I went to a Russian Comic Festival and Lived to Tell the Tale: Thoughts and Memories from Boomfest.

 

Boomfest, an international sequential storytelling festival, took its roots in 2007 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This year I was fortunate enough to attend the 10th annual Boomfest. Before I get to my thoughts from the actual festival, let me quickly point your attention to the festival’s venue. THIS venue.
boomfest-venueTake THAT, North American comic festivals and your soulless convention centres.

To be fair, it didn’t feel like the most suitable festival venue. The extremely narrow entryways with their nearly immovable heavy wooden doors are especially noteworthy for their horribleness, but all of it looked so good that I was ready to forgive all the venue’s faults in an instant.

Boomfest being my first ever Russian comic convention, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity of the Russian small press comics scene. I arrived to the festival bracing myself to make unfortunate acquaintance of comic bros of Russian variety, but ended up being pleasantly surprised. While comic bros were certainly spotted, those were very few and very far between. The event felt very balanced gender-wise, in terms of people both behind and in front of exhibitor tables. The constant dozen people-long box office line during the first day of the festival consisted primarily of women every time I saw it, and the list of invited artists was also very well thought out and balanced. That is an accomplishment not too many North American festivals can boast about.

During Richard McGuire's panel.
During Richard McGuire’s panel.

The festival was not set up in quite the same way as a regular North American comic convention. Its “artist alley” consisted of only two small but tightly packed rooms, with the majority of the event dedicated to panels and comic art exhibits. Boomfest’s big names, like Richard McGuire, Gary Baseman, and Mawil, didn’t even table at the artist alley. The festival had a table set up outside of the panel room, so that the panelists could sell and sign their books after their talks. The guests also ran free master classes some of which clocked in at 4 hours. There were times when the whole event felt more like a professional development conference, albeit with more comic book t-shirts.
A fun little anecdote from the first day of the festival involved Mawil, a German comic creator. Mawil had been signing books and selling some merch after his panel, when he asked one of his readers how much the price of his patches were, if converted to Euros. The reader said the 170 ruble price tag roughly translated into 2 euros. Mawil then asked how much a bottle of beer normally costs in Russia, once again, in euros. After hearing that you can buy one for a euro, Mawil promptly grabbed the price tag off of his patches, scratched out the 170 and wrote 85.

Art by Begaka. Find more here
Art by Begaka. Find more here.

I flew into St. Petersburg knowing a big fat zilch about the Russian comics scene, and emerged two days later as a pulsing mess of warmth and excitement. There are so many awesome Russian comics! There are queer comics about self-acceptance, feminist zines that combine comics and feminist theory, raw and emotional comics about broken families, fun little diary comics, and, of course, comics about a guy named Roma beating up swallows. My favourite of all was a semi-autobiographical “gothic detective” graphic novel about two kids trying to solve their neighbour’s suicide.

Not only were those comics diverse, but they were freaking good. I’m very biased and still high on the festival experience, but I’m telling you the truth when I say that I bought a backpack full of comics and none of them were bad. There were some that weren’t quite as successful, and some I wouldn’t re-read, but I enjoyed every single thing that I got there.

From SHUV by Olga Lavrenteva.
From “SHUV” by Olga Lavrenteva.

I guess it’s high time I started saving up for Boomfest 2017. Not sure about you, but I, for one, welcome our future Russian comics overlords.

 

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