Okay, I think I’m sufficiently recovered from the ACAF (Australian Comic Arts Festival) weekend in Canberra to write up some thoughts about it all.
Overall, the weekend was superb. A very relaxed vibe and a great venue made for one of the best “industry” events I’ve ever been to.
ACAF is a three day celebration of comics, graphic novels, artists, authors, publishers, colourists, inkers, letterers and all things comics, with an Australian focus.
I arrived mid-morning on the Friday (after a 3:30 a.m. wake up and trip to the airport, to get to Canberra from country Tasmania), so missed the Welcome To Country and the first few items, a Keynote speech by Cleverman actor, Clarence Ryan and a panel by Brenton McKenna, “Teaching Comics in Aboriginal Communities”. I met up with writer, Christian Read at the airport (who had flown down from Sydney) and was chauffered by the amazing Ezz to the hotel where the Festival was being held. The Canberra weather was stunning. I hadn’t been to the capital since high school, so it was fun to be back.
We arrived in time for morning tea (catching up with compadré Gary Proudley, writer of Proud Heart) and the next panel, “Aboriginal Storytelling in Comics” with Brenton, who was joined by Wolfgang Bylsma and Ryan Griffen, co-writers of the Cleverman comic book published by Gestalt. Griffen is also the creator of the hit TV show. The panel was exceptionally informative, particularly to a room full of white fellahs. It was all about respect, permission, research and creating a space for indigenous storytellers to do their thing.
The next panel, “Telling Australian Stories in Comics”, featured master storytellers Justin Randall (Changing Ways) and Paul Mason (The Soldier Legacy and Kid Phantom), who were joined by academic Lauren Briggs to discuss their approach to comics and the definitions thereof.
“Where Do Comics Fit in the Australian Narrative” was an intimate round table discussion featuring all of the above speakers. Sadly, this travelling creator needed a quick nap to re-energise for a screening that night of Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist (an award-winning documentary produced by Andrew and Jon B Cooke – of Comic Book Artist Magazine fame). The audience was given the opportunity to peruse a few original The Spirit sections from the late 40s and to ask me questions about working with Eisner. I was amazed at the keen interest they had in Will and they seemed well-chuffed to flick through some old-school newsprint.
Then there was a signing at Impact Comics (with so many creators!) and a great pizza dinner with writer Gary Proudley (Proud Heart), Elise Jones (senior editor at Allen & Unwin) and Brenton McKenna (Ubby’s Underdogs).
Saturday featured a series of panels and workshops for professional development. I was joined by Wolfgang (Gestalt), as well as Baden Kirgan (Black House), Glenn Ford (Frew Publications) and Elise Jones (Allen & Unwin) for “Australian Comic Publishing: What Were We Thinking?”. A rollicking roller coaster ride of comics history, wrong turns, crazy decisions and war wounds — from all aspects of local publishing. The room was packed and everyone had great questions allowing the panelists to relax, have a laugh and share some amazing anecdotes and opinions.
Later that day I was on a panel about “Crowdfunding” with writer/editor Karen Beilharz (Monsters, Eternal Life), artist Louie Joyce (Past The Last Mountain) and writer and Kickstarter master Ryan K Lindsay (Eternal). The audience was focused and keen to learn more about this form of funding and publishing. All the panelists were as open as possible about their successes and failures, giving tips on how to avoid the pitfalls that lead to a failed crowdfunding campaign, whether it be on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Pozible or Patreon.
Next up for me was “Working With Major Publishers”, with Ryan, Andrew Constant (Kid Phantom, The Demon: Hell Is Earth) and Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman, Black Magick). I hadn’t met Nicola before, but sitting next to her in the panel was great fun and all the panelists were very chatty and relaxed, with our stories merging and overlapping to paint a realistic picture about working for the big publishers. Great crowd yet again.
I did a few portfolio reviews as well, which were fun. Hadn’t done any of them before, so it was great talking one-on-one with some great artists.
The venue on day two was fantastic. It was on the 15th floor of the hotel and offered spectacular views of Canberra in the dazzling sunlight. Across the day, artists like Craig Philips, Louie Joyce, Justin Randall, Nicola Scott, Shane W. Smith and Brenton McKenna were drawing for small but attentive crowds. Other guests chatted and hundled around in small groups in a relaxed, loungey atmosphere with coffee, tea and snacks flowing. It was really great. I caught up with Mal Briggs from Impact Comics and had a great chat about comics distribution and retailing while, a few seats away, Nicola was surrounded by people keen to hear her every word. She was kept very busy indeed!
By Saturday night, things had settled in to a really comfortable vibe. Everyone headed down to the function room for an evening of cocktails, drinks and a few announcements. I kicked the evening off by announcing the two Ledger of Honour recipients for this year’s Ledger Awards: Moira Bertram and Yaroslav ‘Larry’ Horak. (I’ll be writing more about them in the coming weeks.) This was followed by book launch announcements of Eternal by Ryan K. Lindsay (what a great looking book!) and the latest issue of Demon by Matt Kyme (do yourself a favour, pick up an issue).
I got to catch up with Marie Mour from Ownaindi as well as good mates Tim and Ann-Maree McEwen and Jules Faber (ACA President) — I’m sure I’m forgetting someone or some thing. Apologies. I ended the night downing a huge plate of profiteroles with the McEwen’s. Then I slept.
Sunday was market day. I had a table between Nicola Scott and Craig Philips! Craig had advance copies of his lovely Jack Scratch hardcover. It looked amazing! I had brought seven issues of Cyclone Redux with me to sell. I had some Proud Hearts and Gestalt had provided me with copies of a new edition of The Undertaker Morton Stone Vol. 1, which looked fantastic on a new semi-matte stock that makes the interior artwork by Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith sing. To top things off, printer extraordinaire, Baden Kirgan, had arrived on the Saturday with a surprise delivery of issues 8 and 9 of Redux… completing the series! They looked great and absolutely made my already fantastic weekend! I could now sell the full set!
Across the day, I got to say a quick hello to Tim Stiles, Benjamin Slabak, Cristian Roux, Jana Hoffman, Dave Dye, Brendon from Dee’s Comics and so many more.
The last panel for me was “Creator Owned Vs Work-For-Hire” with fellow panelists Andrew Constant and Nicola Scott. That ended up being a few quiet drinks at the lounge bar talking about… comics! Which then lead to a quick podcast interview.
The whole shebang ended with a great dinner with fellow guests and staff. I eventually headed back to my hotel room and watched the first half hour of Justice League… then collapsed. (I’ve got to see the rest of the movie now. I hope the good guys win!)
On the Monday, with all the business end over with, I was invited to come along with Amanda Bacchi (ACAF panel host and podcaster), Paul Mason, Andrew Constant and Nicola Scott to the National Gallery of Australia. We got there a bit early, so Amanda did a quick ACAF debrief recording, which you can listen to here. The rest of the day, before heading to the airport, was spent talking and having a great lunch with the amazing Ms. Bacchi, who I had only met for the first time a few days earlier. Thanks, Amanda! I had a blast!
You can head to the ACAF website for further details about the other panels and activities that were on across the weekend.
I’d like to thank Cath Brinkley and Wolfgang Bylsma, for not only inviting me, but putting the event on in the first place. It was a remarkable time. The next ACAF is planned for 2020, I hope they ask me back!
PS: If I’ve got names and details wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct them!