Two words that we like to think of here at Broken Frontier as summing up our entire ethos. They’re also the title of the panel I chaired at the East London Comics and Arts Festival last Friday. And indeed they could be said to have summed up the entirety of the weekend as the fifth ELCAF (poster, below right, by artist-in-residence Jean Jullien) proved to be a celebration of both the rich diversity of indie comics and the astonishing multiplicity of styles and approaches practised by so many exciting new and established creative voices on the current scene.
Since its inception in 2012 the Nobrow-founded festival has evolved from a one-day fair in the packed-out environs of Village Underground to its most recent three-day incarnation at the Round Chapel and Old School Rooms in London’s Hackney. Its associated itinerary of events has also grown to reflect ELCAF’s scope with not just talks, exhibitions and classes over the official weekend but also in the weeks leading up to it.
This year’s festival ran from June 10th to June 12th, with my own personal ELCAF beginning late Friday afternoon when I had the pleasure of hosting that aforementioned ‘Championing Comics’ panel. The three guests I chatted with – Off Life editor Daniel Humphry, Julia Scheele from One Beat Zines, and former Bristol Comic and Zine Fair leading light Simon Moreton (Smoo Comics) – gave their own unique perspectives on championing new creators from their respective roles in publishing, as part of a collective, and from an organiser’s outlook.
To date, every ELCAF has taken place in a different location, ensuring that each festival feels fresh and different; the changing surroundings no doubt shaping ambience and atmosphere every twelve months. A couple of the previous venues have had their logistical drawbacks – as anyone who remembers the impossibly packed table area at the first ELCAF, or the long entry queues of 2014, will attest – but the last two years have been hosted in locations far more suited for coping with the ever growing interest in the festival.
As for the extra opening day, it would be fair to say that by Sunday there were, admittedly, some weary-looking faces amongst those who had tabled for the full three days. From a punter’s standpoint, though, the added Friday opening meant there was enough of a turnover of exhibitors to make it worthwhile attending the entirety of the festival and ensured an extra day of programming to boot.
And what a weekend schedule it was! Talks from names like Katsumi Komagata, Peow! Studio, Robert Hunter, Richard McGuire, Adrian Tomine, Lorena Alvarez, Alexis Deacon and Jean Jullien sat side-by-side with a whole host of workshops that, vitally, didn’t forget the younger audience. Because, to push that ‘Championing Comics’ motif, that’s the crucial demographic we need to keep appealing to…
Mike Medaglia (One Year Wiser), left, signing at the SelfMadeHero table (photo by Guillaume Rater) and Kim Clements (Rabbit Thoughts) of the 2016 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘, right
As someone with more than a passing interest in/knowledge of the UK independent comics festival circuit what always immediately strikes me year after year about ELCAF is just how many creators there are new to me. It’s a rare experience indeed after so many years covering small press and alt comics. In part that’s down to the notable international proportion of the exhibitor list. But it still always evokes a sense of true discovery, the like of which I get from few fairs now.
Some of the Kadak Collective including Kaveri Gopalakrishnan and Akhila Krishnan
If I had to pick one new venture from the weekend to keep an eye out on it would have to be the Kadak Collective (above), a group of South Asian women creators whose instantly eyecatching table of comics and zines was the buying highlight of the weekend for me. Visitors to Comix Creatrix at House of Illustration this year may be familiar with the name of at least one of their number as Kaveri Gopalakrishnan was one of the featured artists in that exhibition. Check out their tumblr here.
A selection of the Kadak Collective work available at ELCAF
With a personal ELCAF haul that would require several tweets to fully document on Twitter it will take some time for me to sort out all the comics gems I acquired. Early standouts, though, include Ed Cheverton’s One & the Dawn of Reality (below left) from Otto Press, Simon Moreton’s new zines Garden and Rain, John Cei Douglas’s Static, Theora Kvitka’s It’s Happening minicomics (below right), Lizzy Stewart’s It’s Not what You Thought It Would Be, Babak Ganjei’s Some Places Where I’ve Lived postcard collection, Erik Svetoft’s Hakken (below centre), Andy Poyiadgi’s Veripathy and Lucie Ebrey’s latest Muggy Ebes collection.
Those last two books seem to strike a chord with a number of people I spoke to post-ELCAF. Indeed if there was one name that kept coming up again and again it was that of Lucie Ebrey. Rachael Smith (Artificial Flowers), Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook contributor Emma Raby (The Dead Moon), and Julia Scheele (on our ‘Championing Comics’ panel) all mentioned her as a creator to check out at ELCAF.
Gary Clap of Dirty Rotten Comics/Throwaway Press described the new collection of Ebrey’s diary comics to me post-ELCAF in the following terms: “Comprising snapshots of her life post-university, Lucie’s work is honest and self-aware, while retaining a playful sense of humour that brings to mind Kochalka’s American Elf. A full five stars from me, and one to watch for the future.”
Andy Poyiadgi’s Veripathy (left) and Rachael Smith’s top ELCAF buy – a Lucie Ebrey badge. Catch up with Ebrey’s diary comics online here
Of Andy Poyiadgi’s Veripathy (previewed here) comics artist Wallis Eates (Fear of Mum-Death and the Shadow Men) said “Veripathy is a remarkable piece of work of depth and breadth, and beautifully presented. The human condition is treated with such tenderness in this story, and never once does it veer into the potential horrors that the premise could offer – keeping those to what is already there outside of the sci-fi element, i.e. physical pain, grief, fear, loneliness. This makes for a touching read, aptly connecting to the reader with a gentle understanding.”
Carefully curated and utterly inspiring, ELCAF 2016 will have recharged the batteries of any comics fan who had succumbed to jaded disinterest in recent months. There was something almost intoxicating about the diverse appeal of the work and craft on display in its environs over the weekend. with a true crossover appeal between the worlds of comics, graphic design and illustration. ELCAF has certainly cemented its place now as one of the most distinctive and important UK indie comics festivals on the calendar.
Championing comics indeed…
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