As planned, we stopped in at the Maine Comics Art Festival in Portland yesterday. Now, before going any further, we should point out that we’re boosters for the show — anything that furthers the cause of comics in Maine is something we’re for!
That said, we were really, really curious about how this show would play out. Maine’s economy is variable in the best of times, and it has been hit by the current economic downturn pretty hard. Plus, Mainers are not really into, well, luxuries. The show was launched by Casablanca Comics‘ Rick Lowell with a strong emphasis on art comics and kids comics, and while there were a few local superhero creators on hand, MeCAF was headlined by creators who were definitely not “mainstream.” Seeing how a local first time show fared in a tough market would be a good test of whether the comics economy’s continuing strength was momentum or something with more staying power.
Judging by the enthusiasm and crowd, we’d say “Staying power.” Lowell reports that nearly 1000 people showed up for the day, an impressive figure. When we arrived, the venue was jammed with mostly families with children. (Kids got in free.) Jay Piscopo, creator of Cap’n Eli, and Kean Soo of Jellaby had lots of young admirers on hand. Otherwise, the show was a mini-SPX, with CCS students dominating and Gabrielle Bell, Chris Giarusso, and Becky Cloonan rounding out the guest list.
But, as one observer mentioned to us, the woods of Maine are “lousy” with cartoonists. Maine’s rocky coast and wooded hills have always had a strong appeal for illustrators, whether as summer guests or year long residents, and there were several of these crossover artists exhibiting as well. Throw in a bunch of New York’s most exciting young cartoonists, like Becky Cloonan, Julia Wertz, Sarah Glidden, and Austin English, and you have a lively little show.
Saleswise, this probably wasn’t a blockbuster, but we didn’t see too many people at the end of the day looking sad and gloomy like we have when things go badly, and everyone sold something. The one question we did hear was that mixing indie type comics with a very kid-friendly show might not be maximizing the potential audience for either; given the number of small kids on hand, we’d say that’s a real growth area for this show.
Lowell announced that there will be a MeCAF next year, and it’s a colorful addition to the indie comics circuit. The venue is small but very airy, with giant windows overlooking the Casco Bay. Seagulls and the clashing of waves are the background sounds. PLUS, the con hotel (where we stayed last night) is the picturesque Inn on Peaks Island, which is a short ferry ride from the mainland, so you get to take a sea journey. Plus, much to the delight of Future Mr. Beat, there is tasty Shipyard Ale everywhere around the show.
All in all, it was a very positive day and showed that even In This Economy, comics are bucking the trends.
NEWS NOTE: We moderated an enlightening panel with guests Cloonan, Bell, Giarusso, and Soo, and got to hear everyone talk about the creative process. The one thing that really caught our ear was Soo’s idea for his next book — best described as the adventures of a “fact checking octopus.” Sign us up.
Becky Cloonan and her step-dad.
Sunset on Peaks Island.