In 2014, acclaimed writer and critic Zainab Akhtar posted to her blog, Comics And Cola, her experiences attending The Lakes Comics Art Festival. Embedded in the rural town of Kendal in the Lake District, she felt very uncomfortable as a black Muslim woman in that environment. It may not have been so much the show, but the town and the people’s reactions to her presence – something very different to when she was in her hometown of Leeds for Thought Bubble.
But in a fashion inspired by Angouleme, The Lakes is integrated into the town, and she found separating one from the other impossible. But this was a small part of her report, she wrote further in her article about the show, which was pretty positive, as did Steve Morris who attended the show with her. However, it appears that reaction from the festival to her opening paragraphs does not seem to have been taken as constructive .
Two days ago, Akhtar tweeted the following critique of the guest lineup for the 2017 show, this coming weekend.
66 guests= white, white, white, with a mild sprinkle of East Asia. There's really no excuse for any comics show to look like this anymore. https://t.co/EW7yLBUfqk
— Zainab Akhtar (@comicsandcola) October 7, 2017
This is not exactly a novel criticism, and is one that has been made of many a comic show, especially in the UK. The Lakes weren’t special in that regard, and one could also have made it of Thought Bubble. But The Lakes’ now-deleted responses didn’t take it in that spirit.
I understand that these responses were from festival organiser Julie Tait. And it’s this response that seems to have caused themost offense. After Akhtar posted the above tweets to her timeline, the Lakes account blocked her. She tweeted that this had happened. She was unblocked.
Don't unblock me to improve your optics; address the clear issues your festival and the people who run it have with regards to race
— Zainab Akhtar (@comicsandcola) October 8, 2017
And she also wanted to clarify,
I have categorically never been approached to be involved in the Lakes, nor would I want to be involved.
— Zainab Akhtar (@comicsandcola) October 8, 2017
She was backed by other professional writers, critics and creators,
I attended the Lakes festival with Zainab in 2015. She has no vendetta, she's reporting the facts. It's a white show in a white town.
— claire "🔪⚰️" napier (@illusClaire) October 8, 2017
— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) October 9, 2017
— Alex Valente (@DrFumetts) October 9, 2017
— Aiden✨ @MCM LDN CV77 (@aidengdmoore) October 9, 2017
@comicartfest The way you've reacted to valid criticism is vile. The very least you should do is NEVER LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN.
— Brad Brooks 💬❄️ (@ninthart) October 9, 2017
As a result, some guests, exhibitors and attendees have announced they will no longer be going to the show.
Extremely sorry to say that I will no longer be attending the Lakes Comic Festival this weekend due to their treatment of @comicsandcola.
— John Allison (@badmachinery) October 9, 2017
— Lydia Wysocki (@lyd_w) October 9, 2017
I will no longer be attending LICAF this coming weekend. I do not do this to upset those who have supported me in the past so kindly – I truly appreciate the relationships I have with the festival organisers and patrons. Which is why I'm doing this in solidarity –
— Jade Sarson (@jadedlyco) October 9, 2017
I was of two minds about attending this year. It's been a busy Autumn and I could use a weekend off. As things stand, I won't go.
— Aliki Chapple (@amaenad) October 9, 2017
Although some committed attendees will be making such a decision next year.
extremely disppointed in how @comicartfest handled completely valid criticism yesterday. gonna have to rethink my participation next year
— Alex Assan ⚡ (@alexassanart) October 9, 2017
Will still take kids to @comicartfest this yr. But if no learning from yesterday's shambles will be my last time
— Harrogeek (@Harrogeek) October 9, 2017
While some supporters of the show are doubling down,
— Page 45 (@PageFortyFive) October 9, 2017
As was the show.
However, as the situation became more heated, a better response was needed, The Lakes Comics Art Festival have now issued the following,
Supporting Diversity in Comics: A Statement by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is a celebration of the comic art form in all its genres, styles and creative forms. The Festival exists to progress the comic art form, support the industry and to deliver an amazing festival experience for our visitors. We are now in our fifth year and each year we work hard to improve and build on what’s working and learn from the feedback we have received.
This year, we have been challenged over our approach to diversity, specifically race and religion. The Festival is of course concerned that such comments have been made.
We would like to reassure all our visitors and guests that we are committed and proactive in behaving fairly to all people and embrace the nine protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
We take proactive steps each year to ensure we are representing the diversity of comics and reaching new audiences. That said, we know we can always improve and we would welcome the opportunity to talk to any comic creators or interested groups who can suggest ways we can improve further in 2018.
We are always keen to address issues raised and tackle any matters that need to be addressed.
To kickstart this process, we are considering a specific meeting as part of our planning cycle to look at diversity and equality in comics. If you would be interested in getting involved or submitting comments, please email email@example.com
The Festival deeply regrets that the wording of some comments made over the weekend on social media caused offence. Unfortunately, in the lead up to a major event, when all are running at 110% overdrive to put on the best show possible, adverse comments about the Festival’s programming choices and its founding principles of promoting comics and all comic creators, regardless of creed, colour or country, were taken badly. This does not excuse the language used, but it hopefully puts the comments into context.
We always welcome your feedback. We are a small passionate team committed to delivering an amazing festival – thank you for your support.
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival Team
It’s not exactly an apology, but it is a recognition of mistakes made. How far that will go, is yet to be seen.
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival returns for its fifth year to Kendal, Cumbria this weekend, from 13th to 15th October 2017. Celebrating comic art from across the world, the weekend festival takes over the town of Kendal, on the edge of the Lake District. The festival brings the biggest names in comic art to Cumbria with over 70 special guests from across the comic world. This year, artists, creators and writers from Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, Finland, as well as European comic creators will take part in the festival.
The full programme of events is now live on the Festival web site, along with details about its new Weekend Pass•Buy your tickets for the fifth Lakes International Comic Art Festival here• Web: www.comicartfestival.com | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Podcast | View the Festival Programme on Issuu | Download the Programme (PDF)