2D Northern Ireland Comics Festival

The Verbal Arts Centre in Derry opens its doors to artists and enthusiasts. Click Play Video for a video podcast from the festival's Open Day

'Can I have my picture taken with you,' the young lady asks the six foot tall stormtrooper. He assents, his voice distorted, as if talking through a radio: 'Certainly, mam. It would be my pleasure.' He wraps his arm around her and she flashs some leg as they pose.

The moral of the story? Forget the sports car, the condo, the rolls of cash stuffed down your pants. If it's a girl you're after, and you need to compensate, get yourself a Star Wars outfit - the ladies love white plastic body armour.

David LloydThey do here, at least, in the Verbal Arts Centre (VAC) in Derry, home of the 2D Northern Ireland Comics Festival.

In 2009, as in previous years, the festival attracted international big hitters like V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd to Derry for two days of workshops, panel discussions and more, but 2D is all about the homegrown talent that thrives away from the spotlight.

On the ground floor of the VAC three stormtroopers guard the entrance for the festival's Open Day while gangs of youths draw monsters and super heroes on the Monster Drawing Wall, edging one another out of the way for better access.

On the first and second floors emerging artists like Cancertown's Stephen Downey rub shoulders with experienced professionals like Mike Collins, sign and sell their comics, sketch caricatures and chat freely with the many and varied comic book enthusiasts who, you suspect, anticipate the arrival of 2D like elves do Christmas - enjoying everything for free.

And in the middle of it all, flushed yet focused, organiser David Campbell runs from floor to floor, office to office, dodging journalists, directing artists and chatting with kids who look up to him like a brother - never for too long, but always with a smile on his face.

‘It’s hectic,’ admits Campbell. ‘Every year it seems to get busier and busier. I was worried that not as many people would show up this year but Verbal is heaving!’

Campbell works as artist-in-residence at the VAC, but since the inception of 2D his responsibilities have Comic book workshopmultiplied ten fold. ‘My biggest responsibility with regards 2D is towards the artists and the fans themselves,' he adds.

‘2D is unique in that we don’t charge artists to take stalls. Other comic book festivals have a more commercial edge, but we’re all about giving Northern Irish artists the platform they need to promote themselves. Many of the fans will discover new artists’ work here, today, for the first time, and will be able to have their caricatures drawn for free and their comics signed. That’s what 2D is all about.’

The collective appreciation is infectious. Many of the artists and writers at the festival Open Day have been to 2D before, but their discourse with fans and even those disinterested visitors who may otherwise be labelled ‘passing trade’ is eager and passionate and, before you know it, you‘re moving on to the next stall with a bunch of freshly purchased titles under one arm thinking, ‘Hang on, why did I buy these?’.

‘It’s great to see so many young people, as well as those more long in the tooth, coming out to see us and our work,’ comments Mike Collins, one of the funniest caricaturists on show. ’I could sit here all day, drawing people as robots or vampires or whatever they choose. In fact, I think I will.’

At 3pm, the punters - young and old, bearded and non-bearded - gather round to hear David Lloyd speak. The artist of works like V for Vendetta (written by Alan Moore), Dr Who and Hellblazer knows a thing or two about breaking into the comics industry, and leaves his fans begging for more. ‘He’s an absolute legend,’ eulogizes one young fan. ‘I can’t believe he’s here, in Derry!’

Panel discussionLater that evening 2D relocates to Sandinos Bar for a Q&A with Lloyd, followed by a panel discussion on the pros and cons of Hollywood’s pillaging of the comic book world for content. The pros? Visionary directors like Batman’s Christopher Nolan, actors like Heath Ledger, dreamland adaptations like Frank Miller’s Sin City. The cons? Below par adaptations like the almost unfilmable Watchmen. Perhaps Hollywood should keep its distance.

Although the subject of the panel discussion keeps everone talking well into the night about whether or not Watchmen director Zack Snyder should have bothered in the first place - and many other related topics - the booze doesn’t hamper things. ‘I’m knackered,’ laughs Campbell, handing out 2 for 1 drinks coupons to a select few before a well-earned pint.

‘It’s been a long couple of days - a long couple of months - but I‘m glad it‘s over for another year. The artists have been brilliant, real gents.’

Will Simpson, founder of Belfast’s Rogue Rocket comics publishing house is one such gent, and perhaps sums up 2D best. 'It gets everyone together,' he concludes. 'Here's me, drinking and chatting away with people I've never met before - fans, artists, press. It's great for Northern Ireland. Long may it continue.'

Lee Henry