We’ve recently returned from a unique French book fair that takes place on the 1st of May every year in Pas de Calais’ capital, Arras. It’s the second time we’ve been invited, this time on the strength of the French edition of The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia; Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. We were signing copies for several hours in one of the publishers’ marquees in the Grand’Place, one of the two large cobbled squares in the city centre. The other, the Place des Héros, is overlooked by their fine city hall, its distinctive belfry housing a carillon that rings out prettily every half an hour.
Another BD guest who was kept busy in there was Julie Minoh. She’s the creator of the award-winning Le bleu est une couleur chaude (the English title is Blue is the warmest colour, presumably after the film, though it first appeared as Blue Angel).
A couple of days previously, we’d been signing at the Librairie les lisières, an independent bookshop in nearby Roubaix. We we were also interviewed there about Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. Afterwards we were taken to see a column close by with a likeness of Louise Michel on it. She’s represented mourning the passing of Louise Auguste Blanqui, the French socialist, revolutionary theorist and activist, who was a major influence on her. Below is an illustration from a 1881 newspaper, possibly American, purporting to show her delivering an oration at his funeral. She may well have done so. The only other mention of it that I’ve been able to find is a similar illustration from Le Monde Illustré, located in the Musée de l’histoire vivante in Montreuil, Paris (thanks to my cousin Martin Crookston for directing me to it).
Bryan will be doing his lavishly illustrated talk on Grandville and the Anthropomorphic Tradition again, this time in Newcastle’s Discovery Museum. It’s on Saturday 11th March at 2pm and it’s is well worth attending, if you haven’t already (or even if you have!) The event is part of the Fabricating History exhibition programme, about all things steampunk. Tickets for the talk are just £2 – available here.
Later in the month I’ll be in Sunderland’s Museum & Winter Gardens doing a presentation on Revolutionary Women: Imagining Louise Michel, along with Dr Laura O’Brien, a historian at Northumbria University. It’s on Friday 24th March at 5pm. The event is jointly hosted by Sunderland University, City Library Sunderland and Waterstones Sunderland. It’s free, but ticketed via eventbrite.
Then, in early April, Bryan and I are both in the line-up for a conference on Francospheres of Resistance and Revolution at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London. We will be ‘in conversation’ with Prof Charles Forsdick (Liverpool) about The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia. ‘Exploring articulations of resistance and revolution across different spaces and times’, the conference as a whole ‘seeks papers which enquire in new and innovative ways about radical politics, activism and resistance expressed in French’.
Finally, at the end of the month, we’re off to Northeast France for Colères du Présent, a book festival in Arras, promoting the French edition of Red Virgin: Louise Michel La Vierge Rouge. Details to follow.
Last year we did six festivals altogether in October so, when the month rolled around again, just doing two seemed quite laid back by comparison. The 3rd Lakes International Comic Art Festival was a resounding success, with a record 13,900 visitors over the weekend and overwhelmingly positive feedback. Down the Tubes has a range of coverage, including John Freeman’s initial report, Jeremy Briggs on Creators at LICAF2015, Norman Boyd’s First Impressions: A Beginner’s Guide and the Announcement of 2015 Windows Art Winners. I’ve also come across a three-part account by one Leonard Sultana, who seems to have tried his utmost to get to everything: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. See also Jean Rogers’ reflections.
Next year’s festival organisation is already underway and dates have been announced as 14th-16th October 2016. There’s a fundraising auction which will take place live and online from Orbital Comics in London on 24th November 2015. The auction features work donated by Charlie Adlard, Steve Bell, Ian Churchill, Darwyn Cooke, Hunt Emerson, Dave Gibbons, Jamie Hewlett, Stuart Immonen, Sean Phillips, Posy Simmonds, Jeff Smith and Bryan Talbot.
For me, as for the international guests, this year’s festival began with the official welcome event on Thursday evening. This year it took place in the basement of Kendal Museum, where Sean Phillips’ PhonoGraphics exhibition was on display. We were treated to a dinner created by catering students at Kendal College and festival wine and beer were served.
Look, Sean drank it all! Notice the wine labels, designed by Sean and Bryan.
On Friday morning, while the 24-hour comic people were adding finishing touches to their work, we took off for lunch in a picturesque Cumbrian setting with Canadian guests, Darwyn and Marsha Cooke. The pub behind us is the Mason’s Arms, Strawberry Bank, which appears in Bryan’s Tale of One Bad Rat (as the Herdwick Arms). Thanks to Marsha for the photo.
For me the festival proper began with Steve Bell’s talk. To a packed audience, Steve charted the development of If, his political cartoon strip in the Guardian. He finished with the current predicament of Jez-Bi-Wan Corbyn, who had just been put in a sticky situation by Darth Mandelson.
Next in my schedule was my own talk the following morning, to a good audience in the formal setting of Council Chamber. I finally got to announce my latest collaboration with Bryan, our forthcoming graphic novel, The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia, out next May. This book deals with the astounding, larger-than-life feminist revolutionary, Louise Michel, her part in the Paris Commune of 1871 and more. And it looks stunning. Thanks to Mel Gibson for her excellent hosting of the event, as ever.
My afternoon appearance for a round of darts with Knockabout in the Elephant Yard emporium, now I freely admit that was a little less successful. I was just beginning to get the hang of throwing those darts by the end, though…
In the afternoon I was back in the Council Chamber, but this time it was for John and Sandra of Metaphrog’s introduction of their new book, The Red Shoes and other tales. This collection includes a beautiful but dark retelling of Hans Andersen’s Red Shoes.
On Sunday morning I was in the Council Chamber yet again, where this time I had the pleasure of hosting Karrie Fransman’s talk. Karrie was taking us through her work, with particular attention to her latest graphic novel, The Death of the Artist, as well as talking more generally about comics and experimentation. Sketch of Karrie with her busy hands, tweeted later by @MichiMathias!
Also on Sunday, I went to hear Bryan in conversation about his Adventures of Luther Arkwright and influences with Peter Kessler. Yes yes, I’ve heard it all before, but this time it was with clips, which made it all rather interesting! Then later we both enjoyed listening to Benoit Peeters talking through his surreal bande-dessinée work with Paul Gravett.
There was the social side too, of course. So many lovely people. We had the pleasure of getting to know Yomi Ayeni of Clockwork Watch, for instance, who’d ventured up to Kendal from London.
Just before the Comics Clocktower closed (and transformed back into Kendal Town Hall) Bryan went around snapping photos. Here’s a few.