A DECADE AGO, the Stumptown Comics Festival threw open the doors of an old church and became Portland's first creator-focused comics convention. This year, Stumptown celebrates its 10-year anniversary at its more recent home, the Oregon Convention Center. Over the years, the festival has hosted guests like web cartoonist Kate Beaton, Blankets creator Craig Thompson, Essex County's Jeff Lemire, and Bone creator Jeff Smith—as well as countless independent creators of comics and zines.
"Stumptown is and has always been an arts festival, focused primarily on the art form of comics and the people who create them," says Shawna Gore, chair of Stumptown's board of directors. It's a place to reliably meet your favorite creators, discover new artists, hear interesting panel discussions, and score unique, reasonably priced prints.
It's also a festival that has long struggled with organizational and personnel issues. This year, longtime festival director and founder Indigo Kelleigh passed the reins to a new set of (mostly volunteer) organizers. It's clear that some balls were dropped in the transition: Invited panelists took to Twitter to gripe about not knowing their schedules a mere week before the festival, and local media (myself very much included) aired similar grievances when the festival's schedule wasn't posted in a timely fashion.
No one wants to say anything on the record—this is a small town, after all—but many in Portland's tight-knit comics community have expressed concerns about the festival's organization, or lack thereof. Plus, Stumptown is no longer the only game in town: Within the last year, Portland saw the debuts of both the well-attended, pop culture-oriented Rose City Comic Con and the small, artier festival the Projects.
Stumptown's Gore stresses that Stumptown isn't competing with Rose City or any other local convention. "Stumptown has always been more focused on the people who create comics and on opening that world up to people who are fans of the medium," she says, rather than the more pop culture-focused aspects of the comics world. Time will tell whether audience members feel the same way.
This year, Stumptown Comics, Inc., officially became a nonprofit. This means more access to grants, says Gore, and the implementation of year-round programming and educational efforts. Here's hoping a little organizational house cleaning happens along the way. In the meantime, here are a few unsolicited suggestions for Portland's favorite comics fest on its 10th birthday.
Consider a New Venue
Sure, at its current size, the Oregon Convention Center is the best place for the festival—but who says an indie comics festival needs to be so damn big? What about a smaller, more curated festival in a more appealing venue—Southeast Portland's YU, say? The Convention Center is where fun goes to die.
Drop Ticket Prices
Ten bucks a day seems a little steep, considering I'm only going to spend more money inside. (For comparison, Wordstock is $7 a day.)
Expand Outreach Outside of the Comic Book Community
This year's festival outreach seemed to take place mostly on the festival's website. There are obvious problems with this as an outreach strategy.
Renew Focus on Publicity and Marketing Efforts
On a similar note, this year's publicity efforts were abysmal. Hire someone who can write a press release, and make sure they send it out with plenty of notice. And for the sake of attendees, press, and participants alike, post the damn festival schedule well in advance.
Panel by Panel
Stumptown's Panels and Workshops
FLOATING WORLD COMICS proprietor Jason Leivian has become one of Portland's most reliable curators: He brings top-notch talent to his store for readings and signings, and back in October he successfully organized Portland's first international experimental comics fest, the Projects. Leivian put together the creator panels at Stumptown this year, and it shows: This year's lineup is excellent. There are also a number of workshops for artists and writers, targeted toward improving skills and sanity—those were curated by artist Ryan Alexander-Tanner, who has helmed comics workshops for kids at Cosmic Monkey Comics.
Here are a few of our picks—the complete schedule of panels can be found at stumptowncomics.com.
Trek in the Park: The Five-Year Mission
This year, Trek in the Park concludes their popular summertime theater series with a live production of classic Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles." Producers Adam and Amy Rosko join members of the cast and crew to discuss Trek in the Park's past and future. Hosted by Mercury News Editor Denis C. Theriault, who owns a Spock costume.
Sat 11 am, Room B114
This all-star panel brings together Becky Cloonan, Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, and Dash Shaw, all former members of the Meathaus comics collective.
Sat noon, Room B114
Artist Jonathan Case—creator of the charming Shakespearean monster tale Dear Creature, and artist on the chilling and acclaimed graphic novel Green River Killer, about the infamous serial killer—offers a workshop about composing comics page layouts.
Sat 1 pm, Room B113
Judge Dredd: Mega-City One and Beyond/Judge Minty screening
Panelists, including New York Times comics critic Douglas Wolk, discuss the long-running Judge Dredd comic; plus, a screening of the fan-made film Judge Minty.
Sat 3 pm, Room B117
Apparently, Fables creators Bill Willingham likes to talk. Here's a panel where he does just that.
Sat 4 pm, B114
Dylan Williams Tribute Panel
Friends and colleagues of the late Sparkplug Comics creator Dylan Williams share stories and commemorate Williams, who died of cancer in 2011.
Sat 5 pm, Room B114
Comics creators Matt Bors (Life Begins at Incorporation), Erika Moen (DAR!), Natalie Nourigat (Between Gears), and local attorney Katie Lane provide practical advice on freelancing.
Sat 5 pm, Room B117
Kickstarter + Indie Comics
Kickstarter is an undeniable force in the comics world these days—so if you're eyeing it for your own project, you won't want to miss this panel with Kickstarter's project specialist for comics, Jamie Tanner.
Sun 2 pm, Room B117
Influential French cartoonist Boulet makes a rare North American appearance, for a discussion about his process, sensibilities, and views on publishing.
Sun 3 pm, Room B117
Queer Culture in Comics
Ed Luce—of the fantastic Henry & Glenn Forever and Ever, about the love affair between Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig—joins Andy Mangels, Erika Moen, Terry Blas, and others to discuss queer identity in comics.
Sun 4 pm, Room B114
Parsing the Guest List
Portland is silly with comics creators—look no further than downtown's Periscope Studio for a dizzyingly talented array of writers and artists. We mean no disrespect in focusing on the out-of-towners in our highlights reel of festival guests; it's just that we're lucky enough to have people like Jeff Parker, Ben Dewey, Erika Moen, and Colleen Coover to write about all year-round. (Full disclosure: Many of those very same locals have appeared in Comics Underground, the comics performance series I produce with Mercury Senior Editor Erik Henriksen.)
Dash Shaw is still probably best known for his popular autobiographical comic Bottomless Belly Button, though I'm more fond of the batshit crazy BodyWorld, which blurs the line between narrative fiction and hallucinogenic drug experience as well as anything Burroughs ever wrote. Shaw's got a new book out, New School, which he'll be hawking at Stumptown.
Bill Willingham's beloved and long-running Fables is one of those books that everybody likes. If you haven't read many comics, Fables wouldn't be a bad place to start−it's an engaging series populated by familiar fairytale characters.
Hope Larson's lovely, dreamy graphic novel Gray Horses is absolutely great, while her recent adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time was a best-case version of a book that probably didn't need to be adapted in the first place.
One of the cool kids of comics, artist Becky Cloonan has done noteworthy work on such titles as Demo (with Brian Wood) and Batman.
For 14 years, James Kochalka has documented his life, day by day, in the popular diary comic American Elf. He's also the cartoonist laureate of Vermont!
Artist on such acclaimed and badass titles as Queen and Country (written by local Greg Rucka, also appearing at Stumptown) and Sixth Gun.
Influential and prolific French cartoonist Boulet makes a rare stateside appearance—sponsored by the French Embassy, so you know this shit's fancy.