by Matt Maxwell for Comics Beat
I’ve probably started my last three Stumptown reports with this, but I love Portland and the Stumptown Comics Festival. You could rightly say that it’s because Stumptown was the first show that I actually set up at, back in 2007 (has it only been two and a half years of being on the other side of the table?). You could, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. Comparing the Stumptown show of 2007 (in chilly October) to that of 2010 (in springtime cool April) is a tricky thing. The show has grown and been managed in such a way as to make the two very different.
2007 yielded decent attendance for an independent comics show, though that was often long periods of quiet punctuated with silence. Sure, part of that was the fact that I was just selling a mini/ashcan preview then. Nobody else seemed to have any complaints about the size/speed of the show and I didn’t have anything to compare it with, though I remember it not being particularly busy most of the time (a good starter show, as opposed to jumping in with both feet to say Wonder-Con or the like.)
Things have steadily grown since then. Last year, there was solid attendance and a great vibe on the floor, people eager for the opportunity to get something to read, not to keep with the weekly jones or getting sketches from someone just because they drew Batman once. There were plenty of people who worked on superhero/front of the catalog titles (like most of Periscope studios and guys like Randy Emberlin and Joe Quinones). Though for all those faces, there were a bunch of folks from the Portland comics scene who didn’t set up. Even managed to pull in a lot of talented artists from out of the area like Paul Pope, Hope Larson (at least I think she’s from out of town), Tom Neely and Dean Haspiel.
I’ve never been to a MoCCA show or SPX to compare, but Stumptown felt more like a small national gathering of artists than it has in the past. Not that there wasn’t plenty of Portland flavor there; there was. And I have to say, I like Stumptown far better than I’ve liked APE of late. I’ll admit that part of this is the fact that STRANGEWAYS generally shows poorly at APE, which is much more into the DIY and indie crafts side of things than my work. As I said above, folks at Stumptown just want something to read. They don’t care if it came from a gal Xeroxing and stapling at Kinko’s or if it came on pallets from Quebecor. They’re eager to read.
That and the show seems to be drawing more new visitors every year. I’ll just judge by my experience selling MURDER MOON. First year, the book’s been out for a couple months, but like most indie books, doesn’t make much of a ripple in the DM. That weekend, in Stumptown in 2008, I sold ten percent of my initial order to Diamond. Not bad. In 2009, I sold nearly double that. Now this is for a book that’s already been to the show once and has been out for a year. And I sold almost twenty percent of my order to Diamond. In Wonder-Con in 2009, I sold more than thirty percent of that initial order. At this point, convention sales have far outstripped my sales into Diamond.
Now, this year at Stumptown, I did about as well as I did the first year that MURDER MOON was on sale. Which seems unusual. You’d think that everyone who wanted the book would have seen it last year and picked it up. So either people’s tastes are changing (sure, I’d buy that) or more people are coming to shows like Stumptown (I’d bet that) or maybe serializing online has helped expose the book (and anyone who’d seen it online already had it, but that was an extreme minority—most folks didn’t read any comics blogs or sites, but many read webcomics.)
So yeah, I did well. Made table and most of the airfare (and paid for a nice dinner out.) Realistically, I’m trying to make table (as are most smaller publishers; I’d bet that Fantagraphics, Oni and Top Shelf had considerably higher goals). Word from the floor seemed to be that most people were pretty happy with things, I didn’t talk much to any of the larger publishers to get a feel for that (other than to ask Brett Warnock about the MARSHAL LAW collection). Most of the individual artists seemed satisfied with things.
The show itself seemed better organized than in years past (and this is not a passive-aggressive way of saying the show was badly run before, because it wasn’t.) There were some odd wrinkles with my table, but those were all smoothed over in pretty short order. I didn’t attend any of the programming, but by the same token, I didn’t hear any complaints about how things unfolded either.
The aisles themselves got downright busy on Saturday, plenty of dodging and jostling. Though it never turned into a stampede or impassible hallway blockages like even Wonder-Con suffers from in the high-traffic areas now (which made my poor showing there this year even more frustrating). Plenty of people who were there to see simply everything, not just heading to, say, the celebrities to shell out fifty bucks for an autograph. No, I can’t begrudge folks making a living, but that sort of thing takes a huge bite out of people’s wallets, leaving them less cash to spend at other dealers (and I know, none of those people want a weird western anyways).
Though I still can’t get people to go for a Five Minute Story. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. Perhaps the market was simply not meant to go that way. It’s too daring, too bold. Or too abstract. The whole idea of a sketch is an instant art piece that anyone can just look at and enjoy. A Five Minute Story takes a moment or two to absorb (which is why you writers out there shouldn’t try to get anyone other than an artist to read your scripts, because they won’t.) Maybe I should just put up a sign that reads FREE SKETCHES and then do it and hand it back to people to see their reaction. Yeah.
However, like most years, Sunday was a lot slower than Saturday. I mean, not Easter at Wonder-Con slow, where I threw in the towel after a few hours, but not as busy as Saturday by a long shot. That’s okay, gave me a chance to walk around a little bit and actually talk to people. Well, a bit more. I ran out of stock on Saturday afternoon at about 4pm (shades of last year!) and was able to get a copy of the new HENRY AND GLENN minicomic from Tom Neely’s table, as well as the collection of horror-mag-inspired covers he did (which was one of the prettiest things at the show.) Also picked up one of the TALES OF THE UNCANNY preview books, looks promising but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wishing for more TYRANT or a print version of Steve Bissette’s current digital comic: KING OF MONSTER ISLE. Oh, and the collected version of THE ENGINEER, which I half-collected in singles and am looking forward to finally reading. Even got a sketch from Paul Pope and had a chance to chat with him in a civilized, non-insane setting (which simply doesn’t happen on the floor at say SDCC.)
I suspect a lot of the Sunday crowd was sleeping off Saturday, though I’m not sure how many folks were at Cosmic Monkey that night. I mean a lot were, but I’d say that three quarters of them were exhibitors and artists rather than straight-up comics fans. Missed the awards show, kudos to the nominees and winners. But I did stick around for the Comic Art Battle and juggaloo Jeff Parker who played the role to a T. But I have to say, Carla Speed McNeill full-out took Colleen Coover down in their one-on-one caricature battle (sorry Colleen!), but evidently the crowd didn’t see it the same way I did. All involved made for great entertainment, and not a self-loathing moment in the whole night. Fuck that self-loathing shit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about my erstwhile hosts in Portland, those being the folks behind Periscope Studios, most notably in my case misters Parker, Lieber, Tobin and Hahn, and non-mister Coover (who even drew something on the iPad, though it was clear that a stylus would have made the whole process easier.) Periscope is a true studio in that everyone is bouncing ideas off one another, arguing about buttoned shirts versus tied shoes and laughing at interns who manage to get chili sauce in their eyes, then subsequently arguing whether tequila or milk would be a better solution to that particular ocular invasion. And the studio doesn’t seem quite so cramped now that they’ve kicked out the tenant next door and blown the wall out. Downright roomy. For now. But if it keeps growing at the rate it has been, they’ll be looking to absorb more floorspace before they know it.
As for the Persicope reaction to the iPad, generally positive, but perhaps not as an art tool, just yet. However, people were impressed that they could read a page at a time without any eyestrain (and not just any page, but a Bronze Age Marvel page, back when they knew how to cram stuff in – hope that Tom Orzechowski got paid by the word and not the page back then). And no, I’m not a paid Apple shill, though frankly, I oughta be, bringing a thing like that into a studio of twenty or so artists/interns/creative types. Though I maintain that it’ll be the knock-offs following in Apple’s footsteps that really change things around for the broader populace. But I’ll serve my role as early adopter quite happily. In my off-time, I finished up reading Jack Kirby’s run on KAMANDI and blazed through all of the Starlin WARLOCK (which at moments is still breathtakingly innovative and unlike anything in the mainstream today, even thirty years later, even if it is too emo by half.)
Have to say, the studio experience makes me wish I didn’t live out in the sticks, but then I wonder how much work I could get done in that kind of environment. I suppose the novelty would wear off and pretty soon I’d be back to my surly, sit-in-a-corner-type-self with my head down and trying to ignore the constant stream of distractions. But it sure is nice to visit once in a while.
And I do wish every city was as interested in comics, much less just getting something to read, as Portland seems to be. Granted, my sample set is skewed. But I’ll take it where I can get it.
[Matt Maxwel’s complete Stumptown Flickr set can be found here. ]
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.