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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 ComicsRick 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.

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Becky Cloonan and her step-dad.

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Sunset on Peaks Island.


  1. Thanks for coming to the show, Heidi, and for the great write-up! It was nice meeting you. Rick Lowell and his team deserve a lot of credit for putting on such a great first-time show.

  2. Hello Heidi,
    Thanks for joining us. We are still recovering today but are already looking ahead to next year. It was definitely a learning experience. There are lots of factors to consider, and considering how many kids and families we had we may need to seriously look at a different seating plan next year. It is still too early to tell what we will do, and I am waiting to hear back from the attending creators for feedback on how we can improve. We want it to be the best experience possible for both the creators and the attendees.

    The venue had lots of great natural light and the fact that there are high ceilings kept things from getting too loud. We had a steady crowd all day long (especially at opening!).

    I will announce here that yes, we will do this again next year. It will probably be the same weekend. It may be a two day show but that is still to be determined.

  3. I attended with my 10 year old stepdaughter. She has only a passing interest in comics but loves art and was swept up in it all. Chris Giarrusso drew her a sketch of Zantanna that she has hung in a place of honor in her room. As we walked to the parking lot she said “I can’t get the smile off my face”, which really is the best recommendation anyone can offer.

    As for the question about the mix of indie and kid-friendly art, my stepdaughter hurried by the tables with more adult art and questioned why a mother would buy a younger child something called Bloodsword or some such. But it isn’t a lot different than when she flicks through channels on the TV… she keeps going when she hits something she thinks is “inappropriate” to find a program she likes. Course, if her mother attends next year she might have a different opinion, so perhaps a new seating plan would be good. : )

  4. What a fun show MeCAF was! It was my first con promoting Split Lip and I had a great time. I met some terrific folks, sold 50% more books than the target I’d set for myself and really enjoyed Portland.

    It was terrifically well-run for being a first show and I can’t wait to get back next year.

  5. It was, without a doubt, the best event we’ve exhibited at in years. The venue was bright and cheery, the con was run smoothly and effectively, the attendance was fantastic… and best of all, FREE coffee while setting up! You could tell all the kids were having a blast. There was a ton of excitement and positive energy everywhere. We sold more than twice what we expected, as was evidenced by the folks who didn’t bring enough books. Great job by Rick Lowell and his hard working crew at Casblanca Comics. We’ll definitely be back in 2010!