Oct
05

Con Report: SPX 2008

spx_floor_08

Much as with Heroes Con earlier this summer, I’ve once again proved to be too lazy and disorganized to do a nightly roundup post during the show… but, frankly, there were plenty of press folks floating around the place who will most certainly do a better job covering the show than I could–especially since I spent my time behind a table, not taking in all the other good stuff going on.  Just for starters I noted Heidi MacDonald, Johanna Draper Carlson, and Whitney Matheson making the rounds–as well as a number of folks from Newsarama, at least one from The Pulse, someone who appeared to be Mr. Phil from Indie Spinner Rack but who didn’t turn around when I screamed “Hey, Mister Phil!!!” and a person (oddly enough) from The Wall Street Journal.

So there’ll be no lack of coverage from this year’s event from the usual sources, online and otherwise.

What I can probably provide some insight on, though, are what the general vibe among exhibitors was, and since I keep track of what I sell at shows, I’ll maybe do a comparison with this year’s Heroes Con.

First, the general vibe and goings on:

This was the first year for the Saturday/Sunday (as opposed to Friday/Saturday, and even Friday/Saturday/Sunday of previous years) and I think there were some kinks getting worked through as a result, as exhibitors and the event organizers got a feel for this new schedule.  A couple of my friends that had come down from New England and had arrived pre-dinner Friday night went to the Friday evening reception and said it wasn’t very well attended, speculating that there maybe weren’t really that many folks in town yet.  That theory seemed to be confirmed as I noted that as I unloaded my luggage later in the evening–around ten or so–people were beginning to come into the lobby in a pretty steady stream with their luggage, probably just arriving either from evening flights or off the road.

We checked out the hotel bar and found a strange mingling of a few SPX stragglers and some sort of wedding party there hanging out.  We wound up joining some friends from the Triangle area of North Carolina out on the back porch for drinks, but no sooner were we settled in with a few cold beers, than the manager of the bar told us we’d have to leave.  Somehow he’d figured out that some of the beers we were drinking hadn’t actually been purchased at the bar.  How could he have known?  Hmmm… Maybe it’s because the Hellcar guys we were hanging out with were drinking beer out of AN ENORMOUS IGLOO COOLER that they had just set beside their table IN PLAIN VIEW.  At any rate, we eventually left, feeling like elementary school kids caught wandering without a hall pass, and found a peaceful haven “below-decks” on some comfy couches downstairs in the conference area of the hotel where we found some peace and could engage in gentlemanly discussion of timely topics of interest, such as whether Underdog really got his powers from popping some sort of a pill.  (Apparently, yes.  Now that you can just look that kind of crap up on your %&$#@in’ iPhone it doesn’t stay unsettled for long.)

Pretty much everyone I talked to agreed that the first day of the show, Saturday, was an amazing zoo.  One person aptly described it as the “old” Friday and Saturday rolled into one.  I was genuinely surprised by my sales that day, especially considering the newest thing I had available was Midnight Sun, which has been out for about nine months now and is available through bookstores like Barnes and Noble.  On the other hand, I suppose this is the first SPX I’ve had it at.  I’ll get into more hard numbers in a minute, but I think I sold somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty of them on Saturday, along with maybe ten copies of my older SLG book, Farwell, Georgia.

Post-show on Saturday was, of course, the Ignatz awards.  I skipped them in favor of a few minutes of peace in my hotel room and a grilled shrimp Caesar salad that, once ordered via room service and including tip, cost something like $300.00.  I returned in time for the post-show booze-fest, which was, as usual, a lot of fun.  Again, pretty much everyone I talked to had nothing but great stuff to say sales-wise about Saturday.  The cheery mood led to much merriment of course.  In some strange manifestation of “six degrees of separation,” I wound up sitting at a table with a bunch of comics bigwigs far, far out of my league–including novelist and professor Tom DeHaven and his wife,  and Fantagraphics/Comics Journal founder Gary Groth.  I mostly talked to that guy that always comes to SPX in drag… who was curiously also sitting at this same table with us.

Sunday got rolling a little bit later–at noon, rather than eleven–than Saturday and, although it seemed like a pretty good crowd for a Sunday, my sales and the sales of those around me definitely seemed substantially slower than the day before.  I noted a number of folks starting to pack up and go as early as 4:00 or so, even though the show didn’t close until 6:00.  It’s worth noting, though, that this isn’t necessarily any indication of slow sales, but rather is likely just that many folks were heading home on Sunday and probably looking to get an earlier start.

…Which brings up: It definitely felt weird to just close down at the end of the day and go home.  In years past, even with Saturday as the last day of the show, everyone stuck around Saturday night to hang out, go to the Ignatz Awards and socialize.  The unpleasant prospect of hitting the road didn’t rear its ugly head until the following day.

All in all, though, a great show, especially considering the current economic woes.

Now, sales…

First, a disclaimer: I don’t attend events like SPX to generate money; I go to generally stay in the loop with what’s going on in the art form, to get my books out there for folks who buy stuff mainly in person at events like these, to catch up with friends I see only at conventions, to make new friends and most of all just to have fun.

That said, going to one of these things as an exhibitor entails a substantial financial outlay, and I remember the first time I considered getting a table at SPX there seemed to be a curious lack of information online with any hard numbers indicating what folks were selling.  Occasionally a big publisher will declare that they sold out of this book or that book and will give a number of copies that they brought, but few if any regular folks seem to put out there what they brought in.  I certainly hope I’m not breaking some unwritten rule of comicsdom by publishing such things, but certainly in the past I’ve posted numbers from various shows mainly for comparison’s sake, and I’ll do so again here with the hope that it’ll provide some useful info for other relatively small-time comics creators trying to decide which shows to attend, if any.

Comparing conventions to one another is definitely difficult to do, owing to differences in various things, but this year’s SPX and Heroes cons are a reasonable point of comparison for me since I had essentially the exact same stuff for sale at both–the only real difference being that, since I’m not making minis any more, I had even fewer minis available at SPX than at Heroes.  For these comparisons I’ve modified a bit what I’m listing as my take for original art at Heroes, since part of my original number included a commission that I didn’t actually do at the convention as well as an original art purchase that had been arranged in advance and only ocurred at Heroes con because both I and the purchaser were going to be there.  So here’s the breakdown:

SPX 2008

spx_2008

HEROES 2008

heroes_2008

Interestingly, as far as cash-in-hand goes, I wound up with almost exactly the same amount of money walking out the door at both shows.  It says a lot about how brisk SPX was, though, that it’s a two day show and Heroes is a three day show.  On the other hand, the hotel at SPX costs about 160% of the hotel at Heroes.  A huge factor for me personally, though, is that I’m usually a guest at Heroes, but have to pay for a table at SPX–and of course Heroes is just down the road from me, whereas I have a long drive and one extra day in a hotel for SPX.

My brain really starts to hurt when I try to figure out how I did at this convention or that, especially when I begin to factor in things that are and aren’t tax deductible, etc.  I find this stuff more interesting mainly just as an indicator of the general health of the market for the sorts of comics that I’m most interested in making and reading.

Speaking of reading books…

The Books

I’m notoriously bad at calling the “buzz books” at shows like these, but I didn’t really note any single book that seemed to be in everyone’s hand.  I’d maybe put Chris Schweizer‘s Crogan’s Vengeance (Oni) in the running as it seemed to be getting a lot of well-deserved attention.  I saw a number of folks as well with some great-looking new releases from Fantagraphics including John Kerschbaum’s Peety & Pussy and the collected Fuzz & Pluck hardcover from Ted Stearn.

I was a bit surprised that Adhouse didn’t have a big onslaught of stuff debuting at the show, but I did get to see preview copies of not one, but two, really beautiful Scott Morse books that are apparently forthcoming from them.  One is, I think, entirely new stuff; the other is a couple of previously published anthology pieces.

Apparently repeating an event from last year, John McNamee started a narrative corpse-style jam comic that was drawn on a spool of cash register paper.  You can find the strip itself, as well as a list of participants, here.

I haven’t had time to even unpack yet, much less go through my purchases from the show, but one item I’ll feature here is this onesie that was given to me by Paul Friedrich of Onion Head Monster fame.  I’ve made a deliberate effort not to plaster my blog with pictures of my daughter, but in this case since it’s apropos to comics, I can’t resist:

onionhead

(Caption on shirt: “Onion Head Monster takes a great big pea.”)


Oct
01

Orignal Comics Art on Display in Winston Friday

The “5” Royales strip that I built a “frame” for in a recent post will be on display starting Friday at the 5ive and 40rty gallery here in Winston as part of the exhibit Seeing Winston-Salem: Contemporary Artists’ View of the City. Unfortunately, I’ll not be at the opening, since I’ll be en route to SPX, but here’s the skinny:

5IVE & 40RTY brings together works by more than a dozen contemporary artists living in or near the city in Seeing Winston-Salem: Contemporary Artists’ View of the City. The exhibition opens Friday, October 3 and will remain on view through November 29, 2008. A reception will be held Friday, October 3 from 5:40 until 8:40pm.

The show is presented in collaboration with Reynolda House, Museum of American Art’s Seeing the City: Sloan’s New York Seeing Winston-Salem: Contemporary Artists View the City consists of works that depict or otherwise reference Winston-Salem, individuals who live and work here, and/or other aspects of the city’s life. Artists represented include Shawn Beard, Scott Betz, John Blackburn, Carlos Gustavo, Hieronymus, Laura Lashley, Trena McNabb, Leo Morrissey, Phil Morrison and Angus MacLachlan, Elsie Dinsmore Popkin, Juie Rattley, Liz Simmons, Peter Spivak, Ben Towle, Holly Wilbur,  and Mary Ann Zotto. The show includes naturalistic cityscape renderings, boldly graphic image-and-text paintings, street photography, miniature architectural sketches, a mural-scale collage-based work, comic-strip imagery, and digital video. The exhibition is being curated by writer and independent curator, Tom Patterson.

This exhibition doesn’t attempt to illustrate or editorialize on the myriad issues that characterize contemporary life in Winston-Salem, but it does touch on at least a few of those issues. More importantly, it represents the singular, “on-the-ground” views of a few of the artists who live here and contribute to the city’s reputation as a “city of the arts.”

Sep
26

Certainly the Germans Have a Word for this

Everyone knows the famous Andy Warhol concept of “fifteen minutes of fame,” but surely there needs to be some sort of phrase applicable when you’re mentioned in a list of people or entities that are so utterly out of your league that your only reaction can be: “Well, that makes no kind of sense at all, but I almost feel famous by accident!”

In my case, that list would come from MAD artist extraorinaire Tom Richmond’s blog, where he’s hyping the new issue of Stay Tooned magazine and notes that it will feature, “Interviews with Jules Feiffer, Berke Brethed and Ben Towle.”

In other recent news, I recenty purchased a bottle of 1998 Dom Pérignon Rosé, a 1945 Mouton Rothschild and some Night Train.

Sep
24

Building a Cheap “Frame” for Original Comics Art

I’ve occasionally been asked to display some of my artwork in gallery shows or similar situations and this always poses some problems for comics art.  A page of original art can’t just be hung on the wall like a painting; it requires some sort of frame.  The problem, though, is that getting art framed can be really expensive and unless you sell the piece, you’ll be stuck with a framed piece of your own art–and unless you’re more of an egotist than I, that’s a pretty useless thing to have lying around.  Add to that the near-certainty that if you need to display your artwork again in a similar setting it’ll be a different page, and getting an original page framed professionally for display seems to be an even sillier prospect.

So, I decided that what I’d do is try to build a cheap, but hopefully decent-looking, “frame” (I use the term loosely) that would be reusable for different pieces of art.  Its construction was, in the words of Doctor Finklestein, exceedingly simple.

Here’s all you’ll need:

  • Two sheets of clear acrylic or Lexan.  I went with 18″ x 24″ Lexan, which is a little pricey at $14.00 a sheet, but if you work smaller than I do and go with acrylic, you’ll spend more like $8.00 a sheet.
  • Six 8-32 x 1/2 in stainless steel machine screws – about $2.00
  • Six 8-32 stainless steel wing nuts – about $2.00
  • Two “ring hangers” – These things for some reason come in packs of three, but they’re only about $3.00 a pack.  You can find them with the picture hanging hardware at a Lowes or Home Depot.

Once you’ve got all that stuff, you just drill three holes on each side of the acrylic, drilling through both sheets at once so they’ll line up nicely, and making sure to leave about a half-inch border so you don’t risk splitting the acrylic.  I set the middle holes slightly higher than center since this is where I’ll be mounting the ring hangers and it’ll hang a little better if there’s more weight toward the bottom.

Once drilled, you basically just clean the acrylic, slap your artwork in the center, and then bolt the two pieces together with your hardware.  Remember to add the ring hangers to the center two screws.  Finally, just use some regular old picture wire through those ring hangers.  Here’s the completed item.  The piece on display is a one-page story I did for Signal to Noise Magazine about the legendary ’50s R&B/Soul group The “5” Royales.

frame_1

frame_2

I don’t guess it’d pass muster at the Louvre, but it’s decent looking, functional, reusable and can be made for under $25.00.

Sep
24

25% Off Sale at SLG

slg_logo

My venerable publishers, SLG, are currently having a store-wide 25% off sale on everything in their webstore.  So, if’n you’re looking to pick up any of my stuff on the cheap, now’s a good time to do so.  Just type in “bigsale” in the coupon code field on the checkout screen to get your discount.

You can find all of my stuff conveniently grouped on my creator page, from old stuff like Farewell, Georgia to my most recent book, Midnight Sun.

Sep
19

Sketchbook 09/19

My next solo book (not this Ameila Earhart thing!) has a sea serpent in it and I’ve been doodling a lot of sea monsters as a result.

sketch_091908

Sep
15

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures – WK3 Exercise

The in-class exercise for week three is the “wrong planet” assignment here.  We’re doing the assignment collaboratively, with each student tackling one section of the story.  My section is #2, “lands on the moon…”

This assignment has been around since well before this book came out, and has been posted over at teachingcomics.org for a while.  It’s from that site that I got the assignment when I tried it out in a classroom environment the last time I taught a comics class and, while the assignment looks fairly straight ahead, it’s actually pretty tricky.  Part of the challenge is that it’s not worded very clearly: specifically, it’s not made clear whether the moon was the wrong destination… or whether he’s returned to the wrong “home planet” after visiting the moon.

I assumed the latter when I did this exercise in class, but that creates a storytelling problem in figuring out how the astronaut couldn’t realize that he’s on the wrong planet until he’s actually on the ground.  I’ve been tempted to think that maybe what’s really intended is the former interpretation–that he was meant to go somewhere other than the moon–but the assignment very specifically mentions a wrong planet… and given that the only planet in the whole scenario is the home planet, I guess that’s the “wrong” planet in question.  Very confusing….

Anyway, fortunately for me, since I’m dealing with part two of the story, I don’t really have to tackle that confusion head-on.  Here’s what I’ve got:

wk3_e1

Sep
14

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures – WK 3 Homework

Homework for week three was basically just a 3-5 panel newspaper-style strip.  I wound up making a list of a dozen or so possible “situations” to build a newspaper strip around, but ultimately got lazy and just went with something I know: musicians.

I think the main thing I learned from doing this is just how important it is to the newspaper strip format for the readers to really know and be familiar with the characters and settings.  It’s really difficult to come up with a single, isolated newspaper strip that really works well.  I regularly read and enjoy strips like Get Fuzzy, Mutts, Pearls before Swine, and Cul de Sac, but doing this assignment made me realize how much of my enjoyment of those strips is based on my knowing the characters.  The way this assignment is set up in DW&WP stresses gags and funny situations, which makes a lot of sense for a one-off strip, but really most newspaper strips (or most good ones, anyway) work more because they’re character-driven.  A prime example of this is Get Fuzzy, which rarely has a “gag” per-se; its humor is driven by the interactions of the characters, and it’s really at its funniest if you’ve known and followed those characters for a while.

Anyway, here’s my strip… Not particularly inspired, but certainly complete to the thumbnail stage as per the assignment.  If I had to develop this further, I’d concentrate on correcting and making consistent the head/body ratio of the two characters, and I’d try to simplify and make clearer the elements in panels one and four (the van, trailer, venue, etc.).

wk3_h1

Sep
11

Book Festival Appearance: Bookmarks 9/13

 

bookmarks

I’ll be  making the second of my two book festival appearances this year at this weekend’s Bookmarks book festival here in Winston-Salem.  The festival is on Saturday and I’ll be at the “All That & then Some” tent (V-2) at 2:30 PM where I’ll be discussing Midnight Sun, comics-making, and comics and graphic novels in generall–followed by a Q&A session and book signing.  There’ll be lots of other interesting folks attending including local, national and regional authors.  Come check it out.  More info at the link above.

Sep
10

Conventions: SPX Table Layout

 

spx2008floor

Table assignments for SPX 2008 are now posted online. For quick reference, the above map shows the locations of me and some of my “peeps” who’ll be attending the show.  Conspicuously absent, though, are the Wide Awake Press crew as well as the fabulous Josh Latta/Brad McGinty duo.  One hopes they’ll jump onboard last minute. 

1 – H3A – Me!

2 – H15-16 – Rob Ullman 

3 – W36-37 – Adhouse Books/Chris Pitzer

4 – W34B – Adam Casey

5 – A9-10B – Paul Friedrich

6 – W36-37 – Dustin Harbin

7 – W10 – Batton Lash

8 – H3B – Chris Reilly

9 – W27-30 – Andy Runton

10 – B1-2- Joey Weiser

 

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