SNICKER IF YOU MUST, but you have to give the guy in the Wolverine onesie a little credit: There's something to be said for the level of enthusiasm and commitment that drives grown adults to parade around in public in handmade X-Men costumes.
But if you've got some sort of bias against mutants (have we learned nothing?), don't worry: Your tolerance probably won't be tested during the Stumptown Comics Fest. Festival organizer Indigo Kelleigh says that while he hopes to see the festival continue to grow, he's determined to keep the focus on creators, in an indie-centric approach that ensures a diversity of exhibitors, while discouraging the type of franchise- and superhero-based tie-ins that bring out the cosplayers.
This year, the fest hops venues for the fifth time in eight years, moving to its biggest space yet, in the Oregon Convention Center. While that growth is encouraging, and reflects Stumptown's increasing pull in the comics festival world, the new venue does bring concerns: The convention center is a fine place to host a fire sale or register for the Shamrock Run, but for events that are equally as devoted to culture as commerce, it can feel impersonal and cold. Stumptown now faces the same challenge the Wordstock literary festival gamely grapples with every year—making that convention space feel accessible for more than just vending.
If they can pull off the space, this year's got a terrific lineup, with top-notch local and national exhibitors and a full schedule of workshops and panels. The best way to experience the festival is to wander the floor with your own sense of curiosity as your compass, but here are a few creators whose work shouldn't be missed.
Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover—This local husband-and-wife duo are both respected comics professionals in their own right, so it's no surprise that when Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover team up, the results are charming and utterly original. Their new graphic novel Gingerbread Girl (Top Shelf Productions) makes its print debut at Stumptown; it describes the adventures of 26-year-old Annah, an irresistible, bisexual Portlander who's either the emotionally stunted product of a botched science experiment conducted by her dad, or totally nuts. Narrator duties are passed baton-style from character to character, as Annah's lover and a host of others try to explain what makes her tick.
Carla Speed McNeil—These days, everyone knows they should like comics, but there are still a few barriers to entry. Delving into long-running comics series can be intimidating, and cost can be prohibitive, particularly when you're trying to catch up on a story that's 27 volumes long. Well, Dark Horse Comics has your back. For 15 years, Carla Speed McNeil self-published her outstanding sci-fi/fantasy series Finder; Dark Horse recently collected the first 22 issues in The Finder Library, Volume 1, a 600-page brick of a graphic novel complete with extensive end notes explaining McNeil's elaborate mythology. Finder is accessible, ferociously smart, and completely addictive—and at $25, Dark Horse's affordable new volume provides the perfect entry point.
Julia Wertz—The creator of one of the best autobiographical comics out there, The Fart Party, and the recent graphic novel Drinking at the Movies, Julia Wertz specializes in comics that are relatable enough to make you think, "Hey, I could write this!" But of course, you couldn't, because Wertz is funnier and more clever than you'll ever be, and that's why she's a famous cartoonist and you're still doodling on bar napkins. Swing by Wertz's booth for a copy of her graphic novel Drinking at the Movies, about her move to New York City; she'll also be hawking a new mini-comic, The Great Pretenders and Other Stories.
Nate Simpson—One of the buzzed-about debuts of festival season, Nate Simpson's Nonplayer (Image) explores the potential of comics and videogames to nest worlds inside of one other. The series is only on issue one, so it remains to be seen if or how the buzz will pan out—I can confirm, though, that the premise is intriguing and the art is absolutely gorgeous.
Jeffrey Brown—The reigning king of autobiographical comics, Jeffrey Brown is beloved by sad hipsters everywhere for books like Clumsy and Every Girl Is the End of the World for Me. More recently, he's turned his hand to Incredible Change-Bots (Top Shelf), a loving/mocking tribute to Transformers. The just-released second issue promises, "Twice as much as met the eye last time!" and it delivers with the diary of an amnesiac robot named "Shootertron," who's just trying to find his place in the world.
Sarah Glidden—Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Vertigo) made a big splash last fall. The memoir-in-comics described Glidden's experience with Birthright Israel, an organization that provides a free trip to Israel for anyone with a Jewish parent. Glidden's book was commended for its soul-searching, thoughtful take on what it means to be a Jew who is skeptical of Israel's incursions into Palestinian territory.
Eric Powell—No Stumptown preview would be complete without mention of Eric Powell, creator of The Goon, arguably one of the most beloved—and best—comics currently being published. Powell's attendance lends the fest considerable star power, while reinforcing that Stumptown is ultimately about creator-owned comics, not publishers or franchises.