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November 27, 2013


A Few Notes About The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Opening Festival

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By Tom Spurgeon

* hi, and welcome to the continuing adventures of "The Man Who Did Too Many Comics Shows." I'm your host, Captain Burnout.

* this is the story of my final convention/festival of 2013, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Opening Festival.

* although this is the first time any element of the wider comics culture has paid attention, they have been doing these cartoon library shows in Columbus every few years since 1983. It's kind of comics' secret show. I've been working in comics since 1994, and had a comic strip with King Features from 1999 to 2002, and I only heard about this event two times ago, when it was suggested I might want to go. As I understand it, it's been basically a dress-down Reubens weekend, but processed through Lucy Shelton Caswell's broad and humane perspective on the comics art form as opposed to the echoes of the glory days and fevered networking that seems to animate a significant portion of the yearly NCS meeting. That's probably deeply unfair on all sides, and is only my own impression. At any rate, the library festivals have long featured a bunch of hardcore fans and those otherwise focused on the art of making comics paying to hang out and see speak top-of-the-line creators, flown in and treated very well. This includes most of the major strip guys but also folks like Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman and Matt Groening. Imagine a convention with no dealers room, all programming and cocktail parties, and everyone relaxed. I'm told that many years they ended up at Caswell's house Sunday night for a big meal.

* if you think that sounds great, I agree with you.

* let's ruin it.

* I'm kidding. This had have been something of an odd year because a) the new building was opening, b) the full-time staff of the Billy Ireland were in feverish work mode getting that facility ready and everything moved into their new place. The end result is that this was a unique year to attend, nothing like it was before and nothing likely to be quite the same after. I feel privileged to have gone.

* so I left Brooklyn on Sunday morning via an array of trains and subways to JFK and flew to Indiana for a few days. I'm from Indiana. Indianapolis has a fancy new airport that always confuses me. I was renting a car with a debit card -- because I still can -- and musing on the fact of how many of my travel particulars come down to me being grumpy and not wanting to do certain things. Like share a room, or sleep on couches of any friend that doesn't get called five minutes after I die, or use my sole remaining credit card, or pay for them to take my luggage where all luggage should go for free -- underneath the plane. Spite is an underrated travel inducement.

* five years from now I'll just be sitting in a chair all summer, staring ahead and remembering what conventions used to be like.

* anyway, Indiana, home of the pulled pork sandwich. Even Baskin-Robbins sells one.

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* I stayed in Muncie with my dear friend Dan Wright. We mostly talked and ate, because we're middle-aged men and it's sweater season, but we also pulled some Bobo's Progress/Wildwood dailies for a modest donation to Billy Ireland's vast comics holdings. That was comics-y. That was fun. Dan Wright is a wonderful artist, who has since moved into video production and puppetry in addition to his art. The strip we did together looked way better than the jokes I wrote for it were funny. People ask every so often, and I do miss doing a comic strip, and not just because were I still doing it it would have to have been semi-successful for that to be an option. I liked writing those characters. I like writing characters. And it's fun to do something in public where everyone you know can see it.

* writing for Twitter is a lot like writing for newspaper comics in that every word counts and the one you think is really funny no one gets.

* I got over to Alter Ego Comics, owned by Jason Pierce, Mark Waid, Christina Blanch and some minority shareholders facilitated by a swap with a shop in Skokie. Blanch and Pierce were working the store. Alter-Ego moved downtown to some aplomb this year. Muncie still has most of the buildings up downtown from when it was a thriving regional seat of industry: the 1920s and 1930s. Pierce actually showed me where the ramp for deliveries was likely to have been back when the building was a general store and supplies were rolled into the basement from the strip. The Alter-Ego space is much bigger than the store enjoyed over near the city's small shopping mall, which I think has had a practical and a psychological effect. At any rate, it's certainly a space that could handle events if you find yourself near Muncie any time soon. I greatly enjoyed that conversation, and was happy to see Jason happy with the way things are going.

image* I bought several $1 comics, including a bunch of Critters and the E-Man with the twins up front and Ditko's Killjoy in the back.

* so, Columbus.

* I drove over early Thursday morning and went right to the now-open Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum facility, picking up a couple of spare scholars along the way. They were working on the up until the last second. Caitlin McGurk told she was painting things on Wednesday night; Jenny Robb indicated the computer system being used by the academics was put in at about that same time.

* Jenny Robb was pretty amazing all weekend, by the way. She was everywhere, she answered questions ranging from impossible to dumb -- just from me, actually -- she ran a super-smooth show and she was gracious in terms of sharing the spotlight with all of the other people involved. Class act.

* let's talk about the space a bit. They're inhabiting a big chunk of Sullivant Hall, which is a building right at the front of campus. They don't have the whole building, but they do have a significant portion of it. A shared entrance way was barely used; the dedicated entrance was, and it was from there that most of us walked in. The first floor as enter the place is a giant two-story lobby area with a stair along the back wall -- that's the one you see in pictures from the opening. To the left on the floor you're on are the offices; to the right is the reading room. The reading room all by itself is bigger and nicer than the public space the museum/library had in its previous iterations, including the last, basement one. The offices are spacious and nice; before this they basically had offices carved out of their holdings area. The holdings area is basically on the first floor behind the wall straight ahead past lobby area -- they also have off-site storage. The storage on hand is massive, like a government storage facility in a TV show about conspiracies. Now the second floor. To your right, above the reading room is a class room and social space that is solely under their control. Looking straight ahead again, above the holdings are bathrooms and a larger theater they share with the other departments in the hall. Turn to the left, and above the offices are the three galleries -- one permanent, two rotating.

* another way to think of the space is less spatially but in terms of what it boasts: a run down of things to be used. For their curation work Billy Ireland has offices and storage space and work rooms that feed into the rest of the facility (like a place to prepare art to be mounted on a wall and a place for them to process collections). For their university/library function Billy Ireland has a reading room where people come in and request materials brought to them (students or people outside of the school) for study, and they also have the classroom above the reading room where you classes can be taught to several students at once. For their public/museum role Billy Ireland has the three galleries, and to a lesser extent the lobby, classroom and social area in support of those galleries when necessary, like might be the case with an opening. For their ability to host events Billy Ireland has the classroom, the lobby if necessary, the larger/shared theater if necessary and possible, and the galleries themselves if appropriate.

* I kept on forgetting I had a camera, but I did get shots of the lobby and the balcony you can see on this page, and then a bunch of the gallery space and the reading room. Reading room first, complete with the writer James Vance getting some work done.

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* and here's a bunch of the galleries that give you an idea of those three spaces (I'll get to some of the art later).

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* so basically the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is North American comics' nicest place. You should check out photos from people that aren't terrible with photos here, here, here, here, and here.

* as luxurious as it is, particularly in terms of, well, everything else that exists in North America, the other thing to remember about Billy Ireland is that it's not ostentatious or over the top. It's really kind of modest in the sense of what's on hand is pretty easily graspable and you can figure out the lay of the land in a few minutes. It's not like they were desperate to fill rooms; in fact, lot of the cartoon festival events were hosted by the Wexner Center, the multi-purpose arts facility across a quad at OSU. Still, don't get me wrong, it's freaking lovely. But it's smart, not wild. You should visit, and if you can think of a way this is possible, you should make use of it.

* I think this will wear off a bit, but one thing that was nice about the whole weekend is that you could feel people luxuriating in the space, feeling a little bit special, respectable, because the Billy Ireland is a nice thing. I sometimes write about the anti-authoritarian streak that comics people have, and there's a lot that's admirable about that, but one thing that happens in comics, I think, is that it can feel low rent because no one's putting a solid effort forward or at least few want to be seen doing so. There's a kind of shrugged-shoulder, "well, that's comics for you" attitude that sometimes slips into play. I didn't get any of that here, not this weekend.

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* so I attended a two-day scholar's presentation summit that opened up the new facility. This was chaired by Jared Gardner. My last trip to Columbus, Ohio in September had been to Robert Loss' MIX, which allowed me to reorient myself to these kinds of presentations after a decade and a half since my last ICAF. One thing that's changed since the mid-1990s is that comics scholars are much more active in terms of connecting with their audience. Call it the post-TED world, I guess. Nearly everyone had visual aids, nearly everyone was comfortable speaking, nearly everyone presented at least a significant portion of what they had to say in terms anyone that wandered in off of the street would have a chance of understanding. I'm a little worried that scholarship will start to favor the people that can entertain at the podium at these kinds of events. And indeed, some of the best presentations were low-tech and contained no jargon, such as writer James Vance's talk about interacting with Will Eisner and Eisner's value as a writer. But for now, the high energy and visual aids certainly beats the pants off of everyone sitting in a hotel room in Bethesda watching people shout their way through a written speech.

* if you ever go, I think the best way to watch these conferences is for the ideas presented. I know that sounds silly, because of course that's something they offer, but really I have the most fun when I let the details and the presentational style and the language kind of drop away and try to get at four or five observations or insights subject to subject. I was called to duty to introduce a trio of presenters on Walt Kelly: Kerry Soper (BYU), Brian Cremins (Harper) and longtime independent Walt Kelly expert (and the guy from whom we borrowed dailies once upon a time for the Fantagraphics paperbacks) Steve Thompson. They all had a few insights to offer, such as Soper's idea that Kelly's use of ethnic stereotypes were transformative later on in his career as opposed to the early, more pernicious and damaging ones that might have been in the work over which he had less control. What was fascinating, though is how a lot of the presentations built on one another. For instance, with the Pogo/Kelly crew, Cremins' theory that Kelly wasn't writing about the south as much as the Bridgeport, Connecticut of his youth seemed to be severely reinforced by Steve Thompson showing us editorial cartoons where Kelly displayed a white-hot contempt for southern cultural backwardness.

* anyway, it was two days of idea after idea after idea and it was very fun. I could have gone another day, and I never would have said that back in Bethesda.

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* I also got to meet a ton of people I've read, from Thomas Inge to Susan Kirtley to Randy Scott. It was fun watching them all interact, too, particularly guys roughly my age like Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer. It was good to see Gene Kannenberg there. There were also some odd folk -- comics scholars aren't shy about marching up and telling you what you did wrong -- but you get that in every group of people numbering over 50. People were super-excited to talk about comics. I've never had to turn down so many lunch invites at a comics show and I was just another random dude standing around.

* I sat in the corner and spent much of the weekend being informed of comics industry news by Christian Hoffer of The Outhousers, and I was grateful for the company. I hope he got to look over my shoulder and found inspiration in my constant checking of soccer scores.

* what else...? I had a nice talk with Chris Sparks about Team Cul De Sac stuff and Richard Thompson's health given his forthcoming exhibit next year at one of the Billy Ireland galleries (along with Bill Watterson). This got me an e-mail from Thompson, even, and I hadn't heard from in a while so that was nice, too.

image* met Sean Kleefeld on one of those two days and ran into him a bunch of times afterward. He looks strangely over-healthy, like one of those guys that runs four miles to work and can lift a small car over his head. He was as nice as his blogging would lead you to believe, and seemed fairly blown away by the museum. I was glad to hear that, because his major strength as a blogger is that he's rarely in lockstep with everyone else and kind of goes his own way opinion-wise.

* ran into Peter Maresca a bunch of time early in the weekend. He received an ovation from the crowd at one point just for being awesome and putting out giant comics. He indicated to me that future projects will work forward chronologically from the last book, Society Is Nix, which ended at 1915. Even if I screwed that up it doesn't matter because all of his books are kind of awesome.

* went out for dinner that night with a very exhausted Caitlin McGurk, Bill Kartalopoulos, JT Dockery and Liz Valasco, whom I don't know very well but is a local cartoonist trained up in Cleveland and originally from South Carolina, the State No One Ever Talks About. McGurk dropped out by the time we hit a bar, one of those amazing midwestern neighborhood joints where they give you change back on a five dollar bill, and we talked nonsense until it was time to go home.

* I liked my hotel; it was as nice as anything I've stayed in in San Diego and it cost $62.50 a night. Columbus!

* I stayed there rather than the convention hotel because of the points. Everyone does points, right? I mean, if you do TCAF and SPX at their Marriott each time, that all by itself should be enough to get you a free room one of those nights, or at least get you close. I never used to do points, I think because I'm lazy and stupid.

* Friday. Friday was a great day for comics.

* I had a pretty good day, too. I stopped by the Reading Room to see Eddie Campbell, hard at work all week in the Reading Room on material for a forthcoming book that was described in conversational shorthand as a book about sports cartoons but from what I could make out is really going to be about the swirling mass of cartoons and cartoon expression as it existed in San Francisco before the commercial success of humor strips like Mutt And Jeff began to streamline a lot of the more chaotic modes of expression. That means sports cartoons will be involved but that it's maybe not the focus. Anyway, that book sounds excellent, and it was nice to see Eddie again if only because he immediately made fun of my weight gain (another essay, all its own) and none of my friends had all Fall, even though I so deserved it. "The good news is that it makes you look jolly." God bless Eddie Campbell.

* I attended the second half of the scholar's meeting, which went more into the wonkier side of scholarship -- there was a presentation that took seriously the jokes we used to make in the Journal office about wacky future comics in 3-D -- and ended with a lengthy presentation by Henry Jenkins. More people started to show up during the day. Someone said that a lady had shown up downstairs in go go boots with a twirling baton, which meant I would get to see Carol Tyler. Had lunch with James Sturm and Karen Green on a table that was a prop from a comedy sketch where all the food keeps rolling off of one end. They were both in Brooklyn as well, and I think that's what we talked about. James was the person I knew best at the Billy Ireland show and we did that thing where we kind of checked in on the other guy to make sure they had dinner plans and such, so I saw a lot of him that weekend. I have good arguments with James, although they seem to annoy anyone else listening to us. One of this week's topics was about the idea of saying "that's not for you" as a way to deflect criticism from someone other than a marketed-towards audience, and I can feel James bristling all the way in Vermont that I decided to define our discussion that way. Anyway, I love the shorthand that you get with comics people over time, when you no longer have to negotiate each others work and your opinions of same.

* his news from the scholar's event that CCS was going to be offering a focus on making comics for uses other than literary/artistic expression was one a lot of people went back to the whole weekend. I pressed Sturm about his latest group at CCS and he admitted he thought this was a special class.

* we were taken out the still worked-on front door because the lobby was being prepared for that night's opening event. I had a San Diego Con-style dinner with a bunch of folks, by which I mean we walked around in a big group until someone growled "we're eating here" and the food was as terrible as the company was pretty good. We all wanted to make it back for the ribbon cutting ceremony, so no one minded too much.

* about a half-dozen people asked me about the financial side of CR, which I think indicates that people are thinking about vocational issues in comics more than usual.

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* the opening ceremony started on time, and I quickly charged upstairs because the thought of people looking down on me Thunderdome style was kind of creepy. Also, that's where the booze was. I saw Eddie Campbell and his date Audrey Niffenegger, who was very nice. Ran into Joyce Brabner briefly, and settled in to talk to Los Bros Hernandez on the balcony above the lobby. Watched Caitlin McGurk make this piece of video.

* as a bunch of people have mentioned, the nicest part of the whole ceremony was a lengthy, sustained and in no way forced round of applause for a clearly touched Lucy Shelton Caswell. It's amazing to think of her taking charge of Milton Caniff's donations to the journalism department at OSU and turning that into this facility 35 years later. That's a tremendous thing she's done. There is no part of that story that isn't admirable.

* the booze was free. Columbus!

* people were a bit giddy for about a half-hour after the ribbon.

* in the midwest, even people working as event staff are nice. I always wonder if people like that have a different relationship to Party Down than I do.

* I strolled across the quad with the Hernandez Brothers to watch Paul Pope and Jeff Smith in conversation. The theater was pretty well-packed. Pope and Smith are friends, and admire one another, so the conversation was mostly good-natured and heavy on the gentle ribbing, such as Smith rolling his eyes at news of a completion for THB. Smith's oft-repeated amazement at elements of Pope's facility with pen and ink, that was not faked. The crowd seemed to enjoy the whole, genial affair.

* on my way out a guy nudged his girlfriend and said, "And that's the Hernandez Brothers right there. Wow!" He pointed and everything. Jaime smiled.

* went to dinner on Friday night with a bunch of the Columbus folks at Smith's invitation. They were super charged up, and with good reason. I got to meet Paul Pope's Mom, who looked younger than me. It was fun to watch that pair interact. Pope seems happy with the reception given Battling Boy and was happy to rattle off plans for future projects. If this trip was in some ways about comics people aged 35 to their mid-forties trying to find a space and a place in which to create, Pope seems to have that figured out.

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* the hotel bar scene was interesting, too. It was a nice physical space, an open area on a mezzanine level of the Hyatt. The not-comics folks on hand were dance moms and people preparing for a marathon of some sort. They stood out. I said hi to Los Bros, and passed along word that they could have a backstage tour of the facility if they'd get to the Billy Ireland at some point tomorrow when someone had time free. I watched Paul Pope do two impressive looking sketches for attending scholars.

* had breakfast on Saturday with James Vance. We had egg sandwiches and talked about the brutal freelance writing landscape. He's had a quietly major year between the sequel to his Kings In Disguise work (On The Ropes) and wrapping up the writing on his late wife Kate Worley's Omaha The Cat Dancer. We talked a bit about surviving grief, too. Interesting breakfast, at a neighborhood joint that was just packed enough to make us think we had selected well.

* one thing I like about Columbus is that it seems to value its downtown neighborhoods -- or at least the core ones -- more than most places that suffered suburban flight.

* Saturday and Sunday were the Festival proper, which primarily presentations given in a small theater, interspersed with lunches and chatting and coffee and buying things at the Wexner Center bookstore and the occasional post-presentation signing.

image* Rocky Shepard and Brendan Burford from King Features presented Lucy Shelton Caswell with the Elzie Segar Award, an honor they had resuscitated from years of inactivity and which was traditionally given to major contributors be they artists or not. I hadn't seen Rocky in years, so it was nice to touch base.

* for the sake of a business thing I missed the majority of Matt Bors' extremely well-reviewed presentation that opened the event. I made it back for Eddie Campbell's charmfest, which included him showing the test footage from the proposed TV series about his life. Campbell could have gone in every slot of the weekend according to folks I talked to afterwards, although I thought he looked nervous for the first ten minutes or so.

* I got to have lunch with JT Dockery, Derf, James Moore, Ken Eppstein and other Columbus folks whose names I don't remember because I'm terrible at names. They all seemed fairly blown away by the new space. I got a short history of comics shops in Columbus walking both directions. Caitlin McGurk told me later that one of the old Columbus shop-owner is an intermittent exhibitor selling Underground Comix, which I find fascinating because unlike the vast majority of superhero books undergrounds seem genuinely rare.

* back at the show, Stephan Pastis seems very comfortable in front of an audience, very funny and on a certain level really, really proud of what he gets to do for a living. That was a good get for them.

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* got back over to the galleries to take a closer look. Walked much of it with Bill Kartalopoulos, who wrote an astute report here. I'm not sure I have much to add. Looking at a bunch of comics art from masters like that -- this was a "gems of the collection" type show -- was obviously wonderful if not a bit overwhelming. Brian Walker curated, and his show put on display a strong, natural sense of what is attractive in stand-alone fashion. There was work in there by David Levine and B. Kliban that was a beautiful in close-up as the Fosters and the Herriman, and it was fun to see the art displayed so well via a lot of specialty cases and the like. I thought the most beautiful piece in the entire show was a Cliff Sterrett. Something about all that black made it pop.

* and here's a bunch of the rest of the art, randomly photographed. I usually only took photographs when I was feeling self-conscious, so sorry.

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* that's something, right? That last one... between this show and that selection of comics art on display at MoCCA Festival, I'm beginning to enjoy strips from Brenda Starr up on walls.

* the permanent exhibit was fun, too; and should make even a terrible-sounding -- to you -- gallery show of the moment worth a stopover if you're driving through I-70 on some future year.

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* one thing they've done in that permanent space is make use of display cases with drawers and a pull out wall system. This not only makes for a bit of fun in kind of digging around the place but it increases by a significant number the total number of pieces of art on display in that one of the three gallery rooms.

* but yeah. Wow. You should see that much great comics art at once before you die. You have until March.



* to end the day, Dave Kellett and Fred Schroeder showed their just-about-all-the-way-done documentary Stripped for the first time. I'll be talking to Kellett about the movie for one of the Holiday Interview, so I'll give more of my reaction through those questions, but I will say the crowd seemed to very much enjoy it. I suspect it was likely a different documentary than it started out to be, as it was begun when newspaper were in freefall and Kellett comes from a part of the webcomics community that's openly critical of the shelf life of the old model of doing newspaper-style comics as opposed to finding them on-line. It was fun to see a bunch of people, though, on screen, and the film was largely pro-comics, which I think will help it find an audience. The showing was followed by a panel discussion with featured artists Patrick McDonnell, Dylan Meconis and Hilary Price.

* Price was the funniest of the panelists, and also gave what I thought was the most interesting answer to any of the questions. Someone asked what newspapers could do with comics content on their web sites. She pointed out that the ways newspapers have comics on the web sites kind of thoroughly and fudamentally fails to replicate the role that comics had in the newspaper -- as a blast of good news after pages of bad. I think she has something there. They don't have a presence away from their corner of web sites that approaches their physical constancy in print. I know that I don't read comics on web sites the same way I do in the papers, and as a result I more frequently read comics in print newspapers and rarely if at all read comics on newspaper web sites.

* got to meet KAL, who was very nice and seems to travel a heck of a lot.

* I had a fun meal Saturday evening with Brendan Burford and James Sturm which we were happy to get in because apparently everyone in Columbus eats in the same neighborhood at 6:00 PM on Saturday night. I had shwarma (lamb), so I won dinner.

image* Brendan and I went back for the Los Bros Hernandez presentation. It was also extremely well-attended, and like Smith and Pope it was a stage set-up with microphones and comfortable chairs and a bunch of art on a big screen. They talked a lot about family, and about the comics their mom did, and things like the fact that Gilbert was also compulsively prolific, to the point of drawing in different styles as if he were different members of a fake bullpen. They also told one of my favorite stories, about how shocked Gilbert and Mario were when Jaime started so strong right out the gate with the work in Love & Rockets #1, putting everything together in a way he hadn't before. I thought it might be too inside baseball for some, but everyone I talked to adored their presentation. We ran into two younger artists outside that had driven up from Cincinnati just to see them and they were in disbelief that Jaime and Gilbert had come this close to where they lived. I'm really grateful for the outpouring of affection for them over the last two years, just as a fan of comics and a fan of theirs. I wish they had thirty times the audience.

* Craig Fischer and Charles Hatfield let me crash their Hyatt table that evening, for which I'm grateful. I could just start reeling off names, but the place was pretty packed when things shut down and while everyone seemed in a good mood I don't recall anything super-notable or outlandish. It's weird to see how mainstreamed into social occasions our texting habits are now.

* had a long talk with Matt Bors, who seems to be having a very good year. It sounds like he's set up pretty solidly at Medium and I hope it works out on their end that they can keep him employed. Seeing Matt Bors with a gig that flatters his talent that he got without having to do anything than be Matt Bors is a story as positive as any in comics right now. He also has tendency to spill alcohol on himself, which is strangely charming. He told me he's on the lookout for a young editorial cartoonist so he can stop being the young editorial cartoonist.

* Sunday morning I attended a business meeting, and ran into Gilbert Hernandez, who seemed very happy about how nicely they had been treated, for which I was glad. Met Brian Walker, Jim Borgman, Matt Weurker and Tom Gammill and drove those men minus Walker up to the campus for the Sunday presentations. Borgman had yet to visit -- he's no longer in Ohio, taking the "I can live anywhere" part of making a comic strip seriously, and seemed like a very nice man. We looked up to see kids taking classes upstairs. I took one more walk around the museum.

* I mostly hung out and talked that day. I did see both the Brian Basset and the Kazu Kibuishi talks. The Crane one was interesting for me because I'm used to Adama@Home more than the boy-and-his-dog Red And Rover work he focused on here. A lot of that work is way more visually compelling than his dad-at-home work, that's for sure. He seemed genuinely honored to be asked back to OSU for the festival, and told a couple of great stories about running up against Woody Hayes while a student editorial cartoonist.

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* the great Bruce Chrislip let me read is copy of Gary Groth's early issues of Fantastic Fanzine, which of course were incredible. I love thinking about Gary counting out characters for every line so he'd know how to space the columns and how that solitary act led to his life as a publisher and practical midwife for an entire form of artistic expression. It's always good to see Bruce, and people still remember him from the cover of I Like Comics.

* one snippet of conversation I remember hearing is that Jeannie Schulz goes to Burning Man, which I'm not going to check because I want it to be true more than I want to risk it not being true.

* the Kazu Kibuishi was interesting just for his career path: state school to development deal to comics. He even did a bit of digital painting while taking questions -- he started with smears of color and built out of one of them he found graphically intriguing -- which is always fun to watch. The notion that he was being actively discouraged to work while under contract is an amazing thing, and it makes you value the self-actualizing aspect of comics. Bunch of kids in for that one, too. I somehow missed Marc Boutavant, who did one of the kids programming sessions. I'm a big fan of that Ariol series.

* the last person I talked to was Lucy Caswell, whom I congratulated. We all should.

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* I turned around and took a photo on my way out. There was a significant last day of summer camp feel.

* so then I went back to Indiana and a I chattered about everything I saw and the next day I got up and went to the Indianapolis airport and the lady hit my shoulders every single time with the cart and then it was Dallas and all the strange tans and TGIF doesn't do nachos even if you ask really nice and then it was back to Tucson and over to Trader Joes for supplies and then three hours later I'm back home and my dog wasn't there to greet me and I probably won't leave until March at the earliest. The end.

* Columbus was a lovely and encouraging way to end a convention year that for me started with another surging show, Emerald City. The people in Columbus were super-nice and respectful of and engaged with their cartooning guests in a model way, a way we can all take to heart. We have the best art; we can be gracious and kind and patient and supportive. I'm actually not too sure what to make of the show itself -- I think it really was an odd version likely never to be repeated -- even though I'm of course super-delighted that the possibility of non-commercially driven shows seems to be on the table. That's not the only model -- I like buying stuff, too -- but different models is a great thing and maybe it can convince us to pull back on the excesses a bit. I don't know what becomes of that facility now. I urge you to go and see it. Make sure it's open. Make sure that if you know Jenny or Caitlin they know you're coming. As Beto pointed out, this is a place that loves comics-makers and comics readers and want to serve as many of them as possible. And like I said, one thing that's nice about the facility is that it's first class without being ostentatious. I don't know if Columbus ever becomes a capital of North American comics, but there's certainly a sweet-ass car out front for the folks that live there to drive.

* forthcoming shows include a Bill Watterson/Richard Thompson paired show that will kick off the solo exhibition life of the place, and then visits by the Dan Clowes traveling exhibit and one featuring female manga cartoonists. This is now a thing we get to do, those of us passionately interested in comics. We get to go to Columbus.

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* as far as shows in general... well, I did do a lot of them. I like comics shows. I don't think I'll ever do that many again barring enough money to get in and out without taking a chunk of week out on either side. I will likely do as many per year from this point on -- health and fortune allowing -- than I would have ten years ago in a three year span. My general takeaway is that the primary reason shows are exciting right now is that for a bunch of different reasons they have become a rare thing in the world of comics: an element that approaches the level of talent on display in comics' creative class. We have great cartoonists and an odd infrastructure and a lot of people making a lot of money in jobs that have nothing to do with those comics, and some things are deplorable. But conventions? We have a pretty good convention calendar now. Cons and festivals have stepped up. The rest of us should, too.

* I hope that all of the shows improve, and that we get a few more. I hope that people really invest with their locals and continue to hit their favorite regional and national shows. I'm encouraged they can become a springboard for attention to the medium across the board, even those shows where comics doesn't seem like the most important thing going. And the rest of us need to make sure we start to be as good as the people running the best shows, whether that's some sort of professional gig we have or just the way we engage with a favorite art form. Let Lucy Shelton Caswell be our example.

* I've had an amazing year, and I'm grateful for all of those I ran into along the way. I'll see many of you again starting next March. Until then? I'm going to work.

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Hardcore travel notes: In Muncie I stay here when I need a place to stay that's not my best childhood friend's house. The car I rented from Alamo was a Chrysler 300 and cost about $280 for eight days because I was in the points program. I stayed in this hotel, and found the rate at this web site. Three places I ate dinner in Columbus were here and here and here. I only eat this when I'm in Muncie, but this will work in a pinch.

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