I am currently writing this… FROM THE FUTURE! As alluring as that may sound, I’m only TECHNICALLY in the future; none of that Marty McFly madness. I’m seated at a café in Avelis, Spain, surrounded by eager Spanish comic book fans and three artists sketching away. Ben Templesmith, Gary Erskine, and Ramon Perez are doing the bidding of the surrounding crowd, drawing on command like trained monkeys. The atmosphere that surrounds me is one of raw creative energy: the artists are intensely focused on the pages before them, and the bystanders observe with enraptured fascination as they witness the fluid transition of pen to paper. Templesmith is seated across the table from me, beer in his right hand and a copic marker in his left, sketching the Russian from Danger Girls. To my right sits Perez, tracing over blue lines as he brings Batman to life. Gary Erskine is also going the route of the great caped crusader, chattering away in his rich Scottish accent as he absently creates a comic masterpiece.
This experience is one that is completely unique to me. As someone who travels to multiple conventions each year, I was completely unsure what to think when Ben Templesmith invited me to accompany him to a comics festival in Spain. I expected the usual: cosplayers, stale air, vendor booths and scheduled signings. Instead I was greeted with something completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful, a festival that celebrated comics as an art form instead of a retailer’s paradise; where artists are paid in good food and wine, and conversation is as good as currency.
The Town Square in Aviles, Spain
I arrived here a day and a half ago, after a gruelling travel schedule that consisted of four flights and a day and a half of absolutely no sleep. Never mind the fact I had never been to Europe before and I should have been absolutely fascinated, by the time I landed I was a miserable jet lagged zombie. The landscape and architecture was the farthest thing from my mind as I dragged myself into the hotel bed. The next day I met a lot of the other comic book artists in the lobby of the hotel, as the organizers of the convention herded us like sheep and hastened us to a restaurant to experience Spanish dining. Here I had my first profound realization: the convention organizers here REALLY appreciate the people they invite. We were treated to absolutely exquisite dining — a three course meal with freely flowing wine and people who really loved comics carrying on about the industry or their favourite issues.
The convention here — which is actually called a “festival” — is a week long cultural celebration of the arts that is funded by the city instead of private organizations. People from all over Spain show up to revel in the company of their favourite artists, buy original art, and track down creators in cafes and bars for sketches. It is held in the town square of Aviles, mostly outdoors with the press conference area inside of a giant white tent. However, for the most part artists hang out at surrounding cafes, drinking alcohol that fans buy them in exchange for sketches of their favourite comic book characters. The fans themselves are completely foreign to me… and not just by their nationality. They are patient and attentive, quietly surrounding tables and watching artists sketch for hours without complaining at all. They truly appreciate art, and are respectfully fascinated by the process of comics. The table I am currently seated at has drawn a crowd of at least thirty people, and some have been waiting for hours just to request a five minute sketch.
Technically, this festival has only been going for one day, though last night was the opening ceremony. News crews weave in and out of the crowds, interviewing artists as if they are celebrities. It continues for the rest of the week and through the weekend, a cultural tourist attraction for the entire city. People come and go as they please, hoping to catch George Perez out and about, or buying the stacks of English and Spanish comics that are being sold within the tent.
Myself? I’m eager to see what the rest of the week encompasses. Currently, I am delighted by the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that my first European convention has presented. I am full of four course meals and wine, filling my sketchbook with drawings from incredible artists who attend this festival even if they are not invited… just because the people and staff make it so worthwhile and intimate.
Expect my full report next week, as I return from Europe hopefully with no jetlag and a fat sketchbook. But for now, I will leave you with this: comics are about the art, and I feel like perhaps America sometimes forgets this in its constant quest for the next big paycheck. It is an art form that should be celebrated, and Spain boasts an impressive view point that is incredibly refreshing. I truly wish American conventions, though they have their good points, would model themselves after this amazing cultural experience I currently find myself in.
Molly McIsaac knows unicorns exist and fantasizes about having a new super power every week. You can stalk her every bizarre adventure on twitter.