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Comica Festival 2012:

Putting Comics First!

Among several hats, I wear one real favourite, as a co-director with Megan Donnolley and Peter Stanbury of Comica Festival. Together with some amazing sponsors, supporters and volunteers, we’re Team Comica, collaborating to make a festival that above all is about “putting comics first”. You can read an interview with me by Matt Badham from 2009, discussing the origins of the festival in 2003 and its developments over the years. In 2010, after initially being based at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Comica became independent and since last year has been set up as a not-for-profit social enterprise. This year’s 9th London International Comics Festival is without doubt the most ambitious yet. It kicks off next Friday, November 2nd for the rest of the month. So I thought this would be good timing and a good opportunity to discuss some of 2012’s packed programme.

We’ve been lucky enough to host some pretty stellar guests before - Charles Burns, Chris Ware and Joe Sacco came to London for the very first Comica in 2003.  Even Sophie Crumb came over that year and did some live tattooing on stage. So this year, I’m delighted that her Mom and Dad, Aline and Robert Crumb (above, photo © Lora Fountain), have agreed to make their only UK appearance at Comica Festival for a low-key, modest-scale conversation and book launch. Theirs has been an unconventional relationship, much of it recorded candidly in their unique autobiographical comics, in which the two of them portray themselves and write and letter their own dialogues within the same panels. These have all now been gathered into Drawn Together (Knockabout), the most complete compilation yet, including a brand new story. I will be talking with them both at Foyles Bookshop, one of our major sponsors, in the flagship store on Charing Cross Road, on Saturday November 3rd from 6.30pm. You’re welcome to join in with this very special Comica Conversation - here is the link to book tickets Don’t delay!

Another central aspect of Comica Festival from the start has been staging innovative and preferably free exhibitions. For the sixth year in a row, The Observer/Jonathan Cape/Comica Graphic Short Story Prize discovers some of the most promising upcoming talents in British comics and once more we’ll be exhibiting the finalists, this time in the 3rd Floor Gallery at Foyles. The winner’s four-page story will be published in The Observer newspaper next Sunday, November 4th. But you can find out who has won on Friday, November 2nd, at the Opening Night of Comica at Foyles, on Friday November 2nd from 6.30-9pm.

The night includes a panel with judges Rachel Cooke, Dan Franklin and I. We will also be interviewing three of the competition’s previous winners: Stephen Collins, Isabel Greenberg (last year’s winner, detail above) and Julian Hanshaw (The Art of Pho, I’m Not Coming Back), all of whom have graphic novels published, or about to be published, by Cape. Collins and Greenberg will present the first sneak peaks of their forthcoming projects. You’ll also see and hear the world premiere of the soundtrack to another UK Original Cape graphic novel, The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone (below) by Ravi Thornton and Andy Hixon, which will be performed live by composer and pianist Othon Mataragas. Again, to reserve your place there, subject to capacity, please email your name(s) to comicafestival[at]

Another key factor in what makes Comica Festival work so well is our creative co-operation with a wide variety of partner organisations and venues, from comic shops Gosh! and Orbital to cultural insitutes. For example, both the Korean Cultural Centre, off Trafalgar Square, and the Goethe-Institut on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, have scheduled free exhibitions in November as part of Comica, about manhwa or comics from Korea and about the cutting edge of German comics culture. Both Korean and German artists will be among those coming over to London, participating in the Festival and meeting the UK public and profession. 

On Sunday November 4th, again at Foyles, you can meet respected pioneer Doo-Ho Lee, Priest creator Min-Woo Hyung, and other modern manhwa masters Jeong-Taek Chae, Jung-hyun Suk and Jude Friday at a totally free Korea/UK Comics NetWorkShop, 2-4pm, where they will meet their British peers including Ilya and David Hine for a fascinating cultural-exchange. To be there, simply email your name(s) to comicafestival[at] - and there will be drinks and refreshments and 100 manhwa books being given away. So what’s not to like?

From our other guest country this year, Germany, the Goethe-Institut has worked with Comica to invite and involve three brilliant artists - Anke Feuchtenberger, Line Hoven (above) and Christina Plaka - and the comics historian Andreas Knigge. If you’d like to attend the exhibition opening on Monday November 5th, 7-9pm, please email comicafestival[at] and we’ll add you to the guest list, numbers permitting. Knigge will be talking with me about the new, revised German edition he has edited of 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die, just out from Olms. Anke Feuchtenberger is talking at Foyles with Andrzej Klimowski,  Line Hoven teaches a scraperboard workshop, and Christina Plaka meets Emma Vieceli for a Manga & Cosplay Night. Click their names to follow the links for details.

Another institution of the Festival, of course, is the Comica Comiket, our Independent Comics Fair. It’s back for the third time at the splendid Great Hall of Bishopsgate Institute, a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station and Spitalfields Market. It’s on Saturday, November 10th and runs from 11am to 7pm, that’s an extra hour at the end of the day to meet and buy direct from great comics creators and publishers. And one highlight of Comiket is our Drawing Parade, devised by Peter Stanbury. Come and relax, sit and watch fifteen super-talented artists draw for thirty minutes each, with their every line projected behind them on a giant screen. And because we want absolutely everyone to be able to to discover how great comics are, admission is still completely free!

Among the astounding superstar artists already confirmed, whose live drawings will be projected onto a giant screen, are: Bryan Talbot, launching the very first copies of his Grandville Bête Noire; Glyn Dillon, creator of the acclaimed The Nao of Brown; Line Hoven, demonstrating her scraper-board genius in Love Looks Away; Jaromir 99, artist on the Czech graphic novel Alois Nebel, whose animated movie adaptation opens in November; and Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother?, who will be declaring the Comiket officially open at 11am. More Paraders will be announced leading up to the big day.

There’s so much more going on through to the very of November. The thinking behind Comica is not to crowd lots of parallel, clashing events all at once over one day or long weekend, as most festivals tend to do, but to space them out over a few weeks to permit people to go to every one. Someone once told me, “I love everything Comica”, and that made my day. She knew and trusted that every Comica event we put on is going to be rewarding and worth going to.  Other top guests coming this November for Comica Conversations include Kevin ONeill, Bryan Talbot, Alison Bechdel (in association with Laydeez Do Comics), Posy Simmonds and Oliver Frey, all at Foyles, plus Joann Sfar at the Institut Français.

There also going to be a double-panel gala evening at the Free Word Centre, co-curated by Hannah Berry (above) in association with The Book Trust, where she and I will be talking with Glyn Dillon, Karrie Fransman, Simone Lia, Sarah McIntyre, Dave McKean and others to be announced about Comics: Refreshing Parts Other Literature Can’t Reach!

There’s much more to this year’s Comica Festival, from launch parties and signings to the third Comica Symposium, Transitions 3, once more at Birkbeck, a completely free, all-welcome, accessible conference on comics studies to expand your appreciation of sequential art. To attend on Saturday November 3rd, you just need to register by clicking the link above, where you can also see the day’s agenda.

To keep up with the latest news and learn about two more amazing forthcoming free exhibitions curated by Megan Donnolley, keep checking the constantly updated Festival 2012 Programme online and be sure to sign up to the mailing list to receive the emailed Comica Newsletter. And all of us at Team Comica really look forward to meeting many of you over this coming month’s London-wide festival - it’s going to be rather wonderful!

Posted: October 28, 2012


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My Books

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library