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December 29, 2014


Everything I Still Remember About Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA) 2014

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These are my notes and observations from the weekend of Comic Arts Lost Angeles (CALA) 2014. They are very late.

A couple of months before attending this show I accepted a position as Festival Director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, a show starting in 2016 with a launch event in 2015. Please read the following in the light of that knowledge, and come to whatever conclusion you like.

*****

* this won't be as long as some of the other reports. I'll explain why at the end.

* it seems nuts after an exhausting year that I'd want to do one more comics show, but I've wanted there to be a small press and alt-comics show in Los Angeles for a very long time now. I remember going to a show on the UCLA campus a bunch of years ago. Supermarket? I met Patrick Rosenkranz and Deni Loubert there but mostly I remember thinking how far the middle of the UCLA campus seemed from the rest of the world. Meltdown Comics for a while had some small shows that featured the kind of younger creators you find at such shows. I've heard that some of LA's handcraft shows have had a comics element to them at times. There are mainstream shows in the region out the wazoo. What I wanted was an old-fashioned small press show.

* it looks like we have one. Congratulations to Jen Wang, Angie Wang, Iris Jong and Jake Mumm and everyone else involved on what seemed like a successful first show.

* one of the reasons I've wanted a small-press show in LA is selfish: my brother lives there, and this gives me a reason to visit and the both of us something to do. That's not totally selfish in that Los Angeles is a huge city, so I'm sure there are other people in the same boat. Those of us that enjoy the expression of the medium that a show like Comic Arts Los Angeles serves, they deserve a reason to visit on a built-around-comics weekend.

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* another reason is that Los Angeles has a great comics community, at least as much as Los Angeles has communities (I think they do, they're just confusing because of the prominent and necessary opt-in, opt-out component). There are significant numbers of young cartoonists and comics-makers in the area, Many comics-makers work for animation studios or in film more generally. BOOM! is there. DC Comics is partly there and will soon be there in full. There are several comics shops in LA worth seeking out: both destination-style retailers and kick-ass neighborhood stores. Several writers that include comics as part of what they do live there or spend a lot of time there. It is the home region of Los Bros Hernandez, the living, breathing ground zero of post-underground expressive comics in North America.

image* so I think this was necessary, and I thought going into CALA that this set of organizers had a smart, achievable plan. A one-day show is the best way to start. Downtown strikes me as the place to do a Los Angeles right now (it wouldn't have been five years ago, I don't think). Visiting LA in December -- what used to be the BCGF weekend -- is a pleasure, mostly, and provides the show with a bit of calendar oomph this first year they wouldn't have seen if they had squeezed themselves into the already-busy April or October. They were offering up only two special guests (Mimi Pond and Sam Alden), and had nothing planned outside of the core show beyond a modest panel slate. This allowed them to focus on executing the tasks at hand and also communicated in a subtle way that the star of the show as the fact that LA now had a show.

* I enjoyed myself, and more importantly I think there were people there having way more fun than I was.

* by early December of this year I was no longer as burnt out and tired as I had been before Thanksgiving, but with a move looming I was now slightly overworked. I looked forward to the trip as something of a four-day vacation, which means I would only work half-days if possible and take clear mental breaks each day and plunge into something Los Angeles-like. I also had no responsibilities to the show, so I could go and enjoy myself and look around and stay five hours or 45 minutes, depending on capricious whim. So no hassles there. I still had to drive to Tucson and back -- six hours of my life I'll never get back, but I was flying into Burbank rather than LAX which cut an hour of travel time once I got there. Also this was my last show until late March, having once again failed to secure a slot on the Good Ship Free Lodging In Angouleme. I was looking forward to the time off the road. I think I even smiled at the airport, and I can't remember the last time I did that.

* so of course we were delayed three hours in Tucson and five hours in Phoenix. I could have driven there and arrived four hours before I did. So much for seeing Mr. Turner on a big screen as we had planned.

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* really, though, it wasn't so bad. I sort of have this weird affection for airport restaurants, although one can only ever eat in them once or twice a year. There's something very appealing about drinking a giant beer at 9 AM, too, and at the smaller airports it's no differnt than drinking at a hotel or in New York. One of the nicest things about travel when you're dependent on freelance work for most of what you do is that travel deadlines are far and few between. If you have to be somewhere not your office to get something done, you're probably being flown there, and that's on someone else.

* plus I was going to Burbank, which reduces everyone's blood pressure.

* getting LA travel tips from me are even dumber than New York ones, but no one ever made it clear to me until this year how much better it is to fly into Burbank or, really, any of the regional airports, than it is to fly into LAX. In fact, it's worth $150 extra to fly into Burbank if you're spending your time in Burbank or North Hollywood. As I recall, Burbank is easy from Seattle and Phoenix... and that's about it. Still, if it's an option for you, consider the holy hell out of that option. If nothing else, you get to see an airport where the luggage is returned to you outside. Plus it's named after a real-life comic book character.

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* I worked during most of my time in Los Angeles. I wanted to get a couple of interviews done. Jonah Weiland never returned my e-mail, so the hell with that guy. Scott and Ivy McCloud came over and interviewed with me at my brother's tiny place. That was... that was really fun, of course. Just kidding. I love talking to Scott, and I think he's very proud of this book The Sculptor and wants as many people to read it as possible. I think that wil be a good piece when I figure out what to do with -- sorry, Scott. Imminent, I promise. We went out to eat afterwards and had a good time there, too. It'll be nice to have Scott around all year, immersed in comics again. He's like a favorite uncle on you Mom's side. I regret not introducing my brother Whit in an informal setting like that, as all three of those folks are 1980s Syracuse University attendees.

* I chickened out on videotaping the three of us while I asked question after question about New Adventures Of Abraham Lincoln.

* downtown Burbank is the fakest place in America I still like. People on the streets tell you stories that don't make any sense but you know they're true.

* one nice thing for CALA moving forward is that there are plenty of places for people to have satellite events, all over the city. It's a city that expects you to drive, so there should be little pressure to have everything in one general area. I don't know how many took place this time out, but I attended one at Meltdown Comics in their backroom gallery space the Friday night before the Saturday show. I tried to do a little comics shopping, but that wasn't working out; I only buy superhero comics and minis a the comics stores. Couldn't find the latter, couldn't understand the former. That's a freakishly nice shop, though, with stock on hand to satisfy a full decade's worth of reading.

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* there were about 25 people back there at the evening's peak, and maybe another 10 or so in and out over the hours I spent there. That's probably generous. I ran into Ed Brubaker -- very happy for him starting a new and desirable non-comics gig the Monday next. It's always nice to see Ed, who is same-age peer in comics with the same regional scene provenance. Through Brubaker I met Gerry Duggan. A comic book he wrote recently made me laugh, but I impressed no one in the room by not remembering specifics. Jaime Hernandez walked in, which is good, because Jaime is older than me. As older men of serious intent we talked about Internet-related comics gossip. Jaime is very perceptive, everyone. You're not fooling him at all. Steve Weissman explained to me the basis of the show, a kind of organically-developing sticker illustration sideline for himself and some of the other cartoonists in town, which sounds great to me. I also saw Sam Alden. I tried to convince Alden that he needed an opposite-coast enemy, but he rejected all of my suggestions. "No," he'd say politely. "That person is my ally." Sammy Harkham showed up right before we left. He seems well, and promised me he's been working on comics this whole time. I hope so.

* we rocketed out of the neighborhood and back to North Hollywood before the getting out of there traffic got bad. We had a good time, and a lot of that art is really cool-loooking. Oh, and I got to meet Mats!?, which was cool.

* the next day was the show proper.

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* my brother and I ate lunch downtown at Cole's, one of two establishments in Los Angeles that lays claim to inventing the French dip sandwich, the kind of deeply troubling question that can only be solved by eating a lot and declaring a tie so you can do it again in six months. I found that whole general area of downtown in which the show was held to be majorly interesting. It's maybe the most visually compelling neighborhood in which a show is held since the old San Diego cons. The gentrification seems like it's taking place in 100-foot increments. There were some lost souls sleeping on the street and you'd walk a block and see that someone had opened a pet shampooing salon. Like many streets around there, the street on which the hosting gallery was located was bursting with mercantile-type set-ups and small shops pouring out into the street. People were everywhere, walking at different rates of speed, talking at least three different languages and dressed in a closet's worth worth of clothing choices. Howard the Duck could have walked out from behind a tree, and I wouldn't have blinked.

* seriously, though, it was a cool neighborhood to do a show like that. There was a lot of energy outside the show to match the energy inside, which was a huge bonus. Later when waiting for my brother to bring the car from wherever he parked it so we could leave, I noted the people in show t-shirts outside of the building weren't just answering questions as to where the show was. They were actually soliciting passers-by to go up and take a look. I think I remember an early MoCCA doing that, but it's sure rare.

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* so I hit the stairs. The show was packed. Like packed. Apologize-to-others-constantly packed. It stayed pretty busy for my entire stay.

* The space itself was simple in its layout: kind of a reverse #4. The eastern wall separated the programming space from the rest of the show.

* and that's about it. But it worked! Excited people everywhere. People seemed to be selling pretty well to really well -- I talked to exactly one person that didn't think they'd make back costs, although that's always a rough way to measure things and I don't always trust comics to accurately report any perceived dip in sales, even expected sales.

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* I knew about 1/3 of the exhibitors. Farel Dalrymple was there. Hope Larson. Ryan Sands. Lisa Hanawalt. Steve Weissman (with a mini!). Jordan Crane (another mini!). Alden. Hellen Jo. Team The Humans. Mimi Pond and Vanessa Davis were there. Katherine Wirick -- she and her husband had just moved out there from Ohio, so best of luck to them. Ron Regé Jr. I thought the quality of work seemed generally high across the board, particularly for a first show. It wasn't like SPX in the sheer number of quality exhibitors, or CAB in terms of how it was curated, but it was solid. I took home a Matt Sheean comic that looked interesting, and was lucky enough to score minis from Weissman and Crane. The last thing in the world I need or want right now with a move coming up is extra comics that I might be able to get once I'm settled, but I couldn't help myself with those few items. Some people were nice enough to talk to me about the site and give me a few more comics, too.

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* the Crane mini, he finished that the day of the show, which is either impressive or silly in its straight-up recall of the all-nighters now 20 years in the past. I vote impressive. I want Crane to make as many comics as he can.

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* I'm told that the programming itself was solid panel to panel; I saw snatches here and there. Like I've mentioned a couple of times in these reports, just about everyone in comics has become a lot more proficient in presenting their work or presenting their thoughts on an idea in a professional manner. Show like this one benefit from that. Sound quality was not good once you stepped back a bit and towards the information desk area. That's something that can be figured out, though. I'd say the programming was about half-full for most of the presentation, with panel-watching spread out front to back.

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* there were a few comics-makers on the customer side of the table. I believe I saw Shannon Watters. Was Allison Baker there, briefly? I feel like she was there. Charles Hatfield was there with his wife, taking in a panel when I saw them. Ditting on the indoor stair just outside the gallery I watched Matt Groening leave, with the Locus Moon Little Nemo under one arm. About 45 seconds later Scott and Ivy McCloud returned from lunch; Scott soon bought his own copy of the Nemo book. I like the idea of shows/shops exhibiting, even if it's only with their publishing hats on.

* I enjoyed watching McCloud work the room. Ivy explained to me that Scott makes a specific point of being present and encouraging for every cartoonist, which is a nice way of doing it. I try not to pass out or accidentally buy something I can't afford, which right now is everything.

* I met Henry Chamberlain for the first time. I want to meet all the writers about comics. I'm haunted whenever we lose a writer about comics and there's barely a trace they existed and I can't always recall which one they were.

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* third show in a row I was there and MariNaomi was there and I never saw her or said a word to her.

* got to catch up with Vanessa Davis and see Mimi Pond for one more time in 2014. I was hiding by the door again, while my brother finished up a cycle of photos. I hope Vanessa has a chance to return to comics in some significant way if that's in her plans -- she had a run going there for a while were her work was as consistent and as good as anything being published. Mimi seems significantly along on the second book, although I was tired enough by then that I could be remembering that totally wrong.

* we left at a reasonable hour, having exhausted every conversation and photo opportunity. I had a train to catch to Claremont. The highlight of Claremont -- I did hit their fine comic shop -- was an elderly man stopping by the table I shared with CR co-publisher Jordan Raphael during Sunday morning breakfast. The man declared we needed to protect the children (Jordan's kids were with us) and intimated that his now long-deceased wife was once the victim of a crime he learned about too late to see to a private reprisal Bates-on-Downton-Abbey style. This is a lot of weight to drop on strangers over eggs at 9 AM on a Sunday. Just saying.

* on my way back to the train station, Jordan and I ran across Claremont's semi-monthly old comics show in a local, tiny indoor mall. It was everything that CALA was not in terms of focus and type of material displayed and general buoyancy of mood. Listless, maybe. Torpid. It was still comics, though, and maybe an expression with which I'm more comfortable at heart than all those young faces and all those minis. I didn't buy anything, but Jordan bought about $20 of trades for his kids.

* that was about it. Had dinner Sunday night back in LA with Lisa Hanawalt and Adam Conover. It was fine, I guess. Hanawalt insisted on trying to pay for everything with some sort of orange currency she'd hand-drawn at the office, which was super-uncomfortable. I found Conover's hair soothing. I learned there are two kinds of Los Angeles people that end up there from New York: those that are convincing when they talk about missing the City, and those named Adam and Lisa.

* I'm grateful they took the time, and it was lovely. They were even dressed nicely, for a Christmas party right after.

* I left on Monday. Twenty minutes from my brother's driveway to the airport. 75 minutes in the air. 195 minutes from Tucson airport to my driveway.

* last time I should have to make that kind of drive, though.

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* so the show... what about the show?

* thinking back on it during the second half of that weekend and talking to peopel about it since, it's like I said up top. I thought that was a super-solid first show. Great energy. Solid guest and exhibitors list. Cool location. Good weekend for it, right on the cusp of people younger than 30 getting Christmas present buying fever. You could feel the delight that some people had just from exhibiting. I'm told a couple of people just attending the show had a hard time parking, but Whit tells me he had no trouble at all. CALA 2014 was so unadorned as a show that it becomes challenging to write about at length. The exhibitors were young, and they were local, and so were the people there to buy things. That can always get better, but the first time out makes me think it will and some shows have a tremendously difficult time kickstarting that part of what they do. I'm told most of the PR was word of mouth with some supplemental press coverage, which makes the showing even more impressive.

* what I hope for CALA is that in the next couple of years it solidifies its place on the calendar as an option for late-in-the-year comics selling and for a trip to LA. I think that's a good place for them, and the exhibitors will benefit from being a show during the Christmas buying season. Some of the slight problems like the noise levels are easily fixable. Where they might get challenged is in how quickly to grow. There will definitely be more interest as people hear good things. I'm not sure what bigger spaces are available of if they'll think about that kind of thing right away, but they did an interesting enough job with where they put and how they scheduled this one I'm happy to let them tell me what they're going to do rather than the other way around.

* I had a good time on all of these trips, and I'm so very privileged to have a chance to interact with art and artists that way. I'm also grateful for the extra time I get to spend with family and friends as a result. Thanks, everyone. Let's do it again in 2015. We kind of have to.

*****

* the first floor sign to the second floor show
* Nathan Bulmer
* the beer I had in Tucson at 8:45 AM
* from The Sculptor
* three photos from the Friday night event at the mighty Meltdown Comics: Ed Brubaker, a wall of sticker art, my all-time favorite cartoonist Jaime Hernandez
* a view of a local merchant's wares
* egad: this was the crowd when I walked in
* busy cartoonists, with Farel Dalrymple in the immediate foreground
* Jordan Crane
* the panels room
* that Little Nemo book, purchased by both Groening and McCloud
* MariNaomi, avoiding me
* so many young comics-makers!
* Groening contributes to the drawing wall (below)

*****

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