London Art Book Fair

Just back from London and the LABF in the East End at the prestigious Whitechapel Gallery. The first thing I should mention is that I would not even have had the opportunity to go if it wasn’t for the fact that the fair had a Focus on Canada which was supported by the Canadian High Commission in London and the Canada Council for the Arts. So I thank them. There were about nine Canadian publishers mixed in with the almost exclusively UK exhibitors.


Conundrum Press polarized the room. The two types of comments I received after setting up my table of graphic novels were, “Why are you here?” and, “It’s so great you are here!” I think the art book crowd was a bit flummoxed with my comics. Someone said, “How are these art books?” Answer: “They are filled with drawings.” It is true that there were very few books of drawings, the “art book” world seems to consist of documenting installations for galleries, painting, photography, or writing about performance art. There were lots of people, however, who loved the comics and couldn’t get enough. I sold out most of my stock. So I think that could be a positive direction for the future.


But I should start at the beginning. The first thing I did after getting off the red eye was head to the Bloomsbury neighbourhood to meet my dear friend Tracy who works at a high powered literary agency.


So I walked around soaking up the literary history. This is the neighbourhood of T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Very classy. We had lunch at the London Review Bookshop Cafe. So many bookstores! Every building had a little plaque saying who once lived there. Charles Darwin was one. And this one from Bloomsbury Group salon host Lady Ottoline Morrell


Then it was to the gallery and the opening night. Let the selling begin!


These were my awesome neighbours, a group of Canterbury artists which go under the name Container. Here is Rob and Tania (honourary Canadian) showing off a super big accordian book to Wes from Halifax Ink (another of the Canadian contingent).


Here is Wes and Tania with a better sense of what Container can do. And below are Wes and Robin and the Halifax Ink table. I love those tote bags. 


Also Conundrum has just signed a contract with Turnaround Publisher Services who will be distributing our books in the UK and Europe. So I met an enthusiastic Claire Thompson from Turnaround on the first night who introduced me to everyone.

The next day was the publisher’s breakfast where I got to chat with AA Bronson seen here in the beard. 


He is a very big deal in art book circles having co-founded General Idea and the NY Art Book Fair. We got to chatting and he was telling me about a fair in Montreal that had the right idea. Inclusivity. Young people. Zines. I relalized he was talking about Expozine. “But I co-founded that fair,” I blurted out. Imagine this Order of Canada inductee looking to little old us as a role model. My heart grew three sizes that day.

And it was back to selling.

andy at table

At one point there was a launch at the Halifax Ink table for Ehryn Torrell and her wonderful book of paintings Self Similar.

ehryn signs

At another point my parents showed up from Vancouver! 


No, they did not come all that way to see their publisher son but were on the first leg of a 50th anniversary cruise. So it was just a nice coincidence.


Between the two floors in the gallery was an installation of book sculptures including this reading see saw.


And this social sculpture reading nook.

social sculpture

Other art scattered throughout the gallery was this from Canadian guest Douglas Coupland…


and this…

jacobs ladder

On Saturday morning, before things started up again, I was a real tourist and wandered down to the Tower of London which was only a few blocks away. 


Things were brisk on Saturday and we were treated to Spoken Weird…

spoken weird

And here is Andy Malone and his re-apropriation of the classic Ladybird Books…

accordianglovestania fixes dakota

At one point Tania salvaged a misprint to save the day. Handy having neighbours with cutting boards and Xacto knives. 


This woman took a long time making up her mind about what to buy at the Conundrum table. In the end she bought all of Elisabeth Belliveau’s books, including the latest One Year in America which we launched at the festival. Biggest fan ever!

That night we caught the Arsenal / Tottenham Hotspur darby at the Pride of Spittlefields and drank pints in the street. Then to a party hosted by Ridinghouse who are very established publishers in the UK and very generous with the food and booze. It was good to mingle, talk Scottish nationalism, real estate, football, and art. There were actual Roman busts in the room! One with a nose, one without. Back at the hotel I ran into the largest tattoo convention in the world! At the bar I was getting a pint while one guy was showing off his back, which was completely covered in tattoos. He filled me in on what was going on and said he came all the way from Brazil. I said, “Well I came from Canada but I have no tattoos.” He said, “Well I guess that makes you the freak in the room for a change.” Needless to say I was feeling rough the next day at the fair.

Since I’d sold most of my stock anyway and had to catch a flight, I thanked my hosts said my goodbyes and took the Tube to the National Gallery which is on Trafalgar Square. On the way I stumbled into a small lane which was filled with collectable shops of prints and books, books, and more books!

nationalgallerytrafalger square

Why was I visting the National Gallery? One word. Rembrandt! Now there was an artist…


Also, Rubens was no slouch…


And I feel I need to end this post with some comics. So here are two. The first is a “cartoon” by none other than Leonardo da Vinci in the National Gallery…


And finally, after catching my flight and transfering planes in Toronto I stumbled upon this exhibition tucked away in the airport. A huge mural by Conundrum artist Dakota McFadzean! And I am home…


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