Rose City Comic Con could also be called the “Comics Town Comic Con.” Portland, OR’s own three day festival kicks off today and runs through Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center. Set in the city that likely has more cartoonists and comics professionals per capita than any other, the event is taking full advantage of that with a Creator Pro – three full days of programming aimed at aspiring creators – with some networking events for everyone already in the great game.
The track, new this year, is a collaboration between Leslie Hunsinger, Programming & Content Coordinator, and freelance comics and games marketer Jazzlyn Stone. I had the chance to talk to Stone and Lauren Dabb, Group Director of Marketing & Sales for Leftfield Media, which puts on the event, to talk about networking and building conventions in the post (I hope) pandemic world – as well as the importance of industry events as conventions come roaring back.
According to Dabb, they built the new Creator Pro track “for professionals who are looking to break into the business of pop culture, or who are already in that business, but want to advance in their geeky career. This is our newest feature for this year, and we’re super excited about it.”
The track includes portfolio reviews (now closed, alas) with DC editor Andrew Marino, and a full slate of workshop and insider panels over all three days of the show. For instance, “Comics in College: Studying Graphic Narratives” features Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker and Douglas Wolk will discuss opportunities in educational programs to learn about comics. Shawn Crystal, of Inkpulp Instruction, will be joined by Mark Irwin and Jason Shawn Alexander to talk about the journey to become a professional artist. Hugo winner David D. Levine will run a workshop on word building.
For industry insights, local retailers Katie Pryde (Books With Pictures), Natasha Curtis (Zeppelin Comics), and Andrea Gilroy (Books With Pictures Eugene) will talk about the ins and outs of retailing.
And of course, no creator conference would be complete without networking – there’s a Drink and Draw tonight, Stone is hosting a mixer Saturday at 6 pm and an ongoing lounge for schmoozing.
Creator Pro is something they were thinking about for 2020 before all hell broke loose, and the main focus is answering that eternal question. “One of the biggest questions we all get is ‘how do I break into comics?’” says Stone, who consulted on Rose City programming in the past. “It’s a fraught question because there’s no one way. I hope this is a really great response to that, with a lot of information on how to actually do things like turning your art into successful merch or world building.”
Breaking in is something that people have been thinking about over two years of the pandemic, she says. “People spent those two years thinking ‘Life is short. I’m gonna get into comics, or I’m gonna get into animation’ or whatever it might be. Leslie and I had a big conversation about how to be more upfront about breaking in, especially at a con in Portland, where there are so many publishers, creators, and aspiring creators.”
Educational tracks like this are an important part of developing new talent for the industry, she feels. “My end goal is to make comics more inviting for both creators and readers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a non comics event and talked about how I work in comics. And older women – a demographic that is definitely excluded by most comics marketing – will be like, ‘Oh, I read so many comics when I was a kid, and I wish I still read them but I don’t know where to start.’ I think we have a real pipeline problem in comics, both with readers and creators. Tracks like this are doing a lot of work to create a more inviting and diverse space for all.”
Rose City is run by Leftfield Media, the company that also produces Awesome Con in Washington DC and Anime NYC. Like all events companies, they scrambled to keep going through the darkest days of the pandemic, but both Rose City and Awesome Con have run in 2021, and now ’22.
“Last year was right around the time of the Delta variant, and vaccines and people were just starting to do vaccine checks and mask mandates,” says Dabb. “We were all just happy to be back together. But throughout Covid, we’ve learned that live events are really important to our fans.” Leftfield did a lot of phone research with fans and found that although people enjoyed virtual events, “the bottom line was they missed the personal interaction they couldn’t get that a virtual event. It can’t really be replaced.”
“Last year felt like a big hug,” says Stone, “which I didn’t realize how much I needed, even though there was no actual hugging.”
As hellish as Covid has been, as with people in many facets of the comics industry, it was valuable downtime, says Dabb. “Obviously it reset everybody, but it did allow us to go to our fans and talk to them and understand what’s important to them, and make adjustments based on that. We don’t want to work on delivering things that they don’t care about.”
For 2022, Rose City will still have a mask mandate in place, and this year, more guests are open to attending live events again. “Last year was a base and this year we’ve been able to be more creative and develop more things like the Creators Conference,” says Dabb.
As for the rest of the show, Dabb expects somewhere around 45,000-50,000 attendees. Guests include a wide swath of comics folks, from DC publisher Jim Lee to locals Mike and Laura Allred and Ben Templesmith. Nerdlebrity guests include a full array of hobbits and Doctor Whos: Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Sylvester McCoy.
In the end, Dabb and Stone hope this track will help bring creators together, and maybe even help potential collaborators to connect. Stone has set up the networking event with different colored wristbands for people based on whether they are looking for collaborators or work or an established creator. “I hope it’s a good welcome into the space for aspiring creators.”