The Stumptown Comics Festival , Portland’s long running indie comics show, is ending in its present form, but the Awards and its indie-focused programming will become part of the Rose City Comic-Con, which is held in September. According to Stumptown board of directors Chair Shawna Gore, the two shows are NOT merging; it is, however the beginning of a period of retrenchment for the Stumptown show.
Announced via a press release and then expanded on in a post at the
Portland Mercury, the move, while a blow to Comics Town USA, as Portland often seems, was, to an outsider’s eyes, anyway, the end result of some long running organizational problems.
“After trying for years to make a convention-style presentation work for us, we realized we were locked into a model that has prevented us from making progress toward our other goals,” Gore explained. “We can either keep doing what we’ve been doing all along, or we can take a break to shift and try to find a model that works better for us. But with our small, all-volunteer board (six people total, two of which have largely been serving on a consulting-only basis) and tiny budget, we can’t do both.
Tom Spurgeon, a frequent attendee at the fest (we’ve never been) weighed in with his own must-read analysis:
That said, Stumptown was a strange show the last couple of years. It is the most complained-about show of any I attended in the last three years. It had a strange relationship to some in the Portland comics community. I spent time with two prominent Portland-resident alternative comics cartoonists in 2013 a couple of days before the event who literally did not know which weekend the festival was until my arrival in town told them.
That backs up our own impressions of Stumptown—no one ever seems all that excited about it, and there was constant grousing about low sales in an industry where that’s almost expected. Perhaps it’s the fact that Portland, as mentioned, has probably the highest per capita level of working cartoonists of any North American Ciry, including both indie stars and an increasing number of mainstream superstars such as Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick. Despite the local talent—or perhaps because they were so local—the show never seemed to have taken off.
Rose City Comic Con is a newer show that has pacted with the huge Emerald City Comic Con to offer similar level of traditional artist alley and Big Time Comics attractions. Where the Stumptown brand will fit in is any one’s guess. Luckily Portland still has its share of indie-focused events, including The Projects, which is run by local store Floating World, and seems to tap into the excitement and daring of the local arts scene in a more immediate way than a bunch of people sitting behind tables in a convention center.
Just an impression, BTW—as I travel the nation and learn more and more about Con Wars, I often have to step back and say “I’m not from around here!” The history of the Sumptown Comics Festival seems uniquely wedded for better or worse, to the local culture; that culture will continue thriving even if one comics show has to go on hiatus.
Stumptown Comics, Inc. is restructuring its presentation of the Stumptown Comics Festival in 2014 and joining forces with Rose City Comic Con to make it happen. Beginning next year, the Stumptown Comics Fest will no longer be held as a single convention-style event, as it has been for the past ten years. Instead, Stumptown is moving its panel programming and the annual Stumptown Comic Arts awards to Rose City Comic Con in September while the group’s board of directors works on a new schedule of Stumptown community events to debut in 2015.
After achieving its big-picture goal of being granted nonprofit status as a 501(c)3 in April of 2013, the board of directors of Stumptown Comics, Inc. began working toward a new vision for the festival, focusing more on its educational goals and less on staging a consumer-oriented convention.
Chair of Stumptown’s board of directors, Shawna Gore, explains the change in approach: “From the very beginning, Stumptown’s goals were to bring an artistic and educational focus on comics to Portland. In those early days there was only one other comics convention in Portland, so the Fest eventually took the shape of a more mainstream-style show to give us a place to gather creators and fans together for our workshops and symposiums. But now Portland has multiple comic and pop culture cons. By partnering with Rose City Comic Con as a venue to present both our programming and our awards, we can focus on new ways to pursue our organizations educational mission.”
Rose City Comic Con co-founder Ron Brister has been a longtime supporter of Stumptown and has been working closely with the nonprofit’s board to implement these changes. “Stumptown is such an important part of the Portland comics community, and Rose City Comic Con is eager and happy to partner with Stumptown for the future. We’re looking forward to having a portion of our programming directed in partnership with Stumptown, enabling Rose City Comic Con to offer focused educational panels and workshops. I’m personally excited and looking forward to our September 2014 event to expose more than 25,000 attendees to Stumptown and what it represents.”
Beginning in January, Stumptown’s board of directors will be recruiting four new members to fill recently vacated positions and further expand its reach into the Portland cultural community. Further announcements on this will be forthcoming, and interviews to fill the available board positions will take place in early 2014.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.