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!
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….
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?)
[Since this feature was first posted, since 2017 the Festival has offered a variety of Passes rather than individual tickets – details here]
Now you need to know how much more was on, that we did not attend. Go to LICAF website and read the programme!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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…
Can you imagine a town focusing on comic art for a weekend and the organisation that went into getting school kids 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.
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
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is online at www.comicartfestival.com