2012 is the ninth Stumptown Comics Festival and my sixth. In 2004 when the show began, I lived in Los Angeles for college, which explains my missing that first year. However, I graduated in May 2005 and the show was in fall back then, so I have no explanation for being unaware of the second and third Stumptowns.
I first attended in 2007 while interning at Top Shelf and did so zealously. One of the rare periods in my life when I’ve had regular access to a car, I tried to do everything, stopping in Friday night at both the pre-Stumptown party at Top Shelf co-publisher Brett Warnock’s house and the official launch party at Guapo Coffee and Comics. Saturday and Sunday I was at the show, then in a small space at the DoubleTree hotel by Lloyd Center, from open to close, a good chunk of that time manning the Top Shelf booth, but also getting out for panels, mingling, and shopping.
In 2008, the show moved from October to April, meaning it was only a six-month wait for my second Stumptown. This time I’d been invited, as a fledgling comics blogger, to sit in on several meetings of the Stumptown planning committee, not actually reporting much, but becoming familiar with the key players and occasionally dispatching something, like a photo of Mayor Tom Potter’s official proclamation that April was comics month in Portland. That year, my internship over, I attended as a volunteer, working most of Saturday, with a two-hour break in the middle, during which I interviewed Brian Michael Bendis (the day that several sites linked to that interview is still, years later, the busiest the Wright Opinion’s ever had). Sunday went to socializing and shopping. My internship at Top Shelf, friendship with a few well-know cartoonists, and my presence at so many small events as a result (I didn’t exactly crash Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan’s 2007/2008 New Year’s party, since Brett invited me along, but he was already gone by the time I arrived, and I’m pretty sure Steve and Sara didn’t know who I was) granted me a small amount of cred, and I was beginning to get to know many of the people in the local comics scene. It’s amusing, in looking over past write-ups, how many of the artists I now work with I met while I was just starting out and to read myself describing them as strangers.
2009 was the last year that I attended as anything other than a fan. By then I worked at Dark Horse, but I’ve never actually worked Stumptown for DH. My role as official sitter-inner had turned into a spot on the planning committee, running the portfolio review table for the show. I staffed it largely with DH editors, Periscope Studio artists, and a few other local experts, then found myself not actually needed at the table much. I stuck around for a few shifts, but was mostly shooed away by Christina Crow, who was helping me out and was content to man the table most of the two days. The fest changed leadership that year, as founder Indigo Kelleigh stepped down (though he has since returned) and it felt like a transitional year. The size of the show was beginning to strain the space at the DoubleTree, but it was kept there one more year to avoid moving from a space slightly too small to one much too large. By the time the jump was made to the Oregon Convention Center last year, the show comfortably filled an exhibit hall. Still drunk on the newness of having an actual paying job in comics—I’d just started in September—that year I packed in even more than usual, partying late into the night all three nights and soaking in every moment of the show itself. A few weeks before I’d gone to Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con and was newly appreciative of the intimacy and localness of Stumptown.
I remember those three shows so well because I wrote each one up in this space. All three posts are still up, for the curious, and it’s interesting, to me at least, to see my focus change throughout them, from wide-eyed 23-year-old actually referring to Stumptown 2007 as my first real convention (much of my event reporting from the time is also embarrassingly hypey, but that’s another matter) to just-starting-out professional wistful at the smallness of the show in 2009. Stumptown is, of course, a real con, distinct from shows I’d been to before in being more than one day and featuring a full schedule of panels and associated parties, but even compared to a regional mainstream show like Emerald City, Stumptown’s scope is incredibly small.
Today, as a familiar (yet in some ways even more wide-eyed) presence in the Portland comics scene, I find myself peripherally involved in official things, even as I attend the show mostly for fun rather than work. I sit in panels related to books I edit or assist on, check in at the DH booth now and again, accept a pitch packet or two, receive contracts from freelancers who’ve brought them with them, and take on small tasks like escorting Stan Sakai from his spotlight panel to his table (Stumptown is still the kind of show where many of the headlining guests spend much of their time meeting fans at their tables rather than having just one or two signing periods).
Taking Saturday morning easy and writing a bit before leaving, Stan’s 2PM panel was actually the first thing I did at this year’s fest, not counting the Friday night drink and draw, touched on in the previous post. Arriving at 1, my first order of business was to immediately leave and get lunch with some friends down from Seattle for the show. Getting back just in time for the panel, I enjoyed Stan’s stories about traveling with Sergio Aragonés, both of them cramming as much work into every trip as possible, his descriptions of researching stories, and the enthusiastic questions from kids in the audience.
As it turned out, walking Stan back to his table turned out to be the closest to anything official I did at the show, which was fine with me, and I enjoyed getting to talk to him a few times throughout the show, especially at the afterparty at the Jupiter hotel, where he won the Stumptown award for Best Letterer. There are a lot of folks who people call “the nicest person in comics,” but by definition it can only really be true of one person, nearly as nice though the others may be, and in my experience that person is Stan.
Other than that, I walked the floor and caught up with all the people I mainly see at shows, as well as chatting with folks I hope to be able to work with on something before too long. I’m going through a bit of a broke period, so I didn’t buy much, just the third issue of Katie Longua’s Rök. Basically Thor, if Thor were a woman in her twenties and in a band (incidentally, exactly the formula for getting me interested in reading Thor), I picked up the first two at Isotope Comics Lounge’s APE afterparty last year, where Longua won that year’s Isotope award, and was excited to see the third issue, which was new for the show. Other than that, I bought one of Liz Conley’s paintings of food she eats as a birthday gift.
I’m not an exhibitor, so I don’t really know, but it looked like things were selling, and more than just the featured guests had interested people crowding tables. Wide aisles and a clear floor plan are Stumptown staples, so it was easy to move around, and the place felt full but not overcrowded.
The party at the Jupiter seemed more successful than last year, with side rooms keeping the main area from getting as crowded and the cool addition of Mike Alled’s band the Gear playing until the awards presentation began. Dark Horse was nominated in most categories, and it was gratifying to see Jonathan Case recognized for his great work on Green River Killer with awards for Best New Talent and Best Artist. I don’t know if there was an official plan for if Dark Horse Presents won Best Anthology, but I positioned myself near the stage so someone from DH could say something in case nobody else was available, having edited a few stories for the book. However, as we did not win, I did not risk embarrassment and job loss.
Finally, the Comic Art Battle came up, with fairly evenly matched teams led on one side by Cat Farris and on the other by Patric Reynolds. The teams were once again Boys versus Girls, which is a crowd pleaser, though I feel it’s less interesting than previous themes like Print Comics versus Webcomics. Rowdy and raunchy as usual, though with less near-violence than last year, it came down to a tiebreaker, after which the Girls came out victorious. At that point the party was declared over, though many people migrated across the street to Galaxy. A friend and I returned to the West Side for the final night of the New Old Lompoc before it is closed for two years while condos are built. Filled with Lompocalypse ale, I was asleep at home soon after.
At this point, Stumptown runs very smoothly and is an excellent local show. A visitor can get a very good sense of what the Portland comics scene is about from a few hours in the exhibit hall and a panel or two. Dark Horse’s presence has long emphasized more indie-style books, but this year a concerted effort was made to push the Dark Horse originals line, with booth art spotlighting festival guest Peter Bagge’s Reset, the upcoming volume of Blacksad, Erika Moen and Jeff Parker’s Bucko collection, Matt Kindt’s MIND MGMT, and Gilbert Hernandez’s Fatima: The Blood Spinners, as well as Usagi Yojimbo, which is not a DHO book, but Stan’s presence made it a natural.
I confess that a part of me misses the rougher show of years past, though I’m willing to accept that it could just be nostalgia for my earliest con experiences. Still, I think it’s unfortunate that the show no longer has a Best DIY award, even if Best Small Press is nearly the same thing—it still implies a different spirit to me—and I was one of those who enjoyed the goofiness of the Trophy Awards, both the name and the concept. That earlier incarnation of the Stumptown awards was voted on the day of the show, after which the winners’ names were hastily carved into plaques attached to secondhand trophies of all kinds—little league, golf, chess, whatever—bought at Goodwill and wherever awards host Shannon Wheeler stumbled upon them.
For Stumptown to grow, it probably had to leave details like that behind, and the show inarguably runs smoother after years of refinements, but part of me’s always going to prefer my comics goofy.
The fest is more centralized this year as well. In previous years, much was made of the mayoral proclamations declaring April to be Comics Month, and Stumptown was the culmination of a month’s worth of comics-related events, many of which were not directly connected. The city’s involvement peaked last year when Mayor Sam Adams appeared at the show in costume as Samdroid. A play for the nerd vote, I guess, though he ended up not running for reelection this year. His time running out and an election on to replace him may be the reason that there’s no proclamation this year, or the committee may not have pursued it since that publicity is no longer really necessary anymore. What events there were seemed closer to the actual weekend and were hyped on Stumptown’s own site.
A new show is debuting (I think this is the first year, anyway—see the first paragraph of this post) in the fall in Stumptown’s old stomping grounds at the DoubleTree. Rose City Comic Con seems to be positioning itself as the mainstream comics answer to Stumptown, though still with a local bent, likely because of its newness. I don’t know if there’s the same audience or need for that in Portland, but it is a little strange that there isn’t another show in as big a comics town as this, so maybe it could work. I’m totally lazy, so if in a few years I could get the Emerald City experience walking distance from my apartment, that’s okay with me. But Stumptown’s place in my heart is safe.
Tomorrow: Secret Origin part 2: Title to Come! Unless it ends up being the next day for some reason.