for events to start at the Brewery Arts Centre. Photo courtesy Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Comics fans wait patiently for events to start at the Brewery Arts Centre. Photo courtesy Lakes International Comic Art Festival

As a newbie to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) Norman Boyd wondered how he was supposed to tackle a big event like this. Some of you will think “what’s he on about?” but experience tells me Norman’s not the only person on the planet who worries about such things. So in the interest of sharing here is his first-timer’s guide to a major comic art festival, or, as he calls it…

A Beginner’s Guide to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival – or how I learned to stop worrying and enjoy it!

Dave Gibbons promotional postcard for LICAF, one of a series called "Wish You Were Here — Postcards from the edge of reality." Copyright © 2015 Dave Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Dave Gibbons promotional postcard for LICAF, one of a series called “Wish You Were Here — Postcards from the edge of reality.” Copyright © 2015 Dave Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Where to find information?

I guessed there’d be a website and sure enough there was, but it had the message “We’re improving this for 2015”. Now this was around Christmas 2014 and being a panicker, I needed to know some stuff. I realised I’d need accommodation (let’s stop right here and admit my wife thought this a great idea as long as we spent the week before the LICAF in the Lake District on holiday!). So we scouted self-catering websites and found a property in Kendal itself with a parking space. This would mean we could walk down town without needing to find parking every day!

Anyway I also spotted, through the wonder of my regular feed of downthetubes, that John Freeman had the 2015 date (back in November 2014), so we are now aiming at October 16-18 2015. Accommodation booked! For those of you who just want accommodation for the weekend, the Premier Inn in actually on Kendal’s main thoroughfare where the action is.

I then had a look at the downthetubes  reports from 2014 to get a flavour of….

Photo: Norman Boyd

Photo: Norman Boyd

What happens there?

I soon figured out there are loads of talks, demos, hands-on, and assorted other entertainments. Searching the LICAF website I found a link to the previous year’s programme and this confirmed the structure for me. So I have to buy tickets for the major talks and decide who I want to see and hear. I then could decide – after these set choices (after all I’m paying for them!) – what to go and see.

So here we are in January 2015 wondering what to do next to ensure the maximum enjoyment. But then it all goes quiet until we find out …..

When do tickets go on sale?

downthetubes announced this as being June 1 and I could now start worrying again. Only four months to go – which talks or films would be packed out? Would I be fighting fanboys in small spaces to see the named creators – for goodness sakes Darwyn Cooke, Charlie Adlard, Sean Philips, the Talbots, Dave McKean? Will I get a space?

The offer of “Buy three tickets get one free” helped my decision-making process and we settled on Dave McKean introducing his latest film (we loved Mirrormask!), Mary Talbot (“unveiling her latest work”), Bryan Talbot (“How I make a graphic novel”) and finally Benoit Peeters (“who prepared his master’s dissertation under Roland Barthes” – who me, intimidated?)

Now you need to know how much more was on, that we did not attend. Go to LICAF website and read the programme!

Plenty for kids to enjoy at LICAF - including getting snapped with a Dalek. Photo: Norman Boyd

Plenty for kids to enjoy at LICAF – including getting snapped with a Dalek. Photo: Norman Boyd

We filled the rest of the time watching kids enjoying themselves drawing comics by instruction in the middle of a shopping precinct! We saw them making felt characters and proudly showing anyone who was interested. I must say I have given loads of talks and presentations in my career but these creators must be mad to do this in public in a shopping mall! We also looked in at the Comics Clock Tower (the Town Hall) with its many creators at tables. Now here I start worrying!

Joe Decie at work on his mural for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015. Photo: Norman Boyd

Joe Decie at work on his mural for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015. Photo: Norman Boyd

Who do I talk to and how do I choose?

Late Friday afternoon we set off to explore Kendal and met a lovely guy painting a wall. Well, that’s not quite accurate, he was creating a comic strip with acrylics outside the ‘Walk Inn Dead’ pub. We got talking to Joe Decie and continued throughout the weekend to pop in to see his progress. By the end of Friday evening, after chatting to complete strangers who appeared to be human and interested in comic art, I chilled a bit and felt I might be able to converse with complete strangers.

Artist Sydney Jordan on the Jeff Hawke Club stand. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

Artist Sydney Jordan on the Jeff Hawke Club stand. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

But what to do when approaching the tables in the Comic Clock Tower? As I entered one room I saw Sydney Jordan for the first time in at least 20 years – sickeningly, he didn’t look a day older (go look him up youngsters!). Thanks to another great blog and Richard Bruton’s always interesting reviews over on the Forbidden Planet International blog, I knew about Improper Books and Porcelain, MULP, as well as lots of other independent creators’ works. That helped enormously, as I could engage properly with some knowledge and part with my cash.

Lakes 2015 Improper 3

Writer Matt Gibbs with artists Chris Wildgoose and Sara Dunkerton of Improper Books. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

My most curious incident was a nice guy selling some Image Comics, one of which was called Phonogram. I remember seeing a review and got chatting and he kindly asked my name and then wrote in the copy I bought “To Norman, Music = Magic” but I didn’t get his signature so had no idea who he was…. sorry, Kieron Gillen! I’ve now seen your photo online!

For worriers let me tell you that the technique for browsing creators’ tables is to home in on things that interest you. The other guys and gals will have other people interested in them. And talk to people as if they are people!

Where do I eat?

Lakes 2015 Canada

The Shakespeare Centre was annexed by Canada for the weekend of LICAF. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

Well, on one occasion we were heading for the Canada Comics Lodge at lunch time and we enjoyed a bowl of soup, but there are loads of places to eat and we also enjoyed the Brewery cafe’s bento boxes! Don’t worry, you’ll find somewhere to eat.

Have I missed anything?

Yes, loads! But that doesn’t matter. We had a great time, meeting some old friends, making new ones (it was nice to finally meet Jeremy and John of this blog!). Dr Mel Gibson introduced her friend Mary Talbot, and Paul Gravett did very well with his knowledge of French bande dessines.

Benoit Peters and Paul Gravett on stage at the Brewery during LICAF 2015. Photo: Norman Boyd

Benoit Peeters and Paul Gravett on stage at the Brewery during LICAF 2015. Photo: Norman Boyd

Oh, and we also visited the museum exhibition which Sean Philips curated and enjoyed seeing the bewildering number of comic creators who have artwork on LP covers. Well done Sean, any chance of a travelling exhibition? (And I haven’t mentioned the interesting Quaker Tapestry Museum in the town – LICAF missed a trick there, methinks – another form of graphic art!)

Anything else to worry about?

Lakes 2015 Bryan Talbot

Peter Kessler interviews artist/writer Bryan Talbot on the creation of Luther Arkwright. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

Do you know? I don’t think I needed to worry. I met so many nice people who are enthusiastic and clever and friendly. I heard intriguing talks (thanks, Mary and Bryan), saw a great film (get a copy of Dave McKean’s Luna) and was challenged with some continental graphic novels (thanks, Benoit Peeters). I did think it would be useful to have the programme in simple PDF format to allow offline reading but that’s a minor suggestion.

Oh and another thing…

Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers of Metaphrog teach a free comics workshop in the Westmorland Shopping Centre. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers of Metaphrog teach a free comics workshop in the Westmorland Shopping Centre. Photo: Jeremy Briggs

Can you imagine a town focusing on comic art for a weekend and the organisation that went into getting schoolkids to draw artwork for display during the weekend and how much organisation that alone must have taken. My hat goes off to the organisers one and all.

Photo: Norman Boyd

Photo: Norman Boyd

And finally…

My son loved the Charlie Adlard artwork on the limited edition beer “Too Far Gone” – great idea! And I didn’t realise but there was a special flag above the Town Hall!!

Norman Boyd is the curator of the terrific website dedicated to the life and work of artist Frank Bellamy – www.frankbellamy.co.uk. Check out the regularly updated blog at http://frankbellamy.blogspot.com and his other interest, Raymond Sheppard: http://raymondsheppard.blogspot.co.uk

About John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative" who is currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 25 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary, including DEATH'S HEAD II and WARHEADS. At Marvel he wrote strips for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS, THUNDERCATS, DOCTOR WHO and co-created SHADOW RIDERS with Brian Williamson and Ross Dearsley. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. He has written comics for Marvel UK, Judge Dredd Megazine, Lucky Bag Comic, CGL (an Italian publisher), STRIP Magazine and ROK Comics; and edited some of Titan's British comics collections including Dan Dare and Charley's War. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.
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