"WE WANT PEOPLE to get drunk and buy a lot of comics and art," Zack Soto says.
Clearly, Portland's newest comics and illustration festival has some pretty lofty goals. Linework NW, organized by Study Group Comics publisher Soto and illustrator François Vigneault, is an upstart festival scheduled for one day in Northeast Portland's Norse Hall. There'll be 38 tables, an on-site bar, and a handful of satellite events. It's scrappy. It's small. And it's Portland's latest answer to the ever-changing landscape of comics and comic book shows.
Comic book shows used to be different. Think longboxes of moldering back issues, artists selling sketches from behind wobbly card tables, and collectors hawking mint-condition Battlestar Galactica trading cards.
But as once-niche interests became cultural juggernauts—Marvel has cranked out no fewer than nine superhero blockbusters in the past six years, raking in $6 billion dollars of nerd and non-nerd money—comic book shows started to change.
San Diego's Comic-Con International now attracts over 130,000 people a year, including the entirety of Hollywood, to sell movies, TV shows, and videogames to an increasingly mainstream audience. In March, Seattle's Emerald City Comicon sold out weeks in advance; with over 60,000 attendees yearly, it's now one of the biggest shows in the country. Locally, there's the Wizard World Portland Comic Con, which attracts crowds by flying in C-list sci-fi celebrities, and the quickly growing Rose City Comic Con. Rose City, after merging with Emerald City, promptly swallowed whole the troubled, decade-old Stumptown Comics Festival—a show that, before it lost both focus and attendees, began as an alternative to more pop-culture-obsessed conventions.
Stumptown's demise left Portland without an artist-focused festival, despite the increasing popularity of such shows in other cities. (Portland does have the Projects, an experimental show that's more along the lines of a collective art project than a traditional, retail-focused festival.) Shows like Short Run in Seattle, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, and Comic Arts Brooklyn are all events where it's highly unlikely you'll see anyone dressed up like a Sailor Moon: Their focus is on print and web comics, illustration, and self-published work.
"These [shows] are all free, they're all regional to some extent, and they focus on local people," says Soto. "With so many amazing talents in the area, we feel like Portland needs a show like that too."
That's where Linework NW fits in, with a dash of Crafty Wonderland's market-driven agenda: In the face of loud, expensive, and increasingly corporate pop-culture shows, Linework's organizers are offering a tightly curated festival that focuses on independent comics and illustration.
"Linework is a more art-forward, creator-driven show than Stumptown had been, or than Rose City is," says co-organizer Vigneault. "Rose City deals with a lot of the pop culture elements of comics. We literally deal with none of that. All that stuff is awesome, but our show is not that."
Linework NW is an increasing rarity: an intentionally small, carefully curated festival. While the show is all ages, panels will be held at Norse Hall's on-site bar, and the artists and publishers showing off their work were selected from more than 150 applicants.
In another welcome departure—especially given that Rose City and Wizard World both come with stiff admission fees between $20 and $60—Linework NW is free to attend. "I know a lot of people who are interested in art, but they're not into paying money to go check it out," says Vigneault. "If you allow a lot of people to come, it's going to benefit the art form." It's also going to leave more money in the pockets of attendees—which, ideally, they'll spend at the show, directly benefiting the artists.
"We don't want to be Crafty Wonderland, but we're almost as inspired by that model as we are by something like [Comic Arts Brooklyn] or Short Run," Soto says. "We want to bring in people with money, people who like pretty things. Not just people who like comics."
Vigneault and Soto say they've already got ideas for next year's Linework, including a possible move to a bigger venue (don't worry—they won't be moving to the Oregon Convention Center, where fun goes to die). This year's goals are modest—aside from the one-day fest, there's an art show at Reading Frenzy (3628 N Mississippi, featuring work from festival headliners Jim Woodring and Michael DeForge) and an afterparty at Em Space (521 NE Davis), while comics-performance series Gridlords will take over Holocene (1001 SE Morrison) on Sunday night for a wrap party.
Time to get drunk and buy a lot of comics and art!
There are only 38 tables at Linework NW—you should be able to find your way around without our help. But just in case, delicate reader, here are a few artists we're excited to see.
Michael DeForge—If you're not impressed with his day job as a designer on Adventure Time (we are!), just know that his work is hilarious, twisted, and brainy, and you'll probably like it.
Jim Woodring—This Seattle-based cartoonist is Linework's entry in the "living legend" category: Woodring is best known for his Frank series, which pops up on best-comics-ever lists with clockwork regularity.
The Little Friends of Printmaking—If you're looking for unique, clever-but-not-cloying prints, circle the name of this husband-and-wife outfit in red pen. They've got you covered.
Yumi Sakugawa—Sakugawa specializes in the personal and the cute. Her I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You is an adorable homage to friendship in web-comic-turned-print-comic form; for girls who like friends and cats.
Farel Dalrymple—We're big fans of Dalrymple, a Portland-based illustrator and comics artist whose work is dreamy, detailed, and equal parts beautiful and unnerving.
Pam Wishbow—A Seattle illustrator who's done work for both Bitch and Bust, Wishbow uses bold colors and heavily stylized figures that are by turns winsome and menacing.
Ed Luce—A professor at the California College of the Arts' comics MFA program, Luce is best known for Wuvable Oaf, a comic series about a sensitive giant looking for love that's been described as the "Scott Pilgrim of gay comics."
Pony Club Gallery—Catch six local illustrators at one table—including Amy Kuttab, Emi Lenox, and Keith Carter—repping for Pony Club Gallery, which specializes in art with an illustrative bent.
Jeannette Langmead—We've got our eye on up-and-comer Langmead; we love both her hilariously self-deprecating autobio comics and her classy work like The Animal Penis Activity Book, an activity book about animals' penises.
Sam Alden—Alden's Haunter was excerpted in The Best American Comics 2013; it's being released by Study Group Comics, the website/publisher run by Linework co-organizer Zack Soto.
Dylan Meconis—Mercury pal Meconis is one of our favorite local artists; she's done tons of great work illustrating our articles, as well as on her webcomic Family Man.
Snakebomb Comix—The Portland-based publisher and comics distributor assembles a small army of experimental web and print cartoonists at their table.