A rich remembrance of Stumptown 2008 as presented by Shannon O’Leary.
I left New York later than most of the other cartoonists traveling to the Stumptown Comics Convention in Portland. I had to toil for the man at my cruelly underpaid temp job right up until 5:00 PM on Friday afternoon. Luckily I’ve been temping right by Grand Central Station and was able to catch a shuttle bus to JFK in a traveling commuter ju-jitsu style move that this seven month old New Yorker was proud to pull off.
Relax, I told myself – I’m going to Portland!! I’m getting out of the rat race for a weekend and a day! Who wouldn’t want to travel to a magical forest land where comic books grow on trees and none of the creative creatures who inhabit said forest land appear to work more than 30 hours a week at a day job if they work at all? In my commuting flurry of defending myself against disgruntled bus drivers and my pushy fellow public transit riders, I had forgotten I was actually taking a vacation till I plopped my ass down in Seat #22B for my Jet Blue 7:00 PM direct flight to PDX.
After all, it’s not like I was going to be behind a table in Portland with new comics. I could just enjoy the convention for comic’s sake without worrying about cramming all the pimpage I could in two days time, while my own comics remained in various developmental stages at home and I could, mercilessly, forget about them and everything else for a few days. Enjoy, I told myself. EN-FUCKING-JOY!
I didn’t begin to truly relax however until the flight took off. Jet Blue’s enforced television programming treated me to a VH1 Classic presentation of Heavy: The Story of Metal. It was then that I truly noticed rowmates. Not that I didn’t take note of them prior to take off. How could you not notice two huge bespectacled, tattooed dudes (clearly identifiable as Portlanders by their fleece outerwear)? But when we all started head-banging in unison and nodding approvingly at one another without even knowing each other’s names, I felt it. They felt it too. We were on our way to the magical netherworld of the Pacific Northwest!
Unfortunately, the late arrival time on Friday night meant missing out on all the pre-convention gatherings of Thursday and Friday night. I managed to get the scoop however from folks in attendance at functions on both nights. Thursday night the festivities kicked off with what sounds like a sparsely attended but lively reading at the Main Branch of the Multnomah Public Library hosted by Sparkplug Comics with cartoonists Aron Nels Steinke, Jason Shiga, and Elijah Brubaker giving readings of their work. It was the first public reading of Brubaker’s widely buzzed about Wilhelm Reich series and Shiga’s first library reading of Bookhunter in front of a largely librarian audience who, by all accounts, cracked up knowingly at all the librarian in-jokes in his graphic novel about a crack library forensic team trying to recover a stolen book from the Oakland Public Library. (panel from Elijah Brubaker’s Reich Series [Sparkplug Comics])
That event kicked off a larger, fancy affair at the Ogle Gallery – The Librarian’s “Get” Graphic party, hosted by Baker’s Mark Literary Agency and Bowler Hat Comics. Both events aimed to promote literacy through comics and facilitate relationships between comics creators and publishers and librarians. Local Portland cartoonist celebrities in attendance included Derek Kirk Kim and Craig Thompson and numerous local publishers came out to support the event (including Dark Horse, Top Shelf, Oni and Sparkplug) along with representatives from Friends of the Library and various branches of the Multnomah County Library System. Speeches were also given by noted comics thinker and critic, Douglas Wolk, and doer of comics good, Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who discussed the current happenings in comics from a literary, societal, and legal perspective. It sounds like it was a slightly buttoned up affair for comics but also representative of the widening acceptance and influence of comics in literary circles. All in all, such a night reveals what’s happening in comics right now on an educational and cultural level that there were two prominent events targeting getting comics into libraries happening in conjunction with a comics convention.
Friday night, on the other hand, sounded like it was a good old fashioned indie comics bro down of the hightest and lowest order at the very welcoming and intimate setting of Guapo Comics and Coffee. The show was organized by Tim Goodyear of Teenage Dinasour and Dylan Williams of Sparkplug Comics and featured readings by young up and coming comics rock stars Liz Baille, Austin English, Sarah Glidden, Julia Wertz, Minty Lewis, Trevor Alixopulos, Rina Ayuyang, and, for the second night in a row, a tireless Jason Shiga. According to numerous sources, Ayuyang. absolutely killed it with a story she describes as a work in progress called “THIS is the day!” Ayuyang’s story was by all accounts an incredibly inspiring and well crafted piece about the inspiration that comes from making art because you have to and want to express something. It will appear in the next issue of Rina’s mini, Namby Pamby #5, which will be out for either Mocca or APE this year.
But the true star of the night was Sarah Glidden who won a well deserved Masie Kukoc award for excellence in mini-comics. Below is a picture of a totally hott Ms. Glidden giving her acceptance speech.
Seriously. Doesn’t she look super hott in those skinny pants? And she makes comics that, according to Jeremy Tiedeman, co-proprietor of Guapo Comics, are compulsively readable and culturally enlightening. For those that don’t know, the Masie Kukoc award for mini-comics excellence rewards a self-publisher of mini-comics on the basis of merit and financial need and for being awesome. Nominees are chosen by a distinguished panel of cartoonists, educators, journalists, publishers, and retailers and must be at least partially hand-made by the cartoonist. The Prize money for 2008 amounted to a whopping $400 and was generously donated by The Center for Cartoon Studies, Sparkplug Comic Books, and several anonymous donors. The award is coordinated by Jesse Reklaw and I ripped this copy almost directly from his website with minor edits. Thanks, Jesse!! And congratulations, Sarah!
Around about the exact moment that Sarah was celebrating her win, my cousin and my cousin in-law were picking me up at PDX, a familial obligation they, lucky for me, felt compelled to oblige. After sleeping the sleep of the nearly comatose on their couch, we woke up and had a cup of coffee on the porch and I marveled at the stark contrast in lifestyle between Portland and New York. The day before I couldn’t even recall having seen a tree and here there was nothing but trees, trees, trees as far as the eye could see.
But the morning was getting late, so I cast Emersonian contemplations aside to get to the convention with the cousin and cousin-in-law in tow, grateful that, for once, I didn’t have to hurriedly schlep books to get to a dark hall by the ass crack of mid morning. The convention was held in a large well lit room at the Lloyd Center Double Tree. It was a nice day and the sun was shining in through the windows, environmental conditions which set an all around cheerful atmosphere for the show. Additionally, the place was packed – literally wall to wall with convention-goers – and sales, at first glance, appeared to be brisk. We decided to stroll around and see what the larger indie publishers had to offer first. Both Oni Press and Fantagraphics had nothing new to offer, having debuted their major Spring books the week before at New York Comic-con (a new Thomas Ott book from Fantagraphics looks particularly interesting). Top Shelf, however, was a different story. Brett Warnock greeted us warmly, pressing a cornucopia of minis and perfect bound books in my hands (one of which, 24 X 2 by David Chelsea was INCREDIBLE).
We then perused the isles of the show in a leisurely fashion, seeking out the best in show. At the front of the hall, MariNaomi (Estrus), Sarah Glidden (Israel in 30 Days or Less) and Julia Wertz (Fart Party, n’est pas) were getting a lot of traffic due, in large part, to Glidden’s win the night before and the Fart Party’s unwaveringly loyal following but also to the solid collection of rad comics by rad girls.
One aisle over we ran into Justin Hall who gave us a copy of his new mini, Glamazonia: The Uncanny Super Tranny. That hilarious book is the result of Hall’s Queer Press Grant from Prism Comics. Justin, also had copies of Hard to Swallow, his gay porn comics that apparently had already resulted in the unwanted attentions of married closet case who, while attempting to cruise Justin as he simultaneously examined his gay porn, was interrupted by a phone call from his wife. All that before 2:30 PM on a Saturday! The big sweet tranny in the sky only knows where he wound up in the wee hours but Justin assured us it was not with him. We’re pretty sure we trust him. Pretty sure.
At 3:00 PM, I had to get to the Running a Small Business in Comics panel with noted small business in comics people – me, Dylan Williams, Tim Goodyear, Jeremy Tiedman, Julia Wertz, and Francois Vigneault talking about…taxes and spreadsheets and taking advantage of the copier at your office job for print runs. It was a little disorganized but we had fun and hopefully disseminated some somewhat valuable information to someone without seeming too drunk.
Then it was back to the convention where we put our ears to the ground to find the buzz books. I was able to single out four books that people were talking about, which by my stringent definition of a buzz book meant that 2 or more people had mentioned it. First on that list was Hot Breath of War by Trevor Alixopulos, a perfect bound book by Sparkplug Comics featuring a series of vignettes about lovers in war time that explores the entwined themes of sex and war and the seduction of war. My cousin looked at it and said he liked it! In addition to the family approval stamp, casual conversations with both creators and fans indicated that both were looking forward to cracking it open and a cursory perusal heralded good things.
Convention-goers, particularly other creators, were also talking about Minty Lewis’s PS Comics #4. Lewis’s book is coming out in early 2009 from new indie publisher, Secret Acres. PS Comics #4 consists of a longer story than usual for Lewis, although, as usual, it’s funny, wry and oddly sweet, just like her shorter stories. But the book everyone was looking for but no one seemed to have a copy of was Welcome to the Dahlhouse by Ken Dahl (Microcosm). The Microcosm table sold out of copies early on Saturday but you can order a copy directly from them here.
Last on the list was an insanely ambitious and well executed hand made book called the Ancient Ploughman by a San Francisco outfit called Two Fine Chaps (Tom Biby and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm). That book was recommended to me by both Indigo Kelleigh (one of the show’s organizers) and Ryan Alexander Tanner (a 2007 Xeric Grant recipient). The production, layout and design of the book was amazing but it was priced at a cost prohibitive 20 bucks. If you’ve got it to spend, I suggest getting a copy, for the unique and beautiful production quality alone, which you can do here at their website.
After having dinner on the money I saved from not buying their book (tough times and crappy temp jobs call for tough choices), I headed over to the Cosmic Monkey Stumptown Afterparty which is largely a blur to me. Not because of anything like bad sushi from dinner or bad comics or too much or too little of anything bad really, but mainly due to reaching my own personal quota of bright fluorescent lights. The evening featured a fun but nearly incomprehensible awards ceremony that was nonetheless, gallantly and democratically organized by Shannon Wheeler of Too Much Coffee Man infamy. Wheeler’s imaginative awards ceremony basically consists of creators who nominate themselves with a $5 entry fee (to discourage entering multiple categories). They need to be exhibitors and they have to come to the award ceremony, then attendees to the show vote, and Wheeler and posse tally the votes at the end of the day on Saturday, a tradition that apparently started last year. They hand out “personalized” recycled trophies to the winners on Saturday night. The list of the winners is here.
We, however, spent the majority of the evening talking to Ryan Alexander Tanner about a story we did with him for an anthology called The Bridge Project which aims to team Portland cartoonists with SF cartoonists, which I’m convinced will never see the light of the day. Get it together, Matt Leunig! If we don’t see something by APE you’re totally fired! There’s a lot of interesting artist teams on deck and it’s a great idea but you have to FINISH IT already. This is serious tough love time!! You’ll thank me in the morning.
We also talked to Vanessa Davis about her eagerly anticipated collection of stories from D&Q, due out sometime in the very soon near future, we hope. Although our conversation is largely censored due to its emphasis on boys, I was lucky enough to be able to check out her sketch book which is looking totally amazing and which teased us just enough to be super f-ing excited about the aforementioned book she’s doing for D&Q.
Then we had an enjoyable conversation with Robin McConnell about some upcoming stuff he set up at the convention for InkStuds (be sure to bookmark his page inkstuds.com and check it regularly as he has a lot of great interviews coming up this Summer). We then paid attention long enough to watch our roommate and buddy, Julia Wertz win an award for something and hand the trophy off to us to take back to Brooklyn proper while she does some Girls Gone Wild drive across country odyssey with party girls Austin English and Sarah Glidden. But again, this not paying attention thing was no fault of Shannon Wheeler, really. It was probably more the fault of jet lag dwarves who had crawled out of the Portland forest to taunt this Shannon with their heckles of you’re so fucking tired just go to sleep already.
I did. Eventually. But it was in the very wee hours of the morning and I awoke shortly after to head back to the convention where I finally managed to catch up with the main man behind Stumptown, a very busy Indigo Kelleigh, and one of the show’s co-producers, Kip Manley, about why they moved the show to April and I was, well… moved by my conversation with them! When I first heard that Kelleigh and crew were picking up the slack left by APE changing their usual April date to a November one, I was inspired by the undying spirit of the never say die – just say DIY – indie comics community. The show really did come together well – there was a ton of foot traffic, and while a lot of exhibitors complained of ho hum sales, just as many sold out. The show featured large contingents of cartoonists who had traveled far and wide from all over the country due to the very friendly welcome mat of the Portland comics community’s home base and Indigo and crew’s last minute, exceptional organizational skills.
After talking to Indigo, we lured Minty Lewis away from her table to accompany us to what turned out to be a thoroughly entertaining and lively panel discussion/bro-man love down between Derek Kirk Kim and Jason Shiga. Kim and Shiga have been friends since both started making mini comics about ten years ago. Kim was a great interviewer and it was interesting to listen to a fellow creator and friend of a creator ask his dear, longtime friend questions about his work. The talk, surprisingly, did not center much around Bookhunter for which Shiga was just nominated for a new category of Eisner – Best Graphic Album of 2008. The discussion largely focused on Meanwhile – the world’s 2nd largest interactive comic ever made (5’x5′) and the labor intensive process Shiga endures to put together the book copies which are standard paperback size with mostly tabbed pages. Shiga valiantly continues to put them together – that is, when he’s not too busy auditioning for reality television shows like, Beauty and the Geek, which he and Kim also discussed in great detail. Apparently his audition for the show included having to answer some high level math nerd question about the number Pi and having to bust some dance moves on the spot. (photo by Glenn Peters)
The show ended shortly after that and then we had a dilemma. Should we go see Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay with Kim and Shiga? Or should we go to the Pony Club Stumptown Afterparty? When Shiga and Kim equivocated on movie times we bailed out on what seemed to be a beautiful, but largely unplanned and potentially impossible to realize dream, and left for the greener pastures of the Pony Club. The Pony Club did NOT disappoint. It was the closing night of a “magic” themed art show curated by Pony Club proprietor Zack Soto and pretty much every piece in the show was great. The show mostly featured works by comics artists (like Josh Simmons and Soto himself) and every single piece of art was good. Attendance was such that, if a bomb had gone off at the Pony Club that night, the indie comics community would have needed a FEMA grant just to continue. The show was great and great fun and I wish I could link to their website so you could see some of it but their myspace page almost crashed my computer.
The next day I tooled around Portland in a haze till evening time. Then I returned to my cousin’s house who, like the total champion of the world cousin he is, took me all the way back to the airport at the witching hour of 11 PM. I was on the same flight as New Yawk cartoonists Robin Enrico, Liz Baille, MK Reed, and Alec Longstreth but crashed out shortly after the flight took off and didn’t really communicate with any of them beyond some early morning cryptic but understood hand gestures made to MK in a plea to indefinitely borrow her generously lent hoodie in what turned out to be a rudely inclement New York Tuesday morning.
I was back. Back to the grit, steel and grind of the rat race and way far off the steps of my cousin’s front porch. All in all, though, even though I marveled at the magical woodland of Portland and the pleasant lives my friends and family have there, I have to say that this city mouse would go crazy there and I’m happy to be back. I returned MK’s hoodie to her yesterday night as we had a nice evening walk and a cup of tea in the East Village together. Then, this morning, two days back in the hood, I shoved my way through my early morning rush hour commute with a bag full of great new minis to read on the subway.
– Shannon O’Leary