A disclaimer before we start: I never go to conventions or festivals in ‘journalist/writer’ mode; the ones I do attend I go because I want to attend, because the artists and events interest me and I hope to be introduced to exciting new work and have a good time in the process. Sometimes after the fact I may write up a little report about my experience and what the general feeling seemed like, and most importantly: what I bought. Tom Spurgeon, I am not. Still, I can waffle like nobody’s business and this may get pretty long, so if you just want to see the haul, scroll to the bottom.
Andy and I caught the 7:35 train from Leeds to King’s Cross, which meant I was up at 5 contemplating the weather and clothing choices. I decided to wear a coat,which was- you guessed it- the wrong choice. There were a lot of bodies and York Hall isn’t huge so I ended up carrying it a lot. We got to Bethnal Green at 11, an hour after doors opened and it was already bustling.
This is only the second ELCAF and the festival seems to have quickly found it’s footing and identity, with a strong focus on the illustrative and graphic- there were a host of beautiful prints on display, which is no surprise- that’s what organisers Nobrow bring to the table in their products and it’s a sensibility that’s successfully transferred here. The decision to have six islands of tables which people can navigate around worked really well; opening up the space to provide walking and browsing room, and making it easy to identify which tables you’d already visited.
Things of note: I was really impressed with the strong multicultural feel to proceedings in terms of exhibitors- Portugese children’s books publishers Planeta Tangerina, were there, as were Dutch publishers Bries, along with Delebile Edizioni, Milmbo, Reproduckt, The Treasure Fleet, Fremok and more, with some Bangladeshi artists also present earlier in the morning. It’s lovely to celebrate UK comics, but it was fantastic to see beyond that and as soppy as it sounds, be bought together by an excitement and love for art. I think that’s something that ties in with the the ELCAF/Nobrow identity: an emphasis on illustration, graphics and design means translation isn’t as much of an issue at it perhaps would be with a dye-in-the wool comics reader. It also serves to set the festival apart from other art/zine/comics events by offering something different. It’s a hugely positive and heartening thing to see and I hope it continues.
Burgers were the theme and order of the day:- Streetkitchen were on hand to fuel people with their delicious burgers, Nobrow launched the frankly beautiful Burgermat Show book by Burgerac, the entrance stamp was burgertastic -in short, I approve of food themes.
(thanks to Andy and Camilla for their pictures)
While the overall mix of stalls was interesting and varied, something that did feel a little incongruous was the presence of some publishers,who were there with stacks of books and a couple of people to sign. I know it’s a comics and art event, but it didn’t really fit with the small making and creating feel of the festival. There’s now a lot of events, cons, and festivals on the UK scene and they can be a bit funny if you’re attending regularly in that the same people will be tabling- that makes senses for exhibitors where these events is a chance for them to get their work out there and maybe even make some money(!), but it can get samey for a punter. ELCAF has established a place for itself on that circuit, but having too many comics publishing houses (even ones who may be independent and a lot smaller when compared to others) dilutes the atmosphere a little.
After having relocated from last year’s venue for a larger space, that may be something that will have to be addressed again in 2014, simply because both attendance and exhibitors seemed so healthy and enthusiastic. It would be nice to maybe have some seating somewhere- I used the floor outside when eating and inside when at the bar, and it would have been handy to have more tables and chairs than the couple provided outside (would have been nice to just been able to go upstairs and sit for a rest or to eat, but I’m assuming that wasn’t possible for a reason). As far as I’m aware, programming ran smoothly- the whole event was incredibly well organised- I thought the screenings and talks might’ve been intrusive to the floor, but they were cushioned by the general hubbub, and the raised platform was enclosed enough so that those attending panels could still hear.
It was great too, to see a lot of kids drawing away and dismembering toys with gusto- with a large section of tables in the middle devoted to their use, which was fab to see. We were there from 11 until 4 and I would say it was busy throughout, with periods of intense business, but the kids seemed unfazed by it all. That was probably down to the cumulative atmosphere- friendly and inviting and safe. A short questionnaire was sent out to attendees via email the next day and that was really good practice, I thought- it’s important for newer event, regardless of how much of a handle they have on things, to see what did go well and how things could be improved further.
(Teenytinysaurs creator, Gary Northfield and Phoenix editor Will Fickling with a young fan- thanks to Matt Baxter for his picture)
I finally got to meet the lovely Hannah Berry and shout at her while she smiled and pretended to hear me. I’ve been a fan of Dilraj Mann and his ladies, so it was really cool to meet and chat to him- it’s always that much cooler when you meet someone whose work you admire and they turn out to be pretty cool themselves. Even if they do tell you creepy, not-entirely-sure-its-true stories of people impersonating you…. Another person on the lovely/cool list is Andy Poyiadgi, who was selling out of his gorgeous Teabag Theories as I stood there- rather nice and amusing to hear people come up to him and say ‘Can I get teabag?’ Said a quick hello to David O’Connell, and then we had to make our way to Kings Cross to get the train home. Got home,of course, and realised I’d missed a ton of people. Next year?
Luke Pearson and Jack Teagle have a draw-off: check out that colour co-ordination in Luke’s outfit, right down to the shoes!
(pictures of Luke and Jack taken by, and borrowed from, Lizz Lunney- thanks Lizz!)
Winter’s Knight and Supers by Robert Ball: If you haven’t checked out either of these you really should. I say this as someone who is not the biggest fan/advocate of design-focused artwork, but Ball is a very talented artist and these are two very special publications. Hell, I’m not even a fan of having a book of superhero pin-ups but I bought Supers just because the composition, colours, and ideas work that well. Looking forward to immersing myself in Winter’s Knight.
The Listening Agent by Joe Decie, and Playing Out by Jim Medway: Advance copies as is befitting a diligent reviewing person, haha! Blank Slate’s summer stable is finally here and it’s got the goods. Dan Berry’s The Suitcase is already available on the site and soon these babies will be in your grasp too. Joe Decie and Jim Medway are both comics creators I love, particularly because their work manages to be substantial and uplifting simultaneously and that pleases me- not a a lot of comics are very happy nowadays, are they?
‘I’m not sure whether you’re going to like this,’ Joe joked, ‘You don’t like auto-biographical comics, do you?’ He may have been referring to this or the last paragraph of this. I’ve always liked Joe’s work though, probably because it feels real in a very different sense: he starts with narrating an event that happened,which then develops into a stream of consciousness, taking a thought and just running with it- and that often involves imaginary scenarios and flights of fantasy. Similarly, with Jim’s work, I like the way he makes his anthropomorphic characters socially relevant, and the manner in which the naive, almost unsophisticated anthropomorphism (compared, say, to Blacksad) reflects the changing, forming character of kids and teens.
The Comix Reader #3 and #4: I’d not heard of this previously- is that bad? I really like newsprint comics, though I would like to see them in a A4 format to avoid the whole creasing problem, although that may be defeating the larger canvas purpose a bit. Lots of names I’ve not heard of in here, but it looks good.
Syklus by Martin Ernsten and Kilian Eng, and Stroke by Dilraj Mann and others: One of the questions I was asked most as I walked around the hall was whether I’d seen or bought anything interesting, at which point I would excitedly pull out the first thing I’d purchased- Martin Ernsten’s and Kilian Eng’s Syklus. The almost invariable response to this action was ‘Ahh, yeah, that’s great; I got that at Angouleme!’ Well, you know who wasn’t at Angouleme? Me. I wasn’t at Angouleme. And I was really chuffed with this, a largely silent comic about the past, future, and dinosaurs- it is absolutely gorgeous: the colouring alone is amazing (you can see some more of it here).
Stroke contains Mann’s collaborations with various artists, including Sam Bosma and Roman Muradov amongst others. He draws a lady and the artist then draws her companion. There’s also a short comic in there titled Frank Ocean vs Chris Brown, and don’t let the pop culture references put you off- it’s fab.
Klaus by Richard Short, and I Still Know What You Did Last Summer by Aisha Franz and Till Thomas: I saw Richard Short’s post about creating a mini printed Klaus collection for ELCAF, and had it earmarked as ‘thing to buy’, so job done. I generally like Klaus:I like the four panel structure, I like it’s clean-ness, delicate lines and philosophical leanings. Last Summer I picked up because I liked the cover: the red spine, the jagged black mountains against the blue- it’s a series of collaborative illustrations between Till and Thomas.
Lamelos #3 from Bries and Teabag Theories #2 by Andy Poyiadgi: Steve won’t let me hear the end of buying Lamelos, a beautiful, silent and fully screenprinted comic from a group of Dutch artists whose names I shall hunt down. The lady manning the table told me these little books are actually produced by 4 artists, but much like Ruppert and Mullot, their art is similar enough for them to be able to work on something like this together. It’s just gorgeous and the illustrations, colours and jokey tale reminds me of the Arabic Johaa tales my dad used to read me when I was little.
I mentioned earlier Andy sold out of these and it’s easy to see why- not only is it a neatly executed ideas, they’re beautifully constructed (and only £1.50!): little concertina comics that use tea to explain some of the mysteries of science. Wishing I could get my hands on #1.
And that’s it! I had a genuinely lovely time and look forward to returning next year.
For a whole host of clear and well-taken photographs, visit Camila Barboza’s flickr here.