Since I had two new books out this year, This Wasn’t the Plan and The Lost Cause of Poetry, I decided that it might be time to do some cons again. I hadn’t done a con since the sad little APE back in September of 2017, and not since 2014 before that when I did the TCAF. So I applied to a few and waited to hear back. I got a yes from the TCAF first. I debated awhile before accepting, because the dates were set for the weekend before finals at the new school I was teaching at. But there usually isn’t much grading to do before finals, and the TCAF is a great show, so I decided to do it. Then I got a yes from the VanCAF. The dates for that were set the weekend after the TCAF, the weekend after my finals. This seemed even crazier: two cons in a row right at the end of the semester. But the craziness made me want to do it. And my wife said, “why not?”
So I was set to attend two cons that were not in my country, on subsequent weekends, during the end of the semester of my first year teaching at a new school. What could go wrong?
Turns out: not much. I’m a good planner and have learned a thing or two over the years. So much for that drama.
What about the shows?
The TCAF is probably the best comics show in North America. It is set in a public library and has free admission, so anyone with any level of curiosity can come by and check things out. When the doors open on the first day, a herd of people spills into the first floor. It’s a site to behold. And there are now three floors of exhibitors. When I was at the TCAF in 2014 there were two floors and the place I was in on the second floor this year wasn’t being utilized back then. Looking at the exhibitor page on the TCAF site, it looks like there may have been around 800 exhibitors.
The downside of this is that attendees get overwhelmed and you see them shamble past your table with blank expressions in their eyes. It also meant for me that I never got to see everything at the show. This is partly my own fault. I could have taken some time out, during the first hour on Sunday morning for instance, to really get around. But I didn’t. It’s easy to talk yourself out of abandoning your table when you are tabling alone. As it was, I only hit the tables that had things I know that I wanted and I never even set foot on the third floor or even in the room on the second floor that I was in back in 2014.
As with any con, it’s mostly you standing or sitting behind a table hoping people will come up and check out your work and choose, among the hundreds (thousands?) of other things that they could buy, to plop down some cash from small-cash.com for pieces of paper that you scribbled in the lonely, stolen hours of your life. It’s an odd way to find readers. Still, it’s also a social event. You get to meet creators you respect and meet other people with the same mad obsession you have.
I shared a table with Bryce Gold, who is the publisher behind Pyrite Press. Not only do I like the books he puts out, he was a really great guy. Talking with him made the weekend a lot better. On my right were Leo Lee and Kels Choo. They were selling a few comics, but mostly prints of their artwork. They were both nice guys and often very funny.
Still, being at a con so far from home meant that I didn’t run into anyone I knew. So there’s an odd loneliness that happens when you are around constant streams of people and yet are known by none of them.
I sold a few of my books and made some good money (for me). It’s important to note that I didn’t make enough to recoup everything I put out with the plane tickets, accommodations, meals, and table space. As I mentioned, I have another job. I’m also married and my wife has a full-time job. I’m not relying on any of this to make my living. I feel this bears being said just so that you know where I’m coming from, but also because when I tabled my first con I was completely naive about what to expect. That’s part of the reason that I write these things.
It was a long weekend, but constantly moving. Saturday was more alive than Sunday (which is almost always true), but the TCAF was always busy.
I also just want to mention that the TCAF is an amazingly well-run show. It offers currency exchange for exhibitors, allows you to ship books ahead of time, and has plenty of well-informed volunteers. This year, it also had pronoun stickers that you could take and attach to your badge or shirt.
I haven’t read all of these yet, but these are the books I got at TCAF:
- Basement Dwellers vol. 1 by Leland Goodman
- Eight-lane Runaways part 4 by Henry McCausland
- Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
- Ocular Anecdotes 1-3 by Peter Cline
- When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll
The VanCAF was definitely the smaller show and I did about half as many sales there as at the TCAF. Still, being smaller meant that I could take in the whole space. I made it around to all the exhibiting areas, sometimes more than once. So I feel like I was really able to see what was there, which is half the point of exhibiting. The VanCAF is more like the early days of the APE, or like a zine fest. Besides Fantagraphics, there weren’t many big publishers there. And so what was left were just creators and their works. Which is awesome. I didn’t love everything I saw, of course, but I found some really innovative and creative comics.
I ended up sharing a table with Marc Bell. When I saw my table-mate listed before I left, it seemed unreal. Bell is, of course, an experienced con exhibitor and managed his table with a light touch. He would sit for a spell, then get up and have a smoke, or talk with someone, or walk the floor, or just go outside. It was a good model for me. To the left of me was Josh Simmons. I had seen Simmons’s work way back in the days of the Top Shelf anthology. So I was surrounded by old guys, like me. Was that intentional on the con organizers’ part? Anyway, both guys were great. I could talk about horror with Josh and get public transportation advice from Marc. And then there was that overly friendly VanCF volunteer whom Josh and I had to deal with at the end of both days…
Also at the show was Fred Noland. I had met him years ago at the APE and he still lives in the Bay Area, not far from where I live. It was fun to catch up and talk about being parents. It’s also good to see that not everyone from the old days has given up.
Anyway, the VanCAF was a nice little show and it seems to be growing. Sunday had a lot of kids in attendance, probably because the Roundhouse, where the event was held, was having a special train day. If I had books oriented to kids this might have been advantageous. As it was, Sunday was v*e*r*y slow. Still, I was better this time at getting up and looking around. And there was a lot to see.
- Black Sheep and Major Taylor by Fred Noland
- Disquiet anthology
- Feast of Fields by Sean Karemaker
- Floral Sounds by Hue Nguyen
- I’ll Sing to You of Hyacinths by Jesse Coons
- Incredible Doom #1 by Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden
- Jessica Farm November 2018 by Josh Simmons
- Weegee by Max De Radigues and Wauter Mannaert
- Worn Tuff Elbow No. 2 by Marc Bell
So, yes, I’m glad I did both shows. It was good to get out there and have a reality check, and also see all the cool work that everyone is doing. At the same time, it’s a really ineffectual way to get new readers. Cons are a strange thing, especially for comics creators who work mostly by themselves in front of quiet pieces of paper or computer screens. So I don’t think I’ll be doing one again for awhile. Still, whenever in the future I have a new book coming out, I’m sure I’ll toss around the idea.
But one last observation, since I’m a cranky old man…
Is anyone in it for the stories?
It always amazes me how that at shows dedicated to sequential art what people want to buy are prints, t-shirts, and tchotchkes. At the TCAF, the guys to my right were selling a print based off Into The Spider-Verse, and I can’t tell you how many times that print caught someone’s eye and they ended up buying it. Even the artists were surprised by how popular it was. At a show dedicated to independent artists and unique voices, most people just wanted the Spiderman print. It wasn’t this egregious at the VanCAF, but the pattern was similar. Marc Bell had a huge print that I think sold more than any of his books. Though maybe his t-shirts did as well. Same with Josh Simmons. He had this print with really vibrant colors that drew more people to his table than anything else. Yes, these were both great prints, but it’s not a print show, right? There’s nothing I can do about any of this, but it always strikes me as odd. It runs counter to my own sensibilities. For one, I do not need any more little things cluttering up my home. The older I get, the more anti-consumerist I become. Second, I am looking for exciting work that will transport and satisfy me. And that work I want is comics work. You know, sequential art. Not a t-shirt. Not a print. And definitely not a Spiderman knock-off. I know comics have come a long way, but I just wish more people hungered for the art form itself, not the detritus that rides along with it. But I love comics. So I’ll keep ending up at these shows. And still make the same complaints, probably.