STUMPTOWN 2009: DOES YOUR SOUL CAST ABOUT LIKE AN OLD PAPER BAG?
That bastard Paul Tobin. He got to see Neko Case play in a club somewhere far away from here, in a place where the PA burnt out and she had to sing acapella from the center of the crowd. There aren’t many concert experiences that I’m jealous of, but I’m jealous of that one.
But I’m perhaps ahead of myself. He talked about that after lunch at a wonderful Mediterranean buffet where I managed to hurt myself on the meatballs and koubideh. And rice. And a tiny little slice of lemon cake that almost turned me to Mr. Creosote. Oh, and it was after the trip to Floating World Comics, which was just across the street. That’s a nice little place it is, prominently displaying a lot of minis and alternative stuff that I wasn’t necessarily interested in buying, but at least looking at. Almost bought some of the big THB magazines there, but opted instead for Kirby’s THE DEMON collection and a Catalan Communications album I can’t recall right now (and is out of reach, still packed in the suitcase.)
The suitcases, by the by, are the Best Suitcases ever, bought for me by my wife who understands, deeply, how important it is to have wheels for hauling around stacks of books. Those things get heavy, and when you’re loading up a regular suitcase with them, the wheels generate the kind of friction that melts plastic wheels before you’ve made it to the ticket counter from the car. Dragging suitcases with melted wheels is a non-starter.
The flight and arrival into Portland itself was beyond routine. And lemme tell ya, they make it easy for you to use that there public transportation. You walk fifty yards from the exit door and there’s the platform, train waiting upon it. You want people to use public transport? Make it easy to use. I wish they’d learn that out here. Now I won’t say it was trivial to march my luggage that last five blocks, but it was certainly easier than last time when I had to balance on one working wheel, dodging rain puddles the whole time.
Arrived there in time to meet Jeff (Parker—you know—the AGENTS OF ATLAS guy), Colleen Coover (you know-SMALL FAVORS and Cute Little Baby Ducks in X-MEN FIRST CLASS), Paul Tobin (you know-MARVEL ADVENTURES and SENTRY scribe extraordinaire) Jeremy Barlow (who I kinda knew from a roving social group at Emerald City, but is also a STAR WARS writer guy) and I think Dustin Weaver (you know, more STAR WARS and some more Marvel space stuff.) Dammit, I’m sure I got the last one wrong. Please slap me around in the comment section if that’s the case. I’m terrible with names, but do well with faces. So my apologies, gentleman artist who may or may not actually be Dustin.
Lunch was at Pasha, the abovementioned Mediterranean buffet. Comics were at Floating World. Paul making me incredibly jealous was during “work time” back at the studio afterward. “Work time” for me consisted of trying to make my fingers spit out what refused to come out of my head, as in planning short stories for the third STRANGEWAYS book. I don’t naturally think in short story length for comics. I seemed to do okay in prose, but I take awhile to get the ball rolling in comics, which works against me. I probably should relax more. But how can I relax when David Hahn is telling really, really creepy jokes about deer heads from the MARK TRAIL strip that was floating around the studio that afternoon? I mean, I can’t repeat them here. That creepy.
Bashed my head against the keyboard. All I could come up with was “Cowboys and giant tarantulas.” I mean, that’s not bad, but it’s not a story in any way, shape or form. Hell, it’s barely an idea. It’s four words. But then I guess I did okay with “Cowboys and Werewolves” which was only three. Maybe something will come out of that. Perhaps “Cowboys and giant wolf spiders.” Wolf Spiders are cool. And you can see their eyes on the front of their face while they eat you. That’s almost as creepy as David’s joke.
Retired to the sweat lodge to mentally prepare myself for the trials ahead of me. Really. Pine wood from centuries-old-timbers that had scarcely heard the footfall of civilized man and pure glacier water that was sullied only by the solid silver ladle that collected it.
Got in late Saturday morning, but I’m not complaining. The crowds took a little time to fire up, as happens with indie comics shows, given the crowd of hipsters, aging and otherwise. One thing you won’t find a lot of at the Stumptown Comics Fest is cosplayers. You’ll find people in funny clothes, no doubt. You won’t find any members of the cast of WATCHMEN or BATMAN or a Spider-Man or anything like that. There was a pretty cool Iron Man suit that someone had made (not to mention Spinner-Rim man from the first Stumptown show that I attended at the end of 2007), but those are exceptions, not the rule.
Mostly you get a lot of T-shirts with cryptic symbols or logos or phrases on them. Some oldschool super-heroes. Lots of bands. A lot of them. Some of them you’ve even heard of. The Stumptown fest attracts a different crowd, though. They apparently, get this, just want to read stuff. Crazy! I know! However, this puts folks on a pretty even footing with one another, assuming you’re making comics that you want people to read.
I have to admit, I went in with pretty low expectations for MURDER MOON’s performance here in Portland. The book effectively made its debut at Stumptown. I had copies in LA with me in 2008, but that was technically two weeks before the book was supposed to appear, so I couldn’t sell it. And last year, I sold more copies of MURDER MOON than I’d sold of the ashcans in 2007. So I kinda figured that Portland had taken its bite of the cowboy/werewolf apple and wouldn’t really be back around for seconds. There was no new book to sell (but I could hand out those nifty postcards about the THE THIRSTY’s web-serial incarnation.) Aside from that and the five minute stories I was giving away, no new material.
And see, here’s where I would be wrong. By the end of Saturday, I’d sold down to one copy of MURDER MOON. That was about as many as I’d sold the whole of Stumptown in 2008. It was more than I’d sold at the entire weekend of Emerald City (sorry Jim), and about half of what I’d sold overall at Wonder-Con. I can’t adequately explain it, other than the audience from year to year at Stumptown has grown healthily, and that those folks are willing to roll the dice on things that others might pass up. Who knows?
The crowds on Saturday were quite healthy, though. By my “gotta get through the aisle to the exit and hit the restroom” metric, which is flawless and infallible and totally not arbitrary, Saturday was a very busy day at the show. I don’t think I’d be alone in that assessment. Plenty of jostling, plenty of eyes lingering on the merchandise, hands reaching towards wallets and BY GOD LO AND BEHOLD OPENING UP TO REVEAL THE GLORIES WITHIN. Yeah, people were buying stuff. I’m not sure it was the kind of crazed bubble economy that was reported at Wonder-Con, but it was strong. People in Portland love their comic art.
I happily signed books and engaged customers, making sure nobody left the table without at least a postcard and a kind recollection. Granted, my postcard and pitch wasn’t as cool as the guys from THE WITCH DOCTOR (“Have you considered donating your body to sorcery?”), but I’m not a natural at this sort of thing. This being friendly stuff is work for a misanthrope like myself.
And if you’re curious, the “Cowboys and Werewolves” hook still seems to reel folks in when they get a glance at it. Figure I’ll still use it, even when I’ve moved on to “Cowboys and Vampires” then to “Cowboys and Rogue Accountants” when I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel in a couple years. I figure if the pitch is enough for them to flip through the book, and then to flip the book over to see if there’s more to it than just the three magic words, then I’ve been successful. ‘Cause chances are, if you’ve gone that far, you’re probably going to bite.
Not that I don’t love it when someone looks at the banner and simply marches up to the table, knowing exactly what they want the second they see it. Because I do. Because it’s awesome.
And like that, I was down to one book by about four o’clock on Saturday. You could’ve knocked me down with a bowling ball. I gave myself the rest of the afternoon off and did a quick run of the aisles, after talking with Steve (Lieber) and Sara (Ryan) for a bit. Oh, Carla Speed McNeil, too. You’re reading FINDER, right? ‘Cause really, it’s much much better than anything I’m doing. I’m, frankly, embarrassed for her that she has to share a convention with a hack like me.
Swept past the Fantagraphics table and stopped long enough to pick up one of the new BLAZING COMBAT collections that just came in. Man, this is one pretty book. The art reproductions are excellent and crisp and the design is flawless. The cover price of 25 bucks (more or less) is a ridiculous bargain given the quality of work that you’re getting. I won’t be attempting a review here, but know that I’ll be reading this one closely (particularly since I need all the help I can get when it comes to writing shorts.)
Bounced out the door after that, and headed over to a non-convention-party for awhile, before getting to Cosmic Monkey on the early side, ahead of the Comic Art Battle. I do okay at parties, but really, they’re not my natural element. Maybe I need to drink more or something. There was a lot of mad drawing, a lot of trash talking and a lot of ring-leading by MC Jeff Parker and some unlucky soul wearing a gorilla suit that must have been hotter than Brooklyn in August. I’m not sure anything could have been washed as much as that thing would’ve needed to be washed.
Went back to my crash-pad for the night, not having purchased the HOWARD THE DUCK omnibus volume that I was >< this close to picking up. I’ve got plenty of new stuff to read. I can wait. I’m a patient man. Patient and tired, I crashed out about as hard as I can on a borrowed bed (which is not very hard at all, as it turns out.)
Woke, shuffled, got my maintenance dose of caffeine and nutrasweet, prepared for the second day. A second day with a much smaller reserve of books to sell, but I figured that Sundays are slow days and went in with commensurate expectations.
Commensurate expectations or not, I sold out of books by 3:30. Granted, it wasn’t a giant stack of books, but it was a respectable amount. Overall, enough to cover airfare and my table at the show. But I’m not at shows like Stumptown to turn a profit. This is all audience-building. You wanna know why I sell books for ten bucks instead of thirteen and tax? Simple. Ten bucks is an impulse purchase. It’s a no-brainer. You see it, you want it, you snag it. And I get another reader. On top of that, probably someone who will pick up the webcomic as well.
Same thing with the Five Minute Stories (or should I call them 5ive Minute Stories—too precious?). They’re something to break the ice, though I have to say that most people don’t quite know what to do with the concept. But the journey of a thousand miles often starts with rolling down a steep, sharp hill, right?
Sunday’s crowd was significantly lighter than Saturday’s, but this should come as a shock to no one. Besides, it was in the mid-seventies and sunny in Portland that day. Let’s see…time in the warm sunshine and blue skies or under the fluorescent lamps in a room filled with comics geeks (even if most of them are very nice, very personable comics geeks)? Yeah. I thought so.
But like Saturday, I gave myself the afternoon off and took a run around the place. Cheap trades from Cosmic Monkey? Check. Copy of THE BLOT by Tom Neely? Check. OMEGA THE UNKNOWN trade? Check. More cheap trades and chat with Mike from Bridge City Comics? Double check. Awesome, understated humor from John Aegard and his Comfort Guides? Double double check. Aspiring artists? Check out the Convention/Networking edition. Highly recommended for those in need of a little skills-sharpening.
It is a nice feeling, to leave the convention with a suitcase much lighter than you started out with. Though there was the nagging sensation that I should’ve just brought more to begin with. Just make note of the amounts and then adjust for next year, since Portland doesn’t seem to be a typical comic convention. Only ‘cause it’s extraordinary.
Hats off to Shannon Stewart and the rest of the organization for getting things off the ground and flying. And as always, big thanks to Jeff for saving me a hotel bill and providing the comforts of home, even when I’m not there.
Portland, Portland, I say your name a hundred times, honored Stumptown.