The Arctic Comics Festival started up in 1981, and it became international in 1985. So far, more than sixty illustrators, critics and researchers from all over the world have visited the worlds northernmost comics festival: among others, Robert Crumb and Scott McCloud from USA, José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo from Argentina, Norio Yamanoi from Japan, Frank Odoi from Kenya and Eddie Campbell from Australia. European illustrators have come from as far away as Iceland, Portugal, Albania, Hungary and Arkangel to join the festival. Angoulême's 2002 and 2003 years Grand Prix winners Schuiten and Loisel have visited Kemi as well. In 2003 Moebius/Jean Giraud visited the festival and in 2004 Kemi welcomed French artists Jano and Mezzo. Celebrating the 25th festival in 2006 were English artist David Lloyd, better known for V for Vendetta, and Frederic Boilet and Aurelia Aurita of France.
From the very beginning, a national comics competition - which became Nordic in 1990 - has been an integral part of the comics festival. Almost 5,300 illustrators and scriptwriters have participated the competition so far. The annual amount of participants in the competition is ca. 300.
The most significant ones of all exhibitions at the comics festival have been Crumb's World1993, Who Would Be Afraid of Donald Duck 1994, Mämmilä 1995, The World of Moebius 2003,The Comics and Music 2004 and Viivi ja Wagner 2005. The Kemi art museum had, during three weeks time, 18 248 visitors and the rest of Finland ca. 70 000 visitors at the Mämmilä-exhibition.
In connection to the Comics&Music exhibition, the Arctic Comics Centre arranged a song writing competition in which dozens of song writers participated with songs about Finnish comics and the Arctic Comics Festival.A CD compiled of winning songs of the competition was released at the 2003 festival. The winning song by Pentti Korpela about Lempi awarded artist Ari Kutila's Mustapukuinen mies comic character became somewhat of a local radio hit airing regurarly throughout summer 2003. Encouraged by the success of the competition, the Arctic Comics Centre went on to arrange the competition two more times in 2004 and 2005 releasing CDs Viivi ja Wagner (2004) and Sarjakuvia piirtelen (2005).
Since 1987, the Arctic Comics Centre have awarded accomplished people and organisations with Lempi-prizes at the comics festival: Lempi Grand Prix, Strip-Lempi, Publication-Lempi and Lempi International. In 2006 the festival's father, Heikki Porkola, was the first one ever to be awarded with a special Lempi-prize, Lempi Grand Slam.
The Comics Festival is arranged by The Arctic Comics Centre in Kemi and supported by Kemi town and Ministry of Education. The Comics Centre does also publishing. They have published ca. 50 works so far. The most outstanding ones are the first Finnish manual How to draw comics! (Keijo Ahlqvist & Ari Kutila, 1987) and The Encyclopedia of Finnish Comic Art (edited by Heikki Jokinen & Kalervo Pulkkinen, 1996). As a first publisher The Arctic Comics Centre published Kalervo Palsa (Kuolema ja Intohimo, 1. edition 1988, 2. edition 2002; French translation La mort et la passion, 1989).
The President of the Republic of Finland, Tarja Halonen, acted as a patron at the 20th anniversary festival 2001. She also visited The Comics Centre in autumn 2002.