ELCAF has been running since 2012 and was founded by London-based graphic arts publisher Nobrow. What was once a small, one-day event created to showcase some of the most exciting works in comics and illustration is now a three-day festival with a programme packed full of exhibitors, talks and workshops. ELCAF attracts over 3,000 visitors each year and with its exciting selection of international talent, we decided to catch up with festival artistic director Ligaya Salazar to find out more about 2017’s incarnation of the festival, what the challenges have been, the identity and what she’s looking forward to most.
How long have you been working on ELCAF? How did you come to work on the festival?
This year’s ELCAF will be the fifth I have worked on and the sixth I’ve attended. I had been working with Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro from Nobrow on a Friday Late event in my previous role as curator of contemporary programmes at the V&A when they contacted me to see whether I was interested in working with them on ELCAF. I’d been to the first one where there was a (very patient) queue around the block and was excited (and terrified) at the prospect of running it! Because I could sense it a little crazy to take it on by myself, I brought on board our creative producer Joana Filipe straightaway who has been working on it with me since.
What does your role as artistic director encompass?
As the festival started to grow, so did the team working on it so my role now is to steer all things creative from the programme, identity, selection of stallholders to partnerships and associated events. But as we are still a tiny team of freelancers, it also involves sorting materials, moving around boxes and tons and tons of emails and spreadsheets!
Why do you think ELCAF is important for east London and the creative industries as a whole?
London has seen a growth of illustration and zine related festivals in recent years, but ELCAF still holds a specific place within that through its focus on storytelling and sequential illustration. While our exhibitor base has always been wider than east London, we purposefully keep both the ticket and the table fees low for self publishers and collectives to encourage a wide spectrum of artists to apply to show their work.
Through our ELCAF season we also work closely with schools and libraries in east London to run workshops and masterclasses. We know our audience loves to be able to see the work of local artists in the flesh and the chance to chat with them. Combined with bringing bigger internationally renowned names to talk about their work, ELCAF champions the local and brings the global to East London.
Has its purpose changed over the years?
ELCAF’s purpose has remained the same over the last six editions, we are really about providing a physical platform for practitioners by supporting and showcasing talent within the field of comics, sequential illustration and visual storytelling. So I guess perhaps the scope has widened a little to include more children’s books and digital practices but our purpose is still fully intact.
What’s new or different about this year’s festival?
This year’s festival is even bigger than before with a two-month long season of events and exhibitions preceding it. It’s been fantastic to work with our partners at House of Illustration, Hackney Council, Foyles and Now Gallery on this. We’re also doing a slightly bigger award with WeTransfer to enable the development and production of a new publication. So I guess, for us the really new thing is that for the first time we are in the same venue the second year in a row, which is a delight for the production side of things.
What have been the challenges this year?
The challenge every year is funding. As we try and keep the festival affordable and because we think it’s super important for it to remain small and friendly, we rely on public funding sources which aren’t always that easy to come by! My team would probably also say that doing so many events and exhibitions alongside is a challenge, but perhaps a more rewarding one.
Can you tell us a bit about the identity for this year?
We are really thrilled to have Icinori, a French illustration duo who handprint and make the majority of their publications and who have been at the festival since the beginning as our lead artists this year. Their work sits at the more abstract edge of storytelling and for us represents the wide range of practices that ELCAF showcases.
They’re interested in telling fantastical, surreal and open-ended stories and take their inspiration from Japanese woodblock printing and other printmaking processes. For ELCAF they created the identity and an exhibition called The Island at Now Gallery. For both they’ve imagined an abstract landscape for the audience to imagine their own story to take place in.
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s festival?
That’s a hard question: I love all aspects. I can’t wait to see what new things the exhibitors will bring to sell, what people create in the workshops and definitely announcing our two ELCAF awards on Sunday. Our talks programme this year features some great people like Una and Sarah Glidden whose work deals with harder subjects such as mental health and politics and coming over from Leipzig we have Anna Haifisch (of The Artist fame) and Max Baitinger who also happen to run a small comics festival there. It’ll be three days of having to choose from tons of good stuff and as always we’ll have great music and food too!
ELCAF kicks of this Friday 16 June and runs until Sunday 18 June. For the full programme click here.
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