Stumptown 2012


Did I even write up my Wonder-Con this year? It was dreadful enough that I’m not going to go check. I’ll write up a short review as a reminder: SDCC crowds, expense and hassle without SDCC sales or sunshine (or just clouds) or locale. Oh, and the Anaheim Convention Center might be big, but it’s showing its age. These are easy gripes to throw, given that the show was relocated on short-ish notice. That it came together at all was miraculous.

But still, having the sight-lines blown away by gigantic pillars and booths, effectively hiding the back half of Artist’s Alley, that’s zero fun. As well as the observation that people at a big show like Wonder-Con aren’t headed to Artist’s Alley in order to buy books. They want sketches, maybe pages, that sort of thing. Trouble is, I just sell books. And on-the-spot five-minute-stories, which still aren’t catching on. Though I did move a few, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

An empty convention center.


My single favorite part of the Stumptown Comics Fest, aside from the excuse to visit Portland? There is no Artist’s Alley. There is no small press area. There’s only comics in every aisle and at just about every booth. There’s publishers selling books and there’s creators selling books or minis or pages or sketches or whatever. I realize that this sort of arrangement is impossible for a big show, and kinda antithetical to the whole convention course we’re in. The big companies dominate and the little fish sorta dart around behind their tables, hoping that people come down the aisles. Of course, it’s tough to do tiered charging for tables if you just throw everyone in the mix like that, so like I said, understandable that it doesn’t happen at bigger shows.

Stumptown does away with all that. It’s all comics. Web comics, art comics, superhero comics, weird genre-mashup comics, what have you. Nobody lined up by publisher. Everyone just out to be browsed. Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Marra in the same show, which is a weird kind of ersatz Alpha to Omega for someone out there, I’m sure.

But, as usual, I’m ahead of myself. Let’s start with going on vacation.

Dylan's inky laptop.

That’s half the reason to go to an alien city crawling with cartoonists, right? Get out of the house, away from the family and dog for a couple days. I mean, how can I miss you guys if I don’t go away? That’s a crib, by the way. Or a bite, whatever. I used to joke about going to sell at conventions as being like running away to join the circus. You get to eat bad food, stay out late, drink too much, make a spectacle of yourself, populating someone’s tumblr stream with shaky low-lit shots of you dancing on tables and making that funny face just before you toss your cookies right onto the lovingly-waxed parquet flooring.

For the record, I was in bed before 9:30 on Friday and around midnight Saturday. That’s how I roll. Can’t keep up with me, right?

Yeah, for me going to the circus is hanging out at Periscope for an afternoon and watching Steve (Lieber—the hardest-working man in showbusiness, Maximum Leader and Duke of Portland) act as comics ambassador, either by fielding phone calls or escorting visitors, all the time keeping the drawing board in the corner of his eye, realizing that he should be sitting there but is too nice a guy to just run over there and get back to work. That and listening to Colleen Coover hold court over the majesty that is Freddie Mercury.

I still don’t know how anyone gets work done there. I mean, they must. Still, with my undiagnosed Asperger’s, my brain is running in too many directions at once most of the time. I can barely keep up with one cerebellum much less a room full of them. Still, that’s a novelty for me, as I spend most days staring at a magic box while the kids are at school and the dog is lying under my desk at home. Twitter might be the water cooler for the entire world, but it’s not the same as being in the room with people, y’know?

Should I blog lunch? Is that gauche? Just let it be known that fries with debris gravy (which is taken from the ends of roast beef and then left to stew for a bit) and cheese on top is good. Really good. Dangerously good. Like I could eat an order right now good. So, thanks Bunk sandwiches/bar. You were good lunch.

Mexicoke at Bunk.

More relaxing at the studio, getting with Ben Dewey, he of the Tragedy Series on Tumblr (which I may or may not be lazy enough to link to and you should read anyways) as he’s working on a STRANGEWAYS story for the upcoming THE LAND WILL KNOW. It’ll be good, well, just because. That and he’s one of the overlooked gems of cartooning right now.

Aside from that, I figured out a story problem that’s been bugging me seemingly for more than twenty years. No, that’s a joke. Nobody would possibly look to revisit a twenty-year-old work with an eye to fixing it, right? I mean, that’s some crazy talk right there.

I mean, totally crazy.

Ride back with Paul (ONION HEADED MONSTER) Friedrich and Jeff (BUCKO/Parkerspace) Parker, drop off at hotel, try and figure out the way back to the casa de Parker and wonder how the hell anyone gets around by car in this town. It’s not enough that there’s a river right in the middle of it but there’s enough one way streets and cantilevered intersections to make even old HPL scream for the comfort and sanity of R’leyh. Yeah, I don’t get Portland roads. Luckily, I don’t have to, between the Parkermobile and the Max (creatively reimagined as the Trimetrodon by Reid Psaltis over at his table this year.) You should check out his work, and you will if you read that next STRANGEWAYS book. Yes, I hit Portland pretty hard in recruiting artists for this next book. Reid and Ben Dewey and Tony Morgan all hail from here. Well, there, since I’m writing this back at home in Folsom.

Hey, there’s that party for HENRY AND GLENN FOREVER AND EVER over at Floating World Comics that I could head over to. I could just get on the Max and head back down and hang with folks and then I couldzzzzzzzzzz… Yeah, I punked out hard on Friday. I think I started reading a little something, but my 5AM wake-up call preceded by little-to-no sleep the night before did a number on the old brainpan.

Woke early, just sat in bed and read for awhile, which is a luxury I don’t get much of at home, what with the kids and the dog and all. I have to be responsible and stuff and make sure everyone gets to school. Yeah. Being grown-up is kind of a drag sometimes. But you get to go on vacation from time to time, so that kinda makes up for it.

Down to the show in its second-year home of the Portland Convention Center, which is a decently-sized big concrete room that’s big and echo-y. I’d love to borrow it for a couple hours and put a big amplifier at one end and a microphone down at the other and take pictures of the air moving, but another time for that. And yeah, it’s not the friendliest room in the world, particularly when compared to the Lloyd Center Doubletree conference room that the show had been held at for the three or four years before 2011. But the plain fact was that the show was too big for that space and had been for a couple of years. There were still times that it felt like current room was too big for the show, but not many. And Saturday was legitimately busy, requiring con muscle memory to kick in and let me dodge between people loitering in aisles or moving like shoals of bluefin tuna as they roamed in search of that perfect whatever it was they were looking for.

Point is, as cold and unfriendly as the room itself was, physically, the show either needed to move or it needed to scale back. I may end up eating these words, but I think that the Stumptown folks made the right choice. Then again, I can remember going to the first Emerald City Comic Con that I’d attended some six years ago. And I don’t think it was in a venue that was too much bigger than the one that Stumptown was in right now. Not saying that Stumptown is destined to get that big. The shows are very different things for pretty different audiences. Still, you’ll note that comic conventions get bigger and bigger (by and large) even as the Direct Market itself only holds steady or dwindles slowly (depending on who you’re reading on any given day.)

Saturday started slowly, slowly enough that I was flashing back to Wonder-Con, not heavily enough to assume a fetal position underneath the table, but wasn’t having a good feeling about things either. I sure hope my whimpering didn’t disturb Tom (Neely, he of THE BLOT, THE WOLF and one of the mindermasts behind HENRY AND GLENN). But things picked up finally, as hipster and civilian alike began to filter into the convention center, dancing around the pods of pre-adolescent female dance teams that were occupying the other room at the convention center. Yeah, I forgot to mention them, and they were another reason why I was having flashbacks to Wonder-Con (the Anaheim Convention Center being taken over by girl’s sports teams at the same time as the comic convention in question.) Yeah, I thought it was weird too.

But Portland delivered. People came out to buy stuff to read. Sure, there were plenty who were buying things just to assert their lifestyle choices and validate them. I don’t do so much of that. Or maybe I’m just not running into enough people who dress up all old-timey and feel the need to hunt down supernatural menaces. In fact, things were probably too good. I know, there’s no such thing as “too good” but when you only have what’s in your suitcase because you forgot to drive across the river to the studio to get that box of books that you shipped up ahead of time and that stack of books is running down quicker than you thought. Yeah, that’s a good problem to have, I guess. But it’s still a problem.

And you’d think that if the same people were coming to this show over and over, that they’d have gotten their fill of my books. But the fact of the matter was that there were new people discovering the books for the first time. I wasn’t just selling THE THIRSTY (that being the new STRANGEWAYS, only having hit stores two weeks prior), but I was selling plenty of the first book (that being MURDER MOON) as well. This led me to figure that there were plenty of new attendees coming to the show, which is indeed a good sign. I mean, you can’t just recycle the same crowds over and over and expect to sustain things. Gotta bring new people in, don’t just service the ones that are already reading the funnybooks.

I know. That’s crazy talk.

Caught up with some friends, sold more books, passed out cards for the webcomic version for people who weren’t going to buy a darn thing anyways. Maybe they’d hit the digital version and decide that they wanted to drop some money on the books. Hey, it could happen.

And then I flat ran out of books to sell. Well, not quite true. I still had a few of volume one leftover, but zero copies of volume two. That whole didn’t-grab-the-box-from-the-studio thing. So I took the opportunity to walk around a bit and actually see the show, which doesn’t usually happen when I’m working a table and have no backup. Grabbed a copy of the new SHARKNIFE book and a copy of FORMING (looking forward to finding a quiet night to give that a read) and the GREEN RIVER KILLER and DEAR CREATURE books from Jonathan Case. That last one was great to finally see collected, after having read very early versions of some of that material years and years ago. The GREEN RIVER book is outstanding, by the way. Unsettling and never resorting to cheap tricks to tell the stories or make up pat villains. Real life is scarier than just about any fiction you care to come up with.

Biggest thing I bought.

Oh, and I bought a couple new comics from Benjamin Marra. This is what America’s education system needs. Exactly what it needs. That and the new HENRY AND GLENN. Hard to pick a favorite out of all the stories because they were all damn good. And outrageous. Best five bucks you’ll spend this year.

Finally got my re-up (yes, I’ve been re-watching THE WIRE, thanks for noticing) and started moving the books again. Steady business all afternoon, until about 5 or so. Really, the show doesn’t need to stay open until 6, but I’m not the guy in charge. Caught a great Thai dinner with friend Brandon Jerwa and a bunch of other folks, discussed the spiritual successors of arcade legend BERZERK (actual successor was FRENZY then to SMASH TV and TOTAL CARNAGE after that, but whoops, forgot all about ROBOTRON 2084). Then off to Ground Kontrol for a bit.

Ground Kontrol wants you to see the past.

Ground Kontrol was a very weird place for me. Granted, I’m not the usual clientele there. But to see all the old arcade machines and have people walking around with booze and food in hand just made the old arcade attendant in me cringe. Yes, I worked at an actual mall arcade, in 1988, long after the first bust and before the Nintendo Revolution had taken hold and made it so that the gap between console game and arcade game was so thin as to kill off arcade games altogether. So yeah, being transported to an alternate 1988 where arcades grew up into adult entertainment/singles/meatmarket threw me off. That and, let’s be real, most of the people there that Saturday hadn’t been old enough to go into an arcade in their American heyday. If you’re 21 in 2012, you were born in 1991. Yeah, roll those dice around and see what you come up with. Anways, happy birthday, Taki.

Bailed out when folks wanted to head over to the Stumptown after-party. There’s being in room full of loud music and people and videogames and then there’s just being in a roof full of loud music and people, and I’m more equipped for one than the other. Hopped the Max back home to unwind.

On Sunday, the show didn’t open until 12, which is probably wise, when you get down to it. Nobody’s coming in before then anwyays. And honestly, if you were at the show on Saturday for any length of time, you probably got to see whatever you wanted. Sunday was a nice addition and all, and I did a fair bit of business, but seemed somehow superfluous. Spent the early morning writing up a bunch of story ideas for something I’d thrown at Ben Marra which will never happen because the license-holders would see Ben’s work and say NO WAY NO HOW AND THERE’S THE DOOR, but maybe something will come of it. It was fun to spitball stuff up, even if it’s all pie in the sky and “wouldn’t it be cool if?”

Who knows. Maybe it can get worked out.

Spent the downtime on Sunday chatting with folks when I could, trying to nail down editors (which I better go do once I finish this), and generally being relaxed about things. Now, put this up against Sunday of Wonder-Con where I’d basically given up on sales completely and just spent the day talking with Gabriel (Hardman) and Corinna (Bechko) because foot traffic just wasn’t happening. I won’t say that Stumptown on Sunday was gangbusters, but it was worth sticking around until I got down to the last couple copies of STRANGEWAYS books. Those went to Bridge City Comics, who’ve been strong supporters of the book since it came out. And since I can’t guarantee that Diamond will be stocking it for long (if they haven’t dropped it already), I figured it’s best to get those books to places where they’ll find readers.

For those of you keeping track at home, I sold in two days at Portland, about a third (or slightly more) in raw numbers than were ordered nationwide by Diamond. And that was just for THE THIRSTY. MURDER MOON, which Diamond has made clear they will not stock, sold just as much. And people wonder why exhibitor spaces and artist’s alley spaces at comic shows sell out months in advance. Wanna know why? Because that’s the new market. And people there are ready to buy more than Big Two comics. Granted, then all the risk/cost falls on the shoulders of the small publishers instead of the retailers, but them’s the breaks.

Even had time to fill out my Eisner ballot on Sunday between customers. Someday I want to get in on the ballots before the ballots, if you know what I mean.

Portland is the only place where five-minute-stories go over, too. People are actually willing to pay for a new piece of prose created right there on the spot. Not sure why that is. Maybe it’s all the radon in the air, dunno. Whatever the cause, I’m down with it.

Michael Meyers buys a copy of STRANGEWAYS.

Bottom line? Great show. Venue could be more friendly but since when is any convention center going to make you feel all warm and fuzzy, right? They’re basically big concrete boxes that are lit poorly. Kinda grim by institutional design. Sure, it’d be great to find a big ‘ol warehouse that’s available and not made of sealed concrete, but when you hit a certain size threshold, your options get limited, specially in the Northwest where you can’t guarantee anything but wind and drizzle most of the year.

But maybe one day someone will be able to pull off a comic show in a redwood grove or something. Maybe take over a big chunk of a swap meet. A comics swap meet. Now there’s something I could get behind. Someone get on that.

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