THE WARM, BRIGHT Belmont location of Stumptown Coffee is open late. Tim Root, known for his unique and beautiful weekly ads for the company, keeps gently breaking the news to walk-ins that they aren't selling coffee, and offering a newspaper full of black-and-white comics as consolation. At this small, word-of-mouth release for the fourth issue of Vision Quest, Portland's free comics newspaper, artist contributors are here to pick up their share of paper stacks. Friends and fans mingle and pick up the new issue. One of the paper's publishers, Tim Goodyear, wanders around, trying to make himself available to talk to me while also talking to everyone who comes in. He keeps track of which artists have picked up their papers on his own copy of Vision Quest #4, making checkmarks by the title credits on the cover. Goodyear and I are talking about dicks.
"Intercourse is too far," he says, "but nudity—dicks flapping around—that's fine." Goodyear's responding to my question about the previous Vision Quest issues' dick-heavy imagery. "I think this might be our first issue with no dicks. As a publisher I have an opinion and as a retailer I have an opinion," Goodyear continues. "As a retailer, when people see a dick on the page it's off-putting. It says 'Adult newspaper. No squares.' As a publisher, I'll publish it. People want to push the envelope. Will I really publish it? I mean, it's your name on it. People almost never remember the publisher."
With his small press, Teenage Dinosaur, Goodyear has been publishing small batches of artist-made comics since moving to Portland in 2005. He's always had an eye for new talent, publishing early works by Dash Shaw, Matt Furie, and Julia Gfrörer before they attracted larger indie comics publishers like Fantagraphics. He's the kind of guy who has a Wikipedia page but no website. When asked, he says Vision Quest isn't something he's doing as Teenage Dinosaur; it's its own thing. He and his co-publisher, Ian Sundahl, are upfront about what inspired Vision Quest's concept and execution: Seattle's Intruder. Sundahl mentioned it to Goodyear one night, but it fell to the wayside. Then, "Months later," Goodyear says, "he brought it up again and we agreed to give it a shot." Seattle artist Max Clotfelter (Snake Meat) gave them the formula: Each artist featured in Vision Quest pays $40 and gets a set amount of copies that are theirs to distribute.
Throughout its run, Intruder has come under steady criticism for containing almost exclusively white male voices, so it's nice to see a healthier percentage of women and artists of color represented in Vision Quest. Artists like the dreamy, perspective-obsessed Amy Kuttab (Pony Club Gallery), the fine-lined, hilarious Shanna Matuszak (Study Group Comic Books), and the energetic critical-thought comics of Anna Vo (Fix My Head) frequently appear. In this issue, Lark Pien's tiny Galactus on her page is an immediate favorite. Emily Nilsson was once a publisher of comics (at Sparkplug Comics, which, full disclosure, has published my work), so it's interesting to see her joining the fray.
"I'm a big fan of Ross Jackson's economic line," a woman reading the issue says, pointing out that Jackson's comic inventively centers on gags happening onboard a Life Aquatic-style ship cutaway. The stuff in the newspaper is hit or miss, but most of it has contact info, so if it's your thing you can find more like it.
"Money is gross," Goodyear says. "Money is a terrible obstacle for the growth of comics. People think they like comics but most don't really know—finding, choosing and paying for them is not something I see much. Mini comics have such small quantities that few people ever get to see them. How can an artist get seen and find the audience who will love them?" The solution? Vision Quest. "It's free so we don't need to be present and their curiosity is the only cost," Goodyear says, speaking of the paper's various drop-off locations, scouted by the artists and publishers.
"We've had to rely on the artists for promotion a lot," Sundahl says. "But we've been sending them around the country to other comic book shops."
Vision Quest is published seasonally. Issue four, released on February 12, was the winter paper. There'll be another in the spring to coincide with Portland's small press comics festival, Linework NW. Vision Quest #4 is a 32-pager; Goodyear says they keep jumping by four pages each issue. It's available at Floating World Comics and other locations around Portland.
Vision Quest #4
Available at Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch, free
Norse Hall, 111 NE 11th, Sat-Sun May 21-22, free
More Spring Arts Articles: