June 27, 2012

Comics Fest 2012 Report-Back

 Phew! It's already been more than a month since this year's Comics Fest, and I think I'm finally starting to recover from all the excitement. If you're unfamiliar, it was Durham County Library's second (annual?) celebration of comics and graphic novels, organized by Amy Godfrey, Southwest Regional's Youth Services Manager and the talent behind The Lyrabrary, and me.

This year's event was a two-day affair, and Saturday's goings-on focused on children and teens. For this we brought in Mark Crilley, writer and artist of a number of series including Akiko, Miki Falls and his newest creation Brody's Ghost. Mark works in a manga style that's about halfway between "cartooney" and realistic, and he led a workshop on effective storytelling and page design. It did my heart good to hear (I was attending to freebie tables) that kids came with big drawing pads and tried out his layout techniques during the talk. So great!

Also in attendance was Willow Dawson, cartoonist of Lila & Ecco's Do-It-Yourself Comics Club, No Girls Allowed and  Hyenas in Petticoats, as well as the illustrator of many other excellent books. Willow's own specialty is nonfiction comics and comics based on true stories and real people, and this was the subject of her workshop as well. Audience members received advice and practical tips on creating fictional and nonfictional characters from actual history, and using them as a means to well-rounded storytelling.  (Willow's own account of the Fest may be found here.)

From left: Mark Crilley, me, Willow Dawson, Amy Godfrey.

One other amazing thing to come out of the children's end of Comics Fest is the establishment of The DCL Kids Comics Blob, Durham County Library's official blog on comics for kids and teens. Amy is the blogger-in-chief, but it features reviews by other library staff and comics by participants in Amy's excellent mini-comics workshops. THESE THINGS ARE AWESOME and you should definitely have a look, even if children's literature isn't your scene. (P.S. I created the mascot art, the "Blob" in "Comics Blob", which is also used in the Comics Fest banner above. Self promotion!)

Sunday was geared more toward an adult audience, and, thusly, "my" day. The main event was a talk by much-awarded cartoonist Nate Powell, whose works include Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, The Silence of Our Friends (written by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos) and The Year of the Beasts (written by Cecil Castellucci). Nate gave a talk about how he got into the comics business, from growing up with naive ideas about the cartooning process to creating critically acclaimed graphic novels alone and with collaborators.  Nate was hosted by Rob Clough, Durham-based comics critic and writer for The Comics Journal, who had an engaging conversation/interview about the themes of Nate's work and his motives for creating such stories.

Nate Powell (left) and Rob Clough.

Following Nate's talk was a panel discussion about the various ways comics are being incorporated into higher learning. "Comics Go To College" featured participants Sara Appel (doctoral candidate in Duke University's Program in Literature), Will Hansen (librarian and archivist at Duke's Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Collection) and Kirill Tolpygo (librarian at UNC Chapel Hill's Savine Collection of Russian and East European materials), along with host Ben Bolling (doctoral student in UNC's English Department). The panel shed light on the surprisingly diverse challenges and joys of working with an oft-slighted medium, and I, for one, could  have listened for another hour.

The "Comics Go To College" panel: (from left) Ben Bolling, Will Hansen, Kirill Tolpygo, Sara Appel

It was, all in all, a great time and an overwhelming success. Many thanks to our patrons for coming to this program and making it all worthwhile, to the guests for providing such enthralling programs, to local businesses and newspapers for their generous coverage and support, to Amy for getting the whole thing rolling, and most of all to the Friends of the Durham Library and the Durham Library Foundation for making it possible in the first place. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Durham County Library patrons may find these authors' many works on the library catalog: Mark Crilley, Willow Dawson, Nate Powell.

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Notes
All images courtesy Durham County Library.

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