Report From Stumptown

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SO, AFTER ALL MY EXCITEMENT over attending my first-ever real comics convention, did it live up to the anticipation? Yes, yes it did. It was a really busy weekend for me between working the Top Shelf table both days, attending parties Friday and Saturday and house-sitting for my parents (also, the part of the MAX line that crosses the bridge being shut down all weekend didn’t help), but it was a blast. I came home and essentially passed out Sunday night, so I’m going to try to cover the whole thing today.

Note: I stupidly forgot to bring a camera, so all photos are borrowed from the Stumptown flickr pool. Each one links to its location on flickr, which says who submitted them.


Friday

Started out with Top Shelf’s Pre-Stumptown Cocktail Party, a small event at Top Shelf co-publisher Brett Warnock’s house in Northeast. Brett is a former bartender and mixed everyone’s drinks. When not exploring Brett’s massive collection of trade paperbacks and action figures, I chatted with Top Shelf’s new publicity guy, Leigh Walton, some of the Oni crew, former Willamette Week film critic David Walker and Black Metal artist Chuck BB. Also in attendance were Farel Dalrymple, Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds, and probably other important people that I just don’t know by sight.

Next, it was off to Guapo Comics and Coffee for the official preshow party. Between helpings of free food and beer, there was a lively show at the front in which artists did “readings” of their work with the help of a projector. The styles for doing this were drastically different. Some people just read the dialogue with a page at a time projected. Others peeled post-its off of one panel at a time as they read. A few bought up multiple people to read different roles or did multimedia presentations. After the local artists finished a few out-of-town guests read, including Peter Bagge, who laughed through a reading of an old Neat Stuff story.

Across the street was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s drink and draw, with more free beer, as well as corkboard, sharpies and whiteout to sketch with. It turns out to be a very fun medium to work with, although my own improvised drawings didn’t come out very impressively.

Saturday

First day of the con proper. Up sort of early in the morning to battle the currently disarrayed public transportation system to get to the Doubletree Hotel, where the convention was taking place. Spent most of the day at the Top Shelf table with Brett, Leigh, fellow interns Chris and Claire, and artist Jeremy Tinder, who was selling both his Top Shelf books Cry Yourself to Sleep and Black Ghost Apple Factory, and his own minicomics and paintings (that’s him in the picture below).

It was a slow morning, with Top Shelf only making a handful of sales in the first hour or two, but activity on the floor seriously picked up around noon. Brett commented that, compared to last year, there were many more families with kids, which was a great thing to see. Wandering around later, I was chatting with the guy behind the Bridge City Comics table and he agreed, saying that he would be bringing a lot more all-ages books with him the next day.

I spent a little more time on the floor after lunch. I stopped by the Dark Horse table to talk with some people I’d met the night before and picked up Concrete vol. 2 and Empowered vol. 2. Next, I visited Jamie Rich and Joëlle Jones at their table next to the Oni table, and bought a very cool sketchbook from Joëlle (check out some of her Stumptown sketches here and here). I was also excited to see that Girl-Wonder.org had a table, as I enjoy several of their columns and was glad to get an opportunity to tell Rachel Edidin so (her “Inside Out” column is great for its view of feminist issues from within one of the major companies, Dark Horse).

I also talked for about 20 minutes with Dark Horse editor, Diana Schutz, who taught the PCC comics class that I took in the spring. She showed me two different versions of The Art of Grendel she had received from the printer and talked about why she had rejected the book three times. Since I now teach as well, we also talked grading and commiserated about school homework policies.

At four, I hit my first panel, a spotlight on Mike and Laura Allred, which was moderated by Reading Comics’ Douglas Wolk and had Jamie Rich to the side for… moral support, I guess. Mike was reportedly nervous that he wouldn’t have enough to say, but after one or two questions, he had no trouble filling the rest of the time himself.

At the beginning of the panel, Mike and Laura handed out a copy of Madman Atomic Comics #3 to everyone in attendance, telling us it was the “study guide”. The issue, called “Swiped From Dimension X,” consists mostly of panels drawn in the style of a huge number of other comics artists, with compositions also mostly taken from representative panels of each artists’ work. A good portion of the panel was devoted to a walkthrough of the comic, complete with explanations of who each one was and which were harder or easier to capture.

After finishing out the day at the Top Shelf table and taking care of house-sitting responsibilities, I hit the after-party at Cosmic Monkey Comics, a wonderful store that I had never been to before, with a very diverse new release section and an enormous wall of trade paperbacks. I admired the scope more than actually browsed, though, as the place was too full to move around much. I did, however, spot one book that became an instant impulse buy: the Marvel Treasury edition of Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey adaptation.

With a suggested donation to the CBLDF there was more free beer (the true theme of the weekend emerges). While partaking, I watched the presentation of the first annual Trophy Awards (list of winners here) and then the Comic Art Battle. This consisted of a series of one-on-one and team challenges pitting cartoonists against each other, with five minutes to do such things as reimagine a Mary Worth strip and draw a member of the audience fishing in a nightclub. Finally, it came down to two teams in a free-for-all illustrating war between armies of Smurfs and Ureki. When the points were counted up, there was a tie, but Carolyn Main took it away in a sudden-death runnoff illustrating a hero possessing the power to make perfect toast with the aid of his super-intelligent earlobes while avoiding the one thing that can defeat him, halitosis.

Before heading home, I stole a few minutes for career advice from Jacquelene Cohen, who had the Top Shelf internship immediately before me and has since become publicity coordinator for Dark Horse. I’d been hearing about her for awhile, but had only met her the night before. She’s gonna be one to watch, I think.

Sunday

Today I hit the floor in earnest, having actually thought to bring money and books to sign this time around. I hit two panels back-to-back, starting at noon with a spotlight on political cartoonist Ted Rall. He began by showing several of his cartoons from the last few weeks, reminding me that he’s one of the few political cartoonists to have held onto his spine. Both the cartoons he showed and his answers to questions afterward hit on the role of cartoons in political discourse, emphasizing their immediacy and their ability to use metaphor to illustrate a point in ways that wouldn’t work in editorial columns. The following cartoon about Congressional Democrats being forced to eat poo is a perfect example.

After Rall’s panel was Peter Bagge’s, with Shannon Wheeler asking him questions. I’m a huge Peter Bagge fan, but I didn’t know much about him personally, so most all of the material covered in the panel was new to me. Shannon had been forwarded questions that were expected to lead to good stories and they pretty much all worked. The two discussed the repeated attempts by MTV and others to turn Hate into TV shows and films, Bagge’s failed attempt to cast Evan Dorkin as Stinky, Bagge’s art style and favorite examples of his work, the fate of The Incorrigible Hulk, and Bagge’s admission that he was a fan of the Spice Girls before his daughter was, with her in fact getting into them through him.

After the panels was my biggest disappointment of the show, the fact that Bagge and the Allreds were done for the weekend and had packed up, so I missed talking to them at their tables and getting signatures. Lesson for next time: space out floor time and work time more evenly between days.

My table visits were not a total bust, though. I did get books signed by Carla Speed McNeil and we talked about the footnotes in Finder, her work with Greg Rucka and Warren Ellis, and I marveled at the fact that her original art is not much bigger than the published pages. I also hit Shannon Wheeler’s table to talk a bit about how the show was going and his role in helping to organize it, as well as pick up his new book, Screw Heaven, When I Die I’m Going to Mars, and get signatures.

As for shopping, Oni Press was offering bookstore returns for $2, so I got caught up on a lot of their recent books. Periscope Studios was well represented across many artists’ individual tables and I picked up several minicomics from them. I remembered really enjoying Sara Ryan and Steve Lieber’s first chapter of Fly Trap, so I picked up parts two and three, which are now illustrated by Ron Chan. It’s a pretty different style, but nicely textured and with a looseness that really fits the “ran away to the circus” throughline of the stories. Also from Sara Ryan, I picked up Click, which is illustrated by Dylan Meconis, who I had seen the night before stomp all over her opponent in one round of the art battle. I’m familiar with her work online, but had never seen it in print form, so I was excited to pick that up. Rounding out the Periscope purchases was Short Notice by Susan Tardif, a cute slice-of-life vignette with appealing art. I think Steve Lieber has signed pretty much all of my books with his art at previous events, but he’s always great to talk to and sounded excited about both the Whiteout movie and the new re-mastered editions of the comics from Oni.

The last of my money went to Matt Silady, who I had met at the Guapo Comics party. He’s the author of The Homeless Channel, a book with a great high concept and really interesting rotoscoped art. Matt explained that he had been unable to get an artist to draw the book affordably and chose the drawing from photos method in response. Flipping through the book is a very cool experience because of the improvements in how it looks from beginning to end. Early on, he doesn’t seem sure which details of a photo to emphasize, but it gradually comes together until the look actually becomes pretty strong by the end. The generally good acting by his models helps as well.

The remainder of the day was spent back at the Top Shelf table, selling books and looking over Jeremy Tinder’s shoulder as he sketched for people. Business was slightly slower on Sunday than Saturday, but still pretty strong. As late as four o’clock I’d ask people who came to the table how they were enjoying the show and they’d tell me they’d just gotten there. A little before six I picked out a few books to take home and packed up to go get some rest for a change.

All in all, a great show. It was just big enough, with so many interesting panels and events and such a large group of artists, to stay interesting both days, but small enough that it wasn’t impossible to move around or see everything. There was a good mix of local and visiting talent, as well as great diversity of material, from the major Portland players to people pushing minicomics and even a cool table promoting the graphic novels collection at the Multnomah County Library.

Some of the promotion and a few of the surrounding events could have been a bit slicker, but this is a show still finding its feet. With a comics community as large as Portland’s, it’s bizarre that Stumptown is our only real convention, but Stumptown 2007 did a great job of representing that community.

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One Response to “Report From Stumptown”

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 3, 2007: Cardboard boxes, duct tape and pickle jars Says:

    […] Brendan Wright reports from last weekend’s Stumptown Comics […]

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