Stumptown, William Bazillion, and You
Having been away from the Internet from Thursday night until earlier this afternoon, I'm sure that just about everyone in Portland has beaten me to the punch in covering Stumptown, but here's my take on the show, for what it's worth:
*Master Planner and all-around great gal Pancha Diaz picked up me and Shaenon around 5am on Friday morning for the looooong drive to Portland, just as we'd planned. Except for one pickup, the gathering of the fellowship went fairly well, and we only set out about 45 minutes behind schedule (a new record for our group).
*We ate lunch (same as last year) at Rooster's, in Medford. Great food, great prices, and you get about 15 different pie options for dessert. I'm already trying to figure out what kind of pie I want next year.
*My driving's a little spotty, since I do it so rarely these days, but I managed to rack up about 200 miles without incident.
*We hit Portland before sundown, and grabbed dinner at a Thai restaurant with Liz's mother. The fact that this was probably the least memorable food I ate in Portland speaks very highly of how good everything else was. I could probably double my weight in a year if I moved there.
*After dinner, we drove over to Gresham to see Jesse Hamm and his wife Anna, who put up me and Shaenon for the weekend. We don't get to see nearly enough of Jesse since he moved to Portland almost three years ago, and it's always great to see him.
*Jesse's car is in disrepair for the time being, so he, Shaenon and I got to explore Portland's public transit system on Saturday morning. We arrived about an hour-and-a-half into the show, and things were in full swing by the time we took our positions and started doing the convention thing. This was the official convention debut of our new group, The Couscous Collective, and we managed to get off to a decent start, all things considered.
*I made my first sale, a copy of the soon-to-be-sold-through-my-WebComics Nation mini-comic, Max O'Millions and The Red Menace, before lunchtime on Saturday, so I felt pretty confident at the start of the day.
*However, my sales the rest of the weekend were pretty lousy. Shaenon and Jesse agreed that my overly generic covers probably scared people off, so I'll be re-tooling those before APE. I took pretty thorough notes on what I really should've done differently this time out, and should be able to address all of those issues pretty well by November.
*It was reassuring (although I feel bad for him, mind you) to hear that my pal Justin Hall was having a hard time selling his minis, too. You'd think that Republican-kid adventurer comics and gay porn comics would be more popular, wouldn't you?
*Saturday's lunch was at the mall, and dammit, I'll just come clean and admit that I like eating in authentic mall food courts. The malls in downtown San Francisco are way too upscale (apart from the one at Nordstrom's, which is a good attempt at real mall food, but only has about five different restaurants). I settled on bourbon chicken at the Cajun Grill, although Arby's and Hot Dog on a Stick were close runners-up.
*Sales were pretty miserable for me the rest of the day Saturday, so I decided that I'd focus more of the weekend on the important stuff, like catching up with friends and doing a little networking. Once you've given up on trying to make back table costs, gas money, printing costs and other miscellaneous expenses, it's easier to take rejection.
*Elijah Brubaker mentioned on his blog that tabling at a convention feels like being a carny, and I think he hit it right on the head. I wasn't feeling particularly aggressive on Saturday, and only gave my sales pitch to about one out of every five-or-so people who lingered at the table. If I'd had better postcards/flyers to pass out to people, I'd have done a much better job of that--it's harder than you'd think to explain the phrase "Santa's Nazi Gold" to someone that you're meeting for the first time in a 15-second conversation.
*It was pretty cool to be at a show where Top Shelf and Sparkplug looked like the Big Two publishers. Dark Horse probably had the biggest presence at the show, and Fantagraphics had a pretty large presence, too, but it was a nice change of pace from my last convention visit, WonderCon, and I'm sure it will be considerably different from my next con, Super-Con.
*Dinner on Saturday night was excellent. Jesse, Derek Kirk Kim, Gene Yang, Eric Wu and a bunch of us bought dinner from a taco truck (or the adjacent pho truck) and carried our purchases to Periscope Studio, where we dined with Steve Lieber, Sara Ryan, Carla Speed McNeil and a bunch of other folks. Just a whole mess o' comic people eating cheap takeout food, and not having to explain to everyone else in the room that yes, people still draw comic books, and no, your Death of Superman comic isn't worth a hundred bucks anymore.
*From there, it was off to the big party at Cosmic Monkey. I got to re-meet S.F.-area artist Brian Kaas, whom I'd met a few times before, but hadn't had that five minutes' worth of conversation that's necessary for me to remember someone consistently. I saw quite a few people for about two minutes at a clip, missed out on all of the programming because it was too packed to get anywhere near the stage (and too loud for me to hear much of anything), and we left after about an hour to catch the bus back to Jesse's house.
What we didn't realize, though, was during all of the hubbub at the front of the room, Shaenon won a Stumptown Trophy Award for Outstanding Small Press for her latest publication, a Skin Horse mini-comic. It was waiting for us at our table the next morning, and she got to have a nice chat about it the next day with one of the main Stumptown organizers, Shannon Wheeler.
*Another uneventful day saleswise, but (hokey as it sounds) the whole day, and the whole convention, really, was more about friends than anything else. I met two college friends, Liz and Ken, for lunch, and I hadn't seen them since graduation about ten years back. They've got a baby on the way, they've got interesting jobs, and their lives have nothing whatsoever to do with comics, so it was a nice break from everything to meet with some normal people for a change.
*At the very most, I know two people in the area who aren't connected to the comics industry in some way, shape or form, so it's really, really good to talk to people who aren't particularly tied to it every once in a while. Liz and Ken aren't trying to come up with a pitch for TokyoPop, they don't have any movie deals in the works, and they haven't hit me up for an exhibition at the Cartoon Art Museum yet, either. You forget about the non-comics part of reality if you don't touch base with it every now and again.
*We went to an incredible deli called Kenny and Zuke's for lunch. Killer pastrami on rye and matzoh ball soup. Man, do people know how to eat in Portland.
*After lunch, I wandered around the convention floor and talked to Tom Spurgeon, Scott McCloud and Charles Brownstein, met Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson, executive editor Diana Schutz, and publicity coordinator Jacquelene Cohen, as well as Periscope Studios member (and one of the writers of the 2005 Marvel Holiday Special, which features the first Marvel work that Shaenon and I did) Jeff Parker. As is the case with most conventions, the good conversations don't last nearly long enough, and I'm hoping to see all of those folks again at upcoming conventions (or, better yet, not at a convention).
*Jason Shiga mentioned that he'd like it if instead of having parties during convention weekends, when everyone's exhausted, the parties should be the whole point of the weekend. I suggested holding conventions on Monday afternoons and just hosting a series of parties starting on Friday night.
After some thought, I realized that I usually hate parties, so I guess my ultimate convention would just be me sitting at home watching DVDs.
*Our table placement at the convention was great, and my only complaint about the venue was the acoustics. People had to repeat themselves to me all weekend, and since I hate asking people to speak up a second time, I ended up politely nodding through quite a few conversations that I probably didn't understand. I'm still not sure if I was just dealing with a lot of soft-spoken folks or if it was convention deafness setting in.
*On Sunday night, Jesse led us to a Cuban restaurant in downtown Portland, and the food was amazing. I almost ordered the oxtail, but went with some pork, potatoes and sauce combination, since it was listed as the chef's specialty. Great stuff, and my only regret is that I didn't try anything off of their massive dessert menu. Maybe next year.
*For dessert, we stopped off at the Scott McCloud-recommended Voodoo Doughnut and bought a Voodoo dozen. Specialty toppings included Froot Loops, Oreos, tiny M&Ms, and, I still can't figure out how they pulled this one off, bubble gum-flavored pink goop. Voodoo Doughnut's on a block that includes a bookstore, a camping supply shop and live nude dance, which speaks volumes about what a great city Portland is.
*There were a few "Dead Dog" events that night, too, and we bounced around between them until we decided it was time to call it a night. I had a few interesting conversations, but most of them were lost to sleep-deprivation.
*The long drive back. We had a few dodgy moments along the way, and I think each of us came close to blowing up multiple times that day (well, I was pretty edgy, at any rate), but we got to eat at a great restaurant called Heaven on Earth, which makes excellent Marionberry pie, cookies and other baked goods, in addition to their fully-stocked homestyle menu, so I managed to keep my nerves intact long enough for me to get home and pass out in bed around 3am, so it did the trick. (And yes, I'm *this* close to turning into Garrison Keillor with all of this talk about good ol' fashioned home cooking, but hey, that "down home" feeling is what separates Stumptown from the pack, anyway, so it's all good.)
*This post was brought to you today by Powdermilk Biscuits. Yes, Powdermilk Biscuits, the biscuits that give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.