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April 26, 2015

A Few Quick Notes On Linework NW 2015


Here are a few quick notes on Linework NW 2015, a comics and illustration show that took place in Portland all the way back last weekend -- an eternity in comics time. It was its second year. The primary organizers are Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault.

I'm organizing a festival in Columbus, Ohio called Cartoon Crossroads Columbus so I'm trying to avoid full critical write-ups as it's likely impossible now and maybe even sort of unfair. I was also a guest of the show. Still, I think there might be something of use in just putting my thoughts down, even more limited ones than what I was able to process in year's past. Take everything with a giant salt lick, is what I'm saying, or ignore me altogether. Now that I'm done and returning to this paragraph, I failed keeping this limited in any way. So double down on that salt.


* I had a really good time at this show.

* for those of us on the outside of Portland cartooning looking in, LineworkNW seemed to spin off from the dissatisfaction that some in that city's scene felt for a conception of the long-running Stumptown Comics Fest that seemed to focus on indie-genre and mainstream material in addition to alt- and art-comics. What was to be a kind of separate, focused show became a replacement show when Stumptown ended its convention aspect for a seat at the Rose City show's table as a kind of local resource and programs generator. So what you have in Linework NW is a classic small-press arts show in line with Autoptic or CAKE, but with a special emphasis on illustration and with access to one thing Stumptown did really well -- its very social after-hours in comics-friendly Portland.

* that's probably a C-minus description, but it's as close as I can get.

* this was the first comics show I attended since moving to Columbus about six weeks ago. When I moved to Silver City, New Mexico in the early 2000s, the only shows I thought about doing were San Diego and SPX, and SPX only about every third year or so. This made the 3.5-hour drive to the airport bearable, and even added an adventurous component to the journeys. Since then, cons and festival have exploded into being while old favorites have become stronger. I could easily go to 16-18 shows and get some work done at each one. I will in a year of not particularly wanting to go to show do five or six of them. Having a 15-minute drive to the airport, and knowing that when I got home exhausted I'd be minutes from my own bed, I literally choked up. Not having to plan a whole day on each end is a huge boon for this part of my professional life and may extend it a few years. I'm wholly grateful.

* Port Columbus is one of those adorable regional airports, too. Very little walking. And I got to fly through Minneapolis, which is like Atlanta's mall-style airport, but a nicer, more sedate, laidback mall. Portland's airport is another equally nice one. It's overpraised a bit, but it's still nice. The best thing I like about that one is that the train line is easy to access, easy to use and shoots you down into neighborhoods and intersections where you actually want to go.

* due to a scheduling snafu, I stayed Friday night at a small motel 25 steps from where the train dropped me off.

image* I did a couple of comics things that day. I tromped across Burnside Bridge -- one of the great short city walks -- and went to Periscope Studios for coffee with same-age peers Steve Lieber and Jeff Parker. I very much enjoy talking to those guys. They are great veteran gentlemen of comics and I don't always have insight into that world of comics-making. They agree with me that DC's move from New York to Burbank may be significant and positive in terms of that company's culture, and their recent hires all received a thumbs-up. Mostly we just made cruel, dumb jokes about our betters. Parker always looked over his shoulder to see if someone was standing right behind him, and it struck me that Portland's really the only town stuffed with enough cartoonists that this seems a not-crazy thing to do.

* Parker and Lieber are always very kind to me and generous with their time; everyone at Periscope is. I got to see Jesse Hamm, and it might have been five to ten years since I've seen Jesse. In the small-world department, Jesse is working on something dayjobish with Eric Evans, the former TCJ managing editor. One of the club: like astronauts or Heisman Trophy winners, only with basically no comparable accomplishment involved. I got to meet Leila Del Duca and Terri Nelson; I caught up with Ron Randall at the show.

* they both seem to be doing well, Parker and Lieber, just veteran comics-makers with solid track records and with seemingly as much work as they'd like. Maybe they save their complaining for Heidi. I asked Lieber if he worried about every becoming passe or out of fashion like a lot of older comics-makers fear and he noted that he entered the industry totally out-of-fashion. Good point.

* I liked the half-hour I worked in their offices. I'm told it's not always quiet, but when I was there doing my job of making dumb comments on twitter, the entire place had this low-level hum of hard work. So appealing. I don't think Erika Moen looked up from her pages the entire time I was there. It reminded me of a grand-old sports team, one of those outfits with so many veterans they're kind of boring, with a 38-year-old team captain that still has the goods.

* I'll note that Parker is in the corner of the place and on that day was surrounded by empty desks, which is exactly where all of us would put him, I think.

* I was told that one of the things that place will return to after some discombobulation over the last couple of years is a more active program for young cartoonists -- interns, mentorship, that kind of thing. I can't imagine any young person working there would fail to pick up on the idea that there's not a lot of cheating the work part of comics, not in the main and not for very long. Seeing that as the core of comics is even more helpful, I think. I'm not sure those of us that don't have that level of production in that art form always give it its due.

* the other thing I did was stop by Floating World, where comics people like David Zissou, Annie Murphy, Zack Soto, Jordan Shiveley and Jessica Underhill were gathered, pre-con weekend. That's still a nice store. I hadn't been in since they were doing it as a comic shop/shared studio space. One thing they do really well there is present older comics of interest. I bought a bunch of First Kingdom issues there last time at cover price, and felt like doing the same with some of the Ignatz line they had out. It was nice chatting with everyone.

* then I went to the motel and fell asleep and woke up just in time to convince a non-comics friend to come out and eat with me late-night and then back to bed. I missed what sounds like a pretty good gallery show opening night. It's great that shows are coordinating with galleries for events like that. It's one thing I miss about San Diego now that the downtown San Diego is less stabby and more Hollywood-fuckable.

* I transferred to the Jupiter Hotel for the show itself. The Jupiter is one of those crappy motels converted into a hipster one, with doors you can write on in chalk and water you've never heard off offered in bottles near the bed where they also give you a free condom. There was a box of funky-looking donuts when I dropped my luggage off, and people standing around checking out from a week of a big brewery convention. Is that when regular week-long conventions dissipate, Saturday morning? Makes sense. My hometown company had sponsored one of the tents covering the Jupiter's grounds. The brewery people looked like walking stereoytypes of brewery employees, so I'm figuring that might be true of every industry.

image* I sat in the bar and waited for a room and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and was amazed they didn't have at least one old TV up so I watched Chelsea/United updates on my computer, which is the coolest way to sit at a bar. Max Clotfelter and Tom Van Duesen came up and said hi, which reminded me not to sit in the bar all day. I ended up passing on breakfast and not eating it either day, disappointing my elementary teachers and the Mulligan Stew.

* that neighborhood is astounding for a comics show. It had the Norse Lodge, it has the Jupiter and its prison soap with the middle cut out, it's pretty easily accessible from the city's young person enclaves and reasonably so for everyone else, it's easy to find from the highway, it has about a half-dozen places within easy walking distance for drinks and meals and more of each at a slightly more distant remove for dinner, but it's also not heavily residential so on a weekend there was easy street-parking.

* the crowd at the beginning of the show was solid, I thought; a modest line outside waiting to get in and maybe hoping for the free bag of stuff promised to the first 100 people, I'm not sure.


* okay, the neighborhood was ridiculous enough but the Norse Lodge struck me was even more ludicrously advantageous, about as optimal as you can imagine for a show like this one. It's stil a functioning lodge but its greatest community function seems to be as a rentable dance hall for focused-dance evenings. Like an evening of salsa dancing. At least that's what the bored buy in the office told me. There's a good dance floor/commone area that looks like an elementary school basketball court with a set-up for about 80 tables if you include the stage, there's an upstairs room for the panels that looks like a big theater rehearsal room, about 150 seats in there. And the whole thing drips with characters. You always want more space if you're running a show -- at least most show-runners do -- but it's hard to imagine a more perfect quirky space.

* at this point, things begin to blur. I saw a jovial Chris Pitzer and scored the Sophie Goldstein and Kathryn/Stuart Immonen books. I saw Josh Simmons for the first time in a while, signing his new book. I saw Anna Pederson since she slipped into her new role at the Fantagraphics main office, standing next to a high-energy Jacq Cohen. I saw Lisa Hanawalt and immediately said something weird that had her worried about our upcoming panel. I was given the new issue of the Intruder by that admirable crew of comics folk. I said two words to John Pham and about 20,000 to Sammy Harkham, who had Crickets #4. I got to speak to 1990s Seattle cartooning mainstay JR Williams; we each ran barely remembered names past one another for clues as to what happened to the circles surrounding twenty-years-ago versions of ourselves. David from Telegraph was there, already moving product.


* they had a bar attached to the main room. Which was air conditioned. And a food truck outside selling ice cream. They had first-come first-served vegan pizza on the hour in a green room. Like I said: the physical set-up was really strong.

* the panels went well, I thought. I saw bits of all them and only one seemed poorly executed.

image* Lisa Hanawalt was excellent on her panel; that was as smooth as any panel I've ever had. She's in a period of flux directly between books and managing the huge life change that is moving across country and working on a TV show. I did another panel the first day about indie comics people doing genre comics that went only okay. I was not made aware of these panels until the day before I left which kind of kept me out of a focused-image interaction strategy on the panels I moderated. Just shooting the shit can work with a spotlight, but it's more difficult with a broad subject. And while there are a lot of indie talent doing genre comics without the same hangups of the last generation, I'm not sure there's a lot to talk about there. Every generation either does genre work or is informed by it or both. But still, it's fun to talk.

* I was on a Charlie Hebdo panel. I'm not sure anything of value was said, certainly not by me. I was given the question of why this was so affecting, so I got to bring in things like the very specific French-ness of that kind of satire and the fact that the creators that were killed were well-liked members of the cartooning world's mainstream culture, such as it is -- they were not multiple dudes out in the boonies somewhere throwing bombs, but closer to the French version of the Daily Show staff or MAD bullpen. There was a lot of talk about the generational difference in reaction and self-censorship as an act of humility in an increasingly diverse world. For some reason Seinfeld came up twice.

* I tend to agree with every social analysis that points out the horrific struggles that people have and the effects that this kind of cultural hammer can have on folks, intended or unintended. At the same time, I still think the consideration of nuance, intention and context are important when we're deciding how we feel about those actions. I also see this event as a criminal act and a cynically political act designed to foment a certain kind of cultural reaction which benefits a number of people in perpetuating their side of the wider matter. Mostly I can't get past the murder part, and this includes sympathy for what seem to me to be the lost souls that committed those acts. I also realize there are about three things in every one of the last ten sentences for which I could be called out or have my hypocrisies pointed out to me or however the language gets structured by people so much more certain about things than I am. Even my hesitancy reveals something, I'm sure. I'll continue to think about it and maybe my occasional thoughts or actions will be put out there to be scrutinized or criticized but at this point I'm just trying to figure some things out for me. I wish I were of better use to others, and I apologize. Anyway, it was a weird panel. I was at one point going to tell a story I've never told in public but withdrew it because the previous speaker's lengthy tirade would have changed the context. That kind of thing.

* the cartoonist Sam Alden got booed and hissed on that panel for saying he thought self-censorship was a positive. Alden is very young and innocent-looking so this was like seeing Kermit The Frog take a brick to the head. He was talking about the Mahou Shonen Breakfast Club manga incident, where some artists once criticized on about cultural appropriation withdrew their comic. I honestly don't care how artists choose to do or not to do work as long as they're the ones with the final say. It seems weird to boo something like that.

* that night I finally checked into the hotel. It was still light I started watching basketball on TV but as I sat there the light changed outside so you could see into rooms and Chris Pitzer got a laugh out of my pantsless self watching hoops like every old man's nightmare version of himself he banged on the window. I went to the door pantsless -- Steve Ditko style -- to make it look like I meant to do that, but he wasn't fooled.


* ran into Tucker Stone and Jordan Shiveley on my way to dinner. Tucker said he had a pretty sold sales weekend for NoBrow across the boad, no book in particular standing out. He mentioned that Dustin Harbin's dinosaur fold-out at NoBrow sold out of its first edition more quickly than the publisher had thought it would. He told a great story of being snubbed at a comics event and I would not have guessed the person snubbing in 100 years.

* ate that night with Jacq Cohen's army of young cartoonists and comics-makers. I got to hear what Sammy Harkham thinks of Stephen King.

* drank a beer or two with the event photographer at the not-so-secret karaoke party; she was very nice. Caught up with Marc Arsenault, who's been having a rough work year with multiple break-ins. Tried to figure out if the club where Adam Conover was performing late-night was findable and gave up when I was just drunk enough not to read my phone very well. Had a nightcap with Ian MacEwan, another cartoonist whose name I don't remember except that he was a Shannon, and Shannon Wheeler, all of us drinking outside of a bar between the first place and my hotel. Wheeler's twins are 17 now. A local school had done his opera that evening; I'm happy that's still being performed. I was in bed to catch the late-night NBA re-run. Pants on.

* the next day started late, I guess because exhibitors were late. I stayed in the line and I think it was about 25 minutes before we were let in. I would say in the Mad Max-style future that is going to be competition for seats at shows like these that there's a chance organizers will stop indulging so many people in late set-ups, but then again, it's comics, so probably not. People will complain about it, though, that seems practically guaranteed.

* a Korean barbecue truck joined the ice cream truck.

* saw Patrick Rosenkranz, who is killing it right now writing-wise. Please buy everything he does, or at least go watch his videos. He's transferring those from tape himself. Saw a healthy and happy looking Brett Warnock, with son in tow. Waved at Diana Schutz. Saw Milo George -- although that might have been Saturday. Milo's been married since the last time I saw him. "I recommend eloping," he said. Frank Young was definitely Saturday. Three members of TCJ managing editors fraternity. The weekend blurred a bit that way.

image* running into Eric Reynolds, on the other hand was definitely on Sunday. He came down from Seattle with one of Linework's guests of honor, Dan Clowes. Clowes was quickly signing to a steady line of super-thrilled people, including a group that flew up from Utah. Fantagraphics sold out of the Complete Eightball slipcovered editions they brought down by about 3 PM. It's a beautiful book.

* saw Jacob Covey, the longtime Fantagraphics designer, now in Astoria, for the first time in ten years or so. That was a pleasant surprise. He's doing more prose book design. They moved to a farm.

* the big switch for Linework NW from Saturday to Sunday is that they were swapping out the vast bulk of their individual vendors, so that like a music festival, the line-up each day was different. The idea is that you give people reasons to come each day, you allow more people to exhibit overall, and you give people an entire day to come and hang out and do other show stuff if they want without worrying about tabling. There was really no confusion or complaining about this, it seemed. I guess they lost a couple of out-of-town exhibitors for whom one day wasn't enough to justify the trip, but Portland of course has eight billion willing exhibitors, and might be one of the few places this kind of strategy makes total sense. I would say it worked well enough to do again. It was a bummer once or twice to recommend something that completely off of the floor now, but nothing unexpected.

* it did seem as if those who were only doing the one day got the hell out of there. Attendance was light in general, I think, compared to last year. The days started well, but the show went to 8 PM and the last hours both days were sparsely attended, particularly Sunday.

* the Clowes panel went pretty well. Clowes is a smart, funny guy and everything he says at a set-up like that is either charming or funny or insightful or all three. I guess... well, I guess people couldn't hear my questions. I thought I was a little quiet but I was apparently just not audible. My apologies to everyone. It's hard for me to tell the difference between a little quiet and complete silence from behind a microphone. I tried to apologize to individuals as the day went on.

* Clowes talked about working for Kim Thompson, and Chicago cityscapes, and the short essays like "I Hate You Deeply" that aren't really something he does anymore (and might not be able to given how things have changed). We talk about the target-rich climate of the 1990s when you could broach a subject and feel like you were the first person to notice something. He talked about the challenge of putting together this collection given all the 1990s printing shenanigans. Clowes talked about his growing comfort with the comics form as he went along, at least in terms of atmospheric and subliminal effect. I had a blast.

* Dave Scroggy sat in the front row.


* spent most of the rest of the day drinking in the small bar off of the main hall, which was amazing in its modest way. It was certainly welcome. It was a total lodge-style bar, in this case run by wisecracking older ladies. It was air conditioned. And it wasn't really ever crowded. I could probably sit around a table and talk to comics people in an after-work setting for three hours a day every day for the rest of my life. I had a great conversation with Dan Clowes about proto-comic shops in Chicago, 1970s pawn shops and the like, the sometimes-terrifying places we looked for old comics when we were kids. I had a lengthy talk with Alvin Buenaventura about a range of topics, including Pigeon Press' books this year, which sound great.. I was glad to hear both Dan and Alvin had a good time in Columbus last year for Dan's exhibition opening.

* my apologies to Roxanne, who introduced herself. I wasn't confused by your name, I thought you were saying you were Ryan Sands and playing a practical joke on me! I'm sorry! Thanks for talking to me.

* saw a lot of people to whom I never spoke, like Ed Luce and Nicole Georges and Andrice Arp. Stuffed room both days.

image* I think that show went pretty well. Like I mentioned earlier, there are tremendous natural advantages to a show in that neighborhood in Portland. I think both Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault thought there were fewer people there on either day than on the single day last year. Most people I talked to sold at least pretty well, or up to expectations. The two cartoonists that people talked about on the floor the most were Tom Van Duesen, whom I mentioned earlier, and Ben Duncan. A lot of folks were thrilled to be able to get the new Crickets. Todd Bak -- he says his new USPS day job just means his legs are tired -- had a nice-looking mini there.

* there were some complaints. There always are. Attendance was lighter than some hoped. The set-up hours were limited and apparently the first day no one knew where the tables and chairs were stored in the facility. There was no large central party that took hold despite efforts in that direction and I knew some people that went to bed early as a result on one or both of the nights when they didn't particularly want to. The size of Portland's comics community is such and that particularly west coast brand of isolationism is such that I didn't get a sense of the city backing the show, even the comics-part of the city. Lot of cartoonists I know I didn't see there. I guess some volunteers took off when the day they were supposed to work turned out to be beautiful and warm; we sure could have used a devoted one or two working on the sound at the Dan Clowes panel. The show skewed young to the point that some same-age peers I talked to didn't have anyone on hand they wanted to buy after seeing Dan Clowes. I saw some vendors early on on both days struggle to make change for cash-customers. Some people wondered after any ability to expand that show beyond a floor most first-time viewers thought smaller than they had imagined. One person I know said the show still lacked a signature event or distinguishing characteristic beyond being "the show of this type in Portland." I'm not sure if what the con was selling did well, so worry a bit about the financial hit the organizers might have taken. These all seem details eminently manageable in the future, except maybe the size thing.

* I think that shows overall are really fascinating right now. It's something in comics that generally works, so everyone wants a piece of it. Comics is resources-light, so cakes big enough for everyone to get a slice, well, those are rare. At the same time, we've been at this moment for a few years now, so you're starting to see people question just how many peak experiences are necessary to play a role in having a good year, and wonder out loud if an emphasis on weekend shows might not bring with it a tiny amount of neglect for all the other days on the calendar. The fact that the industry itself is changing makes figuring out if the cons and festivals we're getting are the ones we most need.


* I had a great wind-down dinner at Screen Door with Cohen, Pederson, Reynolds, Buenaventura, Covey and Souther Salazar of all people, wearing a Bogus Dead shirt. If I had had ten thousand guesses who I'd be having dinner with this year I would have guessed 1000 people once and 20 twice before Souther. His wife was there, too, and I don't recall her name, and I apologize. She was smart and funny, and I'm a forgetful creep. First time I've seen Salazar in ten years, although they've been in Portland for a couple of winters now. I ate quickly -- fried chicken, boneless and hammered out like a pork tenderloin -- and jumped in a cab. I took the Red Eye home. It was the first time I ever felt claustrophobic on a flight, which is a bad sign for me, potentially. We'll see. I drove for 12 minutes and in another ten was asleep in my own bed. God bless the America with easy access to airports. God bless our nation of comics.



posted 11:55 pm PST | Permalink

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