Earlier this week, we reported big changes at the Stumptown Comics Festival—after 10 years, the indie comics fest will no longer be a standalone event, but will instead offer programming as part of the Rose City Comic Con.
We also reported that a new festival was in the works, and now we can reveal details: Linework NW is a free, creator-focused festival of comics and illustration scheduled for Saturday, April 12 at the Norse Hall. It's organized by Zack Soto, creator of The Secret Voice and co-editor of Study Group Comics, and editor/cartoonist François Vigneault, both longtime members of the indie comics world.
"There was some uncertainty as to whether the Stumptown Comics Fest would be returning this year; we had made some inquiries and hadn't heard anything definite from the organizers of that show, so we decided to go ahead and move forward with our own plans," Soto and Vigneault wrote in a press release. "If Stumptown had returned this year, we would have been delighted to run Linework NW as a sort of side event... But with Stumptown's official announcement this week that their festival won't be taking place next year, we are excited to do our part in providing the indie comics community a much needed venue."
BAM. The timing on this couldn't be better. As dysfunctional as Stumptown had become, it stung to lose an indie-focused, creator-focused show in a town as indie-friendly as this one. (The Projects is wonderful too, but it doesn't really resemble a comics convention in any traditional sense.) This feels like a hard reset: Remember, Stumptown was once a humble 22-table festival at a small venue.
The Norse Hall only holds about 40 tables, and some of 'em are already full: They've confirmed exhibitors Fantagraphics Books, Foxing Quarterly, Grass Hut, I Will Destroy You, Koyama Press, Magnetic North, Oni Press, Pony Club, Press Gang, Revival House, Sparkplug Comic Books, Top Shelf Productions, Traditional Comics, and Yam Books. They've also booked hotshot animator/creator Michael DeForge as a headlining guest.
I emailed Soto and Vigneault some questions about the new convention. Read between the lines, and you'll see two people who clearly paid attention to the issues with Stumptown, and are charting a very different course. They're also taking inspiration from Seattle's Short Run festival, which is by all accounts great.
To your mind, what is the ideal festival experience for both audience members and exhibitors?
Zack Soto: As someone who has spent a lot of time exhibiting and attending comics shows in the last 13 years, I would say outreach and organization are key. People need to be aware of the show, so people can show up to the show! And the tables need to be laid out in a way that doesn’t make people sad to be there, etc. Little things. Details. We’re organizing a great network of people to help make the show go off well. Also, for exhibitors specifically, the base thing besides “did people show up” is “did that audience engage with and hopefully purchase work that was on display at the show?” So we’re doing a few things with this show that are slightly different, like broadening the scope to include illustrators & designers, as well as making the fest free to attend. Anyone can just walk in. That’s a trend I’ve loved with some of the recent shows like Short Run, TCAF, or BCGF, where you don’t have to pay an entry fee just to see if there’s something you might like to buy inside.
François Vigneault: I would agree that the number one thing to make a show a success is to simply reduce the barriers between the potential audience and the creators and publishers who are exhibiting or otherwise sharing their work at the show. I've always held that free admission is the number one thing a show can do to set the stage for success, and in particular to reach out to the wider public, not just the core audience who already self-identify as comics fans and are happy to plop down $8 in order to get the chance to spend more money. While we have mad love for the established comics fans, and hope to throw a show that will please them, we also have our sights on the broader audience who might just have a passing interest in art, illustration, or literature.
How have your past event organizing experiences influenced how you've approached putting this festival together? Anything particular you've had to learn the hard way?
Vigneault: I was one of the chief organizers of the San Francisco Zine Fest for six years before I moved here to Portland, and it definitely was a huge learning process. During my tenure with that show, we expanded into new, larger venues three times, and our audience went from about 600 people to well over 3,000! That change in scale makes a big difference for the organizers, you definitely get pretty proficient at juggling lots of balls at a time. As the SFZF became a larger operation, with more people involved and more moving parts, I would say that the hardest part was trying to please such a large set of people, from the exhibitors to the public. I'm actually excited that Linework NW is a more focused, smaller show... It gives us a chance to create something that is unique and really reflective of what we would consider to be the most exciting aspects of the visual arts culture here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Another aspect that I would say is at the forefront for me is making the experience for our exhibitors as awesome as possible... You have to keep the creators and publishers at your event as happy as possible, otherwise they won't be coming back for more. As Zack mentioned above, one of the biggest things is just taking your role as a promoter of their art seriously, and really working hard to ensure that the audience is going to show up at the event to look at their work... But little things like making each and every creator feel like they are part of a community are huge, too. With that in mind, we are planning some things like a free pizza party for all the exhibitors, just to reinforce the community aspect of the show. The folks that run Short Run up in Seattle (Erroyn Franklin, Kelly Froh, and Janice Headley) have been a real inspiration to us lately, we've exhibited each year and there are all sorts of wonderful aspects to the tabling experience, from the personalized pins they make to having a photographer come around and take really flattering photos of all the exhibitors. I think they are the gold standard of small shows right now!
Other than the Q&A w/DeForge, are you planning any panels or workshops or anything like that?
Soto: We do, but it’s pretty early days. Nothing locked down besides the DeForge Q&A & some animation screenings, but there will be a full slate.
Do you have any specific goals for the festival?
Soto: We are interested in highlighting work that, previous to now, hasn’t been super well served by any of the other Portland shows, as great as they all are. That said, we set ourselves fairly modest goals this year, and I think we’d really just like to do this first installment really well. If things go off as planned, we have concrete plans for growing the show next year without losing sight of the focus or biting off more than we can chew.
Vigneault: The most important thing for me is that when folks walk into Linework I want there to be a great atmosphere, a buzz in the air... I've been to art and publishing events both large and small where there was a certain energy that is almost akin to a concert or something, where you can tell that everyone is really pleased to be there. As a goal that is both lofty and a bit nebulous, but I definitely have high hopes for the show... The Norse Hall is a beautiful, intimate venue that just has a great feeling to it.
The official press release is after the jump!
Linework NW is a new illustration and comics festival, located in Portland, Oregon. The one-day event is taking place on Saturday, April 12, 2014, and will be free to the public. Our venue is the Norse Hall, a beautiful ballroom built in 1928, centrally located just one block north of Burnside Ave in Portland's hip Central Eastside district, just blocks from the Jupiter Hotel, great restaurants, and lively bars (and just over 1/2 mile from the Oregon Convention Center).
Linework NW’s goal is to focus attention on the creators who continue to inject new energy and vitality into these venerable mediums that share so much in common, whether their work is to be found in comic books, original art, graphic novels, prints, or other forms. Drawing upon a wealth of talent from the Pacific Northwest and beyond, Linework NW seeks to cultivate a vibrant cultural experience for creators, readers, art lovers, and collectors alike.
We (Zack and François) have been ruminating about throwing a new indie comics festival in Portland for several years now; we both have a quite a lot of experience working with the community and throwing comics-oriented events (Zack is the editor of Study Group Comics and was a member of the Pony Club gallery, and François ran the San Francisco Zine Fest for six years), and we felt there was a certain space in the community for a new event. There was some uncertainty as to whether the Stumptown Comics Fest would be returning this year; we had made some inquiries and hadn't heard anything definite from the organizers of that show, so we decided to go ahead and move forward without our own plans... Linework NW has been in the works for several months now. If Stumptown had returned this year, we would have been delighted to run Linework NW as a sort of side event, a la Trickster in relation to SDCC... But with Stumptown's official announcement this week that their festival won't be taking place next year, we are excited to do our part in providing the indie comics community a much needed venue.
The Norse Hall is a relatively small venue, with room for approximately 40 tables, so we expect the need to carefully curate the exhibitors to maximize both diversity and quality. We are excited to say that we already have a group of extraordinary publishers and studios committed to the show, including Fantagraphics Books, Foxing Quarterly, Grass Hut, I Will Destroy You, Koyama Press, Magnetic North, Oni Press, Pony Club, Press Gang, Revival House, Sparkplug Comic Books, Top Shelf Productions, Traditional Comics, and Yam Books. We are looking forward to adding dozens more individual artists and creators to this list. We are accepting exhibitor applications until Jan. 31, 2014, with final exhibitor announcements coming on Feb. 7.
Our first special guest is Michael DeForge, a creator who we feel is at the forefront of both the comics and illustration mediums. Michael's remarkable career path, which encompasses everything from self-published minicomics and webcomics, to publications from Koyama Press and Drawn & Quarterly, to commercial illustration gigs for the New York Times and working on the popular animated series Adventure Time, marks him as both an extraordinarily prolific artist and a creator who is (seemingly) fully in tune with the highly diversified modern media landscape. This will be Michael's first appearance in the Pacific Northwest, and we are delighted to be bringing him out for the event. We will be hosting an off-site art show of Michael's work, as well as a Q & A with the artist at the event.
The Norse Hall boasts a full bar (!?!), which will serve double duty as our venue for programing, including the Q & A session with Michael Deforge. Other events include a free post-show pizza party for exhibitors, an offsite art show and pop-up shop highlighting the work of our special guest, satellite events, and much more soon to come. We have no doubt that the high quality of exhibitors and guests at the event, the central location, free admission, and an aggressive publicity campaign will attract a large and energetic crowd for the event and a fun and successful experience for our exhibitors from Portland and beyond.