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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

In Review: 2D Comics Festival

Last weekend saw Northern Ireland's 2D Comics Festival take place within Londonderry's city walls with entrance, workshops and talks all completely free. Patrick Brown, of Belfast Comics, reviews the event for downthetubes.

The weekend just past saw the fifth 2D Comics Festival in Derry, Northern Ireland. I was there for the fourth time, my third as an exhibitor, and my first with my name in the programme.

Derry (or Londonderry if you insist) is Northern Ireland's second biggest city, after Belfast, which doesn't make it especially big. In the middle, on the west side of the River Foyle, is the Walled City, and at the south end of the Walled City, just inside the Bishop's Gate, right at the top of a steep hill that's a bugger to climb if you're carrying a case full of books, is the Verbal Arts Centre, venue for the daytime portions of the festival. All the way down the hill and out through the Shipquay Gate is Sandinos Bar, venue for the evening bits.

The festival is just what you might expect for something split between a community organisation, dedicated to supporting literacy and storytelling, and a pub. 2D is not big or impersonal or corporate. There's mercifully little fan rancour or jadedness, no division between commercial and small press creators. Nothing gets taken too seriously. All of it, through whatever funding miracle David Campbell, of the Verbal Arts Centre, and his team have been able to conjure up, is free.

At the centre of the event is the open day on Saturday at the Verbal Arts Centre. On the mezzanine floor, a handful of lucky artists are stationed to do the hardcore sketching. I did it a couple of years ago and my hand's still sore. This year the mezzaniners included Gary Northfield from the Beano, Jim Medway from the DFC, Belfast legend Davy Francis (above), late of Oink! and Holy Cross, Vicki Stonebridge of Slaughterman's Creed and the Scottish Hi-Ex convention, and 2000AD's digital genius D'Israeli.

The theme this year was robots, and lots of lucky kids got themselves drawn as a droid by a fantastic artist. The rest of us, including Gar Shanley (right), writer of Supernatural Showcase and simultaneously the most miserable and the funniest man in Irish comics, and Tommie Kelly (far right), rock star, writer-artist and hellraiser, take our places upstairs in the main hall, show off our wares, sell them if we can, and do our fair share of sketching as well. The punters range from your usual thirty-something comic book con crowd, to young families, to teenagers, and I recognised plenty of faces from previous years in the crowd as well as behind tables.

Either side of the main daytime event, on the Friday and Saturday evenings, are the panels, held upstairs at Sandinos and lubricated generously with alcohol. There's a quiz, and the winners get a goodie bag of dreadful comics, including Zwanna, Son of Zulu, a breathtakingly racist comic from the early nineties. On the panels crime novelist Denise Mina admits to feeling like a chancer when writing comics, to pangs of recognition from every writer and artist in the room, and shares her delight at having one of her books adapted to TV. DC's art director Mark Chiarello gets a lecture in how to pronounce his own name from David Hine (Mark says it "Cheer-ello", David knows Italian and insists it should be "Keer-ello"), and gets to speak a little less guardedly than he does at bigger shows - he gets a round of applause for saying he hates Green Lantern, before reassuring us he's only joking.

There is, inevitably, a panel on "breaking into comics", during which Will Simpson (left with Adam Law) does an impersonation of Dave Gibbons that starts off as a recognisable caricature and degenerates into a peculiar cockney barking noise, and Glenn Fabry shares a rather revolting story of the unpleasant habits of a former editor. The Sunnyside Comics podcast panel on digital comics and creative ownership gets a bit rowdy and decides piracy is rude but probably inevitable. All the panellists, especially Rufus Dayglo, genuflect before guest of honour Mick McMahon, a modest and unassuming bloke whose choppy lines and memorable character designs just happen to define the childhood reading experiences of all of us over a certain age.

And then the panels wind up, and we stick around inside and outside the bar, spending the specially printed 2D drink tokens, for as long as our constitutions will let us. I'm a bit of a lightweight I'm afraid, but hair-raising stories reach me of the somewhat NSFW permanent marker 'tattoos' drawn by Deirdre de Barra on Archie Templar's torso, and how Archie's going to explain that to his other half when he gets back to Dublin. Finally, a handful of survivors gather on Sunday morning for breakfast in the local Wetherspoons and set the world to rights over an Ulster fry before heading for home, wherever that is.

2D's a great show. Long may it continue.

Patrick Brown has been creating and self-publishing comics since the mid-1990s. The Cattle Raid of Cooley, his adaptation of the ancient Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge, has been serialised on the web since 2008 and is about half done. It, and a selection of his other comics, are available at http://paddybrown.co.uk/.

There are many more photos from 2D 2011 at the following Facebook pages -

2D Festival

Vicki Stonebridge

Ciaran Flanagan

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