FULL BLEED – STUMPTOWN COMICS FEST 2011

PART ONE: IT SPRUNG FROM THIS FIRST ESTRANGEMENT

Rain on the tarmac when I hit. Shoulda figured it, being Oregon in springtime and all that. Seemed to be hitting pretty heavy, though, almost monsoonal. Ah, Portland. Give me your food trucks, your obstinately individual throngs, your rosemary fries.

Your rosemary fries in particular. Those are heavenly.

Wait. This is a comics gig, right? I should be talking about comics.

I’ll be honest. Stumptown is the show I most look forward to during the year. Sure, I enjoy going to Wonder-Con, though not as much as I once did. SDCC has its charms, but has largely turned into something that’s more work than fun, even when I’m going just to see people and art and the like. I suppose it’s like how I approach seeing live music now. I can’t imagine going to a huge multi-day music festival like Coachella, even if there were several bands I really wanted to see. Too many people. Concessions are too expensive, etc. etc. get off my lawn and turn down that rock and roll music you hooligans else I call the truant officer.

But I’ll go out of my way to go see bands at smaller venues quite happily. Assuming I can get someone to watch the kids.

Stumptown’s a pretty focused show. Comics. People who make comics and people who sell comics. Now, within that range, it’s pretty broad and inclusive. You have people like Steve Lieber, who’ve done work for the biggest of big publishers (DC, Marvel) and the smallest of the small (say, oh, I don’t know, Highway 62 Press). There’s minicomics. There’s art comics. There’s straight superheroes and horror and sci-fi and mystery and slice of life.

Sure, you get that kind of range at lots of shows. But you also have to contend with genre culture programming like TV, movies and videogames. Those are fine things and I enjoy particular slices of them all. But when I come to a comic show, I want to see comics. I’m there for art. Not necessarily for toys or t-shirts.

This, I understand and embrace, makes me something of a weirdo.

So be it. I’m a weirdo. I’m a weirdo who only likes the comic book movies in as much as it might give some creators the financial freedom to actually write and draw the stuff that they want to write and draw. That aside, I can’t see getting really excited about a THOR movie. Yeah, I know, you’ve come for my geek card. Here, take it.

But a show like Stumptown? No distractions. It’s just comics. Heck, you have to look pretty hard to even find someone selling toys. I mean, even APE can’t compare in the ratio of comics/non-comics on display at Stumptown. APE is a fine show, don’t misunderstand, but it’s as much indie arts and crafts as it is alternative/independent comics.

So yeah, when Stumptown comes up on the calendar, I look forward to it. Tough not enough to actually sign up for an exhibitor table this year. No new book, for a variety of reasons, means that I wouldn’t be going back to the well again. Though, honestly, I did almost as well in terms of second-year sales of MURDER MOON as I did when the book was brand spanking new, so maybe I sold the material short.

For instance, there were plenty of people I’d come across at the show who still hadn’t seen any STRANGEWAYS material before, retailers even. And I’d done what I felt was a serviceable job of getting the word out, so I guess it’s true that the material’s always new to someone. Jim Shooter was right: every issue IS someone’s first issue.

Though there was some trepidation on my part. This was the first time that the Stumptown show would be held at the Oregon Convention Center. Well the first time after what was a regarded as a lackluster showing in 2006. Small shows don’t always translate well into a larger venue. Oftentimes they feel like they’re trying to wear dad’s shoes and not quite pulling it off. Too small a venue and everything is sardine-packed and folks are trying to make for the door. Too big and the halls feel empty and even a well-attended show feels flat and underpopulated (like the last two Wizardworld shows I went to at their LA location, once as an exhibitor and once as a regular attendee.)

I’m happy to say that Stumptown made great use of the space that they had to work with. Though the room itself was another polished concrete slab lit with overhead fluorescent banks like something out of LOGAN’S RUN, the aisles were always lively and busy without being so packed that evasive maneuvering was required. That’s a tough balance to maintain.

I’ll also note that the islands of exhibitor tables were arranged such that there was plenty of room to move around and get set up in. This was a real problem last year. Believe me, you appreciate it when you’re sitting back there for eight hours at a stretch. Having to worry about plowing into the folks set up behind you simply by pushing your chair back from the table is no damn fun.

So plenty of light, plenty of space. Sure, the venue wasn’t as immediately friendly as the old Doubletree facility, and lacked sunlight (also the rumble of the MAX train rolling through on the other side of the walls) but otherwise was a good fit. My understanding is they’re planning on expanding the space a bit for next year, due to demand from exhibitors. I sure hope so.

The crowds seemed healthy, particularly so on Saturday. And, as usual, the Portland folks were there to buy books. I watched Carla Speed McNeil sell out of her new FINDER LIBRARY v.1 books on Saturday, more than she’d sold at Wonder-Con, a significantly bigger show. It’s all about the crowds, see? Luckily she was able to get another load of books, thanks to the diligence and sweat of the folks over at Dark Horse.

People at Stumptown buy books. And I was no exception.

First stop? The indomitable team of Colleen Coover and Paul Tobin, showing off their new book GINGERBREAD GIRL, from Top Shelf. You’re all following it on the Top Shelf website, right? Well you really should. I mean, geez, who draws cuter cartoon girls than Colleen Coover? I know, right?

Okay, that’s enough mischief for one night. I got work to do that might actually pay off someday, so the typing for free’s gotta go to the back burner for now. Check back tomorrow maybe.

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