Artists rule at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival

The Vancouver Comic Arts Festival promises deluxe, indie, and <em>Machine of Death</em> cool

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      The first Fan Expo Vancouver, held last month, proved once and for all that there’s a huge audience in the Lower Mainland for science fiction, comics, and dressing up as Ghostbusters. The new Vancouver Comic Arts Festival tones down the circus aspect—Stormtroopers and $60 Adam West autographs will be nowhere in sight—to focus on the kind of fandom that started it all: creators and devotees united by their passion for a medium or genre.

      “It is definitely artist-focused,” says VanCAF organizer Shannon Campbell of the upcoming event held at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. “At most shows the artists are kind of just a side feature—an added attraction to the main events, which are usually panels, contests, and concerts. I wanted a show where the artists were the main event, and everything else was just peripheral to their presence.”

      A master’s-degree student in the creative-writing program at Oxford, a comics fan, and the wife of a cartoonist (Sam Logan, creator of Sam & Fuzzy, who’ll also be hitting VanCAF), Campbell has called upon her numerous contacts to draw more than 90 artists and exhibitors, including artists and small-press publishers, from all over North America to the two-day event. Guests include plenty of locals, including Camilla d’Errico, Ed Brisson, and Nina Matsumoto; a strong Oregon contingent, led by Dylan Meconis and Tyson Hesse; and assorted out-of-towners, such as Christopher Hastings (New York) and Jeph Jacques (Easthampton, Massachusetts).

      Besides an exhibition area for socializing and checking out artists’ wares, VanCAF will feature panels and talks. Vancouver-based historian-cartoonist Ken Boesem will discuss Canadian comics produced during the Second World War, when the government passed an act banning all American pulp fiction, including comic books, from entering the country. (Vancouver was the first city to step up to the plate with its own all-original comic.)

      “One of the biggest events is probably going to be Saturday afternoon’s Machine of Death panel,” predicts Campbell. An independently published collection of short stories that went to number one on Amazon book lists in 2010, the crowd-sourced anthology’s premise is that people are told how—not when or why—they are going to die; methods of death can include everything from cancer to an inability to understand metaphors.

      Although the Machine of Death panel might not sound like family fun, the exhibition area will definitely be kid-friendly—artists who dabble in more adult-oriented material are being asked to keep it under wraps. Kids might also want to pass on the exhibitors’ Saturday night Yaletown pub crawl.

      Campbell says she wants the event to attract not just comics fans but also people who are only passingly familiar with the form. From webcomics that look like they could appear in a daily newspaper (Ed Appleby’s Ed’s R Us, Caanan Grall’s Max Overacts) to work that is a little more out there (such as David Malki !’s Wondermark, created from 19th-century woodcuts and engravings), VanCAF is a state-of-the-art indie comics fair. And it’s free.

      “It’s a chance for everyone to experience comics in a way they might not have had the opportunity to do before,” says Campbell.

      The 2012 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival takes place on Saturday and Sunday (May 26 and 27) at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre.