by Matthew Southworth
[Special to the Beat: we challenged frequent Beat commenter and artist Matthew Southworth to give us a Stumptown report and this is the delightful result! Thanks so much, Matthew!]
It’s 5:40 Saturday morning and I haven’t really slept. I never sleep when I have an early appointment, and now I’m up and showering and readying myself for the trip to Portland’s Stumptown Comics Fest. Goodbye kiss Machelle, double-triple-check that everything’s in the car and cellphone iPod Coke Zero and check the oil and fill the tank get the junk food hit the highway.
It’s 7:10 and we’re all assembled–me, Dalton Rose of the gorgeous comic SACRIFICE (http://samhumphries.com/sacrifice-comic-book/ and www.daltonjamesrose.com) and Brian Beardsley of StudioB Media (www.studiobmedia.com). It’s roughly 3 hours from my little picturesque town of Mukilteo—lighthouse, saltwater, ferry boats and driftwood—to Portland, and this morning there are tons of police cars stopping motorists. Must be quota day.
It’s 10:15 and we’ve crossed the Columbia River into Oregon. Now we’re at the Red Lion in Portland but it’s too early to check in. I’ve just realized that despite all my preparations last night, in my effort not to wake Machelle this morning, I’ve forgotten my suitcase. There go the t-shirt sales, but I can get more Stumptown books directly from Oni.
Perhaps this is a good place to tell you who I am and what I do. I’m Matthew Southworth, and I draw a book written by Greg Rucka called STUMPTOWN. It’s published by Oni Press. Sometimes I draw for Marvel and DC and Dark Horse, and I’m writing and drawing my own project called DAY FOR NIGHT. You can investigate me a little further by going to http://matthewsouthworth.tumblr.com/ .
Though it’s called “Stumptown”, there is no actual connection to the Stumptown Comics Fest. There’s no actual connection to Stumptown Trade Review, either, though later in the day I’m doing a live podcast with them. “Stumptown” is a nickname for Portland itself; it refers to the remainders of the thousands of trees that were cut out of the dense Oregon forest when Portland was founded.
It’s 10:30 and the show is hopping. Dalton and I are set up at our table right beside good friend to me and good friend to comics, Steve Lieber. Steve was kind to me when I first met him at a con years ago, and he’s been an excellent and generous remote mentor whenever I’ve asked his advice. He’s also an inspiration in the “getting your shit together” department, as he’s worked hard to get in shape and has lost lots of weight. I ask him about it: “I decided I was tired of treating myself like shit,” he says, and he literally looks a decade younger as a result. I myself continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate, like some formerly vibrant part of town. Soon there will be a wig shop inside me.
Stumptown Comics Fest is primarily an independent comics-focused show. Lots of handmade, ashcan kinds of stuff, a great place to get gifts for your friends, both those who do and don’t like comics. Every third table there’s some fantastic cute book or button or badge or figure of a googly-eyed monster or some such. In past years at Stumptown, my girlfriend and her kids found tons of stuff to make them happy, while I found tons of stuff to make ME happy, and there was totally different stuff in our pumpkin buckets.
The kind of stuff I like that Stumptown abounds in, the kind of things I don’t often find at comic conventions (I suspect MOCCA and TCAF and APE may have more of this than most of the other cons I go to, but try as I might I haven’t been able to make it to them) are bizarre handmade art books and off-center comics projects. Jason Leivian—more
on this guy later—and his Floating World Comics booth are the perfect place for this. This year, Jason is sharing a large space with Study Group Comics and Press Gang (one thing you learn when you get to know the Portland comics scene is that there’s a very fluid “band membership”; everyone is basically in everyone else’s bands, by which I mean that Floating World and Study Group and Press Gang share people).
It’s midday now and I’m sweating that I can’t remember when and where I’m supposed to be. I’ve promised Stumptown Trade Review and KaijuCast I’d do interviews, and I’m “moderating” a panel with Greg Rucka later today, and as seems to be par for the course this weekend, I’m missing my Post-It with the times. Fortunately, the STR guys come by the table to check in on me, and they drag me over when it’s time.
The STR interview is an interesting one for me. I’ve been a musician for many years, led a band called the Capillaries for over a decade, though now that comics has taken over my life, the band is “asleep” until I can find a balance and get back to making music more regularly. We talk primarily about music and guitars and songwriting; I’m asked some interesting questions about the differences between creating music and creating artwork, some things I’ve been ruminating over on an unconscious level but have yet to try to articulate. I see a lot of giggles as I’m talking, so either I’m funny or I’m making an inarticulate mess of what I’m trying to express. That podcast is expected to go up on the web soon, I believe, so I’ll have the chance to cringe in private (and so will you!).
Back to the table, where Dalton is selling out of his gorgeous prints—he has them on his website, though, so get one while the getting’s good—and making a brisk sale of his sketches, too. He has that gift of sketching for fans that is fluid and free; I, on the other hand, am in agony with every sketch, horrified that there’s someone standing right in front of me seeing what they’ve agreed to pay me for. It’s not long before I’m off to do the KaijuCast interview with Heather Brask. We talk about Stumptown and my Day for Night project and it’s quick this time—I gotta get back to the table.
So I’m back, trying to make some progress on a sketch and not doing so well and I’m seeing lots of folks I’ve met in the past and some old pro friends—Jeff Parker, Rachel Edidin, Patric Reynolds, James Lucas Jones, Kurt Busiek, and the wonderful Emi Lenox—and I’m talking, talking, talking. And I’m dehydrated. And I hear “SOUTHWORTH!” and it’s Greg Rucka, pulling me away from the table to go do this panel. We’re walking with Brian Bendis and he and Greg are chatting and I’m surprised to see that Brian is sitting down in the hall to hear the panel.
Now. I’m a big fan of Brian’s. I’ve read every issue of POWERS, many of them twice, and I’ve read TOTAL SELL-OUT and I’ve read SCARLET and I’ve read SPIDER-WOMAN and all kindsa stuff. I’m also a great big fan of Greg’s. So despite the fact that I’ve met Brian before, and despite the fact that I work with Greg all the time, there’s something super-nifty and comic-nerdy to me that I’m doing a panel with Greg and Brian’s sitting in on it as a spectator.
The panel is called “Planning the Perfect Crime with Greg Rucka”, and despite this nifty title, Greg and I have not had any time to plan our perfect panel. So instead of our other briefly-discussed option of simply exploring Greg’s creative history, we free-form a discussion of crime and how it motivates Greg’s writing. Greg is always passionate, but he’s parTICularly passionate today as he talks about human trafficking and his horror at stories he’s heard and how it motivated him to write a recent novel.
We talk about whether certain story material is inappropriate to comics or to certain styles of art (answers: “no”, then “yes, certain styles can be inappropriate”) and whether if he could draw would he like to write and draw his comics himself. Greg, a successful novelist, really enjoys the collaborative process (I can attest to this personally) and is quite happy not to draw his own stories. A really interesting, unique panel, I think…I basically just wind Greg up and let him talk, and people seem to enjoy it.
Sketches. I’m falling far behind. People are coming back and I’m trying to get them done and as a result am missing Bendis’ Comics Writing Panel (fuck). They’re flicking the lights and the day is done and I’ll finish this list tomorrow.
We’re walking with Ben Saunders, professor at University of Oregon who writes extensively on comics (http://www.amazon.com/The-Gods-Wear-Capes-Spirituality/dp/082644198X) and is officially a Dashing Fellow. We’re dining at the Doug Fir, which is a great restaurant and rock club attached to the Jupiter Hotel, where the Stumptown Comics party is being held. Long discussions about Before Watchmen and Frank Miller and modern comics, dinner’s done, we’re having drinks, we’re talking outside. A trip to the Doug Fir’s mirrored restroom results in my nearly bumping my genitals into a mirror that somehow conveys the room in Escher-esque dimensions.
Outside, and night is falling and I’ve forgotten my con badge, which means to get into the party I’ll have to pay five bucks. At the money table, I say “I’ve forgotten my badge,” but before I can go into the whole spiel, the woman laughs, saying “oh, I think we can allow YOU in, Mr. Southworth,” pointing to the badge art, which I drew. We’re ushered in in style and I think, yep, the perks of celebrity.
In and out of the tent, back and forth for drinks or bathroom or talking outside as Mike Allred’s excellent band, The Gear, plays. The Gear is now basically the modern Partridge Family, featuring as it does Mike’s entire family, and they sound great. I don’t get to pay as much attention as I’d like, since I’m outside talking with the wonderful Ian McEwan (who has done a fantastic comic with the aforementioned Jason Leivian called The Yankee, my good friend Ed Peterson (if you’ve seen a picture of me in which I look relatively attractive, odds are Ed took it), and Seattle pal Peter Bagge. Also see Batton Lash, who compliments me on my velvet jacket—he’s wearing a badass blue sharkskin suit and is the definition of “svelte”. Now I’m talking with Scott Allie and meeting the lovely Daniel Chabon.
Back to the hotel, out like a light, another night I don’t really sleep, and we’re up and at ‘em.
Today is slower—crowds are a bit more sparse, as they always are on a Sunday, and I fail to get to a painting I’ve promised Amir—sorry, Amir!, but I’m glad we’ve just postponed it until New York Comicon. Nonetheless, it’s the end of the day before I really get a chance to walk the floor, and I buy some things from the Floating World/Study Group booth and talk to one of my favorites, the amazing Farel Dalrymple. There can’t be a nicer person in comics than Farel Dalrymple.
Next you know it, they’re flicking the lights at us again and it’s over. I rush over a CD and Day for Night book to most positive man in comics Mike Allred, who gives me a CD of his and asks me to sign my book and CD to “the Allreds”. We’re outta here! A quick run to the Floating World store, which I haven’t seen since it moved to another location, and it’s amAAAAzing. Piles and piles of stuff I want to buy, including a big beautiful book by Mat Brinkman printed on 11 X 17 sheets of vellum, a book by Blutch, and a copy of RUBBER BLANKET #3, which contains one of my favorite Mazzucchelli stories, “Big Man”. I’ve already got it, but I buy it again.
Jason got it right—this store carries both indie books and mainstream books. But to get to the mainstream work, you pass through tons of beautiful, unusual and unique independently-produced and –published work. This is probably the best comic store I’ve ever been to. If you’re in Portland, go! And then hit Powell’s.
Quick dinner with Jason, Ian, Zack Soto and others at Good Taste Chinese Restaurant—I order the “dried scallops and bok choy”, which is good, but I swear it’s all mushrooms, as I don’t find anything that reminds me of a scallop—and the sun’s going down and Brian needs to get back to Seattle for his dog, Sam, who misses Brian so much he’s fashioning a noose. Before we head out, I take the fellas to see the Pittock Mansion as the sky goes a deep blue. We look out from the grounds of this palace over the entirety of Portland glittering and trickling like a river, and I’m happy I make comics for a living.