Tag: cons

TCAF and VanCAF: My 2019 Canadian Tour

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?

TCAF
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.

My excessively deep table.

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.

TCAF haul:
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

 

—–

VanCAF
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.

VanCAF haul:

  • 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.

I’ll be at TCAF May 11 & 12

So this is crazy given that the event is right at the end my semester and such a distance away, but I will be exhibiting at TCAF this May from the 11th to the 12th. If you’re going to be at the show, please stop by and say hi. Junji Ito is going to be there, along with people such as Emily Carroll, Anders Nilsen, Sam Beck, Hartley Lin, Celine Loup, Wren McDonald, and Sophie Yanow. You can see the full exhibitor list here. I was at the TCAF in 2014, and it’s one of the coolest comics cons ever. Definitely try to go if you are considering it.

APE 2017 reflections

I first exhibited at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in 1998. I had been photocopying issues of my comics work for about two years at that point and had never been to a con, much less exhibited at one. I made 50 copies each of Litmus Test 4 and because I had read an article about the APE in which the author claimed that she had moved over 100 copies of her magazine. I ended up selling 3 copies of Litmus Test 4, and 2 of Litmus Test 5 (I still have plenty of copies of both). I sat at my half table between Richard Becker (Bloodthirsty Pirate Tales) and Keith Knight. I saw how Becker looked middle aged and yet was sitting behind a table watching the crowds like I was. I felt sorry for him (little did I know…). I saw Johnen Vasquez parade around the floor followed by a gaggle of goth girls. Keith Knight rolled his eyes at the scene, but encouraged me to give copies of my comic to Dan Clowes (and he actually wrote me back and praised my work). And I made a total of $15. It was a blunt welcome to the world of comics. But I met a lot of nice people, like Jesse Hamm, Lark Pien, Derek Kirk Kim, and Gene Yang. And through them I was invited to a comics creators meeting where I met Jimmie Robinson, who was at the APE this year.

Except for 2006 and 2011, I went to every APE from 1998 to 2013. I saw it move from San Jose to San Francisco, saw it change hands from Slave Labor to Comic-Con, saw my sales gradually improve, saw familiar faces start to disappear, saw the art students take over and the photocopied books go away. But it was always basically the same two-day marathon of sitting behind a table watching people walk by.

So though it had been awhile, I decided to do it all again. I had new books and it felt like a way to come full circle. I was worried though. Reviews of 2016 said attendance was low. And up to a week before the APE, the “Panels” page on the con website was blank and the blog hadn’t been updated since February. That didn’t really inspire confidence that this thing was in good hands. But I decided to try it anyway. And so this weekend I ventured back to the APE one last time.

The San Jose Convention Center tent was more than half empty.

 

First off, this APE was much smaller than any other. It was comprised of three aisles of about thirty booths per aisle. Besides Slave Labor and Last Gasp, there weren’t any publishers. And, oddly, many of the booths remained empty all weekend. Sometimes the place reminded me of a dying downtown with stores boarded up and empty. The attendance was also pretty sparse. There were never more than a few people in front of any one table, and usually no people. Though the attendees that did come seemed nice and because the con was so small, they could really take in every booth.

It also seemed to me that there weren’t many booths dedicated to comics that focused on fiction. And there weren’t any art comics. Most of the stuff there were prints of superhero, video game, fantasy, and sci-fi art work, and when there were comics they were often adventure stuff that looked similar to other corporate work. Like one guy behind me kept comparing the main character in his comic to Harry Potter.

Except for a few hours on Saturday, the booth next to mine remained empty.

As with any con, there were weird interactions. Like one guy took issue with the fact that I was calling my old 5 1/2 x 8 1/2″ copies of Litmus Test minis. Another guy made a big deal about comparing me with Fellini. A cartoonist whom I will not name, but who used to always show up at cons or in anthologies I was in, bought Holiday Funeral from me, which I’m pretty sure he bought years ago. And a guy that I had a summer job with in high school bought Kit Kaleidoscope and Carnivale.

While I talked with other exhibitors, I didn’t make a connection with anyone new. That may say more about me than them, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of something, which I’ve felt at other cons. The only connection I felt was that we were all putting in our time under the flourescent lights. There was no new movement and no real excitement about a work or artist.

But in keeping with coming full circle, Johnen Vasquez walked by once. He looked the same, though his goth girlfriend was gone, replaced by a cell phone. And I eventually said hi to Jimmie Robinson. We only chatted for a minute, but he admitted that he still didn’t know what he was doing in comics, but he was still stumbling ahead. “It’s a strange kind of love.,” he said.

On Sunday, an older man who had bought some individual issues of Carnivale from me back in 2013 came up and bought the new collected edition. He told me work like mine made coming to the APE worthwhile.

And I sold the last copies of the first comic I ever put together, Jack Face.

Are you ready for the irony?

I made more money at the APE this year than I’ve ever made at a con.

Now that’s not saying much, since I never make much. Still, the fact that such a slow con not only met but exceeded my previous levels shows that the people who showed up were dedicated comics people.

But… I don’t think I’ll be going back next year.

I’ll be at the APE this weekend!

As I mentioned before, I’m going to be exhibiting at the APE this weekend, September 23-24. If you plan on being there, definitely some by and say hi at table 133. I’ll have my copies of Sink and recent printings of Holiday Funeral.

Here’s where my table will be located:

Nick Mullins at table 133

We’ll see how this all goes. Looking at blogs after last year’s show, attendance was pretty small. And seeing as the “panels” page on the APE website was absolutely blank until this week, I don’t have a lot of faith in how well this is being promoted. But hopefully there will be some dedicated people and the energy will be good.

at the APE again

I put my first mini comics together in 1996 and decided to be an exhibitor at my first con in 1998. I took my little photocopied minis, full of enthusiasm and dreams of making money and gaining readers.

I made $15.

That con was the Alternative Press Expo in San Jose. Though my expectations met the cold, hard wall of reality, I also met people like Jesse Hamm, Lark Pien, Derek Kirk Kim, and Gene Yang. And the APE gave me a deadline to work towards every year, so I attended it regularly (with a few exceptions) until 2013. I saw it move from San Jose to San Francisco and slowly grow in size. But the long weekends of tabling with little reward wore me down and so after doing TCAF in 2014, I decided to take a break from cons. But then I heard the APE was back in San Jose and back in the hands of Slave Labor Graphics. So a little voice started up in the back of my head. And I do have new books to showcase…

So I’ll be tabling there again, back in the place where I started. It feels like coming full circle. I’m not holding my breath that I’ll make significantly more than $15, but I hope to meet new people and connect with old friends.

It will be September 23-24, so if you’re there, say hi. I’ll let you know my table when I get notification.