Child’s play: Lakes International Comic Art Festival gets serious about comics

David Banning

The weekend festival stages a talk and drawing workshop exploring the evolving medium of comic art – and whether cartoons can ever be “legitimate” art.

Be honest: what do you think of when comic books are mentioned? Speech bubbles filled with words like “Wham,” “Zap” and “Pow”? Save-the-world exploits? Law enforcement officers armed with special powers and ridiculous body armour? Or just men in tights? We’re betting that stylish art works interlocked with carefully crafted storytelling don’t immediately spring to mind and yet this is the emerging side of comic art. Still, one nagging concern remains: what does it take for a comic to become a so-called “legitimate” work of art?

The gallery’s collection provides inspiration for visitors’ own comic creations

This is just one of the questions addressed by The Ninth Art, a talk by a panel of experts from both the visual art and literary worlds. Staged at Kendal’s Abbot Hall gallery as part of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Observer critic Richard Cooke, publisher Dan Fanklin and others discuss whether comics have finally come of age in the UK and what their future manifestations may be. A number of comic artists also pitch in, including Bryan Talbot, Posy Simmonds and Escape Magazine founder Paul Gravett.

Abbot Hall also stages communal art event, Come Draw with Me over the festival weekend. Launched as part of Family Arts Festival, a nationwide programme of cultural half term activities, gallery visitors are given pens and paper to create their own comic creations. Comic artists are on hand to give advice and the gallery’s collection, which spans eighteenth century watercolours and contemporary art provides the artistic inspiration. The idea of comic books as children’s playthings is starting to sound outdated already.

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