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Friday, Jul 17, 2009
Long live Wizard World Philly?

It’s been a month since Wizard World Philly 2009, but I have to write about it.  Someone has to mark its death knell.


I started going to conventions in 2006, when I was lucky enough to be hired as a volunteer at the Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.  I’ve been to New York Comic Con twice, and plan on going yearly, because it’s a great con, and I live in NYC, so it doesn’t require airfare or hotel expenses.  Over the years, as I’ve listened to fellow geeks make me jealous with tales of all the conventions they somehow find the time and money to go to, Wizard World Philly was always mentioned as a natural, desired stop in their convention circuit.  So I was excited when I saw a chance to go to WWP as a volunteer.  Finally, I’d get to see what all the fuss was about!


Turns out it’s not about very much, not anymore, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  Being a volunteer, one hears the gossip amongst the vendors.  This is the worst Wizard World Philly in years they said.  No one is here! they panicked.  The “exhibition floor” looked more like a PTA swap meet in a school gym.  Nothing caught the eye, and the floor was only about half full.  The cast of Battlestar Galactica was signing autographs, which was amazing…but Lou Ferrigno and Peter Mayhew?  Really?  No disrespect intended, but are they the best that WWP has to offer?  The programming schedule also left a lot to be desired.  There were one or two interesting panels, which I’ll write about another time, but for the most part…well, they’ll have to invent a new word for boring to capture how boring this convention was.  I mean, I didn’t even take any pictures, it was so boring.


Wizard World seems to have been the victim of convention over-saturation.  HeroesCon was going on the same weekend, and lots of people chose that instead.  I would have, too, if I could have afforded to fly to Charlotte!  Brian Michael Bendis was there!  As was Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Tony Harris, and other powerhouses in the comics industry from both mainstream comics as well as indie comics.  It’s only natural that with the increase in conventions some will fall by the wayside.  Sadly, though Wizard World Philly is happening in 2010, it seems to be on the way out.  Which is a shame for East Coasters like me who can’t afford to fly across the country to get our geek on.  Ah, well.  There’s always New York Comic Con!


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Friday, Jun 12, 2009
Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee

Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee


One of the highlights of my visit to the MoCCA convention was attending the ‘AH, HUMBUG!’ panel that featured cartoonists and comedic geniuses Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee in conversation with Fantagraphics editor Gary Groth.  Roth is well-known for his broadly published illustrations and cartoons, and his comic strip Poor Arnold’s Almanac.  Jaffee is renowned for his foundational work on MAD magazine and his signature MAD ‘fold-ins’, illustrations that fold together to reveal another picture that gives a second meaning to the caption. 


The subject of the panel was a satirical humor magazine called Humbug that ran for eleven issues from 1957 to 1958.  Together with comics giants Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, and Jack Davis, Roth and Jaffee pooled their money to put together a creator owned and run magazine.  Roth said that they were such a talented group of people that when Kurtzman suggested they do an issue that parodied New Yorker cartoons by drawing in its style and making the cartoons not funny, they all came back and said, “I can’t think of anything that’s not funny”.


Part of the discussion focused on why the magazine folded, since it is widely agreed that it represents some of these respected cartoonists’ best work.  Roth pointed out that Kurtzman always wanted to do things different, so he made Humbug a smaller dimension than other magazines to stand out.  It would have stood out more if it were taller than other magazines, because its small dimensions meant it was lost behind the other books.  Jaffee made a note that their distributors were a little shady.  They were using the same people to print and distribute and he always felt like the sales figures they were giving them were off.  They always came back just below breaking even.  He implored the audience to take control of the publishing process of their work as much as possible. 


The complete run of Humbug was recently reprinted as a two volume set by Fantagraphics.


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Thursday, Jun 11, 2009
Nate Doyle and Julia Wertz at MoCCA 2009,

Nate Doyle and Julia Wertz at MoCCA 2009, “Look at these cartoonists”


Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art 2009 festival. The annual event is a comic convention that focuses on small press and self-published comics artists and enthusiasts. People from all over the world come to mill about the many booths where creators showcase their works, attend panels on subjects that vary from alternative histories of comics to the current state of the small press publishing economy, and to meet like minded members of the underground comics community. This year the event was housed in the Lexington Armory, a behemoth military structure in Manhattan, originally built in 1906 for the 69th regiment, who shared the halls with this year’s convention attendees.

As I made my way up from the train, I came upon a line of well over a hundred people waiting to get inside. Finding the end of the line down the block and around the corner, I spoke casually with a woman who gave me a self-published mini-comic about her childhood relationships, while another comics artist who was a recent Pratt University graduate showed us his comics about a race of cannibalistic Cyclops. Pretty soon we drew another MoCCA attendee into our conversations, and she told us of her intent of making friends with (or stalking) Randall Munroe, the author of the webcomic xkcd


Once inside, I systematically made my way through the large room of around 200 booths searching out friends to say hello and see their new works before hitting up some panels and lunch. I found most everyone to be sweaty but happy beneath the cavernous and flaking army green ceiling. A lot of people I met up with had finished their work just in time to get it printed for the fest, and their ‘stay up all night for three days’ dedication left me inspired. 


The picture above is one such source of inspiration.  In it we see the always positive Nate Doyle who just put out the fourth issue of his comic Crooked Teeth with a limited run of 200 screen-printed covers and Julia Wertz of The Fart Party, who, like an ‘Eazy E’ of comics, is renowned for her quick temper and street fighting insults. Wertz said, “Don’t take my picture, I look like I was just punched in the face.” When I asked her if she had actually been punched, she responded, “No, not really. Fine, take the picture. Have the caption say, ‘Just look at these shitheads’”.  After drawing an unflattering picture of Nate, she signed my book with the same words.


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Tuesday, Jun 9, 2009
Sparky Taylor and Abby Mac at the Microcosm Publishing booth

Sparky Taylor and Abby Mac at the Microcosm Publishing booth


With the economy still tanking, I often wonder how small publishers who are trying to make enough money to put out their next book, or just break even are weathering the storm.  This year at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival (MoCCA), Sparkplug Comic Books sponsored a panel on Making Comics in a New Era that addressed this concern.  Small press publishing and DIY self-publishing have been essential components of the alternative comics movement since its inception in the 1960’s.  In this tradition, at MoCCA 2009, comics creators and small publishers were selling works that were reproduced on everything from their home computer printers to copy machines to outsourced offset printers.  Today, people have greater access to mechanical reproduction than ever before, even if this access is exclusive to those who can afford it.  Smaller print runs are not uncommon any more; I usually make 20 to 50 copies at a copy shop of my own zine, silk-screen the covers, and give them away to friends and people I meet. The economics of my work is understood to be ‘in the red’. 


This panel was more focused on reproduction at a bit of a larger scale, and, though they were clearly performing a labor of love and had other jobs on the side, could not afford to just sink the cost of every book they published.  The panel consisted of Alvin Buenaventura (Buenaventura Books), Mats Jonsson (Gallago), Tom Neely (cartoonist), Brett Warnock (Top Shelf), Julia Wertz (cartoonist), Dylan Williams (Sparkplug Comics) and was chaired by Heidi MacDonald (The Beat).  For the most part, those on the publishing side acted like the economic crisis had not much affected their sales.  One panelist reasoned that their confidence and satisfaction was mostly based on their own realistic expectations of how well a book was going to do.  None of the publishers were in the business to get rich on underground comics, and everyone seemed to agree that internet stores and conventions like MoCCA were increasing their scale of distribution.At the same time, the traditional distribution of comics has been centralized in Diamond Comic distributors, which has recently raised its minimum orders and consequentially excluded some smaller run publications. Panelists agreed that the rise of alternative comics stores, like Desert Island and Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, New York, and the need for an alternate distributor and indie sales representatives like Tony Shenton could make a positive change in their sales. 


Between the other panelists’ silence, Julia Wertz took the time to somewhat randomly and comically berate her co-panelists, saying “I just want to point out that my work was rejected by at least two of the editors on the panel, but now my publisher is Random House, so you can suck it!”  I suppose for some, moving to a traditional book publisher is another way to get around the current problems in distribution.

Pictured above are Sparky Taylor and Abby Mac tabling for Microcosm Publishing, who put out about twelve books and zines a year.  Since the change in the economy, they have started following the strategy of putting out more books at a lower price in hopes of increasing sale volume.  Sparky said she felt like their sales at the convention had been a little slower than previous years.


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