Monday, April 28, 2008

Stumptown Comics Fest '08

The Stumptown Comics Fest has come and gone again and boy it sure did seem like it came faster this time… oh wait, it did! It’s only been seven months since the last one. I think they made the right decision in moving it to the spring though. It really seemed to click this year including the weather. The attendance was much higher and there was an additional space for even more panel discussions. The fest was finally on the cultural radar and I think it will stay that way.

One of the things that really struck me about Stumptown this time around is that the fest actually seems like a nice break for the comic creators. The relaxed atmosphere makes it like a big party at a friend’s house. I’ve been to other conventions and there’s always this tension from the creators, like it’s very stressful to be there. But Stumptown, as a creator focused venue, really allows the folks to let their hair down and just be. A lot of it has to do with the fact most of the people attending are really part of the comics world in some fashion rather than rabid fans. Also, there’s no media overload from the movie and TV guys. It’s all about the comics at the SCF. Although I did see two guys wearing costumes… but I think they realized that this was the wrong place for cosplay and Star Wars dress up. One of the down sides to the relaxed atmosphere was that many of the creators didn’t feel the need to spend a lot of time at their tables and so I was unable to get a bunch of my books autographed, but no biggie.

In this shot you can get and idea how busy it was at the show. See how the black tablecloth is pulled out on the left side there? That’s because some guy got his foot tangled up in it right before I took this picture. You can see the gal look over with surprise on her face because all her books almost got yanked off the table.

Oh and another great thing about the show was that there was a lot of women attending. There might even have been more women than men! A moment that really stood out for me occurred when I was returning to my saved seat just before Scott McCloud’s talk was about to start and I noticed a very attractive Asian gal (about 20 years old) with a copy of Scott’s Understanding Comics on her lap. I was so stunned I caught myself looking too long. That’s when I thought, “wow, I think we’ve finally kicked the whole only geeks and weirdoes read comics thing.”

Craig Thompson
The first thing I did was to attend a talk given by Craig Thompson. He kept it real informal and just answered questions rather than have any kind of directed lecture. He was all over the place. Some of the things he spoke about included:

He’s parents didn’t react very well to Blankets. Craig’s dad was angry about exposing things about the family that were private and his mother was upset that her son didn’t believe in Christianity anymore.

He had a great time in Morocco. It really influenced his next book Habibi, which he has been working on for the last few years. It’s almost finished. It explores Islamic themes and Arabic Calligraphy.

He felt very comfortable exploring Islam, as his Christian fundamentalist background was similar. He also isn’t worried about any kind of backlash from the Muslim world as he’s exploring the grey areas rather than the taboo areas. He’s more worried about sharks than terrorists.

Despite lots of offers from Hollywood and record companies for design work, Craig has shied away from this type of work despite his 2007 Grammy nomination.

In the early days, Top Shelf was a great company to have publishing his stuff but as Craig grew in popularity and Top Shelf grew in size, they both grew apart and that’s why Pantheon is publishing his next book. (I asked his about his relationship with Top Shelf).

Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud, comic’s de facto philosopher, was the next speaker up and he didn’t disappoint. Like Craig he was all over the place but he was very animated and was joyfully yelling and running around. He was joking the whole time. Some of the things he related:

He’s was amazed because he felt the long shot dream of multiple genres for every taste, mentioned in Reinventing Comics, occurred in the 2000s. He didn’t think it was really going to happen, but it did and he couldn’t be happier. Technology played a big part (the internet) and also Manga. “10 years ago you’d never have seen a teenage girl reading comics.”

He reminded the audience that Portland was special when it comes to comics and that creators, artists and fans don’t have any place more accepting of comic’s culture.

He’s obsessed with matching up Comic creators with musicians. He rattled them off so fast that I can’t remember all of them but Will Eisner is the Duke Ellington of comics, Jack Kirby is the Elvis of Comics and he resigned himself to being the Herby Hancock of comics.

Scott spoke about how the younger folks don’t see the difference between paper comics and on-line comics but some of the older creators see them as separate. He likes online comic strips but he doesn’t like on-line comics unless you can click on the virtual page itself rather than looking for some next button on the webpage. Scott feels that it takes one out of the reading experience.

He halfheartedly defended his argument from Understanding Comics that single panel cartoons like Family Circus and the Far Side weren’t comics (a question asked by the attractive Asian gal I mentioned before). I didn’t completely get his answer but basically it relates back to the term sequential art.

Mike Richardson
The final talk I attended was by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse comics founder, president… and huge F***ing giant (he’s a very tall man). Listening to Mike was great because he’s a manger type and so he had a very liner approach despite the fact that his discussion was off the cuff as well. His mother was in the audience and he acknowledged her as the origin for his love of comics as she always bought them for him. For me, one of the best things about Mike’s talk was that I asked a question and that kept him going for at least 20 minutes. It must have been the question he was looking for. Some things spoke about:

Some of Mike’s friends had an actual intervention with him to keep him from opening up his chain of comic shops because he was going to ruin his life. Similar things happened to him when he was starting Dark Horse Comics.

When he was young, he’d wait outside the 7-11 late at night until no customers were in the store to buy his comics.

He started Dark Horse Comics because of Secret Wars and Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles. His customers at his comic stores complained that they had to buy the awful SW series to make sense of Marvel’s connected continuity. The geek side of me said to myself that he was really taking about Secret Wars II as the 1st Secret Wars was mostly a stand-alone series (like it matters!). TMNT proved that his vision of providing B&W comics cheaply was possible.

His sympathies have always been with the creators. He wanted to start a company where the creators owed what they made. Besides if you make the creator happy then he’ll want to work with you again and again and you’ll both make money together. It’s good EQ to be able to see the future potential, which DC and Marvel don’t seem to have.

Dark Horse was having monetary success with it’s licensed books like Aliens and Predator but the creator owned stuff was not as successful but that changed when they got Frank Miller on board. They got Frank by giving him a sheet that broke down the profits and expenses of their comic business process. Frank was so impressed that he signed up with them the next day. The rest is history.

They had an un-official slogan that “nobody gets more than Frank” as the deal was very beneficial to both parties. When a group came to Mike and wanted even more money than Frank received, he said no. They went off and formed Image.

He always believed that there’s a comic for everybody, it is the distribution that’s a problem. That's why he loves the Internet as it’s vastly increased the type of material DH can publish. It’s also a great way to find new talent, like Nicholas Gurewitch.

Larry Marder
Here’s a shot of Larry Marder (right) sitting next to the CBLDF guy (I forgot his name gulp). I bought one of Larry’s Tales of Beanworld Books. I also asked him what it was like to work at Eclipse Comics as they were my favorite company from the 1980s. He got a little chocked up and said that it was wonderful as he was really close with both Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney. It was a sad time for Larry personally when Eclipse collapsed.

Craig Thompson
I stood in line for a while to get my copy of Blankets autographed by Craig Thompson. He had a request to draw a picture on a gal’s typewriter… hah! Only in Portland! If you get something signed by Craig, tell him a short interesting story. That seemed to be his price for an autograph.

Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepherd
I hadn’t realized that Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepherd, the creators of The Engineer, were local boys but it was a nice surprise. It told ‘em I really enjoyed the title as it had a Kirby, Guy Davis feel and that I had just picked it up on the off chance that it might be fun. They mentioned that Mike Mignola was another influence (which the heavy blacks confirm) and thanked me for supporting their comic.

Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner
Here is a couple of new guys on the comic block, Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner. They’ve got a great new title: Witch Doctor.
It’s a sick world — literally. The universe is an organism, and the creatures of myth and legend are its parasites. Earth’s antibodies — humankind — have been at war with supernature for all of history. But to fight a disease, you don’t need soldiers — you need doctors. Enter Dr. Vincent Morrow. Excommunicated from the medical community and headhunted into an exciting new career in the black arts, he’s here to diagnose earth’s dark underbelly. Morrow serves the world with both hands — one in magic, one in medicine — as earth’s protector. Earth’s WITCH DOCTOR. It’s a sick world — he’s here to treat it.

Great stuff. It’s like Dr. Strange, Tales From the Crypt, Mr. Monster, Lovecraft and Warren comics all in one. Witch Doctor is very imaginative, well written and has art that’s very reminiscent of Bernie Wrightson. I loved it. A fantastic 1st horror effort by the young writing and drawing duo!

Nicholas Gurewitch
As I stood in line to get my autographed copy of The Trail of Colonel Sweeto, a Perry Bible Fellowship collection, by Nicholas Gurewitch, I took a couple of snapshots. After the first one Nicholas said "Hey how about an action shot" so he mugged for the camera while the gal fan played along by exaggerating her body language. This Perry Bible Fellowship stuff is some of the funniest dam strips I’ve ever read. Read for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Tara McPherson
The lovely and wonderful Tara McPherson. If only I hadn’t run out of money as that book was a reasonable 20 bucks. I had her sign issue # 45 of Lucifer.

Scott Allie here. I really enjoyed his Devil’s Footprints title. I wish Dark House was producing a few more comics like his. His buddy, out of the frame, took a picture of me talking a picture of him. Heh heh,

This was just a small part of what was going on at Stumptown. A truly great experience this time around and the ’08 fest has been the best one yet. Comics are cool and booming in Portland and Stumptown is proof of that. It’s wonderful thing to see evolving right in front of my eyes and in my hometown. Incredible!



Don Snabulus said...

I attended on Sunday with my niece and her son. I don't think there is anything quite like the Stumptown Comics festival anywhere else. It's so...Portland. I can't explain what I mean by that, but I am sure some of you know what I mean. I really enjoyed seeing the actual authors and artists, many of whom were creating or just doodling as people walked by.

Cool stuff.

Arkonbey said...

wow, SB. Do you have photographic memory or did you take shorthand the whole time?

That's a damned comprehensive post, thanks or showing me what I missed :(

I didn't like Blankets, not because the story and art weren't good, but that I am so very tired of memoirs (both graphic and print).

I will have to tryto find Witch Doctor.

And the PBF guy needs to update his site! I need my free webcomics, mooch that I am.

Steve said...

sounds like a great time
I know what you mean about some cons (cough cough SDCC) being less about comics and more about film tv etc.

Curious what Richardson had to say about the distribution end and that being a problem

Swinebread said...

Snab – I know what you mean. It just has the Portland vibe. It’s very infectious and creative like Portland itself. I heard that you picked up something for LB! Good for you… and her!

Arkonbey – I pretty good with event types of things or linier stories but anything else I’m a memory dunce.
Really feel like this is your scene, I really hope you can make to stumptown some day.
Luckily I hadn’t really read many memoirs, I read some Joe Matt but that’s it. So I was in a good spot for Blankest when it came out. It’s what I give comic haters to show them what the medium is capable of. If all you’ve been exposed to is superman, Spiderman, and Archie, Blankets comes as a shock and the epiphany ensues.
As for Witch Doctor it might be easier to read it on-line at this point. Lets hope somebody picks it up.
PBF is a little hard to navigate but he’s got some funny stuff there.

Pidomon – I guess it’s the idea that comics aren’t an important medium in an of themselves that ticks me off so the other media has right to invade the con to make the event supposedly more interesting.
Well, I think he meant that it was more of a problem in the past but nowadays it’s much better with bookstores and the Internet. (Sorry I wasn’t clear about that)

Pandabonium said...

Excellent coverage. You are the Portland "Comics News Guy", Swinebread.

re: Craig Thompson - Personally, I think you have more chance of being blown up by a shark than being bitten by a terrorist.

re: Scott McCloud - "Will Eisner is the Duke Ellington of comics, Jack Kirby it Elvis of Comics and he resigned himself to being the Herby Hancock of comics" - wow, man, like, when it was hip to hep, I'll bet McCloud was hep.

Mike Richardson sounds like a "helluva guy", living his dream.

Tara McPherson looks sweet - her smile reminds me of a young Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary).

Thanks for a great report!

Arkonbey said...

Pandaboniuim just reminded me, what would be wrong with being the Herbie Hancock of comics?

Herbie Hancock is a giant, deeply respected by the jazz community.

And plus, his one pop hit song was also made into the most surreal video ever to appear on MTV!

Don Snabulus said...

The kid got (and enjoyed) a comic called "Fun with Milk and Cheese". He also bought another one that grossed his mom out. Can't remember the name of that one.

I bought a bag of random comics and my daughter enjoyed the Emo Boy "choose your own adventure" edition.

Swinebread said...

Panda – thanks! I try to give a little of the flavor of what’s going on, especially since Stumptown is still very new and because comics have such a special place in the culture here.
Re: Craig - LOL now that is very true!
Re: Scott – He’s as big thinker when it comes to comics, and when you mix art, comics and brains it’s gotta be a pretty hep guy to get all of that together.
Re: Mike – he’s very cool guy, and if it weren’t for him there wouldn’t be the comic scene here that there is.
Re: Tara – yeah, she’s a goth hottie!
Arkonbey – I can’t remember whom but there was somebody else he really wanted to be, but a buddy put him straight and said he’s Herbie. Oh, and his video was and is totally cool. Like Devo except not sexually frustrated.

Snab – Milk and Cheese is a total riot, good choice. I can’t tell you want a cool guy you are for taking them there. Stumptown is just one of those things that makes Portland, Portland!

Emo boy choose your own adventure sound hilarious, I’ll check it out!

Blue said...

hey, i found your post thanks to my trusty google alert for "stumptown comics fest." i am involved with scf and i thought you'd like to know that those two costumed guys were part alter egos society (one was the founder, benja). they're heavily involved with the comics scene in portland and were there, in part, to promote the upcoming alter egos party that is a benefit for p:ear.