Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ELCAF: A (Very Personal) Convention Experience


The United Kingdom, and in particular London has not been immune to the geek revolution. From having just one convention that was actually for Manga, with western comics treated like a deformed step-child and shunted to the side, we now have two proper comic conventions in the shape of LSCC and Kapow Convention. What we were missing though was our own version of MOCCA, a convention that catered to creators and fans who weren’t necessarily first and foremost superhero lovers. NoBrow Press, a boutique yet highly regarded London based publisher, stepped into the breach put together ELCAF, the East London Comics and Arts Festival.


Note: article by Taylor Pithers
Comics have always been seen as an esoteric past time, one step removed from the mainstream, with the populous at large only get to glimpse at it through the rose tinted and socially acceptable glasses of movies, television, and boxer briefs. In recent years though, an odd paradigm shift has happened. Thanks to the internet and the sheer masses of entertainment available at the end of a fibre optic cable, the now generation are more savvy and independent than ever, capable of making their own decisions on what they like rather than having one of seven mega conglomerates spoon feeding them fun. But what does this mean for comics? Unlike sports, music, or even films and television; reading comic books is an incredibly solitary experience, as by the very nature of the product it is something that is done alone. Quite often comic fans may have had no one else even within their circle of friends to share their experiences with. The internet has changed all that though, with the advent of podcasts and twitter and the like introducing comic fans to other like minded people. You can now have people that you have never actually met and be able to call them friends. An odd side effect of this is comic book fans no longer feel alone in their pursuit for four colour pleasures and as such, let their freak flags fly high. This, in turn, has actually forced the mainstream (the main-mainstream, not the comics mainstream) to sit up and take notice. We now have Johnny Ryan producing t-shirts for H&M and Uniqlo dedicating entire lines to comic based characters. Yet even a medium experienced by so few (or not as many as it could be,) has its own mainstream and independent scenes, and the independent scene, until now, was lacking a voice in one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet.

Nestled in super cool Shoreditch, ELCAF was definitely going to attract the bohemian crowd but there was a thought in the back of my mind that it could have been a glorious failure. That was my first mistake. Unsure what to expect, I only took thirty pounds with me. That was my second mistake. When arriving at the venue, my cohorts and I were greeted with a mural by McBess that was a thing of beauty. There were no queues and even the chap on the door was of the friendly sort. Once inside there was a stall selling coffee and cake and I was informed by one of my cohorts that the coffee was quite nice. Behind the food was the area where the talks were being held by the guests of the show. At the time there was a very weird yet lovely looking French animation being shown that was completely entrancing, especially on a Sunday Morning when the wounds of the night befores debauchery was still weighing heavy upon me.

From there it was straight onto the main area floor. The show was heaving and if there was one complaint about the whole day it would be that, through no fault of the organisers as I’m certain they weren’t sure what the reception would be, the venue was too small. There is no doubt that this will be in the forefront of the organisers mind when preparing the next show. Having said that, dispite the heavy crowds ELCAF was without a doubt the most family friendly convention I have ever seen. There were stalls dedicated to childrens comics and special ‘design and print your own t-shirt’ areas where the littl’uns seemed to be having masses of fun. Not only that but it was an incredibly diverse collection of people as well. Young, old, male, female; all were there and loving it, something that bodes well for the future of the medium. 

First port of call was to the amazing Jack Teagle’s table where every minicomic he had available was quickly snapped up. Teagle is the creator of the fantastic NoBrow book FIGHT! and I urge anyone who likes comics that have both humour and heart to get involved. He also had some charming hand made action figures that would have killed my budget so I left them well alone, there were stunning though, and hope to get my hands on one in the future. Next up was the Knockabout Press/GOSH Comics table where I purchased Sing Unicorn Dance, an anthology minicomic with a cheeseburger based theme. (Yes, it is as amazing as it sounds.) Whilst there I also purchased Injury issues two and three by newest indie darling Ted May. Whilst the content wasn’t really rolling my socks up and down, the art was completely gorgeous. From there it was just a question of trying to navigate the floor and see as much good comics as possible. It was really refreshing to see so many young, hungry creators, each with separate voices and all getting large amounts of attention from the people that attended. The sheer diversity of product on display was astounding. From minicomics that folded out like a concertina, (one that stood out was Nine Lives, a simple book that showed the nine sometimes grizzly yet always funny deaths of a cat,) to painstakingly intricate prints that were more deserving of being in a museum. Stopping off at the NoBrow table I purchased Mikkel Sommer’s beautiful, yet sombre Obsolete and the as yet still officially unreleased NoBrow volume seven. If you haven’t seen the NoBrow anthologies before, they are magazine sized flip books, with one half dedicated to illustration and the other half dedicated to comics. It really is beautiful stuff and highly recommended. After buying some gifts for friends it was time to go home but not before I stopped off at London’s finest purveyor of beigel’s, the 24 hour beigel bake, to devour one of their salt beef beauties.

And that was it. ELCAF was, in comparison to the other cons mentioned earlier, smaller and therefore a somewhat shorter experience yet due to the enthusiasm and sheer creativity on display, just as good. Hopefully the organisers will get a slightly larger venue for next time as ELCAF, like the organisers NoBrow Press, has the potential to go from strength to strength and become a permanent feature on the London comic fans calendar.


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