Reflections on the existing comics festival paradigm in the United States + your daily strips from Comics Workbook!
Juan here: Expanding the Festival Tool Kit – 2017 has been floating around the internet since Monday and people have been chiming in their thoughts, reflecting on the existing comics festival paradigm. Warts and all. Seeing as how the goal of this post on Comics Workbook was to start a conversation, I’d like to keep that conversation going today.
I just came back from CXC 2017 and I am still bathing in its warmth. It’s a good feeling. As I do around this time of the year, I’ve been thinking about the future of comics events in America. How we move into that future.
I’m typing out loud, so forgive me for dreaming too big.
Comics, as we engage with them today in the United States’ existing festival ecosystem, are facing a cultural choking point.
There’s a huge role that comics can and should be playing in broader cultural discussions. But they’re not and our Festivals have something to do with this.
It’s 2017 and it is essential to reframe the discussion of comics shows. Comics making and comics reading practices need more breathing room. To grow. To continue expanding. We need to nurture interdisciplinary approaches to experiencing comics.
We need our festivals to make this their guiding principle.
Rob Clough has posted his reflections on CXC over on The Comics Journal. They touch on many of the things I bring up in the Toolkit, with the focus being on CXC. Check it out:
This gets to the heart of what should make a successful comics show. Whatever local resources are available, make sure to use them. If you have a good local comics scene, make sure to include it. If there are beautiful or unusual venues available, take advantage of them. If there’s a local university nearby interested in comics, get their support. If the organizers have ways to incorporate arts other than comics, by all means one should do this. Mixing music, zines, video games, photography, or other arts into the event has been successful for many. Programming should be more than a distraction; it should be carefully considered and the heart of your show. Keep your ambitions low to start, don’t look to make money, and consider getting sponsorships and/or crowdfunding to cover your costs instead of passing it on to the artists and attendees.
Below are some thoughts I’d like to highlight from comments here and over on Facebook. They’re loose and scattered but they offer good starting points to several discussions:
- Hold shows in a nice bar with some music, have a big comic car rally and everyone pull up and sell them out of the trunk of your car, have it at a train station, We keep talking about people reading comics more, well, it we’re only selling them in the same old places, what do we expect. Make it more a part of society, not just social media.
– Phil Dokes
- The Caption Show in the U.K. had the kind of format you’re talking about, you’re free to interact, go to workshops, listen to talks and hangout in the bar and at the end of the show you get a wad of cash from sales at the big mutual table. I went twice and it was beautiful. Location was a big part of it, on the banks of the river in Oxford, England.
- The fear on the part of an organizer of of course is of course that comics makers won’t attend a festival that they are not tabling at. It’s too foreign a concept to many comics makers. They might balk at the idea of having to be involved with programming as opposed to hand selling their books. So, one idea proposed is to make the exhibition aspect of the fest to be geared towards book debuts. The festival becomes an event for press. In such an ecosystem, everyone in local and national press knows that if they want to interview artists, this is where they do it. Like a “Comics-Cannes”. CXC is doing this well, already in its third year. While it’s true that SPX is where a lot of people shoot to debut books, that’s not the focus in the market place. For the most part it’s a free for all. If a festival handled this in a way that was considered across the board… that’d be interesting. – Juan Fernandez
- Two of the big keys for the future: 1. shows held in places with academic institutions willing to help fund aspects of the show; 2. shows held in places with city councils that earmark money toward the arts.
– Rob Clough
- One other thing that I wrote about in my upcoming article that I think Juan would agree with–simply cloning the flea market +/- some programming model in every city ignores the unique resources that those cities might have available. When putting on a show, it’s important to tap into every local resource possible, be it a library, a university, a unique venue, a blended arts scene, a vibrant downtown, a monthly art walk, a great local comics shop, etc.
– Rob Clough
- creating better transparency about the application process. Some shows are great about this, but others are inconsistent in their messaging. Of course this is tied in to Juan’s point about how a show deals with increased applications and growth.
– Whit Taylor
- I think that The Projects’ “show store” idea (was) a good one, but anecdotally at least 1-2 of the guests felt like they missed out on the part where they interact with the fans/may have had softer sales because of this.The Projects wasn’t really “about” selling books- more about getting artists in dialog and collaboration, but I do feel like something similar that also had dedicated signing times might be a good balance.
– Zack Soto
- After reading the article, I’d have to say that the only reason Short Run wasn’t singled out as part of the way of the future is that the author hasn’t attended. They are fast becoming the hub of the Seattle scene because of their year long programming and outreach.
I also think it’s weird that TCAF is listed as “the future” (I agree in many ways) but TCAF is just as much a flea market show about collecting the hot new books by the hot new creators as any other show. Maybe more than most!
– Zack Soto
- That’s a good point about the confusion with seeing TCAF as the future – It’s confusing because it has one of the “hottest” show room floors for buying books out of most show imo – for me the future oriented aspect is the programmatic one with TCAF – In the ways that they link up with cultural embassies from different countries to put together exhibitions and to bring guests to the show + use the city as a campus. CAB does this too but their center of gravity has hovered close to the gymnasium flea market + the gaming/comics/cartooning programming – and the educational panels earlier in the week. There’s also the aspect of how the programming starts up a month or so in advance with happenings across Toronto and then builds up steam for the main weeekend.
– Juan Fernandez
- It would be awesome if someday there was a grand database indexing each individual archive. So if I typed in “Supermonster 12”, it would tell me which archives had physical copies, and where digital copies existed. So much art has disappeared from my generation of cartoonists (1987-2000, roughly), the last generation prior to the internet. That’s why projects like John P. collecting Jenny Zervakis’ book are so important.
– Rob Clough
- I think every good show should consider having a gallery space associated with it. The Laura Park show associated with CXC was eye-opening, but it doesn’t have to be in a formal institution. We did this at DICE, and while it got a little clunky, it helped connect people with original art in a indirect, non-transactional manner. (And people could sell art if they wanted.)
– Rob Clough
What do you think?
Suzy and Cecil – 10-11-2017 – by Gabriella Tito
Cozytown – 10-11-2017 – by Juan Fernandez
Caleb Orecchio – 10-11-2017 – by Caleb Orecchio