There seems to have been some trepidation from some comic fans in taking a chance on a ‘first-time’ event, fears which have proven to be completely unfounded. While the numbers were slightly lower than expected, what the attendees lacked in volume, they make up for in enthusiasm and passion. They had a willingness to utilise the festival’s unique opportunities to absorb as much of the knowledge that decades of good, bad and ugly experience had bestowed upon the plethora of artists and writers in residence. While I did not make it to a lot of panels (as I was hosting in other areas), the snippets of the few I was able to sit in on were well researched and informative, with feedback from participants being highly positive.
While there were a few identified scheduling issues, mostly being trying to fit so many panel topics into one day, the professional development workshops yesterday were attended by those keen to take the next step in their comic art careers. It is still interesting to hear people say that they are not ready to spend the money to come to these types of events, as they legitimately ‘don’t think that they are ready’. No. You’re wrong. Have some faith in yourself, and invest in your future! There is no better time than the present to learn from successful people who are so open about the ups and downs of the realities of the comic book industry in Australia. You will not find this level of in-depth knowledge at any other convention. There were also chances for portfolio reviews from major comic book publishers, and major book publishers; opportunities not readily available, especially considering most do not take unsolicited material these days.
ACAF could more closely be likened to an academic conference that allows for the general public to participate at extremely low-cost with exceptionally high gain, especially for those in the industry. It is an original comic art only festival – a celebration of the artists, writers, illustrators, storytellers, and creators within this often underground medium, without as much of the pop culture accompaniment to which comics is often related, due to movies and licencing by the international companies. You will not find fan art or posters at this convention unless it is characters that the artists themselves have created. ACAF will continue next year, to be a professionally driven, academic space; a place for libraries, collectors, comic stores, publishers, and the general publilc to connect and form relationships with international, national and local talent in Canberra, where larger conventions do not visit.
Increased alternative audiences at larger conventions, due to a focus on international celebrity, is highly valuable in diversifying comic book readership, however, what you get at these smaller events is an emphasis on academic and specialised professional knowledge, which can be harder to convey to general audiences in the bigger spaces. It is important that ACAF, and other comic book events such as Wollongong’s ComicGong and Sydney’s Comic Con-versation continue to promote the comic arts alongside the likes of the bigger pop culture based events, such as Oz Comic-Con.
With modern communication being predominantly online, it is hard to find opportunities where there is such a diverse range of people who appreciate the comic arts in one space at the same time. ACAF is a chance to network and socialise in a relaxed atmosphere, to form connections, make introductions, and form partnerships for future projects and endeavours. It is also a chance for the public, the fans to come along on the market day and meet their favourite creators, grab their work, and sample the best that Australian comics has to offer. It was not all about the ‘big name’ guests, but also the independent self-publishers who used ACAF as a platform to showcase their exceptional work.
The future of ACAF stands strong, with the dates for next years event already announced as the 18-19 Feburary 2017. Expected improvements will include a more diverse range of comics, more academic workshops, more access to creators (who will be better stocked as they were selling out!), and more book launches. Organiser Bruce Mutard stated on his Facebook page that we can also possibly expect the presentation of academic papers/an academic symposium, shorter and more intensive panels, and more rooms to allow attendees to have a more comprehensive experience.
11.30pm final night of the Australian Comic Arts Festival, and what an event it has been! To be honest, we are usually still chatting in the bar at this point of a convention, but due to the fact that Canberra is so conveniently located between Sydney and Melbourne, a number of creators went home to diligently resume their respective projects, losing as little time away from their important work as possible.
Thanks goes also to the other event organisers, local Canberran (is that a word?!) Cath Brinkley and Wolfgang Bylsma from Gestalt Publishing in Perth, the volunteers, guests and creators from across Australia, Novotel staff, and, of course, the upstanding attendees, to whom the rising tide of Australian comic can be attributed. Personal thanks also to Mark Sexton, Tristan Jones, Ryan K Linsday for behaving themselves on my watch, and as always, Paul Mason for his love and support.
For more information, and hype for next year, please see the Australia Comic Arts Festival website http://www.acaf.com.au or their Facebook page. See you there in 2017.