Illustration, photography or design fairs, fairs of all kinds really, are some of our favourite weekends of the year. It’s a day or two where many of our beloved creatives are in town, travelling in with suitcases stacked full with prints and publications for us to pour over, and write about for you lot to see a couple of days later.
But ahead of the East London Comics and Arts Festival, running from 22 — 24 June, we’ve been thinking about our pals behind the stalls. For instance, how do they sort out getting here? Where do they stay and how do they fund it? How do they know how many bits and bobs to bring, especially if travelling far and sometimes internationally? How do they know which prints and magazines they’ll be able to flog to London’s illustration enthusiasts?
To answer these questions we turned to Patrick Kyle, who will be visiting ELCAF all the way from Toronto this month, to answer these queries and give us a sneak preview of what to expect from his stall.
“I’ve met some of my best friends travelling for comics festivals,” Patricks tells us on the subject of what fairs like ELCAF do for the global community of illustrators. “I’ve had the opportunity to leave Toronto and meet so many amazing like-minded individuals who have invited me into their homes and shared their energy and wisdom with me,” he says.
What the illustrator’s feelings towards comic festivals prove is how great it is to meet your peers in real life. Illustrators often take the freelance route in terms of career pathways. It makes sense, they can draw for lots of companies in their own time, hone their craft, and their boss is the art director on the other side of the e-mail chain. But, it’s also a profession that can be a little lonely due to this style of working and fairs are a brilliant opportunity to not only meet other illustrators you admire but also build that community further. “I hope everyone taking part in comics festivals everywhere has a similar experience,” says Patrick.
When it gets down to where to start with your first fair, Patrick recommends starting small and local in terms of location. “If you’re interested in exhibiting at larger fairs, travel to one as an attendee first and scope it out,” he suggests. In terms of what to actually take, it’s subjectively dependent. “Zines or art book fair audiences tend to gravitate more towards the more visual non-narrative works,” Patrick has learned. “At comics shows, the opposite is usually true!”
The big question is how much to print, the idea of being surrounded by your own unsold work isn’t great, is it. “Keep your print-runs small and your expenses low — it’s nicer to sell out of books than having boxes of unsold copies,” Patrick points out. “Don’t spend money on adorning your table or having a huge banner printer. Let your work speak for itself and remember it takes time to build an audience.”
Once that audience has grown a little and you’ve made some pen pals you can count on when travelling, it’s time to take your stall to other locations. The travelling aspect is now one of Patrick’s favourite aspects of fairs too: “It’s always exciting to travel to a new city — especially outside of North America — to take in local culture, and see what the scene is like at the fair,” he explains. “It’s inspiring and energising to see so many enthusiastic artists, publishers and printmakers who are passionate about what they do.”
It’s also the connections Patrick has made which he counts himself lucky for. “I’ve come to know a lot of amazing artists who’ve invited me to sleep on their floors and couches.” Developing close relationships with publishers can also be a massive help as they’re in the same boat. “I have an amazing and generous publisher, Koyama Press, who is always willing to help send me where I need to go.”
The illustrator also points out that you can’t really “expect to fund a trip (especially an international one) off the back of zine sales — recouping your printing costs is maybe more important,” he says. “To reiterate, I think exhibiting at smaller local events first is great in gaining experience, building an audience and keeping your expenses low. I tabled at small shows in Toronto for years before leaving the city for a festival.” Take an opportunity like a local comics fair to source out publishers, show them your work, seek advice to mould your work into the best it can be.
Ahead of ELCAF in a couple of weeks Patrick is looking forward to visiting England for the second time, sightseeing and seeing his friends from the London-based publisher, Breakdown Press. Over the three days of the festival, Patrick will be sharing three new works — which true to his own advice he’s already debuted at Toronto Comic Arts Festival and tested the reaction. The first is Planet Earth “a 24-page Risograph printed comic depicting an evening in the life of a lonely security guard investigating an unrelenting noise,” Furniture a more visual publication of 16 pages in single colour Risograph printing which illustrates imagined furniture. The last publication is Deconnaissance a collaborative work with fellow friend and Canadian artist, Jon Vaughn.
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