Now in its second year, Laydeez Do Comics’ annual festival is going from strength to strength
After a superb first outing last year, the Laydeez Do Comics collective returned to the Free Word Centre in London at the end of March with the second edition of their now-annual Festival. Bigger and even better than before, it saw people from all over the UK coming together to celebrate women in the industry and showcase the comics of those who entered into the competition to win £2,000 towards their work-in-progress.
Laydeez Do Comics is a woman-led group supporting comics creators and graphic novelists based in the UK with cohorts in London, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Dundee and Manchester. The current committee members are Dr Nicola Streeten, Rachael Ball, Wallis Eates, Louise Crosby, Emma Burleigh and Charlotte Bailey. The Festival is a chance for all of the groups to unite in one place.
What was originally a Day has been expanded into a Weekend full of events. Saturday was dedicated to hour-long review sessions with creators including Hannah Berry, Rachael Ball, Una, Emily Haworth-Booth, Simone Lia, Wallis Eates, Karrie Fransman, Kripa Joshi, Sofia Niazi, Janette Parris, and last year’s competition winner, Emma Burleigh. Anyone could pay in advance for a one-to-one conversation and receive personalised feedback on their work-in-progress, be it a script or drawn-up pages.
Sunday opened the space up to the public, allowing people to tour the exhibition of submitted works, talk to other comics folk and enjoy some of Dr Sarah Lightman’s much-lauded Feminist Cake™. The biggest change from last year was that the Laydeez invited a selection of publishers to set up tables at the Centre and give talks throughout the day. Representatives from Myriad Editions, Liminal 11, SelfMadeHero, Good Comics, and crowdfunding platforms Unbound and Kickstarter all spoke about what they look for in the comics and graphic novels they eventually publish, and how they work with the creators involved.
The Laydeez have always championed an inclusive atmosphere, in which everyone should feel at home sharing their love of comics. Good Comics’ Samuel Williams, with his two children (“interns”) in tow, said the Laydeez had cultivated “a really nice community. It’s great to be able to meet people who want to make comics and talk to them in a friendly environment.” Rozi Hathaway, who joined the Good Comics team officially in December 2018, praised the Festival’s “open and welcoming” environment, and gave helpful insights into the small press publisher’s approach to making comics: they see pitches from creators as an opportunity to collaborate from beginning to end as submissions are developed into finished works.
Unbound is unique in that it functions like any other large publishing house, except the financing for all its books is crowdfunded instead. Its catalogue of graphic novels is still growing, but its presence at the festival shows that the Laydeez are aware of how the industry is changing. There are multiple routes to publishing and funding comics in the UK beyond the traditional. Lizzie Kaye, commissioning editor of Unbound’s graphic novel list said:
“The Laydeez have created a new space within comics and graphic novel publishing that is incredibly inclusive and accessible. They’re a font of so much knowledge editorially and artistically, and have so much to offer to debut authors. A day like this—a weekend like this—which is really welcoming and creator-focused, is incredibly important and I hope that it becomes a regular thing. I hope that they do more.”
After attending last year’s Festival in a journalistic capacity, I was excited to come back this year as a comics writer as well. I decided to have my own work-in-progress reviewed by a creator, which turned out to be a profound experience: to have someone in the industry take the time to understand my work, even in its early stages, and give useful feedback was invaluable.
Spending two days in the company of people of all ages and backgrounds, all of whom are there to share their love of comics, is a gift. Each of the works being exhibited from the competition longlist was moving to read; the overarching theme seemed to be sharing difficult memories and life experiences, perhaps because they’re the most rewarding to tell and the most meaningful to experience.
The competition judges had the unenviable task of choosing a winner from a shortlist of six candidates: Sophia Luu, Jeeti Singh, Irina Richards, Natalie d’Arbeloff, Niki Bañados and Maria Fowler. The bar was set high by the 2018 shortlist, and this year’s selection more than met the challenge. With her submission Shivers in London: SDY-LHR, Bañados won the £2,000 prize to help fund the production of her project, while the other members received £200 each. D’Arbeloff, a lifelong artist working in different media including comics, was awarded the Rosalind B. Penfold prize for women over the age of 50.
Read our interviews with the shortlisted creators: