Tuesday, 23 April 2013

10th Annual Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

A sunny Saturday morning and off over the English Bridge to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust [next door to Shrewsbury Abbey, made famous by Ellis Peters in her Brother Cadfael books] to find out about slugs.  ‘Are you fascinated by the strange world of slugs?’ said the flyer that I’d picked up in town.  ‘There is a species in Shropshire that eats wallpaper – could be a helping hand with the decorating? Join this unusual workshop exploring the slimy world of slugs.’

By the time I arrived, however - it being a leisurely sunny Saturday morning - the first session was over and the second one had inexplicably moved out of town to the Preston Montford Field Centre. So how did I overcome my disappointment? What did I do instead? I did what I should have done in the first place - headed for the Square for Shrewsbury’s Annual International Cartoon Festival. 

This is the tenth year of the Cartoon Festival.  As I understand it, it’s the only major cartoon festival in the UK.  Certainly it’s become an important part of Shrewsbury’s summer season of arts events. I arrived in the Square to find the place heaving with artists, boards, brushes, pens, happy snappers and curious questioners.  A band played under the statue of Clive of India, adding a sense of jollity to the proceedings.  Children queued to have their portraits drawn. I wandered round in the sunshine, not sure what I found more fascinating - the cartoons, or other people’s fascination.  

On Sunday I went out again, taking my family with me.  By this time, yesterday’s enormous canvasses had been filled with colour, which was just as well as it was a grey old day, the sort we've become depressingly used to over recent months.  In the distance I made out the flash of a red beret, which I knew without seeing her sunny smile, meant that illustrator Linda Edwards [she of all those lovely trees of life, if you remember the Open Studio I did on her] was here in the Square.  

You can’t go far in Shrewsbury without meeting friends.  Linda wasn’t here to draw, as it turned out, just to see what was going on. She told me that  I'd find more artists and lots more work in the indoor market. Usually the market is closed on Sundays, but our little group took a short cut down Gullet Passage and found it open to the public, lights on, tarpaulins down, most of the weekday stalls doing business, a buzz of voices as people and stallholders alike stood around enjoying having artists on site, drawing in every conceivable spare corner.

The place was full of people that I knew. More than that, half of them I'd written about or interviewed.   For a moment I felt as if I'd walked straight into the pages of My Tonight From Shrewsbury.  Alison Patrick greeted me, whom I'd last spoken to at the Unitarian Church when I was doing my secret worshipper thing.  Then Market Hall Manager, Kate Gittings, waved from a distance.  Then in the distance there was Julia Wenlock too, whose chocolate evening I partook in around Easter time. And the last time I saw Town Clerk, Helen Ball, was when she was speaking at the Public Inquiry in defence of our town square.

I and my jolly little group of cartoon festival attendees settled into Mirage Mezze, ordered more food than we could ever eat without taking half away, and lounged about in huge, gilt, velvet-padded thrones.  All around us, people were  plainly enjoying themselves.  Up in the gallery, the Bridgnorth Ukelele Band was thrashing it out, giving it as good as they’d got. It almost made you want to dance. At the stall next to us a couple of cartoonists were plying their wares, churning out complementary cartoons for anybody brave enough to sit in front of them and face their sharp eyes. In fact, all over the market hall cartoonists were drawing, and their work was hanging up everywhere.

My picture was drawn by a lady cartoonist in a red top hat.  All the way through my sitting, she kept laughing.  It made me laugh as well.  This, I realized afterwards was a ploy.  Below's what I mean.  Given the reality she had to deal with, I thought I got off rather lightly. 

So, another joyous weekend in lovely Shrewsbury.  Three cheers for the Cartoon Festival. It certainly beats slugs. 

Here are some of the artists whose work I enjoyed:

Bill Stott
Goddard Cartoons
Surreal McCoy
Huw Aaron
Ariss Cartoons
Pete Dredge
Drawn by Helen [my top hat lady]

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