'Comics on K', Auckland's first comics weekend in recent memory took place earlier this month on the 17-18 of October at The High Seas, and I was there to enjoy the company and comics of some of Auckland's finest cartoonist. We had some great visitors from Wellington to add to talent pool, but this was the first organised gathering of Auckland's comics community in years, and that alone marks this as a special occasion.
What follows are some of my recollections from the weekend, accompanied by drawings of the event from the sketchbook of Darren Sheehan.
Above: Cartoonists manning the tables on Day One, as sketched by Darren Sheehan (enlarge to pick out the names!).
Day One: Saturday 17th of October
I arrived at The High Seas just after 1pm. Auckland's temperamental wind and rain was subsiding in time for the weekend's organiser, Jerome Bihan, to fire up the barbecue. While the grilling got underway, I went inside and joined the Sheehan Bros: Kelly and Darren (creators of 'The Inhabitants') and Richard Fairgray (of 'Blastosaurus' and 'Falling Leaves' fame) at the second of two display tables set-up inside.
The other table featured: Frank and Becky (creators of 'Tiny Kitten Teeth'), Marc Streeter (creator of 'ActionMan Adam'), Mat Tait (creator of 'Love Stories') and Brent Willis (editor of Wellington anthology 'Bristle').
Above: The cover from the complete set of 'The Inhabitants'. Art by Darren Sheehan, colours by Ben Stenbeck. Copyright the Sheehan Bros 2009.
A small but steady stream of customers and friends made their way through the gallery in the first two hours as cartoonists enthusiastically organised their wares and welcomed any chance to introduce their work to the uninitiated. The Sheehan Bros were greeted with many a cry of "at last!" in response to publishing the final issue of 'The Inhabitants'. So how long exactly was the wait? "Seven years, I believe", was Kelly's response, although Darren's recollection was closer to six years (personally, I think Kelly should let Darren have that extra year off!).
Above: Punters from Day One, and Becky Dreistadt inking at the bottom left.
One thing you can be sure of, there's never a shortage of lively conversation between fellow comic creators. You never know when a discussion on Jack Kirby or a 2000AD appreciation is going to break out, as it did later that afternoon between the Sheehan Bros, Mat Tait and some customers.
It also keeps things interesting if you have opposing views on subjects. As I was telling Jose Barbosa, Richard Fairgray and I can't seem to agree on any two subjects:
ME:..I'm telling you, we disagree on EVERYTHING. We should really get our own point/counter-point show on public access.
JOSE: Uh-huh. So what else have you been up to?
ME: My flatmate just imported a copy of the Director's Cut of 'Watchmen' on Blu-ray...
RICHARD: I really didn't care for 'Watchmen'. It was far too faithful to the source material, like 'Sin City'. I HATED that movie.
KELLY (catching interest): THANK YOU! You're not the only one, Richard!
ME: See, see! Opposite!
And you haven't even seen 'Watchmen', Kelly!
KELLY (smiling): I don't NEED to see it.
Of coarse agreement would just spoil our fun. You can learn a great deal from listening to someone else's point of view, especially when it comes to comics. Speaking of which, there was a variety of comics and styles on offer that weekend. From the slick, retro-styled humour of Frank & Becky's 'Tiny Kitten Teeth' to Mat Tait's brooding 'Love Stories'. Humour was also a strong suit in the collective mini-comics of Brent Willis and Marc Streeter's comic, featuring the always upbeat 'ActionMan Adam'.
Above: The cover of 'ActionMan Adam'. Copyright Marc Streeter 2009.
Later that afternoon (after a well cooked BBQ break to keep energy levels up) Dylan Horrocks arrived, with two issues of a new mini-comic series 'Pikelet', which he had whipped up on his home computer printer!
Above: The cover of 'Pikelet' issue #1 by Dylan Horrocks.
'Pikelet' collects some of Dylan's short stories, which have appeared in various places over the last decade as a set of two handsomely presented DIY mini-comics.
Issue #1 of 'Pikelet' subtitled: 'The War and Peace Issue', features: '10-7': Dylan's contribution to Dark Horse's '9-11: Artist's Responce' , 'My World': from 'Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption' and 'Siso' previously seen in 'Douze Ecrivains Neo-Zelandais' and 'Pictozine 3'.
Above: The cover of 'Pikelet' issue #2 by Dylan Horrocks.
Issue #2 of 'Pikelet' subtitled: 'The Imaginary Geography of Love', features: 'Cornucopia' from 'The Lifted Brow' (with a minor re-write) and 'The Physics Engine', Dylan's contribution to 'Are Angel's Ok?: The Parallel Universes of New Zealand Writer's and Scientists'.
Most of these stories are already available on Dylan's website for free, but these home-made mini-comics make a strong argument for print-to-order, as these items are as much beautiful craft objects as they are comics. If you would like to get hold of some Pikelet's for yourself, you can try The High Seas in Auckland or contact Dylan directly at his website.
Above: An example from Chris Slane's educational comics. This example is from 'No Hea te Hau' : A history of Te Rauparaha's raids into the South Island. Artwork by Chris Slane copyright Hana Limited/Ministry of Education 2009.
At 5.30pm the evening's lecture series got under way, beginning with a talk from cartoonist Chris Slane. For several years Chris has been producing a series of educational comics based on Maori history as part of a learning resource package for the Ministry of Education. Produced in water-colour, Chris' artwork brings the past to life in dramatic fashion, with the sensitivity and respect this project demands.
He showed a series of slides illustrating the extensive research he under took to keep the stories historically accurate (no matter how small the details in the final artwork!). From combing library archives, to checking out locations on Google earth and snippets of Youtube footage, Chris left no stone unturned to produce these historically accurate wide-screen comics.
It's a true testament to Chris' artwork that these stories are visually exciting and engaging (something that's usually lacking from most NZ educational publications!), presenting Maori history in his own unique style, while maintaining a respect for the source material that elevates the quality of these books far beyond the educational market.
It's a real pity the Ministry of Education has no plans to release these books to the wider public, as they deserve to be seen (according to Chris they fear someone will make money from it...god forbid that happens!).
Chris' talk was a real eye-opener, a look at some of New Zealand's finest 'secret' comics and a great example of an artist's research methodology in action. For more of Chris' stunning educational comics, you can view samples over on Chris' website and there's also links to interactive versions of the stories too!
Dylan Horrocks was the next speaker, with a talk entitled: 'The 6 Things I Learned from Comics'.
It would be a disservice to briefly summarise this talk here, so I'll be covering it as a separate article. In his talk Dylan discusses some of the difficulties he's had in the past wrestling with his own artistic 'voice' and the pitfalls of working in the world of corporate comics. But the most thought provoking discussion of the night came from Dylan's thoughts on intellectual property and the copyright law reforms, one of the most fiercely debated issues in the arts world right now. Dylan now protects all his comics under a Creative Commons Licence, which allows the work to be freely shared and distributed as long as it is attributed to it's author and is not used for commercial purposes. For more from Dylan's fascinating talk, check back next week!
Day Two: Sunday 18th of October
Above: More sketches from Day Two from the sketchbook of Darren Sheehan. Again you can spot some of the guests..(I'm the big head at the bottom left with Bruce Willis' hairline). The High Seas co-founder Nigel Wright is to my right, looking out from over his laptop.
Above: In this second picture is a portrait of Jerome Bihan at the bottom right, 'Master of Ceremonies'.
The Sheehan Bros made a morning appearance on BFM's Sunday Breakfast Show (that you can listen to here) to help plug the event and talk about 'The Inhabitants', before things got under way again at The High Seas at 1pm.
After the previous day's introductions, Sunday was a more informal affair with more in-depth discussions and sharing of technical skills. Kelly and I learnt a great deal about web-comics and Wordpress from a conversation with Frank Gibson, an experienced authority on the subject (thanks Frank!). With Dylan's absence on the second day, I got in on the act exhibiting some of my 'graphic novel in progress' to interested viewers.
Above: Table Two, Day Two: From left: Darren and Kelly Sheehan talking to Mat Tait (not pictured) and myself and Richard witnessing a profound vision...(perhaps someone spiked our water?).
The hours seemed to pass more quickly on the second day, and before we knew (or expected) it, the Sunday art auction was upon us! Now if there was one miss-fire this weekend, this would have to be it. Perhaps it was poorly timed, but to be fair you never know when you're going to draw a crowd. As it turned out, our busiest time for visitors was right before the lectures on Saturday night. Sunday afternoon's turn out? Not so much...
Wine had wisely been distributed half an hour before hand to help loosen people's purse strings, but when you have a room full of (marginally) starving artists, it'll takes a bit more than that to get people effectively bidding on their own artwork.
This scene could very quickly have become an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' if Jose Barbosa had not strolled in at that crucial moment to start a bidding war with Kelly Sheehan over a page of Mat Tait's artwork. Jose's bid prevailed, winning the artwork, while the rest of us managed to slowly but quietly bid the auction to rest. In a word...awkward.
With the auction out of the way, the second day came to a close with some friendly chatter as comics were packed away and emails and farewells exchanged.
Overall, 'Comics on K' was a great start to what I hope will be a continuing tradition.
It would be fair to say there's definitely room for improvement, as the punter turnout was much lower than I think anyone was expecting. But much like Zine Fest, these weekend events need time to grow and gain awareness in the community, and my hat is off to Jerome Bihan for assembling such a professional and well organised show in such a short time frame. If anything, the short window in which this show came together (to meet the decided weekend-before-Armageddon deadline) may have contributed to it's limited attendance. I have no doubt that if this event continues in the future, it will gain the following it deserves.
Personally, I considered the event to be a great success for one very important reason: it unified the Auckland comics community for the first time in recent memory, and that in itself is a significant achievement. Auckland can now join to ranks of Wellington and Christchurch as a unified, thriving comics community, with a new date on the calendar for cartoonists to look forward to and work towards.
I'm already looking forward to next year's event and the progress that will accompany it, as a new day for NZ comics dawns over Beresford Square.