Designs on youth

This year’s comic art festival in Kendal is relocating online and has a focus on children. The organisers argue comics are just as good reading material as novels for young people

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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed every facet of normal life, but one area that most people probably haven’t considered is the impact on the comic convention industry. All those fans, cramming into aisles, poring over books and shaking hands with their favourite artists? Not this year. The comic industry’s convention calendar may look barren but that’s not stopping the Lakes International Comic Festival (LICAF) from delivering its annual celebration of sequential storytelling.

The festival, which has taken place in Kendal every October since 2013, is shifting to an entirely free online event for 2020, LICAF Live, and rather than diminishing the experience, organiser Julie Tait believes it’s actually an opportunity in disguise.

“It’s enabled us to involve creators in far-flung parts of the globe who would like to come to Kendal but are too busy to travel or prefer not to”, Tait explains. “It’s also offered us the potential to work even more closely with our international partners, other festivals and cultural institutions to reach wider and bigger audiences.”

Another element that will be getting a significant boost this year is the content aimed at kids. “After all,” says Tait, “they are the future of comics”.

Above: Grumpycorn. Main image: illustration by UK-based, Japanese manga artist Inko Ai Takita

That’s why 2020 sees the debut of Little LICAF, a full programme of panels, events and activities aimed squarely at the under-12s. “We’re working closely with schools and other formal groups, running a special competition and also we’ve created special resources and dedicated social media channels to reach younger readers,” says Tait.

Among the comics creators seizing the opportunity to get involved in this new outreach to young fans is writer and illustrator Sarah McIntyre, who launches her new book Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit, co-authored with Philip Reeve, at the festival. For McIntyre, comics are a natural way to excite children about telling stories. “There’s something unusual about reading comics that makes kids want to make comics,” she says. “I love seeing the influences of [Captain Underpants creator] Dav Pilkey on children’s work, pushing them into more interesting storytelling situations and giving their drawings more dramatic angles and funny compositions.”

In McIntyre’s two Little LICAF online workshops, kids will get to learn how she created her best-selling Grumpycorn book series, about a grumpy unicorn, and in the second will get the chance to make their own comics based on Neville and Beyoncé, a pair of mischievous guinea pigs from Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit.

And McIntyre has a message for any parents or schools who still think that comics are inferior reading material when compared to traditional prose.

“Everyone in our culture reads pictures – I think it’s nuts when grown-ups who spend their free time reading magazines and pictures on social media then insist children read solid pages of text. Kids are naturally drawn to comics and gain all sorts of skills in reading and decoding images. A lot of kids right now could also really use a good laugh – get in some Calvin & Hobbes books, I say!”

LICAF Live is on 9-11 October. For more details

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