The seventh instalment of ELCAF, the East London Comic Arts Festival, begins today (22nd June) and features an enticing programme of talks and signings across this weekend at the Round Chapel in Hackney. The event is one of many non-publishing offshoots of illustrated list Nobrow, which has particular reason to toast this year’s instalment: it takes place in the publisher’s 10th-birthday year.
To celebrate, Nobrow has created two editions of its annual magazine, packed with illustrations by draughtsmen and women with whom it has worked to date. Some 70 contributors responded to the brief: Studio Dreams is the result, with the artist contributors tasked with visualising their dream workspace. The colourful and eclectic collection runs the gamut from intricately detailed and rather literal interpretations, in some cases architectural, to more abstract and conceptual pieces.
An exhibition of the images will be front and centre at ELCAF, while six of the illustrators were commissioned to augment their contribution with a new piece—3D, or animated, say—for an exhibition which opened last week in the run-up to the festival. And at ELCAF itself, contributors Eleni Kalorkoti, Jim Stoten and Grace Helmer will join Alexandra Zsigmond—who, in her role as art director of the New York Times’ Sunday Review publication, is one of the most influential, prolific and visible commissioners of illustrations active today—on a panel to discuss Studio Dreams and whether the physical space in which a person, works can influence how that person works.
The title itself comes in two editions: an £18 paperback and a special edition £25 hardback that is numbered and has a foil-blocked, four spot-colour cover, as well as a squat "dust jacket", which folds out to become a poster. It was printed in Poland and created with the support of stock supplier Arctic Paper. Nobrow co-founder Sam Arthur says that link-up "was something I wanted to do, because we have always used [Arctic] paper and I believe in what it does as a company—it’s really about acknowledging what a great product it has and how important it is to us and our books. It felt like a fitting collaboration." He adds that the Nobrow team "wanted to create a very special limited edition of 1,000 copies which we could give to the artists that worked on the project, and which would also find its way into the arms of those fans and followers of our imprint who have supported us since we started it. We wanted to provide something they would appreciate."
Both publications feature the illustration of Jan Van der Veken on the cover: in 2010 the list commissioned him to come up with an artwork depicting Nobrow’s headquarters, which was the kernel of the workspace concept of Studio Dreams. As Arthur says, the Belgian "got the essence of what it means to live and work as an illustrator, or in our case, an illustration publisher" in the original piece, which is reproduced opposite Arthur’s foreword—a rare instance of text in the collection, because "we wanted the [10th] magazine to return to its basic principles, celebrating illustration in its purest form by allowing illustrators to tell a story in a double-page spread."
It was also a fitting brief because, as Nobrow’s Zoë Aubugeau-Williams says, "for creative people, their workspace is more important than for most others; it represents more than a nine-to-five and is much more of an aspirational space. Nobrow itself was founded on that very idea of a dream studio, and we hope that the theme has become something of inspiration to illustrators, creatives and publishers." Highlights among the compositions include Jarom Vogel’s treetop retreat, Berlin-based illustrator duo Golden Cosmos’ ramshackle desk-share, and Eleni Kalorkoti’s intriguing corner-desk, which with broad windows and a shadowed figure, has more than a whiff of being a witty, tree-laden adaptation of Edward Hopper’s "Nighthawks".
A broader influence
ELCAF is also the stage for the publication of another book, Tropical Wildchilds by Akvile Magicdust, a Lithuanian illustrator and comics creator who won last year’s WeTransfer Award. The prize, run in collaboration with Nobrow, sees the file-transfer website grant £3,500 to an artist to help them realise a project in book format: Magicdust was successful at last year’s event and will launch her comic at this year’s, where the award runs again.
The prize typifies Nobrow’s stance towards supporting, disseminating and encouraging illustration, a position that has enabled it to enter into such non-publishing ventures successfully, having won a legion of followers. Originally a shop in the Old Street area of east London (the physical retail arm was shuttered almost four years ago), the retailer proved a hit with comics fans and became an authority at the heart of the illustration scene, a position borne out by its large and loyal social-media following, which dwarfs that of most legacy publishers. That figure—and indeed its sales figures—could be considerably swelled in the coming months, as in September Netflix will air its 12-part adaptation of Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, which Nobrow has published five titles in (two under its kids’ list, Flying Eye Books) since 2010. That partnership has produced another of the weekend’s main draws for punters: the first two episodes of the series “Hilda” will be screened in a UK exclusive at ELCAF, in a session which also includes a Q&A with Arthur.
New and Notable The best in book design: call for submissions
As part of The Bookseller’s coverage of book design, future Perfect Bound columns will contain a New and Notable column of upcoming releases with a particular focus on strong design and production values. To submit titles, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Two recent books that would fit perfectly are Phaidon’s Reading Art: Art for Book Lovers (9780714876276), a lavishly illustrated, 352-page compendium of books in works of art, and Art/Books’ facsimile edition of ABC: An Alphabet (9781908970367) by Mrs Arthur Gaskine, a beautiful cloth- bound, silkscreen-covered alphabet run-through.