Frank Santoro here – reporting from Kendal, England. If you are only hearing about “The Lakes Festival” or “LICAF”, please read last year’s report. This is my second year of going to “The Lakes” and I hope to make it back every year. Why? Frankly, it’s because this show has Mr. Chris “TCAF” Butcher’s stamp of approval, and anything Mr. Butcher touches is gold, so I’m sold. Meaning LICAF and TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival) have some cross-cultural curation going on with the great Julie Tait, who steers the fleet of LICAF activities and who was at TCAF’s 2016 show, helping with the expansion of that festival’s venues. So, I see the big picture. A comics festival that appeals to just about everyone – not just the “mainstream” or the “alternative” crowd. LICAF, like TCAF, has something for everyone.
Indeed, this year’s LICAF hosted Gilbert Shelton and Bryan Lee O’Malley and Tillie Walden and Jordi Bernet (amongst many other greats, see the full list here). That’s about four major demographics in my comics world. Plus, ahem, Aidan Koch, Connor Willumsen and l’il ole me representing some other, uh, demographic.
Kendal is a small town on the northwest coast of England, above Manchester. The whole surrounding area is absolutely beautiful and up the road is where Beatrix Potter called home. What I like about it is how pleasantly unique this show is because of the way the show is embedded in the town.
The festival takes place, primarily, at a few different venues spread within walking distance to each other. It is a Saturday/Sunday type of show, however, one can feel it expanding. The Comics Workbook crew arrived a day early to present at an academic conference at The Kendal Museum and The Box Theatre on Friday. Then over the weekend we hosted workshops at The Brewery Arts Centre and sold our wares at The Clock Tower. And then had a closing party at Ruskin’s Bar.
A number of students from Kendal College and the University of Cumbria participated in Comics Workbook workshops after the presentation to “the academics” at The Box Theatre. The great comics scholar and author Paul Gravett was in the audience, so you can be sure, loyal reader, that the Comics Workbook team “slayed them”, as the saying goes.
Here is a link to my “notes” for our presentation on Friday. I like to have a long rambling blog post of inspirational videos and rough notes to refer to during a presentation. I find that it allows the audience to revisit the material later or even during the talk.
My basic argument that afternoon is, as Geoff Dyer says of D.H. Lawrence, an inversion of the “traditional hierarchy of genre” has occurred – in comics – and more importantly for those associated with Comics Workbook. Aidan Koch spoke of how she rejects the idea of “the great American Graphic Novel” or even telling stories. She spoke eloquently of how she is concerned mostly with “the poetics of comics”. Connor Willumsen talked about genre being merely a raincoat and umbrella under which to make comics. He even lovingly compared it to a sport where performing under pressure to “do it right the first time” was valued. I riffed on my modular notecard method. A lively and valuable discussion followed within the question and answer period. It was, for me, one of the best received presentations I’ve been a part of and I would like to thank Aileen McEvoy for helping myself and my team feel so welcomed.
Oliver East and Jack Brougham – the UK CW representatives – worked the table at the Clock Tower. Generally, there are tables selling comics like a traditional comics show at the Clock Tower. And “programming” is at The Brewery Arts Centre, however, there is programming and signings at The Clock Tower. For example, the great Jordi Bernet was signing in the same room as our table on Sunday. Actually, the signing area was behind us on an elevated stage which helped ease the flow of traffic at busy times. Also, hats off to Ollie and Jack who stuck to CW’s number one rule at shows, which is, of course: “sitting is not selling”!
One of the current riffs about comics festivals is that many different shows exist within the show. Meaning, you can go to SPX and not even see everything or miss your friends completely – whereas in years past you could lap the room each hour and see everything and everyone there. LICAF is different insomuch as it is not situated centrally in a hotel or a convention center. So what happens is that one has their interactions in the town of Kendal itself. The Brewery Arts Centre provides ample space to host everyone and the short walk to the Clock Tower is where I found myself most often running into friendly faces – friends and strangers alike. It was very pleasant, I thought, especially because it was so unlike what we are used to in the States and specific to the town of Kendal.
During the fantastic opening night ceremony for, ahem, VIPs, I was lucky enough to meet the Mayor of Kendal, Mr. Stephen Coleman, and his wife, Sarah. Mrs. Coleman was kind enough to give me some driving directions up to see the beautiful countryside around Kendal. On Friday and Saturday after our obligations at the festival concluded, myself and the CW gang piled into our hired car and I drove us up as far as Ambleside and Windemere. Believe me when I tell you that everyone in the car was startled at how beautiful this part of the world really is – you gotta see it to believe it, folks. Book your tickets in advance for next year and head to LICAF and “The Lakes”, you won’t be disappointed.
Aidan Koch, Connor Willumsen and I have just returned Stateside as I type this on the plane now. I will try and fill out this report a little bit more as the jetlag wears off. (I gotta tell you about talking shop with Gilbert Shelton.) Until then, I’d like to thank Julie Tait, Carole Tait, Aileen McEvoy, and everyone who believed in the Comics Workbook programme and helped us make it to LICAF 2016.
For additional reading:
My student Niall Breen’s thoughts on LICAF – he came from Ireland to hang out with us.
Jack Brougham sent his thoughts on tabling with Comics Workbook at the festival – HERE.