Adelaide’s new literary festival for comic books

Adelaide has hosted plenty of literary festivals and pop culture conventions, but the inaugural Papercuts Comics Festival hopes to fill a gap that, surprisingly, neither has quite tapped into.

“Both Owen and I have previously travelled interstate for comics festivals and have always had a good time, but often been the only or one of the few Adelaide artists representing at the festival,” Papercuts Comics Festival co-director Gina Chadderton tells The Adelaide Review.

Over the past six years Chadderton and co-director Owen Heitmann, both accomplished writer-illustrators themselves, have run Comics with Friends and Strangers, a regular monthly gathering that has built a community of established and emerging Adelaide artists working and connecting in a safe, welcoming environment. A visit to Leeds-based comic convention Thought Bubble last year inspired the pair to take the project further and start their own festival dedicated to the artistry and storytelling of comics.

“We have high numbers of comics creators per capita in Adelaide and it would be really great to foster local creators as well as develop networks between South Australian comics makers and creators from all around Australia,” Chadderton says.

Papercuts co-directors Owen Heitmann and Gina Chadderton during a Comics with Friends and Strangers session (Photo: Papercuts Comics Festival)

“We’re both big comics fans and none of the other events in Adelaide were comics-specific,” Heitmann says of the various cosplay and celebrity-centric conventions that periodically sweep through Adelaide. “They target pop culture more generally, or prose, or zines, or toys – and while those things are all great, we wanted to a festival that put comics front and centre.”

“Owen and I as directors have tried to showcase the largest variety of contemporary Australian comics makers that we can,” Chadderton says. “Although a lot of the events for the festival are what you would expect to see for any writers’ festival – an artists in conversation panel, book launches, a market day, a workshop and a live reading – I think having a writers’ festival dedicated entirely to the pursuit of comics making with an emphasis on the amazing breadth of Australian and independent comics makers may (pleasantly) surprise people who don’t read many, if any, comics.”

While live readings are a staple of literary festivals, the graphic nature of comics makes Papercuts’ Talking Pictures event with creators including Jake Holmes, Rebecca Sheedy and Ben Mitchell an unusual twist on the format. “It’s a different – and in some ways counter-intuitive – way to experience comics,” Heitmann says. “For a long time I thought the idea of author readings for comics was inherently ridiculous. But when Gina and I first did live readings of our comics as part of Emerging Writers’ Festival in 2014, it was eye-opening to see the way the audience connected and engaged with the pieces we read – especially given that comic creators are rarely privy to their readers’ immediate response to their work.”

The bountiful local comics section at Greenlight Comics (Photo: Papercuts Comics Festival)

While the cultural and economic dominance of comic book-derived intellectual property can be readily seen across cinemas and cereal boxes, the current renaissance of independent writers and artists has been growing largely removed from the likes of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne.

“Indie comics – in terms of comics that aren’t superheroes – are thriving, whether by virtue of pop culture exposure or not,” Heitmann explains. “Image (the third largest comic publisher after Marvel and DC) lists its titles in 42 genres on its website; ‘superheroes’ doesn’t even appear in the top six genres on its frontpage. Most major book publishers now have a graphic novel publishing division, [and] these publishers generally distribute into bookstores rather than comic book shops, and rarely publish superhero stories. As an avid reader of comics who has never been interested in superheroes, it feels like a golden age for the medium, with a smorgasbord of captivating graphic novels in a wide range of genres easily available.

“I do see signs that comics in general are getting more mainstream acceptance, like the fact that nearly every library now has a large graphic novel section,” he says. “In terms of specifically Australian graphic novels, I think Pat Grant’s Blue was a turning point for a lot of people who may have looked down on the medium: it drove home the realisation that comics could tell long, nuanced, thought-provoking stories that were distinctly Australian without being cliched.

“That said, there is still some way to go – I’m thinking of a secondhand bookshop where I asked if they sold graphic novels and an old man gave me a wary stink-eye as if he thought I was asking for violent erotica.”

Papercuts Comics Festival
12 September – 16 September
papercutscomicsfestival.com

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