Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Enniskillen Comic Fest Part 1.

So May 2016 is seeing Northern Ireland having two comic conventions within a week of each other? 
Well, sort of.

This past weekend saw the first "Enniskillen Comic Fest" organised by Paul Trimble and a group of dedicated assistants and this Saturday and Sunday coming Belfast hosts the "Film and Comic Con" run by commercial company Showmasters.  But with the commercial show having exactly zero guests from the comic industry, apart from the word Comic appearing in the name of each event there are not really any similarities.

Paul and the team from Enniskillen put on a festival with top British talent as guests.  They turned it into a community event, heavily involving local schools with visits to classrooms and events for aspiring writers and artists.  What's more the whole thing was free.  I was only able to be there for a few hours, but the atmosphere was comfortable and friendly.  I hope they got the numbers they were after but for me at least this seemed like a huge success.

With most of the professional guests best known for their work in 2000AD or the Beano, it was good to see the level of interest that there still is for the comics scene in the UK. and I was particularly taken by some of the home grown Irish talent on show.

Danny McLaughlin of Revolve Comics was there with the first issue of his new epic fantasy comic "Solstice".  I can't help thinking that "Zombies Hi" writer Danny has been inspired just a little by Game of Thrones, as the story begins in a long, long winter that appears to have no end.  But from there the story goes on a more mystical path than the political manoevuring of Westeros.

Artist Nathan Donnell's work is atmospheric, coloured mainly in blue and white, a beautiful first page gives way to stylised and impressionistic illustration.  This is neither the ultra realism or the big-foot cartoon style that seems to dominate comics today but no less effective for that. 

Nathan's use of red in one particular scene is both telling and dramatic.  

Writer Danny could, perhaps, do with an editor on his dialogue which is sometimes sometimes telling us what Nathan has already very effectively shown, but that is a very minor point and this is a very nice first title from a new publisher.  I do wonder why they don't seem to have included credits in the comic, its only from meeting them that I knew who was the writer and who was the artist and neither struck me as exceptionally shy, especially if he'll forgive me for saying this Danny.

The Collins Press from Cork used the festival to launch a new Graphic novel about Ernest Shackleton and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.   I first became aware of the story of Ernest Shackleton through comics when the much missed Look and Learn, featured him on the cover.  I've been fascinated by the ill-fated voyage ever since.  Writer Gavin McCumiskey was at hand to show off and discuss his book "Shackleton, The Voyage of the James Caird".

The story Gavin tells us is an incredible one.  Trapped in the ice, their ship destroyed Shackleton and his crew fought for survival against the power of nature and the frailty of their bodies and their minds.  The graphic novel captures the enormity of the task Shackleton and his crew faced as they challenged the ice and the sea.  Something of a cross between a traditional comic and an illustrated prose piece, this tells the full story of what Gavin himself describes as "the greatest feat of leadership and survival ever recorded".   Shackleton has always been a real hero of mine, a man who accepted responsibility for the men under his command and through skill, determination and sheer force of will  kept them alive in the worst of conditions.   I knew the story well, I've read other comic adaptations fairly recently but I read this 90 page re-telling in a single sitting and I'll probably read it again.

Finally it was a great pleasure to meet and chat with Patrick Brown.  Patrick had a range of comics on sale all of which are available through the Comicsy web-site (see below), I picked up the first three issues of The Cattle Raid of Cooley, a retelling of the longest of the traditional tales of the Ulster Cycle.

These are hard-copy reprints of Patrick's long running web-comic, one I'm ashamed to say I had not followed before now and tell the stories of some of the earliest tales in Irish literature.   These are the stories of Celtic Ireland, of the struggles between the Kings and Queens of the time.  Patrick is meticulous about the accuracy of his work and includes detailed notes on the History of the manuscripts and the sources he uses for the design of roundhouses, chariots and the like.  There is much to learn from this series, but you won't notice you are learning.  

This is so obviously a labour of love.  Again we are looking at something that is not like anything else we see in the comics market.  Paddy's art style is deceptive.  At first glance it looks simple, perhaps even (and I really don't mean this the way it sounds) childish.  He draws in red ink with sparse or non-existent backgrounds, his figures are equally simple but his characters have real faces and expressions and boy can he draw animals and birds.

I just loved these and the rest of the set have already been ordered from Comicsy.  Maybe when I've had a bit more practise at this reviewing business I'll come back and do them proper justice.

There is too much to say about the Enniskillen Comic Fest for one post so I'll be back with another post shortly.  Suffice to say Paul and the guys organised something special and I hope to see them back again next year.

In the meantime check out these links.

Revolve comics

Shackleton A graphic Account - Publisher's

Shackleton - Amazon link.


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