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LICAF 2020: Lakes International Comic Art Festival goes virtual as another major con falls to Coronavirus

The latest UK comic convention to make the decision to go digital in the light of the current pandemic landscape is one of the biggest comic-centric events held in the country: The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, scheduled to be held in the picturesque city of Kendal in the Lake District over the weekend of Friday 9th to Sunday 11th October 2020.

The Festival, which is modelled very much on the Angoulême International Comics Festival as a town-wide multi-venue celebration, will now be transporting its content – including its famous Comics Clock Tower artists and vendors showcase – to the virtual realm, with panels, workshops and exhibitions being able to be experienced online.

Indeed, that Comics Clock Tower will have a dedicated portal as part of the Festival website designed by legendary cartoonists (and previous Lakes Special Guests) Joe and Luke McGarry designing a Virtual Marketplace to allow creators, publishers, retailers and exhibitors to show off and hopefully sell their wares – the one true hurdle that virtual comic cons of 2020 have yet to truly clear.

The curated awards, book launches, event collaborations and off-the-beaten-track exhibitions are elements of the Festival which makes it stand out from your standard convention, all of which are planned to be given a virtual spin. The event will also incorporate a dedicated programming track, ‘Infinity And Beyond’, the planning of which shows that the decision for the Festival to go online is not one that’s come out of the blue – the struggles that the country is experiencing as a whole and the level that those struggles are reaching meant that the organisers have had this in mind for a while.

Festival Director Julie Tait addressed in her statement, as you can read in the full official statement below, that one of the prime aspects of the decision lies in one of the keywords in the event title, ‘International’, with the issue of getting the foreign guest list of the show even in the air, for want of a better phrase.

When it comes to those extreme measures, the Lakes Festival is one of the markers how we as a comic con community have been approaching the remainder of the year, with only two of the major events of the year – MCM Comic Con and Thought Bubble – still in play and still scheduled to be going ahead, at time of press.

We, at The Convention Collective, will keep an eye on what The Lakes Festival will be presenting as we get closer to October, along with sharing our thoughts on the content put out to ‘attendees’. And, of course, the second a comic con finally manages to replicate the Matrix and pipe us all into a full simulation of a comic con – smells, lines, bad food and all – we’ll let you know.

Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2016, Brewery Arts Centre

Lakes International Comic Art Festival Goes LIVE!

Responding to uncertain times, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival leaps into a virtual setting for 9th – 11th October 2020

Kendal, 11th May 2020: Although movement restrictions resulting from the Coronavirus Pandemic look set to ease in the United Kingdom over coming weeks, event organisers across the country still face uncertainty over social distancing measures in response to the international health crisis. The uncertainty is problematic and even for events taking place later this year, decisions needed to be taken within the next month on arranging travel, accommodation and more for guests from across the globe.

In response, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival has, after discussion with funders including Arts Council England, decided to switch its annual weekend from a physical gathering to a virtual get together of comic creators – maintaining its strong international flavour with its many partners from across the globe, who include the Lyon BD Festival, Quebec BD Festival and the Czech Literature Centre.

Seizing the moment and making an opportunity of adversity, the organisation, whose remit also includes local community outreach, creator exchanges, year-round workshops and comics publishing, is therefore delighted to announce Lakes International Comic Art Festival Live (LICAF LIVE), taking place 9th – 11th October 2020, basing operations from Kendal, Cumbria, but, for this year, involving a host of comic creators from around the globe, joining in with the fun and creative energy from their own countries.

A carefully curated and produced weekend of largely free, pre-recorded and live material (with some participatory elements), featuring a range of both British and international guests, LICAF LIVE will celebrate comics in all of its guises and create special learning opportunities through a series of online workshops. Accessible for a period of time to enable people to dip into it at their leisure from different time zones, it will be informative, entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring.

Planned innovative and ambitious virtual events include creators “showing off”, new formats for getting up close to creators’ lives and interests; celebrity guests and many “Interactivities” – quizzes, personality tests, exhibitions, audience participation events and more.

In addition, the Festival is delighted to include a dedicated strand of programming, Infinity and Beyond, focused on the cutting edge of comics into the digital sphere, through technologies such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and more, brought to you by creators and companies at the forefront of this fast-developing, ground-breaking expansion to the medium.

The weekend-long event will also include a number of awards and announcements including the new Comics Laureate (taking up the torch from current incumbent, Hannah Berry), the winner of the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition, the launch of the Breakthrough project anthology and the winner of the Festival’s Race Into Space Comic Strip Challenge.

The Festival’s web site is also being transformed to reflect the change of focus, with a special Virtual Marketplace built and designed by Joe McGarry and brother Luke to highlight the creators, publishers and retailers who would have been part of the annual Comics Clock Tower in Kendal Town Hall.

Seeing the switch from a physical event to a truly international, virtual gathering, Festival Director Julie Tait says she and the organising team welcome the challenge, along with key partners.

“It became increasingly clear that restrictive measures will continue for some time and that, when they are eased and we return to (the new) normal, festivals and events will be the last things to re-enter the public domain,” Julie explained. “There are so many unknowns, such as the situation with international travel, amongst other things, so we spent many hours revisiting our position, which was to continue plans for a physical event.

“The bottom line is even if the Festival could have gone ahead in October, it is highly likely there are going to be distancing measures which make many of our Festival elements impossible to deliver without undermining their purpose and appeal – for example, our hugely popular, free Comics Clock Tower and Family Zone.

“LICAF normally goes into medium speed mode in May and full speed in July. International travel is usually booked by now to get the best prices and routes and marketing spend begins. So we needed to make a clear and positive decision, relay this to our partners including volunteers and then to our audiences so we can take them with us and, like us, encourage them to see it as an opportunity rather than a threat to LICAF.

“Rather than do nothing and ride the storm into next year, we have decided to take the opportunity to run a virtual weekend and to create a dedicated virtual Comics Clock Tower, running from June until May 2021, and be ready for planning ahead for the return of our annual, physical event in Kendal in October 2021.

“We’ve been delighted by support from the Arts Council, and our international partners – some already embarking on a similar virtual path this year.”

Julie is also keen to stress that LICAF LIVE will be clearly be “located” in Kendal and the Lakes, which she feels reflects an image of the popular Cumbrian town and the South Lakes as an area for cutting edge creative use of technology.

“Elements of the programming will offer interesting, inspiring and entertaining takes on Kendal and the South Lakes,” she teases.

“Some of the event formats could enable increased collaboration, learning opportunities and sharing of challenges and opportunities between creators at a global level,” she suggests.

“A virtual approach will enable us to experiment artistically and to try new kinds of events, presentations and live draws which could be taken forward into the physical festival in the future. It expands our vision and enables us to experiment with digital events and the digital medium – and, potentially broadens our audience… which is both daunting – and very exciting!”

LICAF LIVE Events will include…

• Drawing Events – 
Live Draws, challenges and panels – guest list to be revealed soon
• Comic Creator Interviews – live and recorded, including “Desert Island Comics”  – five comics, a favourite snack and a luxury item – what would you take to a desert island?
• Special Announcements will include the new Comics Laureate for 2021/23 and the winner of the LICAF Space Comic Challenge
• The launching of key books such as LICAF’s own project, Breakthrough anthology – and announcing the winner of the Myriad First Graphic Novel Competition
• Interactivities – quizzes, personality tests, exhibitions, audience participation events
• Infinity and Beyond: from digital comics to Virtual Reality and beyond
• The return of Pechakucha – 20 slides. 20 seconds of commentary per slide from comic creators around the globe, sharing passions and knowledge
• A Virtual Comics Clock Tower, promoting creators, publishers and retailers – specifically supporting independent creators. There will be no charge to those creators chosen to be included in the virtual marketplace
• Creator Workshops to provide more support for aspiring creators and for existing creators to expand and refresh their practice (Registration required)
Watch out for more event announcements soon!

• For the latest news about Lakes International Comic Art Festival Live 2020 visit: www.comicartfestival.com | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Podcast
• Check out the first of our virtual projects –  LICAF Colouring Sheets – here on the Festival web site | Have fun with the LICAF online Animated Colouring Book | Check out the colouring entries on Instagram so far at #licafcolouringcomp2020

Leonard Sultana
Leonard Sultana
Leonard Sultana is a full-time DJ / part-time nerd and is doing his damnedest to swap those around. He is the creator of An Englishman In San Diego, The Convention Collective and a rather nice cocktail involving Dandelion & Burdock.

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