When it comes to Portland's comic and pop culture shows, we've got two sizes: convention center and community room. Rose City Comic Con and Fan Expo Portland (nee Wizard World Portland) both hold court in the capacious halls of the Oregon Convention Center. You'll find the smaller trade shows and DIY events in tucked into nonprofit meeting spaces—if you’re in any kind of crafty creative scene, you’ve logged some hours on the Lloyd Center Doubletree’s durable carpets. 

Mid-sized shows have proven a more challenging varietal to cultivate, with indie-focused shows like Stumptown and Linework NW long ago falling by the wayside. A big barrier such shows face is a lack of public spaces that exist between those two size extremes. 

However, that was before the Lloyd Center Mall’s artsy glow up, and now local darling comic shop Floating World has wrangled enough exhibitor space to import an entire underground comics festival from LA. 

Floating World’s Jason Leivian partnered up with festival organizer Keenan Keller to bring LA’s Permanent Damage show to Portland’s vaporwave home base. Comic books? In the mall? Don’t worry, it’s not 1997 again, although I have some bad news about your Tamagotchi if that’s the last time you fed it.

Permanent Damage has been a going concern in LA and San Francisco since just before the pandemic. The first outing in February 2020 was less than auspicious: “It got rained out for about three hours,” Keller told the Mercury. While that posed a problem for the indoor / outdoor affair—“with paper products, rain sucks”—Keller was still encouraged by the response. “A lot of people still came out, so I knew there was something there,” he said. 

Keller curates an eclectic mix of hardcore underground zines and more established alt comics creators, along with various multimedia entertainment, like live readings, music acts, and, in Portland at least, an animation showcase screening on Friday night called Cartoon Damage.

On Saturday, 50+ artists will exhibit their work in what was once an Ulta Beauty salon. It’s a who’s who of grimy indie comics talent, like home-grown heroes Shanna Matuszak and Molly Mendoza, Oakland’s Skinner, Chicago's Caroline Cash, and LA artist Tom Neely—who we can also thank for the show poster of Red Skull Charlie Brown breathing fire on Portland's downtown.

Thankfully, with our unpredictable climate, the Portland show is entirely indoors, or at least that strangely liminal indoor/outdoor hybrid that exists only in the modern American shopping mall.

As for what prompted a partnership with Floating World, Keller said he didn’t have to think too hard on that one. “Floating world comics is like the best bookshop in America basically, so [it was] a no-brainer on that end.” Portland also has a certain home court indie comics advantage. “There's just so many good artists in Portland that I really was excited to come up here,” Keller said.

Why focus on zines and indie comics in particular, when they’re not exactly the billion dollar business that mainstream superhero titles are? For Leivian it’s a matter of taste. “There's definitely kind of an aesthetic that connects the cartoonists,” he said, “There's more of an underground DIY punk vibe to a lot of the comics that are being made.” 

Keller added that, like a lot of art, the fringes of the scene is where a lot of magic happens. “That's where all the exciting new energy comes from,” he said. “Underground comics and indie comics, you know, allow people to have a true individual voice and get it out there without anybody [else’s] voice getting involved.”

Permanent Damage PDX takes place at the former Ulta Beauty salon in the Lloyd Center Mall, 2201 Lloyd Center, Sat Aug 26, noon-6 pm, $2, all ages; Cartoon Damage screens at Clinton Street Theater, 2522 SE Clinton, Fri Aug 25, 7:30 pm, $12, theater age restriction information is found here.