Over the Pennines – A Review of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2017

The BBC weather announcer’s promise of glorious weather over the weekend of 14th and 15th October did not, it seems, apply to the North West corner of England. As our Saturday morning train crept over the Pennines, it had to slow to a virtual standstill in order to safely navigate some partially flooded areas. As time ticked on, we wondered if we would be able to make it to Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal in time to see the first panel we had hoped to attend. Luck was with us and we made it to the bustling Lakeland town in good time, ready to enjoy another packed schedule of events.

So, this year there were day and weekend passes rather than having to buy tickets for individual events. I had mixed feelings about this. If you only wanted to attend a couple of the panels, it would have been nice to have been able to buy tickets for just those events. On the other hand, if you were able to be at the Festival long enough to cram quite a lot in, a pass was certainly good value. We were only able to attend for one day and managed to get to three talks, which just about justified the cost of buying a day pass. The organisers do deserve credit for experimenting with different types of ticketing during the years the Festival has been going but with the Brewery’s sophisticated booking system, surely it would not be too difficult to offer customers the choice of both individual tickets OR day and weekend passes? Film festivals, for example, generally give you a choice between buying a pass or seeing individual films so I don’t see why it should be too difficult for similar options to be offered at the Comic Art Festival. Something to reflect on perhaps.

But that’s a minor quibble. The most important thing is that the events are well organised, varied and fun. And that was certainly the case this year. From the warm welcome at the ticket booth when we picked up our passes to the friendly staff in the Vats Bar and the ever-professional volunteers who put so much time and effort in to helping out, it was as always a brilliantly organised event.

The first panel we attended was An Animated Conversation with the McGarrys, featuring Steve McGarry and his twin sons, Joe and Luke. Steve, as you may well be aware, is a cartoonist and artist of great acclaim who in the last few years has been working as a story artist on popular computer animated films such as Despicable Me 2 and The Secret Life of Pets. Steve gave a quick resume of his career and took us through the process of how a modern animated film is made and was fascinating to listen to. His sons were equally informative. The diversity of projects they have worked on is incredible – short animated films, TV advertising for a major credit card company, designing posters for comedy festivals and much, much more. They are also musicians in their guise as the pop duo ‘Pop Noir’ and really are two young men to keep an eye out for. Overall, a very informative panel and great fun.

Next up was More than the Moomins – the Life and Work of Tove Jansson, a lovely overview of Jansson’s work covering the Moomin comic strips, books and her career as a writer and artist. The panel featured Tove Jansson’s niece Sophia and Tuula Karjalainen, author of the book Tove Jansson: Work and Love. This was a fascinating look at the work of a much-loved author and was exceptionally popular with the theatre nearly full to capacity. To have two people present who actually knew Tove Jansson really made this an unmissable event. The interviewer for this panel, Paul Gravett, is wonderfully articulate and it was clear that he is as enthusiastic about the subject matter as the audience were.

The final panel we attended, Ivan Petrus in discussion with John Freeman, took place in the historic surroundings of the Kendal Council Chamber. Ivan is well known for his First World War–related work and having enjoyed his contribution to the war comics panel a couple of years back, I was keen to hear more. Skilfully guided by John, Ivan talked about the challenges of both producing and promoting his First World War graphic novels including the latest one to be published in English, The Last Braedy. The 100th anniversary of the war has been a mixed blessing for him as there has been heightened awareness of the war but more competition from other projects vying for media attention.

There was of course plenty going on as well as the talks and panels. The scaffolding-covered Clock Tower was, as ever, a hive of activity with stalls, signings and plenty of opportunity to mingle and talk with other comics fans. We also found time to check out the display of Tove Jansson-related photographs at Kendal Museum and the rather wonderful Archipelagogo exhibition created by British artists Jonathan Edwards and Louise Evans, part of the Finnish Village exhibit, which was were terrific fun and really did need to be seen ‘in the flesh’ to be fully appreciated.

A pleasant meal with other members of the Down the Tubes team rounded off the day perfectly and all that was left to do was to reflect on the day’s events and look forward to more of the same next year. We headed for home as others made their way to the Ruskins bar (renamed the Nu Earth bar for the purposes of the Festival) where they strutted their stuff to the music of the McGarrys into the small hours…

There are more details of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, which returns 12th – 14th October 2018, at: www.comicartfestival.com


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