As the philosophical collective ABBA once sang: “All the things I could do, if I had a little money…” That wishful thinking is a mantra of the modern age, and it’s no different for people in comics, especially those who make them. Here at SOLRAD, our Editor-in-Chief Daniel Elkin has been doing a lot of legwork regarding the practical side of making comics. He’s interviewed many artists for the ongoing Knowing is Half the Battle series, where authors talk about their experiences in publishing.
Elsewhere, I recently hosted a chat between UK artists Katriona Chapman and Hannah Berry to discuss Hannah’s recently published UK Comics Creators Research Report. The Report seeks to outline the economic situation of the country’s comics producers. In my chat with Hannah and Katriona, and through other interviews I’ve conducted over the past two or three years, one of the recurring themes has been the importance of institutional support and public arts funding to sustain the comics ecosystem, especially in Europe.
There is money out there, but it is often hard to know how to access it. This is one of the impetus behind Comic Art Europe, a development scheme which offers artists money, space, time, and promotional opportunities. Four major European comics organizations have partnered to produce the project, using their name recognition and institutional resources to raise public and private funding. Comic Art Europe’s first project is an artist’s residency. Based on submissions to an Open Call that was launched in January, five European artists will be granted a €5,000 grant (around $6,000) each, a residency, production support, and a tour of European festivals.
This project demonstrates the importance of institutional power in sustaining an art form such as comics. It’s also come into being at a time when the livelihoods of artists are back in focus, especially in France, where comic book creators association Auteurs et Autrices en Action are threatening to boycott the famous d’Angoulême comics festival to bring attention to their precarious economic situation.
Comic Art Europe is a project by France’s Lyon BD festival, the UK’s Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF), Spain’s Escola Joso, a school of comic and visual arts, and The Belgian Comic Strip Center. It’s set to last just over three years and launch a range of other activities from hereon in.
Curious to find out about how the project came into being and also to get a sense of the organisation’s challenges, I talked with the project’s manager, Lisa Weill, from the Lyon BD team. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to check-in yearly to see how Comic Art Europe is progressing, and also to touch base with whichever artists get involved and get their take on the initiative.
Nicholas Burman: To begin, how did this project come about between Lyon BD and the other partners, and how did you get involved?
Lisa Weill: Lyon BD has been working with quite a lot of international institutions for more than 10 years now. We’ve been doing partnerships with LICAF for three years, and we have a similar relationship with Joso. They’ve been doing an annual exhibition at Lyon BD for five years, as well as other cooperative projects too.
In 2019, Lyon BD decided to plan a pan-European project and asked Joso, LICAF, and CBBD if they wanted to be part of it. All the partners met at the 2019 edition of the festival and discussed what actions could be taken to respond to the problems facing artists, the state of the art in Europe, and the issues they wanted to focus on: the conditions that European comic artists live under; modernization of the image of European comic art; the need for European dissemination channels, and many more. I was brought on board to write the pitch to get the project funding.
Jointly, we decided to facilitate the development of the European comics sector, improve all the links in the European comics chain (such as training, creation, dissemination, and promotion), facilitate and encourage exchanges within and outside the European comics sector, and, finally, to create a common culture between comics’ cultural operators in Europe.
At Lyon BD, we are aware of the bad situation comic artists are in in France, and we are involved in the cause to improve this situation. And we thought, if it is like this in France, which is well known for comics, it might be similar or maybe worse in other countries.
It’s funny you say that about French artists because I think every time French comics come up in conversation in the Anglophone world, everyone talks about France as some sort of Xanadu for artists.
How’s the project being funded so far, have you managed to get public funding?
The project has been partly funded by the EU. We have close to a €500,000 budget, we’ve got €200,000 from the EU, and we’ve had to raise the rest of the money. This project is also going to help each member and collaborator of the project develop, and we’re four institutions, and we all have our strengths and access to public and private funds, as well as access to resources. The project is set to last for 39 months, so this budget will be distributed just over three years.
That shows the importance of institutional support, which can mobilize to support a project like this. What’s your experience applying for funds from the EU been like? I know from artist friends that that sort of thing usually takes up a ton of time and is quite complicated.
This was my first experience applying for EU funds, I had done a trial of it when I was a university student. Applying for funds from the EU is a very interesting process because it pushes you into thinking strategically about your project, particularly its objectives, its strategy, its target groups. It does take a lot of time and paperwork but it is a great opportunity to focus on the project’s construction and aims.
And I was not alone, because the Lyon BD team were involved. Belinda Billen, who’s working on international relations, read the project pitch and followed each and every step of it (and continues to do so). And Mathieu Diez, who’s the festival’s director, read and followed everything too. Of course, at the beginning, the other partners read and gave their agreement on the project’s main lines too before I started writing the application for the EU (because I wrote it in French, and not everyone who’s involved can read French).
Are you expecting to increase the number of partners, or do you expect to keep it just to you four?
We started as five, but due to COVID one partner left in December. In the European Union guidelines, you can add a partner, but they have to be relevant, and it takes a lot of paperwork and re-organization to add someone to a working group, so we might not add new partners to the same level that we four are, but we can add other types of partnerships. Those are called second circle partners, they are involved in the project but aren’t part of the core management team.
An example of this is, here in Lyon, we do literacy workshops involving comics with an asylum seekers’ hosting centre, and they will become second circle partners. We tend to have a lot of second circle partners such as that.
You briefly mentioned the language aspect of your work, and I wanted to ask you about the language barrier problem with a project such as Comic Art Europe. There are always these attempts to make a European demos but it’s sometimes impossible for us to communicate with each other. How are you dealing with this internally, between the partners? Have you had any thoughts about how you bridge the language divide when branching into eastern Europe, and elsewhere?
We decided together at the beginning of the project that its main language would be English. From an international point of view, it seems better to do everything in English, as we communicate in English on the project social network pages, and want to reach as many people as possible.
How is LICAF’s involvement working now, post Brexit?
The UK is no longer in the list of countries eligible for the Europe Creative Fund, which is what we got, but as they have been involved in the project since 2020 they’re allowed to stay part of it at the same level. But if we want to repeat in three years’ time, they might not be able to have the same stature as partners, but as outside-EU partners.
You have this great open call for artists going around at the moment, how is that going?
We are glad because we have been getting applications from almost all EU-member states, and many more! It is almost over now. The project and open call launch worked well.
It’s not often people go out of their way to offer money! Where are the residencies going to be? And how are you planning the proposed festival tours?
They’ll be in our cities, so Lyon, Kendal, Barcelona, and Brussels. We’ll select five artists, and what their project is may determine where their residency is. We’ve decided that an artist won’t be resident in the country they’re from. One of the goals is to foster international relations, so doing that wouldn’t make sense.
The tour of the festivals will be in 2022, so while right now we’re not sure what will happen, we’re remaining optimistic that by 2022 people will have a greater ability to do things in person again.
Are you planning on connecting artists with publishers? Does your translation budget include translating comics?
Comic Art Europe’s primary objective isn’t about linking artists to publishers, but it will hopefully be a consequence of the project because we’ll do a lot of PR around the selected projects, and they’ll have time and space to discuss and advertise their work at our festivals.
The Friday at Lyon BD is a “Professionals’ Day”, and of course during that day artists have the opportunity to talk to publishers. The point of the project is to make an artist and their work known. The most important thing for us is to create links and networks between comic artists in Europe and comics and cultural operators.
Regarding comics as a medium, are you being open about what you’re accepting as comics practice?
Sure, one of the objectives is to show the diversity of comics. The open call has a theme, project partners thought this would be a good way to orientate the project, but they are very open to all types of projects. It would be great to have as many different formats as possible. The point is not for them to receive five, 48-page books to promote, though those aren’t excluded either, but they are open to have other types and forms included. The project is really looking for the innovative and the new, and things that can make an impression on new comics reading public.
A lot of the readers of this Q&A will be artists themselves, anything you’d like to say to them?
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