So you’ve probably read about the Lakes Festival / Zainab Akhtar thing. Probably catch up first before reading through the rest of this if not.
It’s been a very difficult week. I made the choice to stand up and ask the Lakes to apologise or I wouldn’t attend this year. They have since apologised.
I wanted to talk a little about the situation I now find myself in and what is at stake.
I’ve worked with the Lakes from year 1. They took a chance on me as a guest long before many other festivals did and they have been a constant and uncompromising champion of the work that I do, as an artist, a podcaster, an editor and ‘creative facilitator’ (whatever that might mean, seems like the right words.) Without the Lakes festival I wouldn’t have been flown around the world, been a guest at festivals in the UK and abroad, had the opportunity to do work that resulted in multiple Eisner nominations, allowed me the creative freedom to work on projects that put me together with David Gaffney, with whom I have a book coming out with Top Shelf in January and another in the works (watch this space). This is the kind of festival where I can tell them I want to use power tools in public and instead of asking why, they ask what size marquee I’ll need. At a lot of other festivals I just sell books. The love and support I’ve received over the years from the Lakes has been incredible. I’m serious when I say that my career would not be where it is today without them.
I’ve also seen the work they do behind the scenes - they have initiated projects for artists that have resulted in major book deals, they’ve worked on relationships with other festivals and organisations around the world, they’ve created the role of Comics Laureate and they’ve made the big world of global comics feel closer together through their work. The work happens year round and gets celebrated at the festival.
I’ve also had the chance to get a glimpse of the future with the work they have planned. I believe that if everything comes together the way I hope it does, it will be a powerful force for change in making comics a more wonderful place for more people from more backgrounds.
Also, I’ve known Zainab for a long time and consider her a friend. We work together on the Critical Chips books (I put the indesign files together, she does all the hard work). Her writing and perspective on comics and comics culture is always insightful, thoughtful and often challenging. She also never fails to both call me out on my shit and also make me laugh. She is a valuable friend and a valuable voice.
So. Then this weekend happened. I think that in their interactions with Zainab and the following uproar they acted incredibly insensitively. Foolishly. They took criticism personally, responded incredibly badly and basically pooped themselves in the front garden.
Hearing criticism is hard. It is easy to get defensive and make dumb and insensitive mistakes in responding. It is hard to admit fault and find something useful in the criticism and harder still to act upon it.
I don’t think there any easy resolutions to this. Feelings have been hurt, reputations damaged and a community of creators and fans feeling that they need to come down on one side of the debate or the other. Twitter is not an ideal venue for reasoned debate. It often feels like bellowing ‘pull my finger’ into a room already thick with farts. As with every dispute there is detail and context that fail to communicate in 140 or so characters.
The hard fact is that the Lakes Screwed Up Big Time.
My choice now is now an either/or;
Either; Not attend and make a statement by my absence that I support the value of critical voices, diversity and inclusion.
OR; I can try to use what little privilege or influence I have to make a positive change.
Standing up and calling out what you know to be wrong can be hard to do, even harder when the people you call out are your friends. Trust me. It’s been a tough week, emotionally.
I want my decision to be based on the change I want to see happen. I have often thought that I don’t get to complain about something I’m not willing to act upon. The position I am in as a part of the interior of the festival allows me to work to achieve the kind of changes I want to see. I can be a voice that calls them out and keeps them accountable on their behaviour, their policies and their planning.
I want comics to be a better place than it has been this week. My decision has to be to actively made as much of a positive change as I can.
Just not this year.