Show Report: East London Comic Arts Festival (ELCAF)

It was a hot and sweaty Saturday in East London as we headed to the picturesque round house chapel in Hackney for the sixth annual East London Comic Art Festival (ELCAF). Our first visit to what we have been told is the premier event of the year for small press comic creators, and a festival with an emphasis on the DIY and micro-publishing world, where  the talk would be about litho printing and long arm staplers  rather than the latest superheroes! And we couldn’t wait!From the minute you arrive, ELCAF it feels much like a festival, with food stalls and tents circling the chapel and giving the place the buzz of a party rather than a convention – but what else would you expect in fashionable East London?! This old church is a great venue for an event that puts the emphasis on the creativity of it’s creators and as we looked down from the balcony, we could see a hall that was packed with tables (plus a DJ in the centre on the altar) and featured a fantastic selection of familiar names, as well as exciting new talent, alongside established publishers like Faber and Faber, Jonathan Cape, and of course ELCAF’s co-organisers, the always excellent Nobrow. Meanwhile in the side rooms, the multi-national selection of creators felt more like they were in an art gallery with it’s high ceilings and white washed walls, and there were workshops and talks taking place throughout the day.

After scouting around and gaining our bearings we looked for some familiar faces to start our day with, and headed over to catch up with recent interviewee Josh Hicks (and his table mate Ioan Morris) to see his new collection Human Garbage in print for the first time. Hot off the presses, Josh had only seen the book that week (nothing like cutting it fine) but his collection of superb short stories seemed to be going down well with the ELCAF crowd. (Although he seemed to draw the short straw of being by the fire escape and was considering a new career as a door man!)

Josh Hicks has his new book Human Garbage for sale as well as working as part-time door man!

Just along the row from Josh were the Avery Hill team, who were promoting the debut of another recent interviewee, Ellice Weaver’s delightfully quirky and critically acclaimed Something City. She was joined by the continual ball of energy that is Tillie Walden (winner of last year’s Indie Comic of The Year with On A Sunbeam) who was over from the states just for ELCAF, and also by publishers David White and Ricky Miller. As we tried to chat to Ricky and David we were constantly having to wrap things up as a steady flow of customers seemed to be interested in picking up the various books on offer, interrupting our flow, but we let them off as we hope this meant a successful day for them business wise as their superb collection of books certainly seemed to draw in a crowd!

Over on the other side of the hall we had a chance to meet up with Kirk and Gary from Dirty Rotten Comics, who had released their new all-colour issue 10 in time for this weekend. It was great to chat to these guys about the process they had gone through to put together this latest edition, as well as out more about what is coming soon for DRC, and also to learn more about their newly developed digital plans.

Opposite them was one of our Indie Showcase picks, Hannah Chapman, who was flying solo on her table for the first time (she is normally flanked by her Comic Book Slumber Party crew) and she was delighting in showing off her dog vagina badge (featuring CBSP regular Captain Greasy in a very revealing pose) and told us how it was too controversial for Canada after attempting to get it made in time for TCAF!

Hannah Chapman shows off Deep Space Canine and her controversial pin badges

With the majority of the familiar names now crossed off our list,  it was time to explore the wider festival floor. Our first discovery was John Cei Douglas, whose book Badger vs Tiger won our award for best title of the day and was enough to make us pick up the book on the name alone! Fortunately it’s excellent with it’s tale of a fighting forest dweller, and so we picked up his other books Static and Show Me The Map to your Heart, which were completely different in style, but perhaps even more charming and poignant. We’ll have proper reviews coming soon, but Jonathan is definitely a creator we will be keeping an eye on in the future.

Other books and creators we discovered included Angela Pan, whose mini comic Here was a charming panted story about two girls staring into the night sky and next to her was Lizzie Walker whose Dog Walker was our pick on a table that included a beautiful looking book of poetry called Minnows as well as.

Riso printing continues to be popular with small pressers and the best example we saw on the day was Squid Happens, which showcases the technique in great style (and was another book where we were hooked in by the title), and after picking this up we spotted Luke Healy hiding in the shadows by the entrance, whose How To Survive in the North we loved and after chatting to him about zines, hiking and his recent move to London, we picked up his anthology Irene which is just brilliant.

Kirk from Dirty Rotten Comics shows off the wraparound cover for issue 10

At this point our pockets were bare as our budget for the day had been exceeded, which was a shame as there were still so many great books that we had yet to discover. However with several of those books featuring prices in excess of a tenner we were reluctant to take a gamble and so hope we didn’t miss out on any classics! Although we appreciate work costs money to create and produce, with creators competing with the likes of Nobrow and Jonathan Cape, then sensible pricing for unknown products needs to to be taken into account.

As the day went by the hall filled up with dudes in beards and braces (even on their shorts) and super fashionable young ladies with multi coloured hair that helped give the whole day a very hipster feel. While it felt super busy at times as you squeezed along the aisles, it never felt unbearably cramped, just slightly squished at times – and you forgave people for lingering as they were engaging with creators and buying comics and that is what this day was all about!

Even with the sweltering temperatures outside, things remained chilled in temperament, if not in temperature, and the general consensus form the attendees was that while the previous day had been quieter (it was a work day after all)  they were glad that it had picked up on the Saturday and sales were good!

Winner of Indie Comic of the Year 2016, Tillie Walden kindly scribbles in our copy of I Love This Part

Keen to get some fresh air and check out the talks, we settled down for Anna Fischer’s How To Get Rich – which we were a little disappointed about as we were hoping for some money making tips and instead got a slightly odd reading of her book The Artist – complete with sound effects, songs and bone dry German humour. It was an odd one for sure, but one which the crowd seemed to be making the most of in spite of the stifling, slightly sweaty tent environment.

With more talks continuing through the day, we had to head off before the main event (a Broken Frontier chaired chat about the micro-publishing revolution) but with a train to catch and a bag full of books, we headed for home and reflected on a really great day spent in east London.

With such an eclectic selection of titles on show it was great to be taken out of our usual comics comfort zone and be forced to try books from creators we had never seen before. In spite of the heat the whole day seemed incredibly well run and the general chat was that the whole weekend had been a huge success.

So there we are, our first experience of ELCAF is one of utter delight in the art of making comics, and while it might suffer from being a bit high brow and hip in places, it’s still an amazing showcase for some genuinely exciting comic artists and their work. And surely that what events like this are all about!

A huge thank you to Angela Francis and Emma and Zoe at Nobrow for making our day absolutely fantastic, as well as all the small press creators who we spoke to on the day!

Author: Alex Thomas

Alex Thomas is the Editor and founder of PIpedream Comics. He grew up reading comics in the 90s, so even though he loves all things indie and small press, he is easily distracted by a hologram cover.