In October of 2013, I headed out on my first trip to The United Kingdom as a guest of inaugural Lakes International Comic Arts Festival – http://www.comicartfestival.com/. Held in the village of Kendal, the gateway to the Lake District (and about 2 hours North of Manchester), I was glad to be on hand to witness the birth of a new comics event and especially one of such great ambition and vision. The festival took place October 18th through 20th, and I was on hand from the 17th to the 21st to observe the goings on.
I’ve been meaning to write a little report on the Festival for, oh, about a year now, but I wasn’t writing very much and things just sort of came up in the general. However, I’m set to be headed back to the second iteration of the event which is taking place THIS WEEKEND, from October 16th through the 20th, and hopefully you are too. Again, more details at http://www.comicartfestival.com/.
I’ve basically taken a whole year to write this and I’m literally on my way out the door…Apologies for spelling, grammar, forgotten names, and for taking so long!
Now, on with the show:
First things first: Kendal, and so far as I can tell, The Lake District, is gorgeous. However when I was down in Manchester for the few days before the event, when people could immediately tell I was from out of town (and I immediately had to say “I’m from Canada” to get those frowns to turn upside down), people would be like “Oh you’re going up to the Lake District? Oh it’s lovely up there…” like a mantra. You get the sense that it’s ‘cottage country’, that nothing’s thought to be going on… and that was an idea that the organizers of this festival were desperately fighting back against.
The festival takes place in the old buildings scattered around town, in the city hall clocktower, in the mall, and in the art school with its beautiful modern buildings. The town was energetic, decorated, and full of unique buildings and spaces. As I was saying, they really are trying for a very ambitious program.
Speaking of, I was happy to host this drawing demonstration with Luke Pearson, creator of the Hilda series of books. Luke was sweet and charming and drew like magic, for an hour, for the standing-room-only crowd. It’s only just filling up in this photo…
Afterwards, Luke stayed and signed and sketched for fans for another hour as well, what a gentleman! His presentation, as most, took place in one of the large classroom buildings and the signing in an anterior building. Despite the drizzle, people had no problem showing up adequately attired, and spirits were very high.
I think things like decorating and branding the spaces with pennants, posters, and merchandise, make a huge difference for these sorts of events. What might be a somewhat boring classroom becomes a “Festival Space”, and it’s one of the things that I thought LICAF did very well indeed.
Seen above is some of the custom merchandise, and a few of the wonderful volunteers who helped for the weekend.
One of the two main spaces was “The Comics Clocktower”, or city hall, and you can see the decoration continued throughout the whole town and into all spaces. Banners and signage, both hung and freestanding, dotted all of the festival spaces and the spaces in between, and it really did lift the atmosphere wonderfully. Of course, when you have as naturally photogenic a town as this, that doesn’t hurt either.
The comics clock tower featured multiple floors of exhibitors, including a special room for an on-site show store and sponsor. The space reminded me very-much of TCAF 2007, which was held in Victoria College, with exhibitors lining the walls of smaller rooms and customers invited to explore both the lovely old building and all of the wonderful art on display.
Of course I may be biased, but my favourite space was the large, high-ceilinged main room, held for town meetings, plays, and presentations, and repurposed to hold a number of wonderful artists and their creations.
There’s my friend Adam Cadwell, chatting up a potentional customer.
The fine folks of Nobrow, including Luke Pearson on the left, Sam in the middle, and you’ll have to pardon me as I forgotten then chap on the right’s name.
Of course it isn’t a comic show without back issue bins… I guess? I found it hilarious to come across this on the first floor, but a few quid for an old issue of Sandman is hard to argue with at a comics festival.
Also, that fireplace is something else? That’s the best part of repurposing existing buildings.
Look! Another Canadian! It’s Anthony Del Col of Kill Shakespeare.
Kristina Baczynski selling some amazingly lovely comics and art…!
Here’s Stephen Robson from Fanfare UK, and a wonderful selection of his new projects (well, new a year ago, heh). He’s also started distributing some other wonderful works, very exciting!
And of course TCAF exhibitor Darryl Cunningham!
Friend of TCAF Paul Gravett, showing of his newest survey of the medium, Comics Art.
Really, the town is quite lovely, and even with a bit of rain it was marvelous to walk through the spaces, from venue to venue, and see all of the great sites along the way.
Speaking of, the other major venue is the Brewery Arts Centre, a massive arts complex converted from a brewery! Featuring several restaurants, theatre screens/auditorium, and a gorgeous outdoor space, BAC is where many of the large-scale and keynote events were held, and the town and the Festival are certainly lucky to have such a large and gorgeous space to use. You could pop by any time of the weekend (or to the bar round the corner) to meet many of the participating cartoonists as they grabbed a beer or a bite, and that greatly contributed to the warm and positive feeling of the event.
And we’ve reached the end, more or less.
I’ve probably got another few thousand words in me about the first Lakes International Comic Arts Festival, but I’m actually now just about to head to the airport in time to attend the second. I will say that the show was very well organized and really took advantage of its locale in the way that very few shows do. I think it’s a sterling and necessary addition to a comics scene that already includes wonderful events like Thoughtbubble, and I hope to see it continue a long and healthy life.
If you’re within a few hours of Kendal (2 or 3 hours from either Manchester or Glasgow, 4 hours from London), I’d strongly recommend attending. Comics events are so far apart and expensive to get to in the U.S. and Canada… for us 3 or 4 hours away IS considered a local show.
Congrats to the organizers and volunteers on an excellent event, and I look forward to the next one with great anticipation… in about 48 hours.