Last weekend saw the second ELCAF take place in London, an indie comic festival which headlined with publishers Nobrow, SelfMadeHero, and Blank Slate. It was a popular event, drawing in a large crowd eager to see the latest self-published or small-press comics and graphic novels. Figuring that maybe there was something to this whole ‘independent comics’ malarkey, I attended along with indie comics darling Zainab Ahktar – y’know, to get a look at how the other half live.
It was an interesting experience, particularly as I had no particular hit-list of people to meet. Unlike a more convention like SDCC or even Leeds’ Thought Bubble, this was a festival where I was attending essentially as a newcomer, who’d heard of maybe a handful of the creators beforehand. For the most part I had no idea who these creators were, how their careers were going, or even what their comics were like. I really enjoyed my experience, even if I still remain with only one toe dipped into the world that ELCAF promoted.
If you’d like to read a report written by somebody who knows about the British comics scene – properly knows about it – then I’d encourage you to have a look at Zainab’s write-up over on the Forbidden Planet blog. I started out in comics by reading X-Men, and I’m only moving into independent comics very slowly. There’s a different focus, here. People pay more attention to print stock and paper quality than they would elsewhere. There’s no fear of having black characters. Sex and swearing and violence and philosophy all get used regularly, at the whim of the creators. Going to an ELCAF is a different experience to going to, say, Heroes Con or NYCC. The focus is on the comics, rather than the people who are making them.
(Although obviously, once people find a comic they like, they then go and find out more about the creators. I’m just saying that people don’t go to ELCAF with the intention of waiting two hours in line for a sketch from a Batman artist. They go to see what new things have been made)
There’s an idea that everybody involved in comics has to sit under the same umbrella, a bit like when you watch the Grammys and the music industry attempts to persuade an uninterested public that you can like both jazz and country music. I’m not particularly convinced by this belief myself, although I try to keep as open a mind as possible. So for every comic I picked up and enjoyed at ELCAF, there were a handful of other ones which went right over my head.
“Ooh, look at the colouring,” Zainab would coo happily, passing me a five-page comic filled with pictures of burnt-down stairwells. Or she’d turn round, shove something in my hands, and say “the printing quality is great in this one, Steve,” whilst I looked at the £15 asking price for a comic written in sign language. And whilst I can appreciate a bright shiny colour as much as the next person, I did struggle to work out why she was enjoying some of the comics she handed me. The comics I most enjoyed at ELCAF were the ones which told story – Chloe Noonan by Marc Ellerby, for example, or John Allison’s Giant Days. These looked like comics, read like comics (and retailed at the right price for comics).
Is this a case of me having had such a bland diet of comics for the past few years that I’ve lost the ability to try something different? Does prolonged exposure to superheroes dilute the ability to enjoy something new? It’s an interesting one, and something I didn’t see echoed anywhere else in ELCAF. Everybody seemed charmed and excited to pay £20 for a four-page comic about a woman with an elephant’s head. Nobody else seemed to feel like they were a little lost by the medium. Oh dear, I realised. I’m the weirdo.
That’s actually what I most enjoyed about ELCAF as a whole, though, when I think about it. There was an atmosphere all around the hall which was inviting, warm, and charming. The attendees were wildly diverse, as were the creators stood behind the tables. There was certainly no shortage of female comic book fans here! There was no shortage of fans, as a whole. The place was packed, stuffed and vaguely sweaty. It was so warm I even saw Woodrow Phoenix wearing casual wear rather than a suit. It shook me to my core.
I didn’t take too many photos, because I tend to think of comic creators as being blackbirds, and convention tables being their nests. They’ll warily regard you as long as you don’t disturb them, but take a photo right in their face and they’ll run away and hide. Hopefully these few snaps give you an ideas as to the buzz wired all the way round the hall, and just how many people were there.
There was all sorts. Luke Pearson walked about, past tables of cardboard board games and stuffed toys which faced tables of Portuguese comics and fake autobiographies of ABBA. Glyn Dillon signed The Nao Of Brown whilst a long table let kids design their own comic book ideas. If you walked to the end, you could find Dan Berry and Kristyna Baczynski’s mega-crowded table. There was all sorts of stuff everywhere, complete diversity, complete creative freedom.
There were a lot of interesting people there, many of whom I’ll be looking into at my own leisure. Attracted over by the sight of Will Morris’ book The Silver Darlings on the Blank Slate table, I also got to look through some lovely books by people like Joe Decie or Donya Todd. Adam Cadwell held court over in one far corner, The Phoenix took over the middle (offering perhaps the only table where kids could pick up a comic totally safe in the knowledge there wouldn’t be any naked pig-faced people in them) whilst Nobrow dominated the entrance to the room with a bright, packed area. Things were going on everywhere. Some people apparently got burgers painted onto their fingernails. I found this book:
It was roasting inside, the burgers cost £7.50 (so I went to Greggs instead, being a stalwart Yorkshireman), but it was a fantastic experience. A really interesting festival packed with people I could’ve and should’ve spent more time talking to. Fans of all ages could find something to read and like I mean, even I found something to read! And I’m thick!
A success all round, I’d say.