The ACA’s annual conference/awards night (“The Stanleys”) happened over the weekend. This year I’m the ACA’s deputy president, so I was heavily involved in putting the conference part together. I’m really happy with how it all went. In a political/business environment where the arts is ignored, downgraded and generally considered to be not worth working towards as a career, it’s nice to get together with people who take comics (relatively) seriously.
I ended up being the one to organise the conference this year, along with our committee members (some huge help from Robert Black and Martina Zeitler especially, plus the very lovely Heather Wallace and team at MoAD), so I took the opportunity to invite some guests I thought would shake things up a bit. They did, in fact, do this, though not necessarily in ways I was expecting!
I also ended up being a special feature of day 1, not that I had planned it that way.
A lot happened at this conference, so I’ll just try to sum up with a few observations in chronological order…
- Jon Kudelka was given the big cash award by MoAD, who host the Behind the Lines exhibition each year. He deserved it, not that it stopped me trying to pinch the giant cheque.
- There was a nice drinks in MoAD’s courtyard on evening one, at which my daughter attempted to climb one of the vine-wrapped pergola-things.
- It was an interesting scene as day two kicked off; one or two noticeably absent members had sent a letter to the committee requesting my suspension as deputy president, so I responded to the charges against me as members wandered, yawning, into the AGM. The committee had resolved the previous day not to impeach me, and I received a very nice pep-talk from Kudelka while their deliberations were going on. The very silliest bit of the whole episode was international human rights champion Badiucao kindly suggesting to me that this “heroic fight” was a bit like his own, which is about as wrong as a person can be.
- I think I then presented the results of the ACA’s massive Australian cartoonist survey. There were 250 respondents to this survey, which provided us with a blueprint to move on in better representing artists. You can read more about that here.
- Cathy Wilcox spoke to Kasimir Burgess about his documentary The Leunig Fragments, which he filmed in bursts with cartoonist Michael Leunig over five years. I still haven’t managed to see it, but boy oh boy Kasimir did a delicate dance in describing his interactions with the mysterious showman.
- International manga star Queenie Chan gave a fantastic breakdown of the comics scene in 2019 — what’s selling, what are the new technologies to watch and more.
- My conversation with Badiucao was something I’d been waiting for — it had been a lot of work to get one of the best-known Chinese-born cartoonists as a guest (albeit he’s an Aussie now). His work is genuinely provocative and dangerous to do given his circumstances. For me it was important to have someone like him on stage as a reminder that our local cartooning “controversies” are extraordinarily small potatoes. We showed the doco about him on day 3, which I think rammed home for everyone the kind of genuine danger he and his family are in as a result of his speaking (drawing?) his mind.
- What I wasn’t expecting was a heated discussion between him and Queenie, in the audience, about the relative power of the Chinese government and the protesters, and the violence that has occurred in 2019 in Hong Kong. I was quite out of my depth as moderator of such a discussion, not having the personal experience in anti-government protests these two do. I just had to put an end to the back-and-forth eventually. It continued to be talked about for the rest of the conference, and I was glad about that, even as I don’t like to see guests of a thing I organised being anything less than comfortable. No easy answers in an argument like that.
- It was fantastic hearing NZ guest Sharon Murdoch talk to David Pope about her cartooning career, and lovely to have a chance to chat to her in the MoAD gardens before we headed home the next day.
- I missed the Stanley Awards end of day two as one of us needed to put Rach to bed and I figured Sarah deserved a night “on the town” and I’d be tired by then anyway!
- Jackie French‘s keynote on day three was pretty special, especially since the indefatigable lady had evacuated her home due to the bushfires, but insisted on being at our conference anyway. It underscored what a dicey, unlikely, cut-throat business writing can be, and yet her optimism was really inspiring; on top of that, her advice as to ‘How to Sell 120,000 Copies in Three Weeks – Guaranteed’ was gold, and I took a lot of notes. Attendees, I think, deserve the full benefit of her wisdom, but a couple of useful pointers —
- “I’ve never seen a self published work that didn’t need a bloody good edit.”
- “I’ve never got a contract where I didn’t cross out clauses.”
- Editors decide if your work is brilliant. Marketing decide if it will sell. Nowadays Marketing must accept a manuscript before Editorial, and if you can’t win over a marketing department you probably won’t manage, independently, to sell your book to the public.
Before we headed home we had a good chin-wag with our friend Eleri Harris, Sharon and other excellent artists. As always, the best convos are in between the events (especially when you’re running them).
OK that’s enough. I had a slightly stressful weekend but it was a good, fiery conference! Thank you again to MoAD, the committee and all the artists who were our guests!
[Edit 2021: The draft of this piece sat unfinished for a year and a half while The Rona swept the world and I only got it published in 2021 because I was tooling through some blog fixes. I’m really glad we made the road trip to Canberra, and ran this conference the way we did — we wouldn’t, and won’t, be able to run it again any time soon with international guests like Sharon in attendance. I inserted a link to the Crikey piece about the “AGM kerfuffle” — that came out early in 2020 but I didn’t find out about it until late that year! I chose not to comment for it at the time but it does kinda sum the episode up well.]