We wrap up our conversation with the Notes From a Conflict author by discussing the progressive reaction to Nine Gallons and getting a quick primer on what precisely is wrong with the independent comics convention circuit.
I’ve heard it said a lot from people on the left that conservatives can’t take criticism, but that seems like something that extends across the political divide. Were a lot of people upset that, even if they were in fact well-founded criticisms, you were criticizing such a well-meaning organization [Food Not Bombs]?
It’s funny, because the way you phrased that could also be applied to my open letter to SPX [laughs].
I was really worried about that, when I was working on the first issue. I thought that it was going to make activists mad, it’s not what they want to hear. We do need to work so hard to convince people that this is a worthy organization, and I didn’t want to take away from that.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I mean, the fact that Microcosm published it. I wasn’t sure that they’d want to distribute it, thinking about this, basically, anarchist collective, publishing this book that is so critical of an anarchist collective.
Shouldn’t the ability to levy such criticism be part of the anarchist ideal?
Exactly. And that has been a very, very pleasant surprise.
Getting back to that earlier comment—without retreading the letter, too much—what’s wrong with the convention model, as it stands now?
It’s funny, because I’m actually working on writing all of this right now for a small book zine that I’m doing right now, with Dylan Williams and Tom Neely. It’s about different perspectives on the aspects of the comics world that we all kind of take for granted, publishers, distributors, conventions—these systems that we are kind of forced into.
If you want to be a cartoonist, if you want to get your work out there, these are the things that you have to do. you have to be able to work inside certain systems to an extent. There are so many issues, but the economics are what bother me the most, as a relatively poor person.
I’m sure the sentiment applies for a lot of people who spend their time making minicomics.
Sure. And how difficult it is to be a first time cartoonist now. You can’t exhibit at MoCCA, probably. And more and more of these conventions are becoming more and more expensive and more and more exclusive, because they’re more and more popular. Which, on the one hand, is wonderful. I’m so happy that there are more comics out there. The more comics there are out there, the more people will inevitably read comics, and the more mainstream they’ll became and the more money we’ll all get. Which I think is great.
But with more comics comes more competition.
Absolutely. And the more and more exclusive by nature each of the conventions is going to have to be, which is why, I think all of these new conventions are popping up, which I think is wonderful.
I came to thinking about the economics of these conventions from the perspective of having grown up in the National Cartoonist Society, of which my father has been a member since before I was born. They have an annual convention, which is in a different place each year, and it’s only open to members and their guests. It’s not at all what we think of as a convention. They don’t have a room where everyone puts out their work, and basically nothing is for sale. It’s a party, explicitly. It’s three days, drink tickets, some panels, and a fancy dinner—
A cartooning bacchanalia.
Yeah, exactly. And it is for these old timer newspaper strip cartoonists, New Yorker illustrators—Sergio Aragones, Arnold Roth, Bill and Jeffy Keane.
That was the world that I grew up in as a kid. We did go to Comic Con every year, but my concept of a convention was really this National Cartoonist Society event. And something like SPX seems to want to be both a Comic Con and an NCS party. And it’s actually more expensive than the NCS party. And that’s what I don’t get.
Your registration to the NCS party, I don’t know what it is now, but I remember it in the past being a couple hundred bucks, I think less than the cost of a table at PSX. And that includes meals for the weekend and drinks and your entry to these parties and a black tie dinner.
So, when I saw these prices on the convention—granted, you are paying for a market space where you are selling products and are expected to make some of that money back—I just found it odd. That NCS event is for this relatively upper-echelon of cartoonists who are making relatively good money, compared to SPX, where a lot of those people, to swing $350 for a table is a huge expense—and the plane ticket and the hotel room.
They might not make it back. You do have to expect some loss of that money. So, I guess I am wondering what the goal is of these conventions? Is it a public service? Are we trying to bring new people in to see comics? And meet the creators? Is that really who this is for? In that case, why does it cost $15 to get inside? Compared to, is this a party for us?
I think both of those are good things, but I’m just not sure that they work so well in the same place at the same time.