Having not blogged for a couple of weeks, I now of course have far too much to catch up on, so, as before, I’ve set my half hour timer and will type until it’s time to stop, and the rest will have to wait until next week.
First, the big news is that I can go public about my strip in The Nib. Long-time readers may recall that I made a pledge to keep pitching to them until they accepted something. An excellent plan which proved entirely redundant when they accepted my very first pitch.
My whistlestop history of guerilla gardening fills two pages in the Dispatches section: turns out that, once I’d started researching the subject, there was enough to have gone on several pages more, but I crammed in what I could.
You can subscribe to the print edition of the Nib here if you’d like to see my piece. I recommend doing this if you can afford to, first because it’s a selection of always interesting and sometimes beautiful comics coming through your letterbox every few months; and second because it’s one of the few publications that I’m aware of which is actively providing a platform and adequate pay for comic artists.
Personally I don’t get as much from their digital subscription; probably because as a Brit I don’t always get all the political references, and the longform first person stories I really enjoy are more diluted by the one and four frame gags in the daily mailout.
I am now back from Kendal, the third in a series of four back-to-back excursions which certainly broke the lockdown stay-at-home habit with a bang. For the record, I was down in Devon helping my elderly parents, then at my work retreat near Glastonbury, then at the Lakes International Comics Arts festival (and the Comics Up Close conference that preceded it) in the Lake District and finally – having just had time to plonk my suitcase down and greet the cats – up in London watching the press/opening night of my husband’s West End play.
Ha ha, imagine just typing ‘my husband’s West End play’ like that. It was amazing, and life continues to be very surprising, but this is a blog about comics so I’m not going to go into it here. Sorry!
The conference was small but broadly interesting. Some, but not all, of the talks can be seen on the Lakes’ YouTube channel; despite my colossal dislike of watching myself, I am kind of sorry that mine isn’t among them. Neither is the absolute stand-out speaker in my opinion: Olivier Kugler.
As we know, I’ve been a Kugler fangirl for quite a while thanks to his Escaping Wars and Waves book. Here he was presenting the Great British Fish and Chips project, an absolute dream of a concept where he examined every element of this supposedly ‘British’ staple, finding it to be a Jewish dish which depends upon fish from the Faroe Islands, lemon from Turkey, potatoes chipped in the Belgian style, and shops run by migrants from first Cypriot immigrants and then Chinese – all of which he tracked down, interviewing fishermen, fish market stall holders, shopkeepers customers etc etc.
I absolutely loved what I saw and was sorry to learn it isn’t a book, as I would have been yelling ‘take my money’ while throwing tenners at any table offering such a publication. Instead it is a traveling display which has been at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Canterbury Cathedral and various schools. It’s such a clever way of smuggling a point about the value and richness of immigration into a book that a proud patriot might pick up expecting a paean to all that is British.
Another interesting session looked at a project to scrape the Instagram API and catalogue comics giving information (or disinformation) about COVID before putting them all into a massive taxonomy for future studies.
The next day, the festival ‘proper’ began, mostly centred around Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre. We were conveniently staying in the hostel which actually abuts this sprawling greystone building so our only logistical problem was deciding which of several clashing sessions to choose to attend.
I shared a tiny room with Michi Mathias and just down the corridor were the Myriad Books crew: Zara Slattery, Jenny Robins, Sabba Khan and Hannah Eaton. I’ve been to the Lakes a couple of times before, but this was definitely the first time when I felt as if there was a friendly someone I knew at every turn. Alex Fitch from Brighton’s comics meetup Cartoon County was there too, doing some of the interviewing duties, plus a wealth of faces I’ve met and chatted to at previous LICAFs.
I attended a session on Repressive Regimes, featuring both Darryl Cunningham (live in the room) and the Chinese writer Wang Ning (beamed in onto a giant screen, along with his translator). The latter has compiled an anthology of comics exploring China’s one child policy, and I found the talk very interesting. Since China’s way of life is predicated on younger people looking after their elders, of course China now has a problem of too few carers; but the specific problem the book is highlighting is that of those families who do have a child but lose them to an illness or accident, leaving them with no safety net in their later years.
There were so many details of the policy that I’d been unaware of, so it was very educational; afterwards I went to seek out the book and made the first of several probably inadvisable purchases (inadvisable in terms of my bank balance, the weight of my luggage on the way home, and the shelf space in our house, that is). Meanwhile Darryl was presenting his new book about Putin.
Another highlight was seeing the work of several Czech artists who’d been given exhibition space; I also watched them being interviewed and saw them participate in a ‘live draw’. It seems the Czechs have a certain droll sense of humour and I like it! I will say that during a session about residency swaps (where each artist had been sent to a foreign city for a month to explore their comics art) I began to feel old; probably too old to apply for or be accepted by such a programme, since the participants were such bright young things. Probably my own insecurities coming out there, though.
I watched the video interview with Jeff Lemire on the big screen but skipped my husband’s fave, Simon Hanselmann, as he really isn’t my sort of thing. It sounds like I made the right decision as I had reports back that I almost certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
The Myriad artists each took the mic in a joint session, each giving a very good account of how ‘culture, class and belonging’ fits into their work, and, apparently, boosting their sales in the process. That night there was also an open mic, hosted by Oliver East, for comic artists to read their stuff, which is how I ended up buying Pete Morey‘s ‘Endswell’ trilogy – which turned out to be even more layered and compelling than I’d thought, so that was a good idea.
The alarm’s just gone off so I’ll stop there other than to say I’m proud to have managed to keep up with my daily Inktober illustrations even despite the amount of travelling I’ve done this month – it’s involved drawing in hotel lobbies, on trains and in the hostel bunk bed, and also some canny stocking up of images where I could. Only eight to go now. You can see them all on my Instagram should you so desire.