Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019. Image: Brewery Arts Centre

From the Trenches and in Pictures: The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019. Image: Brewery Arts Centre
Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019. Image: Brewery Arts Centre

Heading to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019, the event the culmination a year of publicity work for me, and others, and endless hours of hard work and organisation by the dedicated team based largely in Kendal, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of trepidation.

Not because we weren’t prepared in any way, or that we hadn’t got the message out that this year’s Festival was the biggest, most international so far. No, it was the fear that Nature might once again cause chaos with gale fore wind and rain, as it did in part last year, leaving many shell shocked and some not in the best of moods.

Well, for the most part, those fears were unrealised, unless you were just there in Sunday. Visitors to Kendal were treated, for the most part, to glorious weather for much of the weekend, and more to the point, a well received Festival too. Not just by attendees but many of the guests and Comic Clock Tower exhibitors, who were quick to enthuse about #LICAF2019 / #LICAF on social media as they headed home on Sunday, leaving both core team and dedicated, wonderful “Red Shirts” volunteers to enjoy a thank you Waffle Party; a homage to the late, great Belgian comic artist Marc Sleen and comic guests at the Festival from that country.

Here’s some of the promotions put together by Creative Concern, which alongside the amazing Festival poster art created by Junko Mizuno, soon to be on permanent display at the University of Carlisle, that helped promote the Festival nationally…

While I didn’t make it to that part of the Festival, the weekend kicked off with Comics Up Close, a day of comic study and discussion on Friday, again well received as academics and the comic process curious mixed to find out more about the form, with talks from the likes of Simon Grennan, delivering the keynote, and Jasleen Kandhari, who explored the connection between Sikh Popular Art and comics.

The Batman flag above Kendal Town Hall. Image: John Freeman
The Batman flag above Kendal Town Hall. Image: John Freeman

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019 Windows Trail. Image: John Freeman

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019 Windows Trail. Image: John FreemanLakes International Comic Art Festival 2019 Windows Trail. Image: John Freeman

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019 Windows Trail examples. Image: John Freeman

The town itself already stood ready for this early foray, with close to 60 businesses turning their windows over to aspiring and established creators – school groups, local youth groups and artists – for the “Scary Monsters” themed Windows Trail.

Exhibitions that included the work of Darren Cullen, Duncan Fegredo, Tom of Finland and the first English language presentation of the 60 plus year history of The Smurfs were already off and running.

The whole concept of turning the town over to comics, European Festival style, is really gaining ground now, it seems, as the event’s patrons and organisers (who include Charlie Adlard, Sean Phillips, Bryan and Mary Talbot and Zoom Rockman) always hoped.

This year, the banners proclaiming Kendal home to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival were not ripped from their moorings by stormy weather; and everyone seemed happy to celebrate this comic occasion, with charity shops and local bric a brac stores alike crammed with four colour fun to attract the eye… and open wallets!

LICAF 2019 - Tim Farron
Local MP and VIZ fan Tim Farron opens the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2019

Even the town’s MP, life long VIZ fan Tim Farron, joined in with proceedings on Friday night, gleefully delivering a wickedly funny introduction to the magazine at the opening Friday night “Live Draw”, as artists raced to deliver drawings of 150 VIZ characters on stage in under an hour. For me,

his speech was a weekend highlight, not just because it was very funny, but that he was game to support the comics Festival, as he has for many years, just like the local councils and business, as well as the Arts Council – support much appreciated.


Kendal turned into a comic https://twitter.com/will789gb/status/1180874447420641281?s=21 / http://hellospiders.blogspot.com/2019/10/

John Freeman from downthetubes and voice artist and B7 Media producer Helen Quigley in the Comic’s Clock Tower. Photo: Andrew Mark Sewell
John Freeman from downthetubes and voice artist and B7 Media producer Helen Quigley in the Comic’s Clock Tower. Photo: Andrew Mark Sewell

Tabling with B7 Media, who have just announced plans for further Dan Dare Audio Adventures next year as Britain’s best-known space hero heads to his 70th anniversary, I had a different eye view, perhaps, on the Festival compared with others. I still got to see the things I wanted to, including the brilliant exhibitions mentioned above (some still running). I caught up with many old friends who I’ve known for many years, touched base with the Festival Podcast team and comic creators who, in our modern, connected world, I previously had only encountered online, such as the hugely talented Gustaffo Vargas, who has his amazing comics on sale downstairs in the Clock Tower.

Young artist Drew Marr, out to inspire others
Young artist Drew Marr, out to inspire others
Centre: Martin Simpson, artist Russell Mark Olson on right
Centre: Martin Simpson, artist Russell Mark Olson on right
LICAF 2019 - Corey Brotherson and Yomi Ayeni of Clockwork Watch
Corey Brotherson and Yomi Ayeni of Clockwork Watch

It’s great that there were so many book launches at this year’s Festival too, including Rob Davis amazing Book of Forks, published by SelfMadeHero, Darryl Cunningham’s powerful and thought-provoking Billionaires, published by Myriad Editions, and Bryan and Mary Talbot’s stunning Rain, published by Jonathan Cape.

The Festival itself launched more book and comic projects than ever before, including Charlie Adlard’s new book of life drawings, and Mark’s Stafford‘s Kangkangee Blues, both available post Festival from Page 45.

Life drawing by Charlie Adlard
Life drawing by Charlie Adlard
Mark's Stafford's Kangkangee Blues SNIP
Mark’s Stafford’s Kangkangee Blues

Running the downthetubes web site, with a small selection of British comics on my table to catch the eye of those who remembered them, the range of questions I was asked about comics was, once again, astonishing. There were those who remembered buying Beano, Dandy and more as kids, some surprised to learn Beano was still going (unlike almost all the other comics I had on offer); there was one to gentleman who still still had every copy of Roy of the Rovers he’d bought as a kid; a man who wanted to know how much his pre-World War Two Hotspur annual might be worth; and a lady captivated by the comics form, but unsure where to start and, like some rather overwhelmed by the variety in offer in the free-to-enter Clock Tower, and sought some direction.

Serge Baeken art prints on sale from Soaring Penguin
Serge Baeken art prints on sale from Soaring Penguin

Artists exhibiting told me those who had it for sale has done a brisk sale in original art, as well as prints, this year. There was no discernible theme to art on offer, the range from the zombie aliens of Paul Harrison-Davies to the stunning paintings of Commando artist Keith Burns (who, by the way, is also providing the cover of Rebellion’s New York Comic Con teased “Battle” Special next year.

Keith Burns at LICAF 2019
Photo: John Freeman
Keith Burns chatting with fellow artist Michael Lark at LICAF 2019. Photo: John Freeman
Keith Burns chatting with fellow artist Michael Lark at LICAF 2019. Photo: John Freeman

I don’t think Keith stopped painting all weekend, if I’m honest, stopping only to chat with both admirers and fellow creators such as a ridiculously modest Michael Lark, who would have happily bought every artwork Keith had on sale if he could have afforded it, or been able to physically get it back to the United States!

LICAF 2019 Garth Ennis being interviewed by Tim Pilcher
Garth Ennis being interviewed by Tim Pilcher

The only panel I made it to this year was that of Garth Ennis, who enthusiastically took his audience through a history of his thirty year career led by Soaring Penguin Press publisher and author Tim Pilcher, right up to the present day, revealing a forthcoming Punisher series for Marvel and that he had written a “Hellman of Hammer Force” strip for an Action Special – another treat from Rebellion in 2020, out early the year, drawn by longtime comics veteran Mike Dorey, who has been persuaded to return to comics after working in advertising and illustration for many years.

There were others I’d like to have seen, but fortunately, Sicilian comic news and European event organiser Mario Benenati recorded some of them, at least in part, so I’ll be checking them out via his Facebook feed over this week… once I’ve had a couple of days off to recover from the full on intensity of another terrific Festival.

Of course, I’m biased about LICAF; it’s an incredible event that takes place on my doorstep I’m honoured to be part of, providing promotional help to reach to the comics community. As a comics creator, it’s a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends, such as VIZ artist Davey Jones, who’s unlikely to ever be persuaded on stage, but is a regular visitor to LICAF in the QT. It’s also great to discover new talent, too, such as the work of students on the comics course at Teeside University run by Nigel Kitching, or the budding creators at the University of Carlisle.

(That so many major academic institutions are offering comics courses, who include the University of Dundee, whose involvement in a new Books on the Underground project offering free Marvel Comics broke online at the weekend, is really exciting).

Rounding off the Festival - a Zombie Concert! Photo courtesy Lakes International Comic Art Festival
Rounding off the Festival – a Zombie Concert! Photo courtesy Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Rounding off with a hugely popular “Zombie Concert” hosted by Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard (announced as winner of this year’s Sergio Aragones Award) and musician Juliet Limmone, LICAF 2019 went out with a truly memorable bang, adding to many more memorable moments for all those there – good, funny, inspiring, and occasionally awkward (don’t expect to be a well known former comics retailer and current much-loved comics guru, then fall asleep on the front row of a VIZ Live Draw and get away with it!).

Tabling at an event such as LICAF is very different to attending as a fan, or creator involved in the event’s inventive and constantly surprising programme, put together by Festival Director Julie Tait and team. In some ways, just like Sunday in the Comic Clock Tower, it can actually a bit laid back, offering time to come up with comic ideas between customers, or even, like me, draw some cartoons (a rare event), or share a game of drawing “Exquisite Corpses” with artist Megan Pilcher-King.

It certainly gives a different perspective on LICAF, and an appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes to make it all possible. If you hadn’t already guessed, I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, overjoyed at the opportunity it present of discovering new work while celebrating past glories.

Long may LICAF continue, and thank you to all involved, all the guests and exhibitors who took part, its numerous local, national and international funding supporters.

Oh, and yes, of course, it will be back next year, returning 9th – 11th October 2020 with programming strands that will include a celebration of SF and fantasy conics (did I mention 70 years of Dan Dare?…) and girls comics, with international and British guests already being lined up.

See you there, then!

John Freeman

• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is back in Kendal in the Lake District 9th – October 2020: www.comicartfestival.com Podcast | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter |Youtube

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Promoting the Science of Superheroes at LICAF, Dr Sarita Robinson will be back next year

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• On social media, follow the hashtag #LICAF2019 #LICAF and #LICAF2020

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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