OPEN LETTER TO THE LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ARTS FESTIVAL
We the undersigned are Exhibitors and Guests of the 2017 Lakes International Comic Arts Festival. All of us are heavily involved and invested in comics and we represent a cross-section of the UK comics scene.
As LICAF is one of the biggest festivals within this relatively small scene, we look forward to this weekend to discover new creators and be discovered by new readers. It’s an extremely prominent fixture in the comics calendar, which is why so many of us were dismayed by recent events.
We would like to condemn the way in which Zainab Akhtar was treated after voicing her concerns over the lack of diversity in the festival line-up. Zainab is a valued member of the comics community and these concerns are legitimate – indeed she is not the first person to have raised them – and the way in which she was denounced and dismissed by members of the LICAF team was alarming. We commend the full and frank apology which was subsequently made and which seems to have calmed the situation, but regret that it was ever necessary.
Where some of us have already withdrawn from the festival in protest, many of us feel unable to do so at this late stage. Regardless, we are clear that we do not want continued involvement with the festival to be seen as an endorsement for what happened. We ask the festival to urgently address their handling of criticism, now and in the future, and to take a cold hard look at why it prompted such a response in the first place.
Diversity in this medium, in any medium, should be automatic, and not just viewed as a box-ticking exercise. It’s not an indulgence – people NEED to see themselves represented. And while this remains an issue yet to be dealt with in any satisfactory way by the majority of comics events, visibility is most important of all in a festival which is attended by so many families and young people looking to get into comics. It is also a key part of an international festival, which by its very definition brings the world to the UK while representing the UK to the world.
To not showcase the diverse voices of comics is to do the medium a great disservice, and claiming meritocracy is to be wilfully ignorant to the challenges many people face in creating and surviving within this industry. These lay the path for a homogenous future which we the undersigned categorically do not want.
We appreciate the initial steps to address this situation drawn up in the official statements released by the festival, and we hope that this will reflect in future lists of guests and exhibitors. Our ongoing support of LICAF is dependent on the issue of diversity being treated with the gravity it demands.
Ultimately, we would like to see this festival continue to thrive as a vibrant and integral part of the UK comics scene, and would like to be able to support it with a clear conscience.
Bog Eyed Books
The Drawn Chorus Collective
Josh Franks, Ink Magazine
Steff Humm, Ink Magazine
Rebecca K Jones
**UPDATED 12/10/17 to include additional names**