The Art of Festival Planning Pt. 1

Categories:  Features, Interviews

Please forgive what is, perhaps, something of a vanity interview, in the sense that it is a conversation between the two main forces behind this site. Recently, while doing my write up of this year’s MoCCA Fest, for which I served at the programming director, I realized that my insight from the event is likely to be fairly different from that offered by Sarah Morean, who is one of the driving forces behind the first ever Minneapolis Indie Xpo (MIX), occurring in August of this year.

At the time I put it thusly,

I wish I could have written a more definitive account of how to run a festival, but despite all of the work outlined above, I’ve only played a small role in a larger festival. Ask the always-amiable Sarah Morean in August, after the end of the Minneapolis Indie Expo. She’ll have played a large role in a smaller festival, an insight that will likely be far more valuable to all prospect grassroots con runners.

During a recent e-mail exchange, it occurred to us that perhaps there would be some value in having a discussion about our experiences in a public forum. (Also, since we both have birthdays this week—mine today and hers the 14th, for those sending last minute birthday checks—we’re considering it a small present to ourselves.

What resulted, not surprisingly, was a interesting conversation that touches on aspects of the medium beyond just festival programming, from comics as a educational tool to indie comics’ recent embrace of manga.

BH: What was the impetus for launching the Minneapolis Indie Xpo? Was there a feeling there a feeling that the indie scene wasn’t being properly represented by the local conventions?

SM: There are two big comic book shows that happen here each year, in the fall and spring. They’re very supportive of the local community and are very friendly shows that have done a lot for other conventions like I-Con in Iowa. But we saw a need for an indie comics show, and my dear friend Andy Krueger and I thought we were the ones to bring it to the streets. We’re gonna make it happen.

BH: My knowledge of the Minneapolis scene is probably a bit skewed—everything I know about it has probably come through you and the people you know in some way or another. But the Twin Cities aren’t really a publishing hub in the way that a New York, or even a Seattle is, so it seems like much of the scene out there would revolve around independent creators.

SM: Yeah, I think so. That’s not to say that we don’t have similar communities. We do have a really big children’s educational book publishing industry out here, which you may not know about. But that also ties in with how Zander and Kevin [Cannon] are able to work in educational comics and things like that.

We also have a really big creative industry out here, so there are a lot of opportunities for creative people. We’ve got the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and other non-profit organizations that help and support artists.

BH: You had mentioned the library system out there is really good. It sounds like you’ve got this really strong support mechanism built in there.

SM: It is, yeah. I’m pretty impressed by our library system. I went to a Nancy Pearl book signing once—you may know her as the world’s most famous librarian. She’s written a couple of books. And she has an action figure. She’s really respected among librarians.

BH: Because of her action figure?

SM: Yeah! I have one. I may have two…

BH: You can get them to fight.

SM: Not as much fun to play with as you might think. But she was telling us that the system she comes from, Seattle, which is also praised as one of the better library systems in the country, is kind of all glitz, in some ways. But we have a really good library system, and it has a really good graphic novel section. I actually just put myself on the list for Asterios Polyp, a couple of months ago. I was like the 250th person in line for this book. That blew my mind. I used to work at the libraries, and when a book comes out that is a new release, you usually get like 600 people on the waitlist, but 250 people for this book that has been out for a year. I don’t know how Minneapolis is hearing about it, but I think that’s a good sign for this show. Minneapolis is interested in comics and graphic novels, and wants to learn more.

BH: That brings up an interesting point. When we were doing the MoCCA programming—and I think this is something that you and I have discussed with regards to what we’re trying to do with the site—we were trying to do what we could to appeal to the built in audience, while reaching out to those who don’t know comics.

We were having a conversation in which someone said, “you know you have to do at least one ‘What is a Graphic Novel’ panel.” There was no way I was going to do that exact panel—even to the people who don’t know the medium that well, it sort of feels like pandering. My olive branch for that was our “Best of the 00s” panel, where we got artists to discuss their favorite books of the past decade.

Last year was the first year they put on the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. What I thought they did really well—and part of this was the fact that it was free to get in and was located off the main drag in Williamsburg—was creating a convention where a lot of people walked in off the street. Is converting people one of your main goals?

SM: Yep. Always. I’m really concerned with comics readership dying off. I teach a couple of comics classes to kids at libraries, and my ice breaker is to go around and ask the kids what comics they read, because presumably they’re there because they want to be there and they enjoy comics. But often times it’s because adults think that kids like comics, so they take them to these comics things. But like 50 percent of the kids in these classes say, “I don’t read comics. I read Harry Potter.”

They don’t read the comics that we think that they’re reading. They’re reading comics from the newspaper. If newspapers comics aren’t around anymore, because newspapers are dying out, who is going to train these kids to love comics like our generation is loving them now? If nobody pays attention to that, this glut of talent that we see right now could just be the height of comics.

BH: I saw something on the subway a week or two ago that was really heartening. A mother holding a children’s magazine with her young daughter. She was teaching the child to read on a really elementary level, using this two or three page spread of what was, essentially, a comic. When you’re teaching a child to read, it seems pretty platform agnostic. The parent doesn’t seem to care at that point if it’s a comic or a picture book.

I suppose she wasn’t yet at the point of “comics are detrimental to your reading. You should read a ‘real’ book.” At that point its simply viewed as a learning tool.

SM: Yeah. And I want to have a panel about that kind of thing at my show. I want to have a panel like “How to Teach Comics to Kids” or “How to Teach Through Comics.” There are a number of art teachers and other educators who would like to work comics into their classrooms, but I don’t think they necessarily know where to start, so I think that’s my way of saying, “What is a Graphic Novel.”

BH: It’s interesting though, when you speak to comics fans and creators that are our age, it seems like most people have a gap in their comics reading. They all read something—be it Spider-Man or Garfield—and then there’s a period, maybe around high school, where they just stopped. And then they got to college and discovered something like Ghost World.

[Continued in Part Two]

–Brian Heater

2 Comments to “The Art of Festival Planning Pt. 1”

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