STUMPTOWN PART THREE: TOO LATE TO BEG YOU OR CANCEL IT

FULL BLEED GOES TO STUMPTOWN COMICS FEST, part the whateverth.

Here’s the thing. The Stumptown show is at a major crossroads. Which is both scary and exciting. Scary because I love the adorable ragamuffin of a show that I started my MURDER MOON campaign with. It was one of those shows that couldn’t really take over an actual convention center, or even enough of one to make any kind of financial sense, so it stayed at the Lloyd Center Doubletree for a long time.

And like the hermit crab in the Eric Carle story, that shell got too small over time. Hermit crab grows and that dumb ‘ol shell isn’t alive and doesn’t grow with it. Hermit crab’s gotta get another shell or end up stunting itself. The Oregon Convention center is a pretty welcoming facility as these things go, but it’s not the best of fits, though once you get on the floor, the yawning expanses of space get toned down and you begin to feel like you’re in the right place.

But it’s not the same as it was last year. I skipped on the after party entirely. No Cosmic Monkey, no sale. Though really, it’s as much me becoming a cranky old silverback as much as it is the change of venue. But I wasn’t the only one who felt like that. This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, particularly in the grand scheme of Stumptown. The show needed to move and other changes are going to come along with that.

At least Stumptown CAN make some changes. At least it has a chance to grow and maybe pick up more readers/attendees at the same time. Though I’m not privy to the actual numbers at play here. My feeling is there must have been some growth from last year to this year, else that convention center would have looked more like a ghost town than those cities that are springing up in China, unpopulated, without tenants.

Along with that, at least readers CAN walk up to the show on a spur of the moment and get in. You don’t have to plan three months ahead of time (or significantly longer in the case of SDCC) to obtain a ticket. Sure, you can’t walk up and buy a ticket to Cannes either. Or can you? (I’ll resist the obvious pun.) But when you’re talking about an art form that’s running on diminished visibility, and has been in terms of “mainstream” exposure for as long as I’ve been reading them, you don’t want to be doing anything to limit your potential audience.

Yes, this probably demands an examination of convention goers versus people who “just read” comics. Not going to do that, and not in comparison to this particular show, because it seemed that just about everyone there was “just a reader” of comics. As opposed to the bigger shows I’ve been to recently where the acquisition of toys and apparel and other talismen to mark one’s-self as a proud participant in geek subculture was one of the driving commercial forces, if not the prime mover. Folks here seemed like they wanted to acquire (and I know this is weird, believe me) comics. Or maybe some art. Perhaps a nice print (Tom Neely had a beautiful silkscreen poster that I’d have bought but simply didn’t know where to hang – it’s not the sort of thing you want hanging over the bed, last thing you see at night.)

Stumptown, as a show, makes me more hopeful for the medium than the chain of freakishly-early sellouts for shows like Wonder-Con and SDCC. Stumptown is open participation, just grab a seven dollar ticket. That’s the price of two comics. Two and a third if you actually buy three-dollar comics. And that’s a show you can actually walk into off the street, just like every other comic show used to be.

And now we’re expected to order our conventions, much like our comics, three months in advance (or significantly more) and somehow this is a good thing. It’s great that these shows are successful, financially. At least one has to assume that they are, if not wildly so. Great, they’re successful. This means that they’re successful to the same people who are already dialed in, perhaps less so to those people who aren’t.

This is tallest midget territory. Or shortest giant if you prefer. For a popular art, it still seems pretty outsider to me, and all the superhero-starring movies in the world aren’t likely to change that. Just like I find it hard to believe that Thor-mania is really driving sales of a hundred dollar book on Amazon. Could be that the material in question is highly, highly regarded and hasn’t been in put together in an in-one volume, ever (and was hard to find in the first place.) I know, I’m wandering.

Yeah, I’m dubious as to those who point at con-sell-outs as an indicator of a healthy comics market. These mean that there’s an appetite for vendors of geek culture fetish objects (some of which are indeed very sparkly and enticing) but not necessarily that there’s a big comics market, nor that the market for comics is expanding. I’d rather see shows like Stumptown that are comics based and have room to soak up new readers and creators, not people looking to buy T-shirts or statuettes (even non-skeevy ones.)

So instead of griping any longer, let’s talk about what was good.

1) A great assortment of comics creators working in a dazzlingly diverse array of styles and genres.
2) A wide variety of publishers from the most mainstream to the smallest of indies.
3) No distractions from the comics and the art.
4) Panels that were a lot more than celebrity curio cabinets and press junkets.
5) It didn’t feel like an alt-culture swap meet.

I know, comic shows can’t support big crowds without all that media. Of course that’s true. You’re totally right.

Hell, the show was worth the price of admission for Douglas Wolk’s “First Pages” panel alone. There was more instruction on storytelling (applicable in any genre or style) than you’d have gotten in ten unsolicited advice tweets by anyone you’d care to name. Anyone who wants to create comics should do themselves a favor and track the video/audio of that one down. It also made me re-examine all my first pages and find them wanting. Yeah, well, whaddya gonna do, turn back time?

Nah, learn and move on.

The “Put a microphone in front of Carla Speed McNeil and Brandon Graham” panel was pretty great as well. Mostly because it was just that. No press releases to fluff, no giant event to justify, no fan-service other than what both of them would be doing already. How real life is always more infinitely weird than fiction and how the monkeys react when you give them holodecks and weaponized cats, that’s the sort of thing that got covered. And if you weren’t there, then you seriously missed out.

Most crowded panel? Jacq Cohen of Fantagraphics on indie comics publicity. By far. Standing on the shoulders of others room only. A great deal of good, common sense (something everyone seems short of at times) information, presented neatly and directly. No magic to any of this, folks. Though still I absolutely suck at it, or rather I always find it difficult to do. Maybe I should take Carla McNeil’s suggestion, or maybe we all could. That being: all indie creators should find someone to swap with and have that person man their table. Why? People often find it difficult to be enthusiastic about their own work, for whatever reason. But I could talk for hours about why her work is essential reading for anyone who enjoys comics.

That’s something we all could use a lot more of.

Okay, should probably wrap this up. Got a ton of other stuff to do. Thanks, as ever, to Jeff Parker and family for putting me up for the weekend (and putting up with me.) Thanks to the Studio Periscope for giving me a place to hang my hat before the show and actually get some work done (and mooch some bandwidth). Thanks to Indy and all the convention organizers for putting on a show that I look forward to without any reservation whatsoever. A rarer and rarer thing these days. And thanks to you, gentle reader, for suffering the soapbox.

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