Photo Review: Edinburgh BookFest

by Jeremy Briggs

The tent village of the Edinburgh International Book Festival springs up in the private Charlotte Square Gardens in the city centre each August. Over half a dozen theatre tents, a box office, two bookshops, a café and a bar squeeze in between the trees and the rather large central statue as well as the behind the scenes areas. This year even architecture professor and TV presenter Dan Cruickshank commented on the Festival’s remarkable ability to fit so much into the space between the trees.

Previous experience of the summer weather means that the walkways are well covered and plastic matting covers the favourite short cuts across the central grassy area. While this year the torrential rain may have put paid to eating an ice cream or sipping a drink in the outside areas, it wasn’t quite as a bad as the modern art installation by Ric Warren of two apparently partially submerged bins and a shed might have lead some attendees to believe.

With the success of the One Book – One Edinburgh reading campaign in February 2007, which spawned Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy’s graphic novel of Kidnapped, last summer the Book Festival ran several comics related talks and these obviously proved popular enough for the selection to be increased this year.

They began on Thursday 14 August with Manga Shakespeare which was the first ever event at the Book Festival to feature Manga. Paul Gravett gave an overview of Shakespeare in comics, introduced Manga to the audience and talked about the differences between the Western and Manga styles. Self Made Hero publisher Emma Hayley talked about the background of her company and of the ideas behind the creation of the Manga Shakespeare books. Manga Macbeth artist Robert Deas talked about moving Macbeth from medieval Scotland to modern day Japan and how he created his computer based artwork. With his drawing tablet attached to the main screen he drew a scene whilst the audience asked questions of the three participants. Paul describes his visit to the Book Festival on his site.

Friday was a Masterclass from Dan Dare artist Gary Erskine to a small but sold-out group, ranging from children to pensioners, on designing a superhero character and how to draw a comics page, whilst at the same time answering questions about his work. The character began life as Saltire (the name of the Scottish flag) before finishing, after some discussion on what colour his hair should be, as Captain Irn Bru – “made in Scotland from radioactive girders”.

Illustrator, comic artist, writer, photographer, film maker; Dave McKean seems to be able to do whatever he turns his hand to and he still comes over as a really nice person with a dry sense of humour. Officially a sold-out talk on the Saturday night, there were quite a few empty seats probably due to heavy rain. Dave talked solidly for his hour while showing a wide cross-section of his worth on the screen behind him leaving time for only a single audience question at the end of the session. Joe Gordon waxes lyrical about this talk on the FPI Blog.

Friday the 22nd brought a double dose of Bryan Talbot. With only 20 spaces, his lunchtime Masterclass on the subject of creating graphic novels was one of the first of the comics events to be sold out. Bryan then returned later in the evening for a general discussion lead by Scotland On Sunday literary editor Stuart Kelly on the subject of graphic novels with writer Alan Grant and writer/artist Hannah Berry. Bryan’s enthusiasm for his subject complemented Alan’s typically laid back and humorous approach to the talk and questions while Hannah Berry, with only a single book to her name to talk about, spoke very eloquently about Britten and Brulightly. Surprisingly the medium sized tent was barely half full for this talk.

Sunday was different however when BookFest experienced the Invasion Of The Guardian Readers as artist/writer Posy Simmonds filled the majority of the biggest tent which seats 600. Talking with the help of an overhead camera which relayed pictures onto the main screen, she entertained the audience the mini comics she had created as a child, took us through the various stages she uses to create her characters by showing a lot of her roughs for Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe, and drew some character faces to illustrate the various points that she was making whilst mimicking the characters voices, to the amusement of the crowd.

The comics events and the Festival itself drew to a close on Monday 25th with a talk with Beano artist Barrie Appleby. Most of the BookFest subjects have a book to promote and initially having a weekly comic artist seemed like an atypical choice but there are Beano novels aimed at the younger reader, mainly Dennis The Menace but with a few Minnie The Minx and Bash Street Kids titles as well and the illustrator for all these books is Barrie Appleby who also works on the weekly title. Along with “Beano editor” Lucy and special guest Dennis himself, Barrie trod the thin line between entertaining the children in the sold out venue while keeping the adults interested as well by showing how to draw Dennis and Gnasher and a few other characters before taking requests from the audience who got him to draw Dennis squirting Walter with a water pistol.

The high turnouts for the majority of the comics events, and the number that were officially sold out, should bode well for more events in a similar vein at next year’s festival.

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