Gluepot Books beano to Margate
Last weekend we went to the first Margate International Comic Art festival. This is Scarlett’s closest comic art expo, but was a 300 mile round trip for Sophie. Luckily it was a good excuse to spend the weekend together and get some useful Gluepot tasks done together, and the weather was beautiful for a trip to the seaside.
The venue, Margate’s Winter Gardens has a beguiling seaside dancehall vibe and a truly spectacular ceiling. There were lots of people enjoying Jedi training, cosplay and perusing the wares of exhibitors from across the comic universe. Unfortunately for us, we don’t know our Judge Dredds from our Captain Haddocks, and we soon found ourselves a bit out of our depth.
It feels somehow risky or wicked to admit here that we really don’t ‘do’ traditional comics. We are interested in graphic storytelling in all forms — but we are not part of the distinct subculture of fantasy, heroic and ‘fighty’ comic books. Usually when we find ourselves surrounded by this mysterious universe Scarlett will say it “looks a bit Marvelous” and we beat a hasty retreat. We were in a room full of revered and respected artists, writers and actors, and we were insufficiently educated to appreciate it.
Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) and invisible disabilities in ink
However, we did make a new friend! In the far corner, by the exit to the seaside, we found Robert Wells with a table of comics, greetings cards and copies of his LittleBrown book Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain). We had a great chat about dogs, chronic illness, publishing, and the graphic novel world in general — and we swapped a copy of Mann’s Best Friend.
Robert’s book is an unflinchingly frank narrative about the baffling and painful conditions he has learned to live with, and the varied responses of the wider world to his predicament. The story is, by its nature, full of red herrings, dead ends and unresolved questions. But Robert’s handling of it shows real skill and finesse. For example, the story jumps between several eras in Robert’s life and each time the year is crystal clear through judicious use of his striking haircuts. This is a challenging subject (readers must prepare themselves for LOTS of pictures of genitalia) and we felt that Robert handled it brilliantly.
We are sisters, and part of our genetic inheritance is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a malformation of collagen that can result in all manner of mysterious and baffling multi-systemic symptoms. The experiences Robert describes in Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) are so familiar to us both: the life-saving presence of a supportive partner; a doctor’s reference to anxiety/depression ‘informing’ all later consultations; being told our symptoms are impossible; waiting months and resting all your hopes on one appointment, only for it to be pointless; and most of all, getting used to living with uncertainty and unexplained pain. We thoroughly recommend this book as a positive, upbeat and entertaining view of long-term health challenges.
In the past we have been asked to consider writing about our experiences with Ehlers-Danlos, and we have instinctively shrunk from the idea, preferring to be known as ‘those graphic novelist sisters who happen to be disabled’ rather than ‘those disabled sisters who happen to make graphic novels’. But Robert’s book prompted us to have our first real conversation about the positive potential of such a book — and to acknowledge the many and varied comic aspects of living with an invisible condition. Thanks Robert!
Exploring the comic art & graphic novel festival circuit
We also talked to Robert about the advantages of going to events like Margate ICE, and the lovely friends we have made. This year we are looking forward to Cardiff Indie Comic Expo in June, where we can catch up with the Etherington Brothers — a sibling team who have recently run the most unbelievably successful Kickstarter and have been so encouraging to us. We’ll be at Thought Bubble in Leeds in September, and in October we’ll be at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. If you are planning to be at any of these events why not say hello @GluepotBooks on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook? If you know of an event you think we should go to, let us know the same way!
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Scarlett & Sophie