Comics open to everyone

Isabella Laird, VanCAF director | Photo by David Cowling

The Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF) is back for its eighth instalment. The VanCAF will bring together artists and fans for a series of workshops, panels and a general exhibition that will provide a forum to interact with and discover creators with all sorts of styles and backgrounds.

The festival will run May 18–19 at the Roundhouse.

Free and fun

The VanCAF will bring a variety of programming to the weekend. There will be an exhibition floor at the Roundhouse where comic artists will have tables and can sell their work, as well as different panels throughout the weekend featuring some of the artists as well as special guests. There will also be a series of workshops at the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) Central Branch on May 17 covering basic aspects of the genre in a hands-on fashion. There is one thing all of these events have in common: they are all completely free.

“Part of our mandate is to make sure everything is free,” says Isabella Laird, the festival director. “It’s all about accessibility; we don’t want to have a bar to entry.”

Laird, who was named festival director this past fall, jumped at the chance to take the helm of an event she’d been a fan of for years. There is a dual purpose to the VanCAF that benefits both creators and the general public: it gives people more exposure to comics in general and gives the artists potential new fans.

“There’s comics for everybody,” says Laird. “There’s going to be a topic for you. There’s going to be a style for you. Meeting the other attendees and the artists is wonderful.”

Laird’s big addition to this spring’s lineup is the VanCAF’s inaugural ‘education day,’ a series of workshops at the VPL Central Branch that are aimed at everyone interested in comics, especially those who have not created much in the way of their own.

“I want more people to make comics,” says Laird. “It’s a good way for people to get their stories out there because you can have so much control over it. I feel like a lot of people feel that they can’t make comics, so I want to help people get into it. It’s not just for “artistic” people, it’s for everybody.”

A vehicle for expression

Teresa Wong, author of the graphic memoir Dear Scarlet. | Photo by Ken Hurd

The notion that comics can be used to express any kind of story is demonstrated by Teresa Wong, author of the recently published graphic memoir Dear Scarlet and one of the featured guests at the VanCAF. Dear Scarlet is an account of postpartum depression Wong suffered after having her first child and what new motherhood was like for her.

“When Scarlet was born I had some physical complications,” she says. “When I finally woke up and held her, I didn’t feel that same kind of joy that I was expecting as a new mother. Over time the feelings grew and grew; I was exhausted and also felt very inadequate as a mother, and those feelings became feelings of guilt and shame.”

A few years later, when pregnant with her third child, Wong was still struggling with the scars left by the experience.

“I’d struggle to fall asleep at night and have flashbacks to when Scarlet was born,” she says. “The memories were so vivid and clear, and I wanted to do something to get them out of me. I’d had treatment for postpartum depression, but I didn’t feel like I was done with the story until I put it down on paper.”

Wong is a writer, and she’d never included drawings along with her writing before, but despite that she decided to use comics as the vehicle to express her story. She had two reasons.

“The first reason was that those memories came back in the form of images: I could see very clearly the delivery room and the doctor, for example. The second reason was that taking care of a baby is a quiet time: you spend a lot of time in silence, and I thought that graphics would be the best way to depict that silence,” she says.

Wong hopes that her memoir can stand as a true and honest depiction of what it’s like to have postpartum depression, and that mothers – especially new mothers – who read Dear Scarlet can take it as proof that it’s possible to find a way through it. It’s that kind of personal interaction, whether with the material or the creators themselves, that Laird hopes attendees at the VanCAF will experience.

“I want people to leave feeling uplifted,” says Laird. “Either they’ve come away having met some cool people or found some art they identify with or feel inspired to create their own art.”

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