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Swedish randos (aka Dongery) from SPX 2005

 

§ There’s been some chatter over the last week or so over this public FB thread by Stephen Bissette about what he sees as exclusion of certain creators at indie comics shows. It sprang out of an older thread, and the conversation eventually includes Bill Kartalopoulos, who works with SPX and MoCCA, as well as Zack Soto of the just concluded Lineworks NW, Tom Spurgeon of the upcoming CXC show, and a lot of exhibitors past and present. The main complaint, it seems, is that there isn’t enough room at shows like SPX (the one which hurt the most feelings) and TCAF and Lineworks NW and so on and this leads to exclusion. Or as one Carl Antonowicz puts it:

If one’s work doesn’t meet the unstated aesthetic of the committee, one is out of luck.

Which is…yeah. If you’re gonna spend the money to put on an indie comics show—an undertaking so bereft of big profits that many of them are crowdfunded—you do get to choose what kind of comics you want to showcase there, and it turns out that people dedicated enough to actuallly put on a show generally have a pretty clear idea of what kind of comics they want to promote.

There are some sad stories in the comments—veteran cartoonist turned educator Don Simpson can’t get into the local indy show in his native Pittsburgh, and 90s mainstay David Chelsea was denied a table at Linework but gets a free table at the local Wizard show. And other people can’t get in and so on and so forth.

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I have my own comment there, but if you read this site at all you can probably guess what I say: there are a zillion small shows out there and more coming. If you can’t find a local place to get set up and show your wares, you must live in a very remote spot. And yes, tables are expensive at some of these shows (but see next couple of items), but guess what: NO ONE PROMISED YOU’D BE ABLE TO MAKE MONEY AT THIS THING. There are more good cartoonists than ever and old-timers do have to compete against the new kids, who often have strong support networks via social media and colleagues from art school. And even if you build it, they may very well not come because you could be set up between Todd McFarlane and Kate Beaton.

Is this a competition? Sort of. While comics people are generally inclusive to a fault, the moment you put your first line on paper/screen you started competing for attention and acclaim (which come in unlimited amounts) and for money and space (which come in more limited amounts.)

One aspect of CAFs/indie shows that gets thrown around a bit in the thread is how they have become an alternative distribution system. It’s true a lot of publishers rely on CAFs to make a lot of their profits. This is far from healthy, but we’re still talking work that is of a niche appeal, and we have an indie comics reading audience that really likes buying their comics at shows where they can get a signed edition, have a personal transaction and maybe even buy some other stuff they didn’t know about that is normally warehoused in a shoebox under the creator’s sofa.

So while I understand the frustration of people who can’t get in to certain very popular events, there are lots of other ways to get out there. And all of this is going to change more. A column by the late great Dylan Williams from 2011 where he’s rethinking his convention strategy shows now much the landscape has changed in a more four years..and in four years it will have changed some more.

I think another underlying aspect of this is the youth movement in comics, and older creators feeling very much left out of the picture. But that deserves a post all its own.

§ Meanwhile, Bissette himself was a guest of the Big Wow Con in San Jose and reunited with the old Swamp Thing crew of Rick Veitch, Tom Yeates and John Totleben.

§ AAANNNNNNNDDDDD speaking of CAF/con economies, Barry and Leon, the Secret Acres boys, have posted their MoCCA Fest 2015 report and confront the money things head on. You’ll notice that MoCCA isn’t on the “dream list” for comics folks because tables are very expensive:

We’ve talked a bit about the con economy on this blog before. But let’s go there again. MoCCA has the highest table cost of any show we attend at $460 per table. That’s a whole $110 above SPX and a whopping $64.50 above TCAF. TCAF costs attendees nothing. MoCCA is five bucks. SPX is three times that, asking a whole fifteen dollar bill of everyone coming through the door. They look alike from here. Or do they? Tony Breed, a Chicago guy and our RIPE neighbor of a couple weeks ago, came by and said the most interesting thing: his sales at CAKE were slow, but he makes more money at that show than at any other. This year, we brought home something less than half of our take from MoCCA 2014. We made money. We can’t not make money. We live here.
Our most expensive show, by far, is TCAF. Believe us, if we could afford to skip customs and ship our books to Canada, we sure as shit would. Depending on the exchange rate, food and shelter and gas, we need to clean up every year or we go broke. We’re pretty sure Annie Koyama is making more money at TCAF than she could at any other show and, at any other show, break-even has got to be way up there for Koyama Press. We’ve enjoyed a couple of years of making more money at TCAF than we have at MoCCA, but we took home less money every time. And we’re a publishing company, micro or no. If you’re an artist making mini-comics, you’re not making table at MoCCA without a gang to split costs – and profits – and if you can’t make it there, you’re not making it anywhere else, either. How much are you saving traveling to Toronto or booking a room at the SPX Marriott? If not for the money, why bother with shows at all? Do we really need to answer that question?

§ Speaking of Secret Acres, they’ve joined the gang of small presses (Koyama, Uncivilized, Alternative, Nobrow, Enchanted Lion Arsenal Pulp, etc) that are being distributed by Consortium. Consortium seems to do good things for small comics publishers so good for them.

§ And speaking of Linework NW, it sounds like it went well:
And it’s a good one at that. In its first year, last year, Linework packed 3,000 people into the Norse Hall in northeast Portland. This year they expanded the festival to two days in an effort to thin the crowds, but if Saturday was any indication the event is only getting bigger. “I love it,” Portland artist John Black said at his booth. “It’s more of an illustrator’s (event), you know what I mean? It’s for people who make stuff.”

Standing room only in the @danielclowes panel! #lwnw2015

A photo posted by @lineworknw on

§ BUT over in Binghamton, NY, everything was coming up Milhouse for the local comic con:

More than one thousand people attended the River Road Comic Expo Sunday at Tioga Downs. The event was free and open to the public, and featured industry artists as well as local independent artists. “It’s great to have a place to come and be able to get a little face-to-face time and shake hands with the guys who make your day,” said illustrator Mike Capprotti. There were also vendors selling both new and old books and related products. “One of the great things about the pop culture community is that everyone’s really enthusiastic,” said expo organizer Jared Aiosa.

§ George Lucas has felt a tingling in the force and thinks Marvel might reboot Howard the Duck for the screen!!!

During the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, Lucas commented on negative movie reviews, noting how even the worst reviewed films can “float up to the surface of the lake, and then they become cult classics. … It means you made an interesting movie or a weird movie, and a small group of people love it.” He continued by saying, “Even Howard the Duck is a cult classic. I have a feeling that Marvel’s gonna redo it because of the technology they have today.”

 

§ In less frightening news, John Ridley, showrunner of American Drime and OSar winner for 12 Years a Slave, may be working on a show for Marvel/ABC reinventing an existing Marvel superhero character or property.” Vague as hell so it could be anything, even Howard the Duck.

§ Reminder, Bart Beaty and co. are analyzing the hell ouf of comics over at What Were Comics? including Fun Home and more.

§ I forgot to link to this cool of page of interviews from the pages of Frontier Hellen Jo, Sascha Hommer, Ping Zhu and Sam Alden.

§ Here’s an old link I had to an investigation of a crappy scraper site.

§ And an interview with Keith Knight who has seen it all and then made a funny comic strip about it. .

§ Juliet Kahn offers a list of The Best Anime And Manga For Beginners and i think it’s pretty solid, but she left out …..(enter a list of 1000 names)

§ Finally, Zainab Akhtar reviews Jillian Tamaki’s SexCoven, the small press book of the year thus far.

3 COMMENTS

  1. So… how many people apply for SPX?
    Would it be enough to fill one of the hotels in downtown DC? With better panel space?
    Or if that’s too expensive, maybe one of the hotels on Connecticut Avenue? (Marriott Wardman has multiple ballrooms! The smallest is bigger than what Bethesda North offers!)

    Perhaps the shows aren’t making lots of money. (Non-profit? or Un-profit?)
    (Here’s the 2013 990 for “The Expo”
    C:\Documents and Settings\dbtxa\My Documents\Downloads\541924794_201312_990.pdf
    …what property do they own, listed on Form 4562?)

    Perhaps there is some logic in saying that if there are too many exhibitors, most will not sell enough comics. (Most won’t anyway… unless you’re selling books, you’ve got to sell a lot of comics to make back that cost.)
    But that’s not the concern of the show organizers. They need to fill the space, and make enough to fund the next show. (Funding via tables, admissions, and, if a non-profit, via local arts funding. YUP… lots of money available for art shows… http://creativemoco.com/grants for Montgomery County! Plus why not corporate and media sponsors? There should be a section at the bottom of the event poster filled with logos!)

    BUT… is the constricting of space hurting the small press community?
    SPX is the big show, and that’s limited to a ballroom of 24K sq.ft.! (Three SPXs could be placed in the Artist Alley at Javits North!) 284 tables. Tight space. And the awards show? Even worse.
    Why can’t it grow to something like New York Is Book Country? Or Angouleme? Or Comiket? (500,000 fans waiting overnight to get the latest dojinshi from comics circles!)

    If you can sell out a show, especially shows with a stated purpose of celebrating the best and brightest, why not expand? Why cram it into a gymnasium or a ballroom? Why bind the feet of an art form just so the show looks nice?

  2. Super-agree with Torsten’s comments. Gonna talk about exclusion here, because we’ve always been a publisher that no one wants to categorize!

    As an exhibitor at both indie fests and big pop culture shows: IT IS FUCKING HARD. More so at a comic con than an indie fest, because you’re mostly trying to sell random folks on what you do the first time they have ever encountered it. At indie fests, you have this self-selected group who have probably already come across your work online or via friends or at another indie fest, so while one might make less money than at a comic con, it’s because indie fests have a fraction of the attendance of a comic con. Also, it’s hard not to comment on the ostensibly lower incomes of indie fest attendees, who are often artists or creatives in their own right. The upshot is you have this great opportunity to form lasting relationships with people who will become some of your biggest fans — and new best friends! That’s what we’ve experienced at Stumptown (RIP), TCAF, SPX, APE, and all the zine fests we’ve done.

    So, if you make stuff that appeals to the indie fest audience, you need to get in front of them. And there are so few indie fests in any given region — flying to a fest is out of the question for so many creators. It makes logical sense, as Torsten is saying, to try expanding certain shows that show a need for expansion. But isn’t so much of the appeal of SPX that it is “premier” and “exclusive” in that there are only so many slots? This probably reinforces that “you’re among the best of the best” feeling when attendees arrive in the ballroom. I wonder how much the SPX folks value that perception, and I wonder how many attendees know whether a fest is juried or lottery-based (or a mix)? I have no idea!

    Every once in a while, The Devastator doesn’t get accepted or we can’t get a full table at a fest, which is another problem stemming from Torsten’s comment.* It always feels sucky. I’ve noticed that it’s usually the fests that don’t *outright* say they are juried that reject without explanation. Because it can be so subjective and personal, and they don’t want to tell you the truth (they had to give your space to a hot guest, they want to focus on artier comics, etc.), you can’t really ask.

    As an organizer: if you want to promote a certain style, person, anything — own it and be explicit. Then, no one has to stay up at night wondering why they weren’t good enough — one can figure, “Got it, this is a show for X, that’s fine.”

    *Half-tables almost always sell fewer copies than full-tables, so if you are a small press with lots of in-print books like us, it usually doesn’t work out mathematically — especially if you had to travel to the festival. More on that here: http://goo.gl/whpqN4

  3. Since I’ve been quoted in a quote here, I feel I should follow up and say CAKE was a bang-up show this year–one of my best shows ever, with sales on par with SPX.

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