The Perth Comic Arts Festival

I was really honoured to be a festival guest at the Perth Comic Arts Festival last weekend, which was held at the WA State Library and Museum. It was a really wonderful event. The PCAF Committee should be very proud of the event. It really seems like, they have the most wonderful community of comic creators and fans there. 

I was there representing ALIA Graphic Novels and Comics and spoke at a panel on Saturday. It was odd to be on stage with Eleri Harris, an editor and creator I admire who just recently received an Eisner Award for her work with The Nib, and Josh Santospirito a creator and advocate I have admired for a long time and only met in person the day before. 

It was also odd to be speaking to an audience composed in large part of Australian comic book creators. People who I greatly admire. I usually promote their graphic novels, work to elevate their profile and sometimes interview them for the ALIA Graphic Podcast. But I was invited to represent ALIA Graphic Novels and Comics and the work we do, so I was there ready to speak.

Our panel discussion covered a lot of ground. 

  • Editing comics, residencies for comic creators, building community and readership through library events and workshops, including library comic cons like King Con!, Comic Gong, and others.
  • Advocating for comics in literary spaces. Literary awards and journals very often exclude comics. However, literary journals and awards often work a launching pad for authors, so what options do comic creators have?
  • Comics in libraries and the work of ALIA Graphic. Advocating for comics in libraries and schools. Raising their profile in general and of Australian titles and creators in particular, including ALIA Graphic's Notable Australian Graphic Novels list, webinars, etc.
  • Fighting back book challenges at libraries and defending comics and graphic novels through ALIA's Freedom to Read Committee.
  • Eleri also spoke about her first hand experience when one of the comic anthologies she edited was challenged in the USA.

It's great to have artists in the audience who can summarise the panel talk in infographic visuals. The first one, on paper is from Aśka. The others, on the WA State Library's window, are from some other artist - sorry, I don't know who.

All the panel talks on Saturday's Academy Day were really amazing. The comics and Culture panel with Brenton McKenna, Chris Wood and Scott Wilson was outstanding. All three of them are Australian Indigenous comic book creators and their thoughts on comics and culture were really interesting. They talked about living and working in two worlds. Scott Wilson talked extensively about the culture protocols with First Nations people. There are stories where Elders have the authority and you need their involvement and guidance. But he encouraged other creators to create stories that include Indigenous characters. He just stressed the importance of making sure they check with their local Indigenous people and ensure they approach them with respect and in a spirit of collaboration.

The romance in comics panel was really lively. They talked about the current trend for YA romance now, but also the struggle to keep romance books ‘clean’ for young readers and the risk of bans when depicting physical intimacy on the page. Sara W. Searle said that publishers always push for YA romance for girls, but it’s not just teenage girls reading comics. Romance books are a big genre but publishers are reluctant to publish romance graphic novels for adults, probably fearing depictions of physical intimacy.

There was a discussion about how unfair it is that romance books are hardly ever challenged but graphic novels with depicting physical intimacy are discouraged by publishers and, if published, often the target of challenges.

We also enjoyed comic readings from a few creators. This is something that I would definitely love for libraries to adopt. The readings were fascinating and it was beautiful to hear the creators themselves reading and interpreting their comics. There was a bit of everything in those readings. It really struck me how the audience responded to Marc Pearson's hilarious comedic reading and people were visibly moved, even cried, with Josh Santospirito's non-fiction account of his family's migration story.

I'm home with my son today. He's picked up something at school (thankfully, not Covid) and I'll be going through all the comics I collected at the Perth Comics Arts Festival Market Day, which was an outstanding success. The market hall at the museum was absolutely packed with families. 

There's such a wide range of comics here, including comics created by children through the Milktooth school of art and stories. Something, that I will have to write about in a different blog post, because their work is incredible and so inspiring. Something that I think libraries could tap into, a club for young comic creators.

And finally, I would like to mention, the Comics Battle Royale. This is such a fun and beautiful event to watch! Once again, four comic book artists had to battle it out, creating comics in front of the audience. With Campbell Whyte as MC and audience participation, including four kids drawing some panels together with the artists, the battle royale was a resounding success. 

After the battle royale I had to gather all my belongings and run to the airport to get back home with a huge smile in my face and filled with positive feelings. Thank you to the PCAF Committee for inviting me and to all the festival guests, creators, and everyone that I had a conversation with. It was an illuminating and beautiful weekend. I look forward to keep working on this field and to continue advocating for Australian comics. You're a wonderful community. ALIA Graphic sees you and we're here for you.