Over the weekend beginning on the 18th of October 2013, hundreds of comic book creators, publishers, retailers and readers descended upon the unassuming Lake District town of Kendal to celebrate their favourite art form. The occasion was dubbed the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and had never occurred prior; although the general concept was similar to that of other UK comic conventions and festivals, such as the London Super-Con or the slightly less hectic Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, this new event had its own unique ideas of what a comic festival should be.
These kinds of gatherings are the lifeblood of the country’s comics. They present readers with an opportunity to meet their storytelling heroes; to get autographs, original artwork, and the comic books themselves directly from the creators. Most cons provide a pop-up outlet for retailers from all over the UK, whilst several host panel talks with people in the industry and/or academic discussions about the art form. More simply, they also give readers an opportunity to meet like minded people from diverse geographical locations. Finally, and crucially, comic cons have historically served as a platform for content creators to showcase their work – not just to readers, but to publishers looking for new talent to share with the world.
Having frequented and greatly enjoyed several such events over the years, I jumped on a train to Kendal to see what all the fuss was about. While I was there, I managed to get four of my favourite creators to take some time out of their busy schedules to sit down for a chat about the industry, their roles within it, and the new festival that was hosting us all. These four people have very different backgrounds and a variety of talents:
- Duncan Fegredo is a skilled artist known mostly for his work on Mike Mignola’s HELLBOY;
- David Hine is a writer/artist who has produced work in a wide variety of genres in and outside the mainstream, such as his well-received science fiction tale, STORM DOGS;
- David Lloyd is an artist and occasional writer best known for the industry-changing graphic novel, V FOR VENDETTA;
- Hannah Berry is a writer/artist who has quite recently made waves with two unique and innovative books: the detective yarn, BRITTEN & BRÜLIGHTLY, and creeping horror, ADAMTINE.
NOTE: This feature contains brief extracts of four separate interviews, each of which has its own unique points of discussion. If you’re interested to hear more of what the artists have to say, you can read the interviews in full here.
National Collective: How do you describe what you do?
Duncan Fegredo: I tell people I’m a freelance illustrator. If you say “comic artist”, that comes with preconceived ideas… people assume you draw The Beano, you draw The Dandy. Well, you don’t do either of those things any more because half of them don’t exist, at least in print [I discussed this on NC recently]. Although I don’t necessarily write stories, I consider myself a storyteller. Juxtaposing one image next to another, you create a sense of movement through a panel, a sense of drama… it’s storytelling, and that’s the thing that interests me. It’s fun to emote through images and to affect people’s emotions. I got to draw Hellboy’s first kiss! That was really fun.
David Hine: I’d describe myself as a comic book writer now [but] I’ve worked in all kinds of aspects of the comic book industry. [We’ll get to that later – keep reading!]
David Lloyd: I’m a sequential artist. To the general public, “comic” means “comedian” and if you describe yourself as a comic artist, it automatically evokes humour or lightheartedness… which doesn’t cover what I do. I’m a sequential artist in the same way that a filmmaker is a sequential artist: I tell stories with sequential frames of art.
Hannah Berry: It depends who I’m talking to. On my business cards I have “Comics Practitioner” because I figure that anything I put down will just sound a bit twattish, so I might as well go to the extreme. If people know about comics, I’ll say I’m a graphic novelist, but that sounds a bit pretentious. I don’t really know. I quite like the phrase “comicker”… hopefully with enough use that will fall into the vernacular.
NC: How did you break into the comic book industry?
DF: KID ETERNITY was my first job for DC [Comics, with Glaswegian writer Grant Morrison]. It was a very different time. This was pre-internet, which virtually made communication impossible […] we hardly ever talked, actually.
DH: Back in the ‘80s I worked for Marvel UK, which was British-produced versions of things like Spider-Man. But I was mostly inking and drawing back then, not so much writing. Then in 1993 I wrote and drew STRANGE EMBRACE, which was my breakthrough piece of work. It was the story that I’d always wanted to tell. After that, I hardly did anything [in comics] for ten years! It came at a time when the comics industry was in trouble, basically, and I got a bit disillusioned. I came back in 2004, just writing, no more drawing.
DL: I always enjoyed drawing comics. I did them for fun […] there’s no point in learning from the ground up in the industry. You wouldn’t even get a job! You know, you have to have a flair for it in order for an editor to look at your samples and say, “We can employ this guy.” I trained in advertising art, which actually was very useful at the end of the day because you learn how to draw something [in a way which] makes people wanna buy it. When I left advertising art, it was to try and become a creator of newspaper strips. There was a possibility of that, which fell through, so [after] a few more years of part time jobs and stuff I ended up submitting samples of comics of various kinds to publishers. And I got a break eventually, and my career snowballed from there.
HB: I always did comics. My mum found this one that I did when I was three and a half years old, she found it in her loft… [it was] about Superbird! Or “Supperbird”, as I wrote. He had really angry eyebrows and his special superpower was… flight. [And in terms of actually getting into the industry, was that with BRITTEN & BRÜLIGHTLY? You were doing that on your course at Brighton University, right?] Yeah, that’s right. But before then, I didn’t really think I could do it as a career, I just did it for fun. Then I got to college. I saw some bande desinée and I thought, “Some people are doing this in a way that I quite like! Maybe I’ll just see if I can make a living. Someone will buy this…” And they did! It’s a really boring story, ‘cause there’s no adversity that I could triumph over…
NC: What sort of work are you producing currently?
DF: [HELLBOY: THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS] is only a 50-page book, but within that, all sorts of crazy little moments happen… and there are some nice little moments with lots of foreshadowing. It’s great. It felt significant, not like an incidental story. There was a point to it. I painted two thirds of it as well, because I didn’t want it just to feel like two issues slapped together into a hardcover; I wanted it to feel like more of a special volume. It’s a standalone story, but it does fit into the mythos nicely as well. I know Mike’s a big fan of [the Ray Bradbury novel] SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and this definitely touches on elements of that. It’s the coming of age story. [There’s also your new project with Mark Millar, MPH…] “THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS without cars” is [Mark’s] five-second pitch, I think. The reason Mark wanted me to draw it was because he wanted something more like the way I used to do the Vertigo work [Vertigo is the imprint of DC Comics responsible for Neil Gaiman’s fan favourite THE SANDMAN, amongst others]. So there’s a little bit of backpedalling; it’s kind of weird going back to that sort of thing. He wanted the kids at the centre of the story to feel real world… a little bit more naturalistic, not comickified.
DH: For Marvel I’ve done X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man… I did a reworking of the Spider-Man character [called] SPIDER-MAN NOIR, set in the 1930s. For DC I’ve written Batman and Green Lantern. I’ve written SPAWN [Image]. I’m currently writing THE DARKNESS [Top Cow]. So I’ve written for a whole cross-section of existing characters. More recently, I’ve been doing my own creator-owned stuff with collaborators like Shaky Kane on BULLETPROOF COFFIN and Mark Stafford on THE MAN WHO LAUGHS. [Victor Hugo/silent film fans: there’s a lot more on THE MAN WHO LAUGHS in the full interview!] The most recent creator-owned [serialised comic] is STORM DOGS with Doug Braithwaite.
DL: I always wanted to do a graphic novel that was like all my favourite crime movies […] KICKBACK became that crime graphic novel, and was set in a generic American city with no reference: Franklin City in New Plymouth, which doesn’t exist, of course. And I just had a great time creating this story, having the most fun in my entire career. I’ve told many stories […] over the years, through the mainstream and through my own publication right now, which is a digital publication called ACES WEEKLY.
HB: [I’m] working on another graphic novel at the moment. I haven’t really got a proper spiel for the others, but I have a proper spiel for this one: it’s a socio-political satire… sounds good already, right? It’s somewhere between THE THICK OF IT and ZOOLANDER. Oh, via MOON as well. Around those three. It’s very different, again, but with similar themes.
NC: What are your impressions of the first Lakes International Comic Art Festival?
DF: I have to say it’s been a pleasure. Julie Tait and her team of volunteers has done a really fine job of making an event that has something to offer everybody. I wish I could’ve experienced some of it purely as a spectator but from my side of the stage or table everything seemed to go down really well. I talked to many of the attendees and all seemed genuinely thrilled with the talks, the exhibitions, the way the whole of Kendal had become part of the experience. The volunteers were great: so helpful, so enthusiastic. It’s not the only way to do a comic event, but it made a pleasant change. I’ve no doubt I will return!
DH: I’ve been to a lot of different conventions. I mean, you get the full-on multimedia things like San Diego and New York, which frankly just give me a headache… it’s queues, it’s basically big companies selling product. Then in this country, you’ve got MCM, which is a little bit of that but then you’ve got all the cosplay… you’ve got Derry, which is very much based on literacy, so it’s a free festival and you’re inviting the public in to experience comics as a way of expressing themselves… and then this. Feels a bit more like a literary festival than a comics festival… There is the French comics festival, Angoulême, which feels a bit like this because it’s spread out over the whole town, it’s not just focused in one place. There’s the library, the arts centre… and all the shops in town seem to have something comics-related in the window, so it’s great!
DL: I think this festival is fantastic! I didn’t know what to expect; it’s the first one. They’ve obviously done very well with their publicity… up and down the street you see lots of banners advertising this. The whole town’s taking part, in the same sense as a lot of the French festivals… [Comics are much more accepted there than they are, sadly, in English-speaking countries…] Yeah, it’s part of their cultural way of life. So in all of those places, whenever you go to a village like that, they take part. This reminds me of that. And it’s the first one, and it’s been very busy, and a lot of people have just walked in off the street to see what’s going on and they’ve been entertained. Because there’s a great mix of stuff here, you know? It’s not just the regular stuff, the American comics, it’s everything: small press, underground, political cartoonists. So it’s great, it’s doing good!
HB: It’s like a well-oiled machine! I’m so impressed with how ordered everything is. I love the fact that it’s like an Angoulême in the UK, because it’s sort of what we need. There’s a lot of involvement with the local community: the shops all have things in the windows, there was a competition with the school kids… there’s just all kinds of stuff. And they must’ve brought a fair bit of money to the town, I guess, which is never a bad thing.
Header photo © David Appleby