Bowness-on-Windemere, 14th – 16th October 2022
Review by Luke Williams
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival has entered its tenth year. A prestigious event, it has attracted some big names in the past and this year was no exception. There was a change of location this year, a move from historic Kendal to just down the road, at picturesque Bowness-on-Windermere. Spread across eight venues, LICAF had a packed programme of events: presentations, talks, panels and interviews.
Yours truly is from South Wales, which is a fair trek from the Lake District, although admittedly not the furthest an attendee had travelled. After weighing up transportation options, restricted to car or train: executive jet or helicopter being out of financial reach and matter transportation beyond modern science, I plumped for rail. Leaving Llanelli around midday on the Friday I calculated I would arrive just in time for the gala event.
The journey was uneventful and I played an informal game of spot the Festival goer. I spot my first comic royalty at Oxenholme as I change trains – former Comics Laureate Hannah Berry. Doubts of being in the wrong location (this happens frequently when I’m travelling) were dismissed, I must be in the right place.
It was pitch black when I arrived at Windermere station, eschewing taxis to save vital comic buying money and being long of leg and large of stride I’d shave off at least five minutes of the 30 minutes walking time estimated by Google maps, mentally noting that this was all downhill – the return journey was going to be interesting.
Finding my lovely digs (and a patient landlady) and dumping my stuff and already late, I legged it to the Laundry Theatre, making sure to say hello to the feline bouncer on the way in, who by the state of his ears clearly hadn’t won all his fights. The theatre isn’t large, with a capacity for a few hundred people, big enough for a reasonable attendance, not too big to obscure the view or restrict interactivity. Red shirted volunteers guide me to me seat.
The Evening Gala was a panel show chaired by comedian Lucy Porter, with teams comprising Bill Morrison (Bongo Comics, Yellow Submarine, The Simpsons) and comedian Adele Cliff and, on the opposing side, The Fast Show regular, James Bond Jr and comics writer Charlie Higson and, dressed in a bright yellow superhero costume, Gary Gifford of the Bread and Butter Theatre company stealing the show.
It was an inspired start to the weekend events, expertly compéred by the underrated Lucy Porter. The panel were asked a series of questions on a range of topics, from “what superpowers would you have”, with Bill Morrison regretting his answer, to guessing what the powers of the worst superheroes were, cartoonist Luke McGarry illustrated the responses as the evening went on. Lewd scatological and witty.
Over breakfast, I have a quandary. Like with any convention or festival, careful planning is required to get as much out of the event as possible and unfortunately occasionally making difficult choices as to which session(s) you need sacrifice. I’m faced with the choice of Bryan Talbot’s “Luther Arkwright” talk, Paul Gravett talking about his “Moomins creator” Tove Jansson book or the “Mantles & Legacies” panel with Greg Rucka, Ram V, Michael Lark and Mike Perkins. I go with the panel.
By accident, and because I hadn’t actually read the attendee pack, I find out that I needed to pick up passes for the weekend from LICAF Comics Central. Not the last time this weekend, I’d kick myself for not reading the guide.
Unusually on time for an event, I pass the Laundry Theatre’s door cat (still on duty) who I swear gives me a nod as I walk past him (or her?).
Waiting for the panel to begin, I spy Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips and Rian Hughes in the audience and my head almost explodes. I forget that these events are as much for the professional as the enthusiast – they are for all lovers of the medium.
Alex Fitch is a genial host and chair, the panel don’t need any encouragement to talk about their work and experiences, and the discussion soon deviates from the original theme – but it doesn’t matter. It’s a great panel, moving onto the creative process and the members experiences of collaborations.
Prior planning prevents poor performance (I have missed out one P, but this a family website) and I realised I needed to be at the Jetty Museum for the next chosen session. Me being me, I hadn’t worked out where it was or how far I had to walk. The simplest solution would have been to take the shuttle bus.
Dodging the scale replica of Lake Windermere on the road caused by overnight rain, to the Jetty Museum, I get to Stephen L. Holland’s presentation on “The Secret History, Medium & Mechanics of Comics” Stephen demonstrated why he is the current Comics Laureate, brimming with enthusiasm and knowledge, and such an unusual setting with the covered jetty with the moored boats as a backdrop.
I hotfoot back to Bowness proper to get to the Boat Club to catch Martin Rowson’s excoriating commentary on Boris Johnsons’s premiership and government, accompanied by a selection of published and unpublished cartoons, which was absolutely hilarious. The Boat Club itself isn’t a bad venue, but its pillars mean some views are a little restricted.
With a short gap in my timetable, I finally get around the Lakeview Comics Marketplace – I manage to have a quick chat with the esteemed guardian and director of this web site, John Freeman, and a few other stall holders, Jacob Phillips and Bryan Talbot and fanboy gush over Greg Rucka, who agrees to a selfie.
I hurtle to the Dave Gibbons talk. Mr. G is known for being very chatty, very funny and a great interviewee, here to talk about his new book, Confabulation: An Anecdotal Autobiography, out next March. To avoid a Rowson-restricted view, I sit right at the front, DG asks me if he’s going to have to sit in my lap, to which I respond inanely. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I begin eating a packet of crisps. Mr. G asks if I’m going to eat my crisps while he’s talking, then, to compound my embarrassment I respond by spitting crumbs over him.
Luckily, this doesn’t put Dave off, Tim Pilcher is a great interviewer, someone asks the inevitable Alan Moore question (“What happened?”…”Read the book”, was the reply) and the session is over all too quickly.
Not exploiting the vital shuttle bus information, I sprint (ish) back down to the Jetty Museum to catch Rian Hughes’ “Logo A Gogo” presentation with interviewer Paul Gravett. It’s amazing how broad Rian’s career is: comic art, illustration design and most recently, novels.
The final event for the day on my hastily cobbled together schedule is back at the Laundry Theatre: “The Ever So Big National Cartoonists Society Live Draw Like No Other….Probably” featuring VIZ’s Simon Thorpe, Luke McGarry, and Finnish cartoonists Petteri Tikkanen and Ulla Donner, who are presented with a series of topics and are asked to draw them. It’s an excuse for some very silly behaviour, but it epitomises the warm and friendly informal atmosphere of the festival. Tom Richmond of the National Cartoonists Society provides caricatures of volunteers from the audience and there is a special appearance from aspiring cartoonist Polly Jackson, lending it a party atmosphere.
A 9.00am expedition to Bowness, to nab for the ferry to Claife Heights for the Sean Phillips’ Starstruck exhibition is abandoned after 25 minutes. The venue doesn’t open until 10, closes at 4.00, so, reluctantly, I decide to give it a miss to try and fit in more that has less travelling time. (If you live locally, the exhibition continues there until 4th December 2022).
I get to the Laundry Theatre early and watch Black Peider, a charming and heartwarming dialogueless Finnish short film about the relationship between a boy, his father and grandfather, which takes a surreal twist.
For once, I didn’t have to move venue for my next chosen session, Alex Fitch’s interview of Jaime Hernandez. I’m a late comer to “Love & Rockets”, it has only recently clicked, but I have always admired Jaime’s art – beautiful clean minimalist lines and wonderful page compositions. As someone tweeted following the event – a creator who is 40 years into his career but still pushing forward – a true master.
Following that is another expedition to the Jetty Museum to see Greg Rucka “Mightier than the Sword” interview with Chris Thompson, so with a bit of time to spare, I squeeze in I Bill Morrison’s Yellow Submarine exhibition, original artwork from the graphic novel published by Titan Comics, based on the eponymous Beatles film, with some Beatles memorabilia thrown in for good measure. I spot Charlie Adlard perusing the same exhibition, and think twice about disturbing him.
Rucka is not short of things to say, opinionated (in a good way) and more than happy to talk; wind him up and watch him go. He spouts opinions on everything from politics and liberatarianism to the current state of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Candid and funny, plus he hands out “Lazarus” badges – win win for all concerned.
Unfortunately Rucka overlaps with the Mike McMahon and Jorg Tittel talk on game development back in the Laundry Theatre. The red shirts kindly let me long after the session has begun. I’m a (bad) gamer but the main draw for me is to see what Mick has been up to recently. What was initially an interesting insight into the world of game design took an interesting left turn into the vapidity of of modern entertainment, until we ran out of time.
Sprinting to the Boat Club, I missed the first ten minutes of the Sean and Jacob Philips talk on design and comic production, hosted by John McShane. Sean and Jacob are a great double act and, supported by anecdotes of industry veteran McShane, made for an entertaining if all too short 40 minutes – and I shelled out more cash to the Phillips family at the signing that followed.
For me, that was the end of the Festival, thought it went on for a few hours more, I took to a boat trip across Windermere to reflect on a crazily busy, but brilliant, two (and a bit) days.
Leaving the following morning on my trudge up the hill to the to the train station with a rucksack that had doubled in weight with goodies, I said goodbye to the Laundry Theatre’s feline enforcer – still patrolling the perimeter, waiting to pounce on any small unsuspecting dog that passed.
If I have any criticisms of the weekend, they are relatively minor. Perhaps some of the venues were a little too remote and opening times too restrictive – notably Claife Viewing Station, the Marketplace was a tad cramped and crowded, the Boat Club’s restricted views and some presentations and sessions were too short. But on the whole, kudos to the organisers and the army of red shirts that made the Festival run so smoothly.
Mostly, I would have planned my weekend more efficiently, but that’s on me. On the train home, a fellow LICAFer said that if you’d been to everything you wanted to at a Festival and weren’t torn about what to see then the organisers weren’t doing their job properly, and that’s certainly the case with LICAF. I could do the weekend again and have a completely different, but dare say, equally enjoyable experience.
As a newbie to these kind of festivals, I went to see everyone I already knew, whereas it can be an opportunity to explore and discover work you aren’t familiar with. Take a punt on something new – that’s the lesson I’ve taken for next year.
• Yellow Submarine – Bill Morrison’s Adventures in Pepperland Exhibition, continues at the Jetty Museum until January
• The Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2023 will take place in various location in Bowness-on-Windermere from 29th September to 1st October 2023. The Festival is online at: www.comicartfestival.com | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Podcast
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Brought up on a diet of Commando, British Boys Annuals and Asterix, Lucas Williams’s day job limits his reading time. Luckily for everyone else this also restricts his writing time.