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December 17, 2013

Festivals Extra: Stumptown To Merge Its Events With Rose City Comic-Con, Ending Stand-Alone Show


Alison Hallett at the Mercury in Portland, Oregon has the story of the Stumptown Comics Festival ending its stand-alone show in favor of a partnership with Emerald City Comic-Con's Portland-based show Rose City Comic-Con in terms of specific aspects of its primary event, including programming and its awards. They will also seek to fulfill their non-profit mandate by pursuing non-show outreach like a potential lecture series and work with schools.

You should read Hallett's story rather than any summation or liberal quoting of it here.

imageStumptown as a stand-alone festival was an important show in the bridge period between the initial SPX era of small-press shows and the modern, more hardcore arts festivals. I enjoyed the early shows I attended at the Doubletree and had a good time at the one I attended at the convention center last Spring. That there were even shows like Stumptown at all during a period of wobbly health for art-comics making -- even given the relative standards of what health in that world means -- that was sort of a miracle. It was an unlikely thing to have in existence even five years ago. So thank you, Stumptown.

That said, Stumptown was a strange show the last couple of years. It is the most complained-about show of any I attended in the last three years. It had a strange relationship to some in the Portland comics community. I spent time with two prominent Portland-resident alternative comics cartoonists in 2013 a couple of days before the event who literally did not know which weekend the festival was until my arrival in town told them. Similarly, there were always rumors about a split on the organizing board between those that had what one Portland described to me tongue-in-cheek as "ECCC Envy," and wanted a show with the surging popularity of Seattle's Emerald City, and those that wanted more of a hardcore arts festival that reflected the city's rich tradition of alternative comics talent more wholly and explicitly. As Hallett points out, this battle for the soul of the show was frequently fought on quotidian battlefields, such as a tussle between those that thought the convention center was the only suitable venue for a show of that size and those that felt that any place with a personality would have been preferable, even if that meant a few more people couldn't exhibit or people from outside of the town proper had to struggle a bit for parking.

One thing I noticed when I was at the 2013 version is that enthusiasm for the show had been dampened ahead of anything I could tell was structurally or physically or even conceptually wrong with the event. I stayed at the host hotel within a short walk of the convention center, liked it there, the room where the event itself was held was boring and had problems but didn't seem a deal-breaker of the kind that could have killed an enthusiastic crowd, the programming rooms were fine and the programming slate smart enough, I could walk somewhere for drinks, the parties were good, and so on. But it still felt deflated, like Portland's comics community had had such a horrible argument behind closed doors that this was the final family road trip before the divorce.

There will be other Portland small-press shows. In addition to their having been two "Projects" events focusing on process and comics-making hosted by Floating World, Hallett's article hints at another announcement forthcoming, likely but certainly not guaranteed to be some sort of replacement event. I would imagine the model presented by Short Run in Seattle would be encouraging to anyone attempting to do so. It seems to me that the natural life of the previous show had expired.

posted 2:00 am PST | Permalink

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