It gives me enormous pleasure to formally announce The Special Project that’s dominated the last 9 months:
My first Comics festival! Fab, eh…?
Last year, when I first got involved with University of Hertfordshire (via the Film Education Consortium that’s based there, run by Horror film fanatic Darren Elliot-Smith), it quickly cropped up in the initial meetings that Film wasn’t my only specialty – Comics were an equal, if not greater, passion of mine. Looking around the impressive campus, it quickly struck me that it’d be a great place to hold some kind of Comics-related event. Moreover, I’d mentioned that I’d been interested in putting something together, something for my home county.
As it happened, other minds had been thinking in the same direction. I quickly met the manager of UHArts, the lovely Natalie Fountain,and, soon after, Maureen Irving, who runs The St.Albans Childrens Book Group. There was certainly an enthusiasm to pursue a project like this and, very swiftly, wheels were set in motion to make this idea a reality. From UHArts, Natalie brought in her marketing colleagues Katie Buckhaven (who’s also an amazing singer-songwriter!) and Melissa Marlow, Ross Renton from UH Recruitment and Animation lecturer (and comic book artist) Daniel Goodbrey. To round off our team, I invited Emma Bannister of the Herts Library Service (a committed advocate of Comics in Libraries and who’d had success with her own library events, one of which I’d hosted with Pat Mills) and, last but not least, indie cartoonists/illustrators Nicola Streeten and Sarah Lightman, who together run a very fun monthly Comics reading group in London named Laydeez Do Comics.
(It’s also worth noting that, generously, the Laydeez, myself, Herts Library Servive, the FEC and the St.Albans Children’s Book Group are named as full collaborators with UH, hence the inclusion of our logos on the UniComics brand. Speaking for myself, this is a majorstep in developing “Brand Graydon”, as it were, and I very much hope that it will be a considerable piece of promotion for Yours Truly. By the way: nice logo, eh? My friend Tom King designed it – and, yes, we made it sure it didn’t look too much like the corporate branding of A Major American Comic Book Company…! You can see it in its full glory at the base of this post.)
Given our diverse Arts backgrounds, we’ve made a very effective team – steered by the profoundly-efficient Natalie – ensuring that our venture always possessed a broad scope. And that’s the point: our festival’s name, “UniComics“, has an immediate connection to the fact that we’re hosted by a university, but, more pertinently, it’s to stress the universality of Comics. To wit, our mission was to ensure that Unicomics is a celebration of all kinds of Comics for all kinds of people. In this, I’ll happily admit that a key inspiration for this approach has been Paul Gravett’s ongoing Comics festival for the ICA, ComICA,which is anchored on an always-impressive diversity and the huge degree of respect it pays to the medium. (Given that I first met Sarah and Nic at a ComICA symposium at the V&A Museum in London a couple of years back, that festival made a vital contribution to the development of ours!)
For our pilot edition – with an eye to UniComics being a long-term fixture – we feel that we’ve crafted an Arts festival that duly delivers on the fronts of diversity and accessibility! We’ve got a great line-up of guests and I think visitors will come away both inspired and invigorated. The full brochure of events will shortly be available at UniComics’ dedicated web-site, but I wanted to unveil the events that I have personally put together and will be hosting right here. Given that it’s our first edition, I was very keen to “fly the flag”, as it were, so our two big events for the weekend revolve around two of the undisputed giants of British Comics…
ARCHITECTS OF THRILL-POWER! – THE LEGENDS OF 2000AD
Since its launch in 1977, 2000AD – “The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic” – has been at the forefront of British Comics and remains a shining light in an increasingly barren landscape. Arriving perfectly in time with the popular re-emergence of Science Fiction and bearing a punky, anti-authoritative tone, 2000AD thoroughly invigorated Boys comics, introducing a collection of classic characters. For a vast array of 2000AD’s artists and writers, the comic was vital springboard to international recognition and success. UniComics is proud to present a panel discussion with three of 2000AD’s most iconic and renowned creative stars from its formative years – founder, debut editor and writer PAT MILLS (Slaine, Charley’s War), artist DAVE GIBBONS (Rogue Trooper, Watchmen), and artist KEVIN O’NEILL (Nemesis The Warlock, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) – who discuss the early development of the title as well as their own specific and greatly-admired contributions. Saturday 24th April, 6pm. Hosted by Danny Graydon. Tickets are priced £10
WEEKLY BRITISH SPIRIT – SIXTY YEARS OF THE EAGLE & DAN DARE
On April 14th, 1950, a new Boys comic called The Eagle vigorously introduced some wonder in to the drudgery of post-war Britain, and, with its star strip Dan Dare: Pilot of The Future, showcased a profoundly alluring fantasy of a strong and vital Britain in then far-flung 1997 that boldly led the way in the exploration of outer space. One of the most successful comics in British history, at its height, The Eagle remarkably sold just under a million copies a week. In celebration of the 60thanniversary of both this landmark, much-beloved title and its highly-memorable flagship character, UniComics presents a panel discussion to explore what is considered to be one of the high watermarks of British Comics history. The panel includes PAT MILLS (Founder of 2000AD), NICK JONES (Founding editor of Titan Book’s Dan Dare library), DR.WILL BROOKER (Kingston University) and GARY ERSKINE (Artist, Virgin Comcs’ Dan Dare). Sunday 25th April, 6pm. Hosted by Danny Graydon. Tickets are priced £10.
I’m very excited about these – both of which will be held at the 500-seater Weston Auditorium at UH’s De Havilland campus in Hatfield – as both subjects are very close to my heart. And, in the case of the 2000AD event, I’ll have the distinct honour of speaking to three absolute heroes of mine. Their work was a huge part of my childhood and I remain a committed fan of these illustrious gents to this day. Very much looking forward to hearing Gary Erskine talk about Dan Dare, too as I loved the recent series for Virgin he did with Garth Ennis.
Anyway, It’s been a real thrill putting this together – and an education, too, given that it takes my work in to a whole new arena, while staying “on subject”. I really can’t wait to see how UniComics plays out, as we are all enormously proud of what we’ve put together.
So, please spread the word! Re-post, re-tweet, Digg, forward, etc, etc, etc…!!
UniComics 2010: Presented by the University of Hertfordshire in collaboration with Laydeez do Comics, Herts County Council (Libraries), the St Albans Children’s Book Group, the Film Education Consortium AND… [cue dramatic fanfare…]