Monday, 29 June 2015

On the con floor at ELCAF: Talking to 10 exhibitors and attendees about their festival experience

In addition to the traditional 'here are my observations and reflections' ELCAF report this year, I thought it'd be interesting to try a couple of new approaches to comics festival coverage- an area which I've never really been satisfied with. While con reports can be interesting and informed in their own capacity, it is ultimately one perspective that's provided, and a very formulaic format to adhere to (the regular report will be published later this Wednesday). This piece doesn't re-invent the wheel, but I thought it'd be potentially insightful to collate a variety of  perspectives together in one place. To that end, I asked 10 people who attended the East London Comics Arts Festival this year -either as exhibitors or regular attendees- to discuss their experiences of the festival: share photographs, talk about their highlights, and suggest any potential points for improvement. I hope it provides perhaps a more encompassing and diverse view of things, and the different approaches and hopes different people have for events like this. I also found it illuminating to read points of convergence across accounts. My thanks to everyone here for their time and participation.

Name: José Domingo
Exhibitor or attendee: Guest author/speaker

How was your experience of ELCAF? It was my first time, and it was GREAT. I had the opportunity to meet new people, immerse myself in inspiration, connect to and promote my work within a new public. The most challenging part was to do a talk on Sunday afternoon, having to talk 60 minutes in a second language was for me a huge deal,  but it was all in all good, I think. I managed to deliver what I wanted to say and the people attending laughed a couple of times. I also did a signing session of my book at the Nobrow stand, we were doing a presale of my latest book (and my first book for kids) ‘Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption’ and it was very exciting to be presenting it for the very first time!

Name one highlight: Michael DeForge´s talk. It was super funny and very inspiring. I like very much Michael´s work and this was a great opportunity of having an insight to his work and his way of thinking through some really weird stuff he prepared for the talk.

I would also like to highlight the exhibitors, it was a huge inspiration to see so much great stuff all together, I specially enjoyed seeing the works and publications from Icinori, Planeta Tangerina, Puño and José Ja Ja Ja, Pasión Moebius, DeHavilland and Joe Hunter!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? It was so packed with events that I wish it was  three days long instead of two! It was physically impossible to attend to everything that was going on, and specially on Sunday, the day I had my own talk and signings, I couldn´t go to the talks from Icinori, Guarnacia and Tamaki, or the workshop my buddy Diaz-Faes was doing. I also missed the talk of Wagenbreth, but I managed to see Arnal Ballester, Sam Bosma and Michael Deforge, which was great.


Name: Lucy Haslam
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I really enjoyed ELCAF this year! Having it over two days meant it was a lot nicer trying to see and do everything -I could take my time to look at all the work and talk to people without having a weird look in my eye trying to look round at anything else. Also it meant I could go to more of the workshops and talks than before: Charlotte Mei's clay workshop and Toy Hacking were really fun, and Michael Deforge and Jillian Tamaki were as amazing as you'd think they'd be. I usually go to comics festivals with friends but they always ditch me because I have to look at literally everything, but we managed to stay together this year as there was enough space to stand around at the tables and chat. Comics festivals are ultimately about the people and being able to talk to everyone over the weekend comfortably meant this was my favourite ELCAF so far!

Name one highlight: Michael Deforge's reading of the essay he commissioned about his Quicksand comic, which turned out to be written entirely about The Matrix instead, was even better than gorging myself on all the free popcorn.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? The standard of work was incredibly high at ELCAF, but I love finding work from people I've never seen before at festivals and so it would have been nice to have seen just a few more tables by emerging artists.


Name: Patrick Crotty
Exhibitor or attendee: Peow Studio (exhibitor)

How was your experience of ELCAF? This year, was hectic as usual. Well, ELCAF wasn't hectic, but just the city of London and our schedule for the weekend. We still havn't figured out the underground / overground and getting around took so much longer than expected and we were late to everything no matter what. ELCAF on the other hand was nice. All the people who stopped by our table were super nice and I had a good time overall. Our outfits looked nice and we had good table spot and a little shelf behind us, what more could you ask for? Other than that I noticed lots and lots of riso stuff and so many prints so much I wanna stop doing riso stuff and just make big 100 + page hardcover books.

Name one highlight: Highlight was all the snacks people dropped off at our table. I think it's mainly because Jane Mai was there and everyone wanted to give her gifts. Also a festival helper, Mina, was super awesome and brought us a Nintendo 3DS charger so we could get our 3DS charged and get street-passes; it sounds so boring of a thing, but to me it was one of the best moments of ELCAF. Charging!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? We needed wifi and a decent station for international guests to charge their phones or whatever because it's more important than water. Also, regular brew coffee would be nice and soy milk that doesn't curdle horribly. Also not enough tables selling stickers. What's up with that?


Name: Lottie Pencheon
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? This was the first time that I'd visited ELCAF! I went on Sunday and had such a good time! The stall holders were in a really "cool" underground space with a few different rooms, it had a really "fun" "vibe" apart from It being kinda too hot and too LOUD. They had some loud music playing??

Anyway there was such a good selection of artists, everything looked really fun and playful and there was too too much stuff that caught my eye and I had to AVOID a lot of it so that I still had money to pay for things like pet insurance back in the real world. I definitely spent more than I was gonna but oh well, no regrets, I'm so PLEASED with my purchases which include comics from Jane Mai and Patrick Crotty at the PEOW table, Comic Book Slumber Party, Tillie Walden at the Avery Hill table and Disa Wallander!!!! I pretty much bought everything that Disa had to sell apart from the stuff I already had, her new super rare and now sold out book 'Sparklies' was high on my list and I accidentally ended up with two of them- oops. 

I also met a bunch of artist and computer game making friends who I've known from on the web and I felt very popular and friendly. If I met you at ELCAF then it was nice to meet you!! What a fun time!!

Name one highlight: The highlight for me was Charlotte Mei's clay club!! We were supplied with air dry clay and a plastic tool thing and we could just sit there and make things whilst Charlotte walked around saying encouraging things like 'cute!' 'very cute!' and 'awww that's so cute!'. She said that she thought that only 12 people would show up but in fact there were about 30 of us so we sat on the floor. Charlotte's clay club was so much fun that I wish I lived in London so I could go to them all the time. My friend Ricky and his son Noah made a toadstool, George made a donut, Angus made a kind of square man?? and I made bunbun and frog from my comic series No No Life! Charlotte is a joy and a very talented artist you should go to her clay club if you can!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I just think that next time maybe don't have such loud music because it was kinda hard to hear and I had to say 'WHAT?' a lot and the artists had to stand up and lean closer and say 'WHAT?' cause they couldn't hear me either.


Name: Hannah K Chapman
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor (CBSP)

How was your experience of ELCAF? I've been to ELCAF every year in varying capacities but this was my very first year behind my own table and it was a lot of fun. I thought the venue  was heaps better than some of the others (I didn't mind the lack of windows) and I was super happy to be put alongside my buds from Chubby, La La La Pom Pom, and Dilraj Mann. I also really enjoyed sharing my table with Wai Wai Pang and Alice Urbino - I wish we could do every single show together. Turnout was good, sales were good, one DJ in particular was right up my street. So yeah, I enjoyed myself.

Name one highlight: My sweet dinosaur tote from Matthew D Swann. And nicking one of the official ELCAF flags at the end.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? Better access to the tables! You're stuck behind them for a long time each day and crawling around on a really filthy floor wasn't good for morale or cleanliness. Everything got covered in dust - bags, stock, my dinner!!


Name: Ramsey Hassan
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I’m more used to the cacophonous energy of a stereotypical comic con like MCM for example but this was very chill and the comics were beautiful and the patrons very hip.

Name one highlight: I really enjoyed Michael DeForge’s talk / reading / Q&A. It was my first exposure to his work and I found it thrillingly bonkers and DeForge a natural raconteur.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? The Space was too small to hold the popular talks. The festival could have been more racially diverse but I guess that’s more a systemic problem then an ELCAF one.


Name: Stephen Collins
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor  

How was your experience of ELCAF? I loved it – this was my first ELCAF and I was really impressed by the organization and the amount of thought that had gone into its curation. My own experience was a bit marred by the fact that a printing issue had messed up the comics I’d been planning to sell. Luckily I was on Cape’s table though so it wasn’t like I’d paid for my own stall. But the printer’s being great about it and is reprinting them now, so all will be well. My top ELCAF tip is, don’t leave production too late like I did! I get the impression that printers, especially those offering riso, are now getting a bit overwhelmed just before this specific show. It’s become quite a big beast in the comics calendar. 

Name one highlight: Michel Deforge’s talk was very funny. I didn’t expect it to be – I don’t know why. Often cartoonists are the worst people to present their own work. You know, “here’s a thing I drew… here’s another thing I drew… I hate all my work…” I’m as guilty of that as anyone. But Deforge actually put together a really funny, planned out show. I’d had to run through the rain to get to it, but it was worth it.

What he did was brilliant - instead of just presenting us with what he thought about his own work, he’d had this idea of paying one of those ‘we’ll write you an essay for money in four hours’ websites to write a critique of his own work. So he’s submitted two of his comics to them and some poor grad student has tried to make sense of his comics and write an essay about them. It was a clever, funny way of talking about his own work. One of the essays was a comparative study of Deforge’s story ‘Quicksand’ (which debuted at ELCAF in ‘On Topics’ through Breakdown Press), and The Matrix. I should probably reiterate that: a comparative study of the work of Michael Deforge, and 'The Matrix'. He illustrated the essay too, which made it work visually. 

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? Not really. I thought it was a really good show. Less rain next time?

This is a spread from a thing I made for ELCAF: it’s called Bad Likeness and is a load of pages from my next long project threaded together to make a standalone comic. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sell it at ELCAF due to a printing error, but it's being reprinted this week and will be on sale in the next week or so.


Name: Rob Cave
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? This was my first visit to ELCAF, and attending was something of a spur-of-the-moment decision as I was only back in the UK for two full days in the process of moving from the Middle East to the USA. I only had two hours to spare, so I missed the talks and master classes to focus on the wares of the various exhibitors.

The venue for this part of ELCAF was a trendy East London post-industrial space called The Laundry. This idiosyncratically-shaped concrete cave lacked natural light, and evoked the mood of an arthouse club, coming as it did with its own bar. But this seemed to fit quite with the eclectic range of material available.

With little spare room in my luggage, I tried to really limit my purchases. I picked up some irresistible postcards from Jonathan Edwards, and chatted with various exhibitors and friends. Then I buckled and picked up a few comics, including a print edition of Rachel Smith’s House Party, a book I had help Kickstart, Isabel Greenberg’s haunting The River of Lost Souls and John Cei Douglas and Alessandra Genualdo’s 36,000 ft.

Name one highlight: Well, I had been hoping to meet up with you, Zainab, but a combination of my last-minute lack of planning and your lack of phone prevented that. I missed Jill Tamaki, too, but was more than content seeing the range of new work from various exhibitors, and hearing what they had in the pipeline. It was great to have so many graphic novel publishers of all shapes and sizes, and particularly Drawn and Quarterly, who don’t often attend UK shows. If only they had had copies of Jason Lutes’ Berlin 19!

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? One comic-loving parent I chatted to mentioned his kid got bored in the exhibitors room, so maybe having more kid-focused activities might be an idea for the future, but really I would have just liked to have had more time (and bag space). All too soon I had to hop on the bus back to my hotel and figure out how I was going to stuff MORE comics and art in my already over-stuffed bags. My biggest purchase regret was not getting any of Katriona Chapman’s stuff, particularly her fantastic print of Aretha Franklin – so a trip to her webstore is in order.

Name: Felt Mistress (Louise Evans)
Exhibitor or attendee: Exhibitor

How was your experience of ELCAF? Brilliant as usual, it's such a great show.

Name one highlight: Hmmm it's really tricky to pick just one highlight, so much great stuff there. I think the best thing for me about ELCAF is it's great chance to catch up with other artists and see what they have been up to. So many talented friends I don't get a chance to see that often, all under one roof. It's also always nice to connect with people who buy our work.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I don't really have many thoughts about this as I have never visited as an attendee but speaking as an exhibitor, I think if I was being really picky I would ask for a green room for exhibitors to get a cuppa (like in TCAF).


Name: Marianna Madriz
Exhibitor or attendee: Attendee

How was your experience of ELCAF? I attended ELCAF on Sunday and had a genuinely great time. I spent the day meeting artists I long followed online, seeing good friends who don't live anywhere near me and buying many awesome things. Perfect! I was mainly in the fair for most of the day, but managed to attend the publishing panel in the morning led by Alexandra Zsigmond with Hato Press, Planeta Tangerina, Nobrow and Koyama Press. The talk was fun and insightful - all panelists talked about their experience setting up their own publishing houses and the difficulties they encountered along the way.

In comparison to last year, I felt this year's festival was much better organised. Anyone who attended  the previous ELCAF will probably agree so. There was space to breath and to take the time to see each table at a considerable pace. I didn't notice any major queues, and as far as I could tell no attendees had anything to complain about. It was pretty busy and buzzing, but still fairly relaxed.

Name one highlight:  The greatest highlight of it: seeing Annie Koyama in real life and realising she's just as badass as I always imagined she would be.

Are there any ways in which you think the festival could improve? I would like to see ELCAF getting even bigger in years to come. The reputation of the festival is reaching overseas, and this year I met people who travelled as far as America or Singapore only for the weekend. This wave of new attendees will only keep on growing, and expectations will need to be met in due time. We saw the inclusion of more workshops, masterclasses and exhibitions in and around the weekend, and it would be great to see even more of this. Maybe in a few years the festival will go from being a two-dayer to a four-dayer, with a more enriching program of activities and gatherings for all participants.

My wallet is still hurting from all the things I bought, but here are some of my favourite purchases:

Waiting Rooms by Teiera- I'm a sucker for books which are in other languages I can't quite understand, especially if they're as wonderfully designed as this one. This is a compilation of comics self-published by Teiera, an Italian label held by illustrators Cristina Spanò, Giulia Sagramola and Sarah Mazzetti. There's contributing comics by Inma Lorente, Jim Stoten, Jose Ja Ja Ja and many more international talents. And no worries, all comics have English translations too.

Music according to Awesome & Possum by Takayo Akiyama- I finally met Takayo after following her online for years, and she's just as lovely as her comics. Awesome & Possum is a risographed zine full of little adventures and reflections with Awesome, Possum, Threesome and Blossom (aren't they the best names ever?). I'm still reading it and loving every single panel. Big ones and little ones will love this comic.

One thing I forgot to do, stupidly, was visit PEOW's table. But maybe this was good for my wallet.

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