Drove up to Cleveland for Genghis Con. Totally worth it. Check out Genghis Con next year, folks. Kevin Czap and John G and the whole crew put on a great show. Thank you. This was the first year in a new warehouse space. The old venue was cool but it was too small and had no windows. This space felt good. Lots of light, but it was one of those gloomy rustbelt Sunday afternoons so it didn’t matter anyways.
It may have been gloomy outside but it was hoppin’ inside. Cleveland and the surrounding areas (like Buffalo, Akron, Erie) seem to be growing small-press comics-makers and readers at a steady rate. I’ve been tabling at Genghis Con for a few years now and I gotta admit I do better at this show than shows I do in my hometown of Pittsburgh PA (a mere two-and-a-half hours away). (Gregory Benton drove all the way from NYC--eight hours away).
The show went off without a hitch. Load in at noon. Show started at two. Ended at seven. It was a perfect one-day Sunday show. Better than most one-day Saturday shows. It was busy from two to four and then it slowed down. Which was fine. Perfect in a way. A steady stream of people though. I asked a lot of people who bought stuff if they also made comics. Most of them said they “just read" comics. I took that as a healthy sign of word getting out about the show beyond the usual suspects.
I was selling old back issues and some recent “classic” mini-comics and zines. Y’know, a “curated” selection. Someone bought a copy of Pompeii from me and had no idea I was the author. I liked being unknown to many of the attendees. “Do you have a store?” “No, I just do shows like this.” “Can I order stuff online?” “Yah, just email me. I don’t have a website or an Etsy store.” I like the personal interaction with browsers, of figuring out what kind of comics they are into. I like trading. Not many people do trades anymore. Which is fine, I understand. I can trade from my “store” so it’s a little different.
It was fun to be next to John P. We’ve got similar set-ups. He has one side of the table for his own books (like King-Cat and King-Cat-related stuff) and the other side for Spit and a Half—the distro wing of his operation. I do the same thing, sort of, but I sell used old comics and used old zines & don’t have to deal with all the micro-publishers like John does. That must take the patience of a saint. Keeping track of all that inventory? Sheesh. He’s a saint, I tell ya. Pushing your comics and zines all over North America so you don’t have to.
Best sellers at my table? Ulli Lust (nicely printed mini-comics she gave me to sell), Yummy Fur, Fist of the Northstar, EC reprints, Jon Vermilyea (Cold Heat Special newspapers I bought off Dan when PicBox folded), Mardou (I still have first prints of Sky in Stereo #1—well, I sold out at this show actually). Sold a lot of American Splendor. Sold my Derf Dahmer comic. “Derf’s gonna be mad that you’re selling his comic,” somebody announced. “No he’s not, I bought it off him.” Lots of eyeballs on my mint-condition never-been-read Mould Map 3. No one bit though. My new game is let people make me lowball offers on my unpriced Copra first-print compendium set. “Well, it just got reprinted so it’s not worth that much anymore,” said some dude. I said, “I know. But that doesn’t mean I’m selling it to you for cheap.” “How much do you want for it?” he said. “If you have to ask you can’t afford it,” I said with a wry smile.
I’m really enjoying the fairly recent uptick in attention to craft in small-batch printings for comics. Risograph editions, offset editions, even some color xerox editions. It’s flipped a little bit. Everyone still makes cheap newsprint editions—tabloids—but there are more and more “crafty” editions. However/whatever the approach to developing/growing a market for high-quality small-press/self published comics, it should be geared towards the benefit of the creator. Like making works of art, small editions that have value--like a painting or a sculpture has value as an object--as opposed to making it cheaply with cheap printing, in which case it is usually, ultimately, valueless once it is consumed.
I asked Bill Boichel (owner of Copacetic Comics and all around comics guru) about it and he said: "As the market for high-quality small-press and self-published comics grows and matures, it is worth noting that there is a good chance that it will come to resemble in some respects the slowly eroding market of corporate-published comics that it is replacing— for example, with the small-press comics shows like Genghis Con and many others, which are starting to have the look and feel of the original old-school comic shows of forty or so years back. Creators should be paying attention to what is going on around them and balance their own needs and the needs of the medium that they are simultaneously nurturing and being nurtured by. When a well received, hand-crafted, small-batch comics piece that is initially priced at $5 to $20 sells out its run, it is inevitable that collectors and speculators will enter the market. Taken together with press accolades, word-of-mouth and/or word-of-blog respect, the increase in prices of a creator’s work will serve to trumpet its merit, and be read as an indicator of quality and/or consumer demand – along with bringing in extra dollars that will ultimately help to develop the comics retail infrastructure. This should, in turn, lead to the creator being able to reprint the work in question and/or have it collected by a larger publisher at some point down the road. Also, perhaps, she will be able to command increasingly higher prices for her art. Thus, the involvement of collectors and speculators in the small press, self-published world of creator-owned comics can have a beneficial impact and be part of a healthy ecosystem that will bring financial benefit to creators and keep the medium thriving. It is important to keep these collector and speculator dollars in perspective, however. No one wants to see speculation ramp up to such a degree that exploitative faux “small-press comics” houses emerge to cash in on a trend by pitching “guaranteed collectors’ items” designed to cash in on a trend. This risks throwing the whole system out of balance by causing participants to focus on money rather than comics; anytime getting paid takes precedence over creating work, some sort of catastrophe is inevitable. It may become increasingly important to keep alert to the longterm ramifications of proffered deals that could begin to emerge in the years ahead. Remember: creators are always the ones, ultimately, in the driver’s seat. It’s up to them (this means you) to keep their eyes on the road and be guided by the original calling of comics and cartooning – and, indeed, of all artistic creation: self-expression, communication, and devotion to the muses."