IBBY comics conference

Hooray! These annual conferences are usually about picture books, but this year they spent the whole day discussing COMICS!!! Things are changing in children’s book publishing, I tell you… The conference was the 16th Annual meeeting of British IBBY (International Board on Books for Young people) and NCRCL (the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature).

Look, one of the coordinator’s daughters sent me a comic! This one’s by Emilia Lamkin, who just turned nine. Isn’t it great? Thanks, Emilia! (Click to read a larger version!)

I was having a bad day with technology, so I didn’t take hardly any photos. The climax of this was when my phone went off in the middle of Paul Gravett‘s talk on French comics. I hate my mobile, I try to use it as little as possible, which means I never think about it. I’m one of those people who tutt like mad when someone’s phone goes off in the middle of the opera, and now I am one of them… THE SHAME. To make matters worse, I was so embarrassed when I came back in that I stumbled my way back across everyone’s legs into the WRONG ROW. I started to pick up someone else’s stuff on the wrong chair when I suddenly realised I was doing, and stood there, petrified, wondering if I could jump over the seat in front of me until the whole back two rows burst into wild snickering. (Oh my goodness, I’m going red all over again. Sorry, Paul!!!)

Paul’s talk was great, he focused a lot on things that Cinebook are putting out. I was sitting next to the DFC’s Jim Medway, who had read several of the books and recommended The Bellybuttons: it’s Ugly out There! by Maryse Dubuc & Marc Delafontaine, and First Second’s Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East by Joann Sfar.

My big discovery of the day was at the Newham Bookshop stall, where John and Julie Newman was selling copies of German creator Wolf Erlsbruch‘s Duck, Death and the Tulip. This book is brilliant!

You might remember Erlsbruch’s book about the mole with the poo on its head, The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business but this book has a very different feel; it’s the story about a duck who makes friends with Death, and they spend time together until it’s time for Duck to die. It reminds me a little bit of the scene in Pullman’s book The Amber Spyglass, when Lyra goes to the land of the dead and meets her Death; she’s shocked to find her Death has always been with her, but she sees an old person who lives quite comfortably and cosily with her own Death, and they snuggle together in bed. I showed the Duck book to several people at the conference and they said they thought it was sad and dark, but I found it rather beautiful and comforting, much like the Lyra story. And quietly humourous, a gorgeous, amazing, understated book. Try to get a look at this one, you’ll be so glad you did.

And the other book I had to buy was another publication by Gecko Press. I’m becoming more and more impressed with their book list. This one’s a French book called The Chicken Thief.

It’s a lovely wordless picture book, or perhaps a comic, about a fox who steals a chicken and is pursued by the chicken’s friends on what turns out to be a very long journey. The chicken and the fox get quite cosy together and in the end, the chicken decides it doesn’t want to be rescued. The paintings are gorgeous, and the book has such a warm atmosphere, very similar to what I’m trying to create with Vern and Lettuce. Another one I’d definitely recommend.

My publisher David Fickling dashed in and gave a rousing talk on the DFC Library and his vision for comics in Britain. He’s campaigning to start up the BOP, the Blindingly Obvious Party, with its mandate being that every kid in Britain would be given comics. And he said it wouldn’t be a rule we’d have to enforce with the kids, we’d just need to leave the comics lying around and they’d snatch them up. And he rallied teachers, librarians and everyone to dive right into getting the comics to kids, and not to let the shops’ issues about shelving and marketing comics get in the way. Until the shops realise their customers want comics, people are going to have to work a little harder to find the comics, but as soon as the shops start to see they’re succeeding, they’ll put those comics front and centre.

Ariel Kahn hosted the comics creator panel with Emma Vieceli, John Dunning and me, and the time just flew by, we could have geeked out about comics together for hours. Later, Ariel gave a workshop where he did some indepth academic analysis of John’s book, Salem Brownstone, and you should have seen John, he was chuffed to bits to listen to someone who had analysed his book so carefully. (Ariel also talked about Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim, another great Walker Books title.)

Janet Evans gave an interesting talk about Raymond Briggs, although I think I would have liked to have heard more about her research on his work, she spent a great deal of the time reading aloud from his books. (But always good to see them again, they are amazing stories.) And Marcia Williams gave a talk about her comics, and brought along a treasure box and scrapbook full of things she’s collected before she wrote Archie’s War, a comic book journal account of one boy’s experience of WWI. Marcia’s a great person to get in for these kinds of talks, because she comes from such a different perspective than most of the comics people I’ve met. I’m fascinated by the way she has come into comics as a way of solving challenges posed by individual stories. It’s like she doesn’t feel she has to decide whether or not to use comics, she just tells the story in the format that best works for that story, and if it’s comics, she doesn’t hestitate to use them. I like that, having the story come first and the format follow along, it seems more practical and less bound by genre.

Other people I met at the conference included Prav Menon-Johansson, the theatre director responsible for the play Busted Jesus Comix (reviewed here by Paul Gravett). She’s keen to connect with more comics creators and base her plays on their comics. And I also met Gillian Rennie, Exhibition Curator for the Seven Stories centre for children’s books in Newcastle, also keen to establish more links with children’s comics and their creators. Quite a few of the teachers and librarians were looking for comics people to come do paid workshops in their schools. They’ve been quick to spot that kids love making comics and comics workshops are a fabulous way to get kids learning about reading, drawing and building their visual literacy without it seeming at all like work.

Thanks to Ann Lazim and everyone who worked so hard to make this event happen! I didn’t get a photo of the panel, but here’s Emma; on the say back, we suddenly decided to go for sushi in Soho and rang up John Aggs, the artist for the DFC’s John Blake with Philip Pullman. Emma knew this great place and we ended up eating almost too much sushi.

Related DFC person news: Did you know that Woodrow Phoenix is on a book tour in India for his remarkable graphic novel about road safety, Rumble Strip? You can see photos from his trip here and read his blog about his trip on the British Council website here. Oh, and you know how I was talking about Marcia Williams letting the storytelling dictate the format; Woodrow touches on some similar issues in his blog post here.

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