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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Doing the Elephant Walk - Oliver East Steps Out for Lakes Festival Project

Doing the Elephant Walk - Oliver East Steps Out for Lakes Festival Project

Phono+Graphic Exhibition Poster
Oliver East and the Maharajah at Manchester Museum. Image courtesy Manchester Museum
Kendal, 7th April 2015: Comics artist Oliver East is getting set to retrace the steps of a legendary Victorian walk with an elephant from Edinburgh to Manchester this week, for “Take me back to Manchester” –  a project commissioned by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Manchester Museum.

One of Manchester Museum’s prize exhibits is the skeleton of Maharajah, the elephant that walked to Manchester.

Maharajah belonged to Wombwell's Royal Number One famous travelling menagerie, but when it closed in 1872, all the animals sold by auction in Edinburgh. The Asian elephant was purchased by the owners of Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoological Gardens and they planned to send him by train to Manchester, but this plan altered rapidly when he immediately wrecked his railway carriage.

Thrown off the train, his keeper suggested that they should walk to Manchester, perhaps to secure a few extra days work, and this they did over the next ten days.

The tale of the walk has entered zoological and Manchester folklore and, starting out on Wednesday 8th April, Manchester comic artist Oliver East will retrace the 200 mile walk, over ten days. He’ll be accompanied not by an elephant but by his phenomenal imaginative, drawing and narrative skills. To challenge himself further, Oliver will set his drawings in 1872.

Oliver has spent many moths researching the legend, studying the comprehensive written archives documenting the walk, looking at the care and welfare of animals in captivity in 1872 and also researching Victorian paintings and photographs of the route, held in local art/museum collections.

Take Me Back To Manchester will be filmed by Cumbrian based film makers Dom Bush and Simon Sylvester. The  documentary film Take Me Back To Manchester is commissioned by the Lakes Culture Lakes Ignite programme and will be shown at the Brockhole Visitor Centre in the Lake District from 8-17 May inclusive and also at the Toronto Comic Art Festival in May 2015.

Take Me Back To Manchester will be the first time that Oliver has walked in another’s footsteps – Maharajah and his keeper, Lorenzo Lawrence – and the first time he has attempted an historical approach. The walk in the Spring of 1872 was a media sensation in its day and well documented in local papers; there are also a couple of paintings/drawings recording the event ( one in Manchester Museum and one in Manchester Art Gallery ).

Following the walk, Oliver  will create a comic book Take Me Back To Manchester.

Take Me Back To Manchester, which has been  and sponsored by Craghoppers and The Elephant Yard, Kendal, will be showcased at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October 2015 and some work in progress will be included as part of the LICAF Comic Art Pavilion at the Toronto Comic Art Festival in May 2015.

Oliver will also make 20 large scale drawings that will form the basis of an exhibition at Manchester Museum alongside the skeleton of Maharajah. The exhibition of Take Me Back To Manchester is pencilled for early 2016.

Oliver East is an artist who gets his creative energy and inspiration from walking predetermined routes and creating comics as a result. Previous works include the Trains are… Mint series ( walks along train lines in and around Manchester );  Sweardown and The Homesick Truant’s Cumbrian Yarn which was published last year. He also designed a few album covers for Elbow (Build a Rocket Boys and The Seldom Seen Kid).

“This is a story that sits somewhere at the back of most Mancunian's memories without ever really knowing what happened,” says Oliver of the original elephant walk. “There is a lot written about Belle Vue Zoo itself, and Maharajah's life there, but little to nothing on the actual walk Lorenzo undertook, which makes it ripe to mine for linear narrative.

"The burgeoning relationship between animal trainer and animal, whilst undergoing such an epic trek is interesting to explore in itself, aside from the task of getting to Manchester.

“While aspects of the book will have to fall to fiction, I feel doing the walk myself will give the finished project so much more substance than spending that same time pouring over old newspaper cuttings in libraries. The landscape drawings gathered on route, the empathy of exhaustion, the thrill I’ll have having completed the walk, these will make it a much better project. A book born on the road.”

“Oliver takes comic art into new territory, as we discovered when we worked with him last year on the Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn,” says Julie Tait, Director of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. “Then, he walked the coast of Cumbria recording his encounters with fabulous drawings and great wit. Now he takes on an even more epic challenge presenting a legendary tale linked closely to the local landscape which is certain to capture the imaginations of people of all ages whether they are into comics or not.

"It promises to be memorable, especially with an elephant involved! and to tell this amazing story in a way only comics can do."

• For the latest news on the 2015 Lakes International Comic Art Festival visit:

• Sign up for the Festival's newsletter here for the latest news! 

Take Me Back To Manchester: The Route

Elephant Walk Map
8 April: Edinburgh ( Waverley Station) – Stow
9 April: Stow - Hawick
10 April: Hawick - Langholm
11 April: Langholm – Carlisle
12 April: Carlisle – Penrith
13 April: Penrith  - Kendal
14 April: Kendal – Lancaster
15 April: Lancaster – Preston
16 April: Preston -  Bolton
17 April: Bolton -  Manchester  (Manchester Museum)

As well as the route of the walk, Maharajah and Lorenzo’s overnight stops in inns and stable yards are documented  and  a few,  like the White Hart Inn in Kendal,  are still going strong today.

Oliver East - Official Web Site: | Twitter:
"The Disputed Toll" by Heywood Hardy, featuring Maharajah and his keeper on the original walk in 1872. Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery

Take Me Back To Manchester - Sponsors

The University of Manchester Museum
Lakes Culture: Ignite 2015

About the Lakes International Comic Art Festival 2015

Lakes International Comics Art Festival LogoA huge line up of both British and globe-spanning international comics talent is being lined up for this year's Lakes International Comic Art Festival, taking place 16th – 18th October 2015.

International guests announced so far include award-winning Canadian artist Darwyn CookeKathryn Immonen, Stuart Immonen, Seth, Kate Beaton, Michael deForge,  Simpsons Comics artist Bill Morrison (thanks to the National Cartoonists Society in the US), Boulet, Winsluss, Benoit Peeters and Antoine Cossé - with many more to come.

Announced British guests include 24 Hour Marathon organiser and artist Dan Berry; graphic novelist Joe Decie, who is working on a longform project thanks to funding from the Lakes Festival; Oliver East, author of titles such as Trains Are Mint, who is working on another project with the Festival following the success of The Homesick Truant's Cumbrian Yarn; internationally-acclaimed cartoonist Hunt Emerson, creator of Calculus Cat;  author David Gaffney, who has recently been working with Dan Berry on a new graphic novel, The Three Rooms in Valerie’s Head; and UK-based stitcher and prolific tea drinker Felt Mistress AKA Louise Evanswho has created a range of one-off bespoke creatures with her partner, illustrator Jonathan Edwards, including Poblin, the Festival's mascot.

The hugely successful 2014 Festival in Kendal featured a stellar cast of both British and international creators and a number of special exhibitions, and attracted thousands of fans young and old to the Lake District town.

The Festival’s dedicated organisers are determined to build on last year’s visitors numbers still further, reflecting their aim to deliver a truly European-style comics festival involving the whole of the local community and visitors in a truly unique comics experience.

Festival-connected events in the twelve-month run up to the 2015 weekend include a partnership with the Friends of Lancaster Library for Lancaster Comics Day (Sunday 14th June), which will see the announcement of the winners, and the publication of the “Lost in Space” digital anthology June, which is being produced in partnership with Titan Comics and will include a cover by Festival patron Sean Phillips. Announced guests at that event include comic writer Andy Diggle, Eddie Robson and Tim Quinn, artist Dave Taylor and editor John Freeman, 

Comics Clock Tower 2015

Applications for for tables for the Comics Clock Tower - the Festival's free venue where the public will be able to mix with creators and publishers – are now closed. The Festival will notify all successful applicants by Friday 20th March 2015

Festival Sponsors and Benefactors

The Patrons of the Festival are comic creators Boulet, Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot, Mary Talbot and Emma Vieceli, and Stephen L. Holland, owner of the award-winning independent comic shop Page 45 in Nottingham.

The Festival is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with funding from South Lakeland District Council and Kendal Town Council working in partnership with the Brewery Arts Centre and Kendal College.

Commercial sponsors include the Westmorland Shopping Centre.

Lakes Festival: Some Past Releases

French creators set to storm Lakes International Comic Art Festival

Lakes International Comic Art Festival announces new patrons

Find out more about our international guest, Darwyn Cooke

• You can view the full 2014 Festival programme here

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival run 16th - 18th October 2015. Sign up for the Festival's newsletter here for the latest news on its plans for 2015!
For further information contact: Julie Tait -
Images of most announced guests, Festival poster and mascot images can be found here:
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