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Comics Club

One of the things I’ve heard younger makers talking about is how they can’t get in to certain shows. SPX. CAB. TCAF. Then they talk about how they “did” a certain show because they could get in. Or they talk about shows they are going to “do” (some of which I haven’t even heard of) because that’s a show they could probably get in to if they apply early enough. However, many of these shows are in smaller, out of the way markets and often the expense involved – travel, hotel, table fee, etc. – to set up there is not proportionate to the social benefits and sales that come from attending; perhaps that money could be better spent fostering and/or bolstering your local scene.  Just saying.

Start a comics club. That’s basically how the comics scene in Pittsburgh started. Back in the 1970s there were a bunch of comics fans who started hanging out every week to talk about and trade comics. They made a monthly fanzine. And then once a year they had a convention. Sound familiar? It’s fandom. Basically the same thing happened all over the country and the comic book direct market was born out of that and then comic-book stores flourished. You know the story probably. There are good parts of the story and bad parts. Let’s focus on the good parts.

Comic-book stores and conventions provided a space for like-minded folks to get together and talk shop. That is still the case. However for younger makers, especially makers of “alternative” comics they really don’t feel welcome at most comic-book stores or that many traditional comic-book conventions. Something like HeroesCon (arguably the most alt-comics-friendly mainstream show) is completely out of step to most younger alt-comics makers. It’s just not their crowd.

The shows that are in step with younger alt-comics makers are often out of reach or just not “doable.” West Coast people complain about how expensive it is to get to SPX. East Coast people complain that “no one buys anything” at APE. Shit, I remember wanting to go that Autoptic in Minneapolis and then I looked up flights and it was simply cost-prohibitive.

I don’t really want to open the can of worms that is the argument over curated shows. So let me try and focus on some other alternatives to “doing shows.”

Just go. Go to the shows you don’t get in to. Hell, I got in to TCAF but they stuck me way in the back by the bathroom and the only people that went that far back into the room were looking for the toilet. So I just walked around with my books and hand-sold them. Something to consider. Next year I’ll probably just do that and skip applying for table. After they read this they probably won’t let me in anyways…;)

So what is the solution? What show do you “do” if you are an alt-comics maker?

I think everyone should think locally. Start a comic club. It doesn’t have to be a “drink and draw” at a bar. It could be just meeting at the library once a week or once a month. Start a fanzine or a Tumblr or something.

Just figure out a way to introduce the social element that is difficult to achieve in our scene. We don’t have openings like art galleries. We have signings. And usually at a store that doesn’t have any chairs. Galleries don’t have chairs either but you catch my drift. Signings are a mixed bag. I know that I always feel obligated to buy the book if I go to a signing. I don’t feel obligated to buy something on view at a gallery if I go to an opening. And shows – at least alt-comics shows – are competitive. Competitive to get into and competitive on the floor. There’s only so much money around.

I was lucky to literally grow up at a comics shop that had chairs. And couches. Bill Boichel’s store was the only store in the neighborhood that didn’t have a sign that read, “Kids must be accompanied by an adult.” We got to hangout and shoot the shit. With the older kids. And then we started a fanzine and then an anthology. Soon we had a scene. And I don’t mean scene in the negative way like it was a clique. I mean, the store fostered a community spirit—not a competitive one.

I’ve been doing these “academy classes” “comic-book sales” in my NYC summer studio. I tried doing this in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh and it worked too. I like the idea of a “floating academy” or a “floating comic con”. But really it’s just a comics club.  Just take over a coffee shop corner or a few tables at Whole Foods and tell people to come hang out. Forget spending tons of money on a table at a show a million miles away from your house. Think locally. Community form as commodity form. Take a while. Think about it. (I stole that last line from Bill Boichel).


11 Responses to Comics Club

  1. Chris Pitzer says:

    I’m happy that the “now” generation of comickers in Richmond have started a few gatherings. It’s good to get out and here what the locals are doing. Good advice all around Frankie.

  2. Also, consider regional zine festivals, which are proliferating almost as fast as comics shows. At one time zines and alt-comix went hand in hand. Alt-comix gradually got big enough that they kind of morphed into their own thing, but there is still plenty of overlap.

    Zine fairs are generally much, much cheaper to table at, and the people walking in the door are already predisposed to understanding things like self-publishing, small print runs, and idiosyncratic artistic ideas. Many of my best shows of the year are at zine fests.

    Alex Wrekk’s Stolen Sharpie Revolution site is a great resource:

    http://www.stolensharpierevolution.org/events/

  3. Robert Kirby says:

    We’ve done a few little informal bar-type gatherings here in Minneapolis and they are fun. So far no drawing has happened, just shoptalk and such. With beer. Great piece, reminds me to get back and get gathering again.

  4. Great piece Frank!

    For artists heavy on the handmade aspects of their books there are a number of opportunities at traditional printing focussed events like book arts and letterpress shows. I usually see at least one comic book producer at these things. Typically someone I’ve never heard of who does dazzling work. A couple of examples close to me are Book Arts Jam in Palo Alto – http://www.bookartsjam.org and SF Bay Area Printers’ Fair & Wayzgoose in San Jose – http://printersguild.wordpress.com These types of events are held all over the country, try your local library for information. They always post these at the library.

  5. Gabe Fowler says:

    Good points, Frank! I’m trying to start the heavy lifting of organizing the next CAB show, and I have 408 applications for 72 tables. It’s insane. Personally I’m ecstatic that comics are thriving at this level of interest, but it presents certain logistical problems about how to best participate in an expanding community.

  6. I’m 14 and I live in a small town in Texas. I want to start a fanzine but all the kids that even read comics read mainstream manga. Which is not a problem but they have no respect for alt comics.
    We also have no other comic scene in town besides the manga guys. The closest comic shop is 1 hour from my house and they just have a mainstream scene. Austin is 2 hours away and I have heard about a Small Press Convention called Stapels! . I’m going to try to go next year.
    I put my comics on tumblr but don’t have the money for good equipment.

    How do I find people who would be willing to collaborate with me? and what would I use to make good copies of my work?

  7. Or just make some comics and dont worry about goong to shows?

  8. Ben Humeniuk says:

    Cameron,

    Whereabouts in Texas are you? Austin’s actually got a pretty strong alt comics scene, and Houston’s got a burgeoning one. Staple! would certainly be a great choice to attend– it’s a really friendly, laid-back show and a solid place to make contacts and get advice.

  9. Ben,

    I reside in Beeville ( South Texas ). I was awhare of Austin’s scene but had no idea about Houston’s (I’ll look into it). I’m still probably going to Staple! and I’m glad to here that it has a good vibe. Thanks for telling me.

  10. Yakov says:

    Hey Cameron, I couldn’t find any of your own work on your Tumblr…

  11. Yakov,

    It’s probably because of my bad habit of reporting stuff. I’m currently working on a comic for the comics workbook competition that should be up in August or early September.

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