LICAF apologises for online conduct as creators boycott festival

Zainab Akhtar accepts the latest apology from the Lakes International Comic Art Festival for their response to her criticism about race and representation.

Update (14/10/2017): Akhtar has deleted her Twitter account (@comicsandcola) due to the ongoing harassment she has received since she raised this issue with LICAF.

Following cancellations from high profile attendees, organisers of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) have publicly apologised to comics journalist Zainab Akhtar for their comments on social media this weekend.

Posted on their website on Tuesday afternoon, the message came after the withdrawal of several comics professionals exhibiting at the convention, including John Allison, Max Sarin, Rufus Dayglo, Jade Sarson, Lydia Wysocki, and comics publisher Avery Hill. Ultimatums for an apology were also given by creators close to the organisation, like cartoonist Dan Berry.

This protest from members of the community arose from the organisation’s treatment of Akhtar when she raised concerns about the lack of racial representation in the event’s line up this year:

After blocking the writer for her criticism, a representative from LICAF then tweeted to a third party accusing Akhtar of holding a “grudge” from a similar discussion in 2014:

The official apology from Julie Tait, director of LICAF, reads:

“This afternoon we have been in touch with Zainab Akhtar to apologise personally for our conduct relating to communications over Twitter. We would like to extend an unreserved apology to all our guests and exhibitors for the way that criticisms about the festival were denied rather than accepted on Twitter. We’d like to apologise for making it personal and emotional over Twitter when we should have behaved professionally and started an honest and open dialogue. We accept that our response and communications on Twitter have caused stress and heartache and we would like to further extend our apology to all affected.

“We are committed to working towards a more diverse and inclusive festival for everyone to enjoy and we accept that there is more we can do, and must do, to help to make our festival a more wonderful and vibrant place. We will be taking meaningful and positive actions to ensure our festival is more diverse and representative of the full diversity of the comic world.

“On behalf of the festival team I would like to re-iterate our deep regret and unreserved apology.”

Akhtar has tweeted to say she accepts Tait’s apology.

Illustrator and games designer Kate Holden, who tweeted an email to LICAF from 2014 raising similar concerns of representation, responded to this statement saying via Twitter:

“This one actually does come off as a proper apology. I hope they act on it… They said they were going to take action and they had it in hand three years ago. I hope they take it seriously this time.”

Second chances

Tait’s apology, tweeted from the LICAF account at 15:12 on Tuesday, was a second attempt at making amends with Akhtar. The first was offered via Twitter at 22:47 on Monday night, saying that it hoped Akhtar would accept a “fulsome apology… for any offence caused” by the comments.

Many creators and publishers remained unimpressed with this apology and its accompanying statement on the event’s news page.

Akhtar replied to the tweet: “I would be happy to accept an apology that acknowledges the deep impropriety of your behaviour. This is not it.”

Claire Napier, author at Women Write About Comics, said: “You have to actually make the apology before she can decide whether or not to accept it, you know.”

Writer and cartoonist Bri Rudd said: ‘For an apology, this is quite condescending. Especially considering how petty and aggressive you were in responding to accurate criticism.’

Some exhibitors announced their intention to boycott the event after the first apology, including Eve Greenwood and Capitalette. Others have continued to support LICAF over the weekend, praising its attention to diversity in recent years and discussing issues of representation in the wider industry.

Artist Sean Phillips said: ‘I can see guests from at least nine countries there, and over 10% aren’t white. Guests are only chosen on their work.’

Writer Tim Pilcher said: ‘What winds me up most about the whole Lakes hoo-ha is the hypocrisy of calling out one particular festival when others (Thought Bubble) are equally guilty.’

When asked to comment, the LICAF team directed us to a statement on their website, which was also uploaded on Monday, some time before the first direct apology via Twitter. It states that:

‘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.’

The statement goes on to say that the team ‘deeply regrets the wording’ of the organisation’s comments on Twitter:

‘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.’

The Ink team has reached out to Zainab Akhtar for a comment and will update this article with any response.

LICAF 2017 will take place from 13th – 15th October in Kendal, Cumbria.

This article was amended on 10th October 2017: Robin William Scott was originally attending the festival as a customer, not as an exhibitor.

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