Even indie comics are getting to be, if not big business, then extremely popular. More popular than a street fair, even. The last two years, perhaps inspired by BCGF and TCAF, have seen indie shows spring up in many cities from Minneapolis Autopic, to Portland’s The Projects to Chicago’s CAKE.
While we noted that last weekend’s TCAF has mostly outgrown its venue, and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival shutdown came partly over problems over the show’s growth (more on that in a minute) it’s also evident in the trouble exhibitors had getting tables at SPX. Even a comparatively small show like this weekend’s Maine Comics And Arts Festival had a very quick sellout in January:
The first wave of exhibitor tables has sold out. We have started the waiting list and will fill the remaining tables from that list.
Based upon the number of requests for information that we received this year we knew that the demand for tables would be more than in previous years. We have seen many first time exhibitors get tables tonight.
In a post on MeCAF’s old website (now gone) the show’s owner Rick Lowell had mused about what to do about growing demand for tables. MeCAF is definitely a smaller show, but it’s a delightful one, and a growing one, and even a show in an out of the way state is getting too big.
Speaking of too big, Tim Hodler has the behind the scenes on the end of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival and it’s kind of he said/he said. Turns out the show’s remaining two co-owners couldn’t agree on how to move forward with Dan Nadel having to bow out due to his other duties. And Gabe Fowler didn’t even know yesterday’s announcement was coming. And someone has already pulled the plug on the shows’s website, which is kind of sad and final (or petty). All the guests, all the fests…gonna have to live on in our memories and Facebook, I guess.
Bill K. has a lot to say about growing pains and how indie comics festivals fit into the industry structure:
Kartalopoulos elaborates: “The other thing I would say is that the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival has been a very successful event. Every year it grew beyond our expectations. I think anyone who was at the 2012 show probably observed that the festival was sort of maxing out the structure that had been built to support it. I mean both literally in terms of the space and also, I would say, organizationally. So you know growth is hard, and presents a lot of challenges. I think that the 2012 event represented the peak of what could be accomplished within the constraints of the current model. So even though I’m sad and upset in certain ways, I am happy to go out on a high note rather than start hitting walls.”
[snip]“As far as I’m concerned, money-making has never been a consideration,” says Kartalopoulos. “The festival just needs to support itself.” But he does think that the perception brings up issues worth discussing. “There’s a bigger infrastructural point here which is that a big part of the indie comics economy at this point seems to rest on the shoulders of people who work very hard for very little reward to create these festivals,” he says. “I think there are some structural issues that I hope people will start talking about, even if not as a direct result of this situation. It’s really hard and it’s really a lot of work to put together these festivals. No one is making money personally doing these things, and you can’t have an industry that depends on volunteer labor forever.”
We noted that TCAF had growing pains this year as well, and showrunner Chris Butcher looked exhausted and said as much. The shows are so important to the economy of small publishers, but they are not, in and of themselves, a profit center for those running them. TCAF doesn’t even charge for admission OR tables!
At some point making money for what you do is a good reward and a good incentive to keep doing them and keep doing them right. That goes for show runners as well as cartoonists. We’re a long way from that being the case on the indie circuit.
In the meantime, Brooklyn will not be without a comics show. The brand new Grand Comics Festival in Brooklyn rolls out June 8-9. See ya there!
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.