Roberto Macedo Alves is on a one-man mission to bring comics to the Portugeuse island of Madeira, which is one of the loveliest places I have ever been. Incredible scenery, very friendly people, and many enthusiastic comics readers! An absolute delight.

Roberto began bringing comics creators to the Funchal Book Fair a few years ago, and this year’s guest was David Lloyd, artist of V for Vendetta.

Roberto’s shop is Setima Dimensao, and his blog is here, where you can see more pictures of the event. David Lloyd’s website is here. I’m sorry, but had no luck finding a direct link to artist Marco Avoletta. If anyone has that info, please forward and I will link.

Thank you to Roberto for taking the time to write about the adventure!

Sequential art as part of a Book Fair in the middle of the ocean.
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Just to provide a little bit of context, I live in a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic. A pretty volcanic rock with an area of 768 square kilometers (some 296.53 square miles) with 250,000 inhabitants and no comic reading tradition or respect for the art form. At least until 2004, when I decided to begin the charming life of an entrepreneur and decided to open the only comic book store in the island.

Since the opening day, my objective was never just to sell books. Where is the fun in that? Richard Branson, one of my childhood idols, said: “Entrepreneurship is not just about making a lot of money. It’s about making a difference in a field that excites you in life”. Now that’s what I wanted. Even if that meant that I was stuck in the middle of the atlantic selling stuff that the local cultural leaders considered “unworthy and disposable kiddie fare”.

But with the help of my mother and friends, and the kindness of strangers, we grew and gathered a group of people interested in drawing comics – and started doing workshops, drawing sessions, drawing marathons, comics exhibitions and TV appearances.

After a couple of years, comics (or Sequential Art, as I insist in calling it) started to get a little bit of respect as a valid art form. We gathered a nice group of aspiring artists that are always eager to express themselves using that medium, and we started to get noticed in relevant local cultural events, like our yearly book fair, that was supposed to be a celebration of reading – not just an excuse to sell cheaper books.

Anyway, after a couple of years, I found myself with the power (and responsibility) of choosing a comic book creator to bring as a guest to the Fair. The organizers of the Book Fair considered that comics were getting a considerable amount of media attention, and we could bring a creator of my choosing to the Fair (that was last year, in 2008), for autograph sessions, small panels, talk with the fans, etc. Apparently, we became a visible (and vocal) group in those book-related events. A big differences from the “comics are for dumb kids” early days.

“I will bring you more than just a comic book artist. I will invite a sequential artist!”, I said.

“Besides the pretentiousness of the title… what is the difference?”, the organizers asked.

To me, there was a world of difference. A comic book artist just draws comic books. Like, someone who draws Spider-man for 30 years or something (not that there is anything wrong with that – I like Spider-man comics) – but I was struggling so hard to get comics respected as a serious art form that I wanted someone to confirm that respectability I was talking about. I wanted to invite someone whose work was not only overwhelmingly brilliant, but also inspiring for our small group of aspiring artists. Someone who could show through their work the real possibilities of the medium to those unfamiliar with it. My first thoughts went to A DISTANT SOIL of course: it was exciting, carefully crafted, very intelligent science fiction/fantasy as good as any written novel.

Colleen was gracious enough to accept our invitation and was the first international sequential artist that visited our humble event in 2008. For the first time, our aspiring artists had the opportunity to talk and hang out with a living, breathing, talented and witty comic creator. Until recently, our small group was ashamed to admit they enjoyed comics – at least in public. And our female artists still saw the comic book world as something dominated by males. This was the perfect opportunity to show them that there were magnificent female creators in the comic book world.

The visit was a resounding success. The media, politicians, organizers and public loved Colleen – and I was again given authorization to decide who was going to be the guest for 2009. Again, the choice was obvious, now that I had the pleasure to talk and hang out with an artist I admire, I wanted to move to the other book that had changed my life:

V FOR VENDETTA!

It was the first book that moved me to tears. I was 17 when I read it. Back then, all I read were Disney and Marvel comics, but always felt that we could do serious stuff with comics – and V showed me exactly how that was to be done. It taught me a lesson about integrity that would change my life, literally. So, I wanted to have David Lloyd as our second international guest. Not just for the enjoyment and inspiration of the local comic community, but also as the ultimate dream of a comic fan: be able to talk and hang out with a creator that changed our lives, as happened with Colleen.

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Pictured: Roberto Macedo Alves with David Lloyd and Marco Avoletta

David Lloyd is charming and a wonderful gentleman. At first, I was intimidated… I mean, he created one of the most important works I’ve ever read (to me, V FOR VENDETTA is as important to me as Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD or Orwell’s 1984 – as dystopian futures scenarios) – and his most recent book, KICKBACK is a clever, interesting and serious “crime noir” book, better than any other crime novel I’ve ever read. His visit was really important, because he helped to confirm to the local community that comics can be serious and respectable as a form of art. This has been a hard, ongoing battle. You wouldn’t believe how many high-brow idiots criticize comics and stress about the “problems and limitations of mixing words and pictures”. I usually do some intellectual show-off and reply that a good comic can be as expressive as the GASPARD DE LA NUIT. If they don’t know what the GASPARD DE LA NUIT is, I usually reply with a snobby “you are not a very cultured person, are you? So, you have no right to criticize sequential art until you get a proper knowledge of the history of western art”.

And yes, I know it is a misleading argument. GASPARD DE LA NUIT is a curious piano piece by Maurice Ravel.

This year, besides the autograph sessions and such, we had a very interesting Q&A public session, with David Lloyd and Italian artist Marco Avoletta, so we had some sort of conversation with two different generations of comic creators. It was glorious. And, as tradition during the fair, we had official lunch with the head organizer, that always gets me slightly nervous. The director of the organization is a person I really admire, an essential figure of our local (and national) cultural panorama – and he also was one of the Captains that planned the Portuguese revolution of 1974, that ended the Dictatorship and brought democracy to Portugal. I was not even born when the revolution happened and usually feel like a clumsy child while trying to have a witty but smart conversation with living legends. (in this case, Lloyd and Faria Paulino). During that lunch, we had some escargot, which I never tasted before and was very distracting, because every time I poked one of the tiny tjhings with the toothpick, the minuscule mouth of the dead creature would just gape at me. Ew. Try to get concentrated on a conversation with snails screaming silently at you every time you poke them.

But besides the escargot fun and the cultural events and the interviews and the serious relevant moments, like the talk “How I Got Into This Crazy Business and Ended Up Bringing V FOR VENDETTA To The World” by David Lloyd, that gave us a wonderful insight about the creation of such a seminal work and even how the inspiration for Valerie Page appeared – we also had some mindless moments of fun, like a Cosplay day with our other guest, portuguese creator Roberto Gomes, and one of our 12-Hours-of-comic-creation marathons.

The Book fair just ended last week, and we had lots of fun and I can’t thank enough Colleen and David for accepting our invitation. As I said before, as a retailer, I want to do more than just sell books and make a profit. That is important, but I also want to have fun, to have a community of young talented people that enjoy expressing themselves and show that the clich├ęd ideas of dumb youngsters hooked on Playstation games is not as true as many people think. We live in a small place that seems limited and encasing and surrounded with water, and probably many people never heard of our island, but little by little, battle by battle, our young group of comic creators are getting new respectability and new opportunities – and ways to learn important lessons from those artists we admire. Geography is not a limitation anymore.

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