Taking comics to new audiences. It’s the ideal we all aspire to, something we all claim to aim for and, on so many levels, discovering an expanded demographic for the medium outside of its traditional readership is the Holy Grail of the sequential art evangelist.
How we reach those new audiences, though, and build on the explosion of interest in small press comics – and particularly the UK self-publishing scene over the last few years – is a question with no easy answer. We’ve tackled it here before at Broken Frontier as part of our ‘State of the Small Press Nation’ series last year and it was something that I chatted about in relation to festivals with Simon Moreton, Julia Scheele and Daniel Humphry at my recent ELCAF panel on ‘Championing Comics’ a couple of weeks ago.
For many, the crux of the issue comes down to whether you carefully curate a show for a target audience or if looking for a crossover appeal reaps its own rewards. There’s obvious validity to both approaches but it’s been delightful to see that the last two big indie London events – DIY Cultures and ELCAF – have so obviously pulled in crowds from the allied worlds of zine-making, illustration and graphic design, and not just the comics arena.
All of which brings us to Sean Azzopardi’s Crouch End Cartoon Art Festival or CECAF in its handier, abbreviated form. Debuting back in 2014, CECAF set itself up as a showcase event focusing primarily on local artists in the Crouch End area. It’s gone on to become part of the larger Crouch End Festival with its location in the Earl Haig Hall (part of the Earl Haig pub) being an added extra attraction for a notably convivial atmosphere.
This year Broken Frontier were represented by myself and Emma Raby (top photo) – one of our 2015 ‘Six UK Small Press Creators to Watch’ – with fellow ‘Six to Watch’ star Danny Noble also in attendance. We were tabling with the Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook and a selection of comics from creators involved in both years of our ‘Six to Watch’ initiatives.
There were around 25 creators/micropublishers in attendance at CECAF this time around. You can get an idea of the line-up from this round-up in ‘Small Pressganged’ last week but needless to say it was an eclectic list that ranged from the likes of ‘Big Two’ contributors like Roger Langridge (The Muppets, Popeye, Thor: The Mighty Avenger) and David Baillie (Red Thorn) to micropublishers like Avery Hill Publishing and Breakdown Press, through to self-publishers like BF favourites Wallis Eates and Richy K. Chandler.
Sarah Gordon was debuting her new comic Queen Rat at CECAF
As ever, what was so noticeable about CECAF was its differing customer base. A large number of those perusing the tables seemed to be local to the area, enticed in via the larger Crouch End Festival and discovering a whole new world unlike anything they had associated with the periodical format before. I had a number of chats with potential punters at the Broken Frontier table that hopefully broke down some long-held assumptions about comics being a limited and juvenile form. Some of them led to purchases and some didn’t. But in so many ways each and every one of those conversations was just as important as an actual sale itself.
Shane Melisse and Sajan Rai from the Backwards Burd team
CECAF isn’t the biggest show, or necessarily the most heavily attended, but it’s one of the friendliest, most relaxed and most rewarding on the current circuit. A true testament to the sense of community in indie comics in London at the moment and a genuine achievement for Sean Azzopardi, that hardworking, longstanding stalwart of the UK small press scene and his CECAF team.
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