Last week I traveled from Ireland to join the Comics Workbook crew in Kendal, England for The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. The Lakes Fest (LICAF) is an unusual beast in today’s world of heavily branded industry conventions. Marketing itself as a “comic art festival” immediately stands it apart from the large majority of sales-orientated cons which exist in most larger towns and cities throughout England and Ireland. While there is a venue at LICAF for artists and publishers to sell their work, this is not what pulls in the tens of thousands of visitors each year. LICAF instead focuses on education and appreciation of craft, with a packed roster of artist talks and workshops spread over the weekend.
This love of craft and appreciation for artists seems to be a reflection of an attitude that naturally exists in Kendal; a town which, despite its modest size boasts a number of cinema spaces, theatres, art groups, and live music venues. Kendal is a town which thrives on art and when it came time to host this years LICAF, the whole town seemed fully on board. The weekend’s events were held in numerous locations throughout the town, from local pubs and cafes to the town hall and library. Even businesses not directly connected with the event went to great effort to create window displays fitting the Festival.
The talks and workshops held throughout the weekend were well attended. There was an air of excitement buzzing all over as people were given the opportunity to sit and talk with their heroes. Even on the streets of Kendal the public brushed shoulders with comics superstars in a way which seemed exciting and yet, completely natural.
I attended the Comics Workbook Composition Competition workshop which was run by Mr. Comics Workbook himself, the great Frank Santoro. Connor Willumsen and Aiden Koch were also in attendance, providing moments of insight and balance throughout the talk. The workshop was well attended and drew a wonderfully diverse audience. Children and adults, amateurs and professionals – it was a wonder to see how Frank’s process worked so well for everyone in the group. Each person was guided through so confidently and with such positivity that nobody felt unable or less capable than anyone else. In fact, many of the experienced British comic artists in attendance marveled at Frank’s aura of positivity, a trait which seems to be rare in the industry.
The standard of work which came from the group was very high as everyone seemed to get on board with Frank’s ideas very quickly. We all left having completed a 4 page, pamphlet style comic. Not bad for a two hour session!
I also managed to sit in on Connor Willumsen‘s workshop later that day. This class drew a small group of dedicated artists. We took great inspiration and warning from Connor’s industry stories. Seeing him describe his composition method was great as I could see how it was tied to Frank’s fundamental ideas, even if they go about the process differently. Another huge moment of inspiration for me was when Connor talked about how his ability to program code meant that he had greater control over how his work can be displayed. This seems more relevant now than ever as we are in a time of uncertainty over how to show our work on the internet. Each of the current options for artists (Tumblr, Instagram) seem to come with some level of restriction. It was great to see that Connor had taken the matter into his own hands and made a site which worked for him. It shows a level of ingenuity and determination which I think we will all need to strive for to stay afloat in the digital age.
Overall, my experience of LICAF was one of community, of inspiration. For one weekend, makers and fans came to Kendal to share ideas, work together and grow. There was no line separating the novice and the master. There was only respect and the flow of ideas. LICAF is a rare and beautiful thing.