On November 9, various venues around the Portland Art Museum played host to the 2019 Portland Book Festival, and it was an awesome experience. Young and old, black, brown and white connected with their favorite authors and artists in an environment that was relaxing, intimate and devoted to the love of the written word. In addition to spotlighting Portland-area writers, the event also featured several comics-themed panels in which prose writers and comics creators shared the stage to talk about such subjects as “Stranger Things: Fiction From the Edge” and “Facing the Past.”
After navigating the round-the-block line to pick-up wristbands, many fans were disappointed to learn that “Scholastic’s GraphixCon,” the first comics-related panel of the day featuring Raina Telgemeier (Guts), Molly Ostertag (The Midwinter Witch), Jennifer Holm (The Third Mushroom), Gale Galligan (The Baby-Sitters Club) and Aron Nels Steinke (Mr. Wolf’s Class) at Whitsell Auditorium, had closed their doors by the start of the program. That did not stop the legions of Raina fans, many clutching copies of Guts and Smile, from standing in a winding line with the hope of snagging an autograph after the talk.
An hour later and a couple of blocks away at the Old Church Concert Hall, Faith Erin Hicks and Rainbow Rowell participated in two separate panels to promote their books. Faith talked about her debut YA novel Comics Will Break Your Heart in “Star-Crossed: Love & Friendship” with fellow novelists Sabina Khan and Abdi Nazemian. An hour, Faith joined Rainbow to talk about Pumpkinheads in “Last Chance: Endings & Beginnings.”
Back at the Portland Parks Foundation Tent as Shemanski Park, there was plenty of love and mutual admiration going around between Kelly Sue DeConnick (Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel), Gabby Rivera (America, B.B. Free) and G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel) in “Hit Like a Girl:Three Marvel Writers.” Kelly Sue waxed poetic on book porn with Willow’s and Gabby’s new books, highlighting the beauty of the non-breakable spine on The Bird King and Roxane Gay’s ringing f-bomb endorsement of Gabby’s Juliet Takes a Breath. Gabby described “what it means to be a big, brown babe, queer, and how to navigate white feminism” in the autobiographical Juliet. Willow shared how the platonic love story between Fatima and Hassan during the last days of the Emirate of Granada in The Bird King was loosely based on the relationship between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.
When Gabby shared how Inga Muscio’s Cunt: A Declaration of Independence sparked embarrassment in her mother, who also read the book while hiding it inside another, Kelly Sue related a funny story about her husband’s (Matt Fraction) creative workaround with Sex Criminals.
“After hearing from folks that they were self-conscious about reading his comic, Sex Criminals, in public, he made a hardcover that has a reversible dust flap. But if you reverse the dust flag, the book goes from being a sex comedy to a book about pro-euthanasia in dogs…my husband is like a sales dynamite genius!”
When asked about how they felt about leaving a comic book character that does not belong to them behind, the three ladies exhibited differing reactions. Gabby cried and grieved when America wrapped, although she was happy to see America Chavez survive in future incarnations. Kelly Sue likened the end of a run to a break-up that “I don’t want it in my face” and would never revisit the character post-break.
Willow left with genuine appreciation for the role she played in writing Kamala Khan for Ms. Marvel.
“We thought we’d be lucky if we got to ten issues. When it became this phenomenon and we were five years into the series, I realized this character was going to outlive us for years. It was an incredible feeling. But what drove it home for me was that she is now part of a culture, a collective consciousness.”
The 2019 Portland Book Festival also featured Pop-Up Readings at the Art Museum. Writers and artists were paired with paintings designed to highlight the intersections between visual art and the written word. MK Reed (Science Comics: Wild Weather) and Dylan Meconis (Queen of the Sea) performed at pop-ups in the American Art Gallery. Paired with William Trost Richards’ 1884 oil painting “Marine,” Dylan spoke of how the Oregon beaches, tide pools and clamming adventures with her mother inspired Queen of the Sea.
So how does the 2019 Portland Book Festival stack up against the standard variety comic convention? The festival is a more relaxed, easy-going venue where the written word and the process of creation takes precedence over celebrity and geek love. For this avid reader and geek culture enthusiast, the pilgrimage to Portland was priceless.