I went to Wordstock to look at Pictures

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Not entirely true. I did book things at Wordstock, too. But I took pictures of the comics stuff.


The main convention hall

Wordstock, for those not in Portland, is an annual literary festival held at the Oregon Convention Center and sponsored by, among others, Portland landmark Powell’s Books, the largest independent bookstore in the United States. Last year, the graphic novel was among the main themes of the show, and the Stumptown Foundation established the Graphic Novel Garden as a miniature Stumptown Comics Fest within Wordstock.


The graphic novel garden, from down the hall.

This year, the theme was memoirs, but the Graphic Novel Garden returned, creating a comics enclave featuring Stumptown; publishers Top Shelf, Oni Press, and Sparkplug; the comics store Cosmic Monkey; and tables for individual cartoonists like Too Much Coffee Man and How to Be Happy creator—and now New Yorker cartoonist—Shannon Wheeler, Slow Wave creator Jesse Reklaw, Periscope representatives Erika Moen and Dylan Meconis, and Octopus Pie creator Meredith Gran.


The Stumptown booth

First thing on Saturday, I went to the “Portland Comics” panel, an emergency panel set up when Jeff Lemire had to cancel his Wordstock appearance.

On the panel, from left to right, were Dylan Williams, publisher of Sparkplug; Cory Casoni, marketing director at Oni Press; Shannon Stewart, director of the Stumptown Comics Fest; and Leigh Walton, marketing director at Top Shelf.

While the panel wasn’t bad, that it was a last-minute affair was apparent, each member giving an introductory rundown of what their organizations do. Casoni and Walton had brought stacks of books from Oni and Top Shelf, and discussed the diversity of their lines, each placing an emphasis on all-ages material, agreeing that comics had missed a generation of kids when the largest comics franchises attempted to grow up with their audience. Williams talked about his own cartooning and how it had led him to want to publish other cartoonists, and briefly explained the small press and self-publishing aspects of comics. Stewart spoke more broadly about the Portland comics scene and the Stumptown Foundation’s mission statement, primarily spreading awareness that “comics are a format, not a genre.”

The “memoir” theme made room for comics as well. I attended a panel called “Truth and Story” about how autobiography is used in fiction and how tools of fiction are used in structuring memoirs, and was surprised to find that one of the panelists, Laurie Sandell, was there to discuss her comics memoir, The Impostor’s Daughter. She explained that the book began as prose, but that she eventually felt she could better represent her memories by drawing them, and re-imagined the book as a longform comic (while “graphic novel” has become the catch-all term for more bookish comics, it still doesn’t feel accurate for something like a memoir). It’s a sign of the times that no one seemed to consider Sandell out of place alongside the novelist and two prose memoirists on the panel.

Some other sights of the comics side of Wordstock:

The Oni Press booth, represented by editor-in-chief James Lucas Jones. Writer (and former Oni EiC) Jamie S. Rich and artist Joëlle Jones were on hand to sign their new hard-boiled detective graphic novel, You Have Killed Me.

Dylan Williams at the Sparkplug Booth.

Shannon Wheeler with son Austin.

Leigh Walton manning the Top Shelf booth. Co-publisher Brett Warnock was there, too—just not when I came by with the camera.

Jesse Reklaw, selling minicomics.

The booth for Stumptown Underground, a new monthly zine, represented by co-editor Christina “Blue” Crow. She’s making that face in part because she’s just had to bug me about deadlines.

Cosmic Monkey Comics owner Andy Johnson.

The comics area got a lot of traffic, though sales didn’t seem very high anywhere. The Portland literati are definitely curious about comics at this point, but it may be a few more Wordstocks hence before it becomes a place to do real business in addition to outreach. Started in 2005, Wordstock itself is still growing and taking shape year by year, so it will be exciting to see the role comics plays in its development in the coming years.

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