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Q&A: Ligaya Salazar on the East London Comics and Arts Festival 2018

ELCAF is the East London Comics & Arts Festival, London’s biggest festival dedicated to showcasing the best in comics, illustration, sequential art, and storytelling. Founded by independent publisher Nobrow in 2012, ELCAF will be celebrating its seventh edition this year with its largest ever programme of talks, workshops, exhibitions, screenings, and masterclasses, carefully curated and delivered by a host of national and international artists, writers and illustrators. Run Riot spoke to curator and Artistic Director Ligaya Salazar about the festival.

Eli Goldstone: The festival was founded by Nobrow in 2012 - when did you get involved and how has the festival evolved since your time there?

Ligaya Salazar: ELCAF founders Sam Arthur and Alex Spiro got me involved pretty much straight after the first edition. We had worked together on a V&A Friday Late in the past and they were keen for the festival to keep going. At the time it was a one day event crammed into Village Underground with patient queues around the block. I was really keen for the accompanying programme to reflect this growing scene, so the festival now runs over three days with about 40 talks, screenings and workshops alongside the heart of the festival, its 130 artist, collectives and small scale publishers selling their wares. We also have a season preceding the festival where we run one-to-one krits, masterclasses, library and schools workshops and exhibitions around the sequential illustration and visual storytelling. The scale allows us to connect all levels of creation - from school kids and students via emerging to established artists.

Eli: The ELCAF team members are all women; that seems pretty unusual! How does it affect the vibe of the festival?

Ligaya: It's funny you picked up on this as I'm so used to work in almost exclusively female environments coming from the curatorial side of things, but I guess when people think of comics it's still seen as quite a male world. I hope that the way it affects the festival is that it feels open and inclusive and more of a real reflection of the comics and illustration world, which is full of incredible female comics creators and illustrators.

Eli: Are you seeing women become better represented in the comics/illustration world?

Ligaya: The question of representation of all kinds is a tricky one to answer, I feel like on one hand that's definitely the case with some of the younger festivals and events tackling this head on such as DIY Cultures (soon to become Process! at Somerset House) and Decolonise Fest (a new more interdisciplinary event happening on the same weekend) and on the other some of the more established bigger festivals and those more steeped in what people traditionally perceive as comics seem to still struggle to address this properly. So I guess there's progress but still a lot of work to do!

Eli: What sort of workshops and masterclasses can visitors look forward to this year?

Ligaya: Well there's about 15 to choose from over the course of the weekend including the crowd's all time favourite Toy Hacking where visitors are invited to create new fictional (or creepy) creatures by sawing up toys and gluing them back together. Personally, I'm always excited to see what the Universities we invite to propose workshops come up with as they tend to be quite political and funny. This year Glasgow School of Art student's are doing a workshop called 'Scrap ain't crap' which looks promising! There will also be screenprinting by Studio-K and artist Nick White is bringing the second edition of his 'The Power of Doodle' workshop to the festival. 

Eli: Tell us about the ELCAF x WeTransfer award.

Ligaya: This award is now in its third year. We established it in 2016 to enable artists to publish a book idea. As the festival is all about self-publishing and small scale production, which is notoriously hard to do, this award gave us the opportunity to support a good idea which may not necessarily see the light of day without some funding. The first winner was a children's book called 'The Elephant Hotel' by Nicolas Burrows of the Nous Vous collective and last year's winner was Lithuanian illustrator and comics artist Akvile Magicdust. Her comic 'Tropical Wildchilds' about the adventures of three friends - a girl named Lucy, a Tiger and an alien - literally arrived in the office the other day and will be available at ELCAF. I am very excited to start shortlisting this year's submissions!

Eli: Alex Norris of Webcomicname is exhibiting, whose work I adore for its sweet illustration of misunderstandings and disappointment - who are some of your favourite artists at the festival who are less well known and I should check out?

Ligaya: Funnily, Alex is also doing a workshop if you're interested in learning how to make an 'Oh no!' comic. There's so many great exhibitors and invited artists coming this year which makes it really hard to highlight only a few. A really good place to start is Shortbox, which is a comics box of independent self-published publications curated by Zainab Akhtar of the Comics & Cola blog. Also we're thrilled to have Lebanese comics publisher Samandal with us this year as well as Miller Town a comics 'collective' of father and son. On the visual storytelling side of things, we have Flutiste and Les Trois Ourses, both from France who publish exquisitely beautiful stories. 

Eli: Finally, what are some of the most interesting subjects you've seen being explored by artists this year?

Ligaya: Sequential illustration and comics traditionally lend themselves to explore some of the more difficult subjects such as conflict and mental health as well as lighter explorations of the everyday. Many of the publications I will only see at ELCAF so it's hard to pinpoint something at this stage, but I'm excited to read Conor Stechschulte's Generous Bosom 3, Aisha Franz's Shit is Real, Daniel Locke and David Blandy's Out of Nothing and Patrick Kyle's Everywhere Disappeared.


East London Comics and Arts Festival

22nd-24th June

Round Chapel, 1d Glenarm Road, London, E5 0LY

School Rooms, 2 Powerscroft Rd, E5 0PU

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