For many music goers the re-scheduling of the Shrewsbury Fields Forever weekender was a huge disappointment, but the Shrewsbury International Comic Festival did its best to sustain a certain sense of the festivities. Sitting alongside the tranquil River Severn in Quarry Park, and surrounded by the medieval beauty of Shrewsbury, this was a fun and fresh take on the traditional comic convention, that succeeded despite the odds – our intrepid reporter Olly MacNamee gives us the lowdown.
As I walked across a slight suspension bridge, entering the park and slapping on the sun screen, I couldn’t help but feel that a comic con in a public park was a great idea. It’s an original concept that could definitely grow, whether as a sideshow to a larger event, or as a stand alone, pop-up festival in its own right. And it was something different for us fans, and for the guests in attendance.
The guest list itself was a stunning list of talents: from established writers and artists who I grew up with like Howard Chaykin (American Flagg!) and John Wagner (Judge Dredd); to contemporary heroes like 2000AD’s Peter Doherty, Dylan Teague, John McCrea and Robbie Morrison; as well as those from international shores like Roland Bosch (X-Men) and Goran Parlov (Starlight) – both of whom I somehow managed to miss!
While some were there just for the day, such as Jessica Martin (Elsie Harris: Picture Palace) and I hear tell there was even a sighting of the elusive Jamie Broxton too, most guests were there for the full three days, with the festivities going on into the wee hours of Saturday morning – so I am led to believe. It seems like a party was had by the creators in attendance, and that vibe descended upon the festival and wrapped itself warmly around the oversized marquee tent that housed the whole shebang and offered us all respite from an unsympathetic sun.
The footfall may not have been what was expected when it was to be part of the bigger music festival, but it was a great festival nonetheless. Good enough for me to return on the Sunday for a second day of irreverent panels and good humoured guess, equally as pleased to be there as the fans, from what I could gather.
Indeed, it was the panels that stood out as different to many panels I have seen, and been involved with, over the few years I’ve covered such events. From Chaykin’s masterclass in storytelling and page composition kicking things off on the Saturday, to a number of laid back chats involving the aforementioned creators across the weekend. None took themselves too seriously with the audience in on the action, and sitting right next to the onsite bar! I really enjoyed them all, and ended up sitting in on many more than I thought I would, because they were such a hoot.
For instance, DC Comics’ Joey Cavalieri, hosted a one-man show, waxing lyrical for an hour or so on his memories and fondness for one of comicdom’s greats, Harvey Kurtzman, arguably the main driving force behind the creation and continued success of Mad Magazine, amongst other titles. As he read out load some of the classic Mad Magazine spoofs, I could not help but feel the world of animation had lost a great talent. his broad New York accent reminding me of Mel Blanc’s Bugs Bunny, at times, and bringing the strips alive, like some kind of comic book Jackanory.
Cavalieri returned the next day to interview long time friend, Howard Chaykin, who proceeded to turn the air blue with his belly laugh inducing braggado and carefree attitude. Never meet your heroes? Nonsense! Howard was on form and ready to roll – one part PT Barnum, one part pantomime villain – seemingly happy to burn his bridges. Although something tells me a lot is part of the public figure that is Howard Chaykin; his dodgy heroes made flesh, so to speak. He set a high bar for the day, which was matched by the other guests throughout the remainder of the event.
At one point, I was pleased to jump in and help out moderating a talk with Electricomics’ Leah Moore, the Steve Jobs (or should that be Stephanie Jobs) of digital comics, and flying the flag for community created digital comics and the innovations to be in the Wild West of digital publishing and it’s true potential, which only now seems to be emerging. I left that one with the clear understanding that we are only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the marrying of comics with computers. We should be glad that, here in the UK, we have such strong advocates of this new frontier in comic book creation and distribution.
There were also of course, the indie creators, such as fellow teacher, Richard Carrington, selling his previous series The Guys as well as promoting his new title, The Claws, as well as an array of opportunities to get signings and sketches. I bagged myself a wonderful sketch of Judge Anderson, from Dylan Teague, a man of few words, but a shed load of talent, as well as a cracking t-shirt to add to my impossibly large collection, by the larger than life David Bircham, who’s work I have admired for a while now. He is often to be found at many a con over the year, and with a store in Camden, if you love good art on good tees, he’s yer man. Tell him Olly sent you!
Overall, from my perspective at least, it was a success and I had a great time and spent more than I should, but happy with every single purchase. A long weekend, but a bag full of goodies to enjoy now and for years to come too.
It truly was a ‘Zarjaz event’ and who needs Dizzee Rascal and the Happy Mondays anyway? I’m sure for many of us, the likes of Wagner, Chaykin and Broxton (Brox), are our rock and roll stars. They’ll certainly be remembered long after the disappearance of Dizzee Rascal from the music scene, I have no doubt. After all, his 15 minutes of fame are almost up, while Wagner – to name but one – will be remembered for a long, long time.
Fun, family friendly (mostly) and beer on tap, all with great weather and scenery to match. A new kind of con, that could be adopted, methinks, up and down the country. Well, during the one week of good weather we know refer to as the British Summertime, anyway.
Photos © Olly MacNamee and Niamh MacNamee