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Comica Festival

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Valerie Pezeron attended the 2009 Comica Festival and her review appeared on Amelia's Magazine in November 2009.

Comic books: Not Reserved To Spotty Nerds

Walking into the ICA on Sunday the 8th of November and you would not have recognised the usual contemporary art venue. The corridor joining the reception to the cafe area was transformed in a vast art experiment with artists drawing little sketches of witty speech bubbles all over the walls.

Welcome to the sixth Comica Festival, a place where aspiring graphic novelists get the chance to rub shoulders with established comic book artists for a whole day and where the average age of the hip attendees is 25 to 35. Paul Gravett, a long time supporter and influential figure in the English comics community who also happens to be organising the festival, believes that events such as Comica are proof that people’s mindsets about the comics book industry is changing. “Comics tend to be ghettoised by the fan community but we’re trying to build connections between comics and other art forms. It has taken time for people to realise that comics can be about anything. Comic artists haven’t got to draw Batman and there aren’t many rules. It’s about the maturing of the readership and publishers, recognising that this is an exciting form of storytelling.”

The first talk of the afternoon, Starting Out in Graphic Novels, was aiming to help aspiring graphic novelists understand better what it takes to succeed in a business that does not pay as well as commercial art but is as competitive a field. Brian Talbot and Julian Hanshaw explained how time-consuming and hard-graft it is to put a graphic novel together; It took Talbot about 4 years to concoct his last one.

The talk was followed by the presentation of the winners of The Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story prize. This competition is in its third year and attracted over 300 entries. The first prize went to the vividly captured and tender story Paint by Vivien McDermid, which the judges thought was a touching portrayal of mother with their small toddler.

Meanwhile, the most sizzling and significant gathering of scribes and scrawlers from across the UK indie scene was taking place in the main theatre; Comica Comiket Small Press Fair was packed with an eclectic selection of self-published comics from dozens of storytellers and collectives. The Internet is a great tool but these exquisite limited editions, show that holding an hand printed original piece is much better than web-comics.

Later, I attended the Ctrl.Alt.Shift Comic Art Propaganda panel discussion where author Fredrik Strömberg, writer Pat Mills, Sean Duffield and cartoonist Polyp debated about political cartooning and its relevance today in our society. There is a huge variety of stories and genres out there that go way beyond any stereotypes people may have about comics and graphic novels. Women artists have flocked to be part of the scene; Cartoonist Polyp is the author of Speechless, an eco-fable published by Friends of the Earth. Award-winning biographies such as Perseplois by Marjanne Satrapi have been turned into successful movies. Comic books are a vibrant and compelling medium where so much can still be achieved. Graphic novels are at last getting some well deserved recognition; they are not just for the illiterate or teenage geeks as some people still believe. It is the older generations who mainly buy graphic novels in the UK and at Comica you could really see that fact reiterated.


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"....plenty of food for thought in terms of fresh reading material ideas..."
Euan Gillespie

"...the Talking With Gods documentary didn't disappoint."
The Guardian

"...will be talked about by those who saw it for years to come."
Bart Beaty

"...a place where aspiring graphic novelists get the chance to rub shoulders with established comic book artists..."
Valerie Pezeron

"Guibert turned out to be a captivating speaker."
Sarah McIntyre

"...far and away the best place to find a serious and eclectic showcase of world comics fare."
The First Post

"5 Stars... a superb exhibition."
Time Out

"Every time I go to these events I come back inspired to do more work."
Sylvia Libedinsky

"...a very special conversation between two incredible artists."
Chris Thompson

"It was definitely worth the trip."
Garen Ewing