Stephen L. Holland, the co-owner, co-manager and sole curator of Page 45, the European-style comic shop in Nottingham, who's also a freelance artist and and is a fervent champion for quality and diversity in comics, was announced as the new Comics Laureate at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival earlier this evening, Friday 9th October 2020.
The announcement was made as part of the opening event of this year's online event, LICAF Live, replacing the usual physical Festival in Kendal due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and resulting restrictions on mass gatherings. (You can read Stephen's Acceptance Speech in full here).
The Comics Laureate, a role initiated by LICAF and supported by Lancaster University, is an ambassadorial and educational role for the comic genre and aims to raise awareness of the impact comics can have in terms of increasing literacy and creativity. The appointment is made biennially to a distinguished comics creator, writer or artist in recognition of their outstanding achievement in the genre.
Working closely with the Lakes International Comics Art Festival and Lancaster University, the Comics Laureate champions the role of comics in improving literacy through a programme of educational visits, workshop events, guest appearances and conferences. A key focus will be working to increase the acceptance of comics as a creative art form in schools, libraries and throughout the education system.
When young, Stephen, who takes over the Laureate role from graphic novelist Hannah Berry next April, was a very reluctant reader - to which his mum successfully applied the then-inspired solution of comics. The proof of the pudding: he now has a degree in English Literature and History of Art, which is certainly pretty handy when preaching and teaching comics.
"As soon as I take up my tenure as Comics Laureate, I want to start making a direct, quantifiable difference to this country's knowledge about comics by showcasing the true quality and diversity of graphic novels available from all over the world, as well as exploring how they work," Stephen told online Festival goers earlier tonight.
"My fervent hope is that this will galvanise more people to begin investigating, reading and relishing graphic novels, and inspire yet more individuals – from the broadest possible backgrounds and with an even wider range of perspectives – to start creating them. We can never have enough new voices in comics! Never!"
Reflecting his determination to reach new, diverse audiences and encourage young people to create comics, Stephen's first appearance, thanks to its Learning Resource Centre manager Rowena Singleton and LICAF’s very own Hester Harrington has already been arranged for Monday 26th April 2021, at the Abraham Moss Community School in North Manchester.
"I want to get straight into schools and start spreading the word in order to generate a renewed love of reading for pleasure, and empower young minds with the knowledge that they can create for themselves," Stephen enthuses.
"Wherever I roam – in schools and elsewhere – I want to surprise, as we explore together what the comics medium actually is, where it has appeared, what it can do and how it can do it, while emphasising the limitless breadth of subject matter that comics can cover.
"This is the most massive honour of my lifetime – one entirely unexpected – and I’m so very, very charged up about it," he continues. "If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be worried, but I’ve been given this golden opportunity to replicate everything I’ve done for 30 years at Page 45 in Nottingham nationwide! To show everyone in this country who’ll look and listen the true diversity of this medium we all love, and promote its most individualistic voices!
"Because here’s the thing: comics is a visual medium. You can’t tell the public that they must start reading comics! You have to show them this medium’s full, diverse and fascinating glories – which they won’t be expecting – and so tantalise them into exploring graphic novels for themselves!"
Julie Tait, Director, The Lakes International Comic Art Festival said: “We're delighted Stephen accepted the role of Comics Laureate and we're confident he will build on the work of previous incumbents in the role - Charlie Adlard, Hannah Berry and Dave Gibbons.
"The Comics Laureate has been and continues to be a vital role for the comics art form. It isn’t just a title; it's part and parcel of our wider objectives as a Festival, to reach out to new audiences and raise the profile and the understanding of the importance of comics for education, inspiration and literacy.
"We're delighted that the Lakes International Comics Art Festival can play a role in co-ordinating the Comics Laureate programme, and Stephen's appointment as the new Laureate.”
• For more on the role of the Comics Laureate visit www.comicartfestival.com/project/uk-comics-laureate
• For the latest news about Lakes International Comic Art Festival Live 2020 visit www.comicartfestival.com | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Podcast | Tapas | Sign up for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dl479j
• The Virtual Comics Clock Tower is online at licafclocktower.com
• Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2021: 15th - 17th October 2021