The Art of Festival Planning Pt. 2

Categories:  Features, Interviews

One of the trickiest parts of festival planning has to be the delicate balance between attempting to appeal to as many potential showgoers as possible, without spreading one’s programming too thin. It’s certainly a major concern at a more independently-minded convention, particularly one with relatively limited programming bandwidth. In the case of this year’s MoCCA, I’d say the primary limitation we were operating under was the fact that we essentially only had one room in which to conduct our panels.

In the second part of this conversation between myself and Sarah Morean, we discuss the battle between broad inclusiveness and targeted programming.

[Part One]

Sarah Morean: I talked to Barb Schulz, and she said that a lot of people come into her program wanting to draw manga or wanting to draw for DC. But they come out of the program realizing that they want to do independent comics.

I don’t read manga—do you read manga?

Brian Heater: I don’t…But there’s an interesting happening now in indie comics: Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, and Top Shelf are all working on manga initiatives. Fantagraphics is really working on their own imprint, I believe. Top Shelf is doing something similar with “Ax.” Drawn & Quarterly has been in the space for a while with stuff from artists like Tatsumi.

It’s certainly more toward the “arty” side of the genre, but it will be interesting to see if that really becomes a part of the indie comics zeitgeist in a way that it hasn’t been. I did just go to Fresh Meat, recently, the SVA graduate show, and there are still a lot of manga-styled books coming through the ranks.

SM: I think that my show would be totally unprepared to deal with manga. We’re really focusing on indie comics and Web comics. We’re focusing on the kind of comics we know are created in Minneapolis.

BH: Are you talking about paneling? You’re not really talking about tables, right? If people want to sign up for a table with a manga book, that’s okay, right?

SM: They’re welcome to. But I think it’s interesting, a lot of people are coming to this show that aren’t going to the other local shows, because we’re marketing it as a different kind of show. So I think that does appeal to people on a certain level. And I think what we’re doing doesn’t maybe appeal to people who make manga, so much.

BH: You want to be as inclusive as you can with the material, but as someone who went to San Diego last year and who goes to something like New York Comic Con every year—or Big Apple, which was really awful last year—it’s nice to know that when you go to something like MoCCA or Ape, you’re going to see a lot of what you’re looking for.

The comic conventions that I used to go to in jr. high—and I don’t know I any of the Minneapolis ones are like this–were that weird second tier of comic conventions that are largely based around dealers. And then there are some weird b-list celebrities.

SM: Yeah. That’s kind of what our other local convention is like.

BH: Maybe in a basement somewhere. Which is really fitting, in a way. It’s the comic version of “out of the closets, into the streets.” They hold a lot of these things in the dankest, grossest basements they can find—nerds huddled around old back issues of Iron Fist.

SM: Yeah. That’s a weird model to think about now. How would you feel going to show that ends up being that kind of thing? Would you walk right out?

BH: I did. That was my review of last year’s Big Apple Con. I did it just to observe it. It’s a bit snobby to say, but in a sense I wanted to see how “the other half live.” It’s fascinating to watch old Playboy models and lady wrestlers sign show-goers’ programs.

SM: I think wrestling should be a bigger part of comics, for sure [laughs]. I went to I-Conn in Iowa a couple of years ago. I don’t think they can afford to do this, but they had a wrestling ring and live wrestling during the show. All of the tables were facing the wrestling ring, so everybody got to watch it. It was great!

BH: I went to New York Comic Con last year, and there was a show from New York Jedi. It’s fun, but at the same time, but I guess being a part of this “indie scene,” we’re sort of snobs when it comes to stuff like that. A lot of people don’t want to be associated with that, and they feel like it’s watering things down. As this medium that has struggled so hard and so long—especially over the past two decades—to become seen as a valid art form, people seem to want to distance themselves as much as possible from that sort of thing.

SM: Yeah, isn’t that ridiculous? They want to focus on the artform, but if they don’t focus on the fandom, there aren’t going to be any fans to buy their art.

BH: It is and it isn’t. There’s fandom and then there’s fandom, I guess is sort of what it boils down to. We did do a show with Frank Miller, who tends to draw out superfans—and to a lesser extent, Jaime Hernandez and Paul Pope. But you can have a viable indie show without having to pander to people.

But at the same time, you don’t want to exclude anyone for the sake of exclusion. But the instant someone like Marvel Comics gets involved in something, it becomes a very different show.

SM: Marvel Comics will never want to go to MIX, I predict.

BH: But you are hoping that, if you reach some level of success, that indie creators will want to fly out from other places to attend.

SM: Definitely.

BH: Is that lack of outside creators hurting potential programming for the show?

SM: Well, we’re doing a one-day show. Programming, I think, is a great reason to come back for a second day. But we want to have a show that’s maybe like a good first show. If you’ve never done a show before, we want those people to come and have a cheap table and meet really good people and have an opportunity to meet with some publishers and just go away with a really good experience—and hopefully a profit. But that definitely depends on the city of Minneapolis.

That’s the part that concerns me the most is, are we actually getting a crowd. Though, I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting people through the door. It’s embarrassing to me how excited some people are for it. They’re so enthusiastic, I don’t quite know what to do with that yet. But it’s really cool.

[Concluded in Part Three]

–Brian Heater

One Comment to “The Art of Festival Planning Pt. 2”

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