Kurt AnkenyJune 29, 2017Festivals and ShowsSo, for those of us in the indie comics circuit, the summer lull is upon us. Summer usually has very few indie-centered shows going on, even though the mainstream comicons are going full blast. The consensus is that generally, indie comics are more dependent on the college and art school crowd, and when they all go home for the summer, it’s hard to gather enough interested folks to hold a show. It seems awfully stupid to join an industry whose main customer base is one of the poorest and busiest groups of people in society, but here we are, at it again, hoping to make a buck.
I enjoyed my spring season, though. First was PIX (Pittsburgh Indy Comix Expo) in Pittsburgh at the beginning of April, then I had CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) in Chicago at the beginning of June, followed the very next weekend by the one-day MECAF (Maine Comics Arts Festival), in Portland, Maine.
PIX was a lovely little show. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t call it little. It has a grand venue, and you can feel the aspirations Bill Boichel has for this show. Housed in the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the space was beautiful and more than big enough. The crowd was steady and enthusiastic despite the quadruple-threat of: 1) a competing comics show in one of the Steel City’s immediate suburbs, 2) the Pirates’ home opener, 3) a HUGE anime/cosplay show just around the corner from PIX, and 4) the first absolutely glorious spring day, with temps in the 80s and barely a cloud in the sky. Proving that Bill and Copacetic Comics have tremendous pull, the guest list was full of heavy hitters: Anya Davidson, Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor, Lane Milburn, Connor Willumsen, Frank Santoro, Lale Westvind. Quite a line-up for a show this size. I got the chance to finally meet Connor in person, and we got to chat for a while as we drove through the rusted rat-maze that is Pittsburgh’s road system. I also got to meet the very talented Audra Stang. I crashed with the Comics Workbook crew, and it was especially nice that even though this was a one-day show, there was a bit of after partying and camaraderie. Next time I go to Pittsburgh, I need to finally arrange a couple hours of just me and Bill up in Copacetic. Bill is a comics oracle, and I need to drink from that fountain of knowledge.
CAKE in Chicago is always a great time. The crowd is usually lively and in a spending mood, and the neighborhood of Boystown in north Chicago is a really lovely place. I got to meet and chat with Simon Hanselmann (though he did the vast majority of the chatting.) I was lucky enough to table with Tommi Parrish, who has had books published by Czap Books and 2D Cloud, and has a forthcoming book from Fantagraphics. They are an incredible artist, and I thoroughly enjoyed their Ley Lines volume on William Blake and Lydia Lunch. I’m very much looking forward to picking up their longer works. Also, a very lovely tablemate. Excellent at sharing snacks.
Speaking of snacks, I also got to catch up with Alyssa Berg, who was tabling with the elusive Ron Rege, Jr. I met Alyssa at last year’s CXC (Cartoon Crossroads Columbus). Alyssa’s creating some really interesting works as she dives into the risograph process in an attempt to translate her mixed media comics into print forms that perhaps capture her vision a little better than scans of painted pages do. Really looking forward to what she comes up with during her SVA residency.
I also got to table across the aisle from Kevin Czap and Cathy Johnson, who are two of my favorite people and a presence at nearly every show I’ve been to. Kevin, indie-comics’s self-styled Comics Mom, publishes a strong line of books that are heartfelt, thoughtful, and full of need-to-be-heard voices. Cathy is a fellow former Minnesotan living on the East Coast, making beautiful comics stories that are straight from the core of America.
I caught up for a few minutes with Ben Passmore. At last year’s CAKE, Ben dropped off a black and white mini called Your Black Friend at my table. In the year since, Ben has become a household name in indie comics. He’s busy with books coming out in the fall, and suddenly has a bunch of illustration work. It makes me so happy to see that coming his way. I was very sad to see later that he, Kevin, Cathy, and others went to do their usual con karaoke on Saturday night and I missed it.
I was exhausted from getting only a total of eight hours of sleep over the previous two nights, so after inviting myself along to a dinner with Kevin Huizenga, Tom Spurgeon, Rob Clough, Jenny Zervakis, Nick Drnaso, Noah Van Sciver, John Porcellino, and Dan Stafford, I headed to my friend Gene Ha’s house.
Gene’s been working over the past year + on his own creator-owned book, Mae. It’s a great book, full of crazy detailed sci-fi-fantasy adventure that only Gene could pull off. It’s like he’s channeling the same spirit that moved him to produce the insane beauty of Top Ten with Alan Moore, but on his own story and possibly with more love and care. Dark Horse has been publishing it, but killed the book a couple of months ago along with a batch of other titles. While Gene has rights to everything, Dark Horse has printing rights to the first six issues, and those will be held by them until January 2019. Despite acclaim, a growing fan base, and being featured as the YA book of the summer at last week’s ALA Conference, Mae is now stuck in limbo unless someone else picks it up and continues it without rights to publish the first six issues for 18 months. Here’s hoping someone will take that chance!
Sunday at CAKE was much better than Saturday, sales-wise for me. At the end of the day, I invited Alyssa to join Gene and me for dinner. Alyssa was keen to try the famous/infamous Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, so we headed over to the best spot in town. Over dinner, Gene and Alyssa and I had a great discussion about Alyssa’s work, her philosophy in creating, and how she likes to connect with readers through her books. Gene wowed Alyssa with some iPhone images of his work, and I was so pleased that these two friends of mine hit it off so well. Bravo, Chicago, and thanks for the heat wave!
MECAF was the capper to my spring con season, on June 17. I saw Shelli Paroline and Dan Mazur, the brains behind Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), and Shelli’s partner in comics and life, Braden Lamb. Shelli and Braden have just released a book with First Second called Making Scents, and they had a couple of copies at the show. The book is gorgeous from beginning to end because Shelli and Braden are top notch cartoonists. It annoys me no end that they are listed as if they were secondary partners on the cover.
In fact, First Second has been annoying me in general lately. Their program of publishing everything in digest-or-smaller mini-volumes has been to the great detriment of works by great cartoonists like Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, and Christophe Blain’s Gus. Also, how are people supposed to look up the works of Christophe Blain and find Gus if he’s listed as “Chris Blain” in all the book data? I’ve had more than one CB store tell me they couldn’t find it because I’d forgotten that :01 had anglicized his name. Such weird choices by this imprint. Everyone I talk to about it is baffled by their approach.
The show at MECAF was decent. A pretty good day. In fact, better than any single day of sales so far this year. Not bad for a library show which was blocked off by the Pride parade for half of the day.
Coming this fall, I’ll be at CXC again, giving a talk in NYC at the New York Comics and Picture-Story Symposium at the Parsons School of Design at the invite of Ben Katchor, and also MICE, which is frequently the best show of the year for me. No dice in the SPX (Small Press Expo) lottery again this year, but I’m hoping to make an appearance at either CALA (Comic Arts Los Angeles) or CAB (Comic Arts Brooklyn) toward the end of the year. I’m continuing work on the science fiction graphic novel you may have seen thumbs for on my Instagram, and I’ll be shopping around a collection of short comics stories I’ve done over the past three years. Wish me luck on getting someone to pick that up. See you in the fall!
Kurt Ankeny makes comics in Salem, MA – his most recent book is In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home.
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