Say Nice Things About Portland

Say Nice Things About Portland: A Manifesto

You can be the ambassador our city needs right now.

Say Nice Things About… Portland Activism!

Here are a few local activist organizations fighting to make Portland better every single day.

Broken and Beloved

82nd Ave is full of flavor and contradictions. That’s what makes it Portland’s most iconic street.

Say Nice Things About… Portland’s SEXIEST Statues!

They’re historical, they’re artistic… and they’re HOT.

Say Nice Things About... the Portland Music Scene!

Behold! Here are five recurring music nights and events to fall in love with.

Say Nice Things About… Portland’s Kickass LGBTQ+ Community!

Trans strip nights! Drag king vampires! Star Trek tea houses! (And we’re just getting started!)

Say Nice Things About… Portland's Unstoppable Makers!

They'll make an abandoned building a museum. They'll make a scary movie gay. They'll make your favorite restaurant vegan. Get ready to be changed by these five Portland makers!

Say Nice Things About... the Portland Food Scene!

Food cart pods, old standbys, and eateries that support our city’s sex workers.

Say Nice Things About… Portland’s Pop Culture Culture!

The dream of the ‘90s (and ‘80s, and early aughts) is alive in Portland.

Say Nice Things About… Portland Comedy!

The laughs don’t stop in a city where the comedy scene punches far above its weight.

Come As You Are

A Transplant’s Unexpected First Year in Portland

Your Guide to the Biggest Summer 2023 Festivals Around Portland

Pickathon, Portland Pride, Burger Week, and More

Say Nice Things About… Portland’s Delightfully Wild Arts Scene!

Galleries and museums? Of course. But a local cemetery and a mall as well? You better believe it.

Say Nice Things About… Portland's Little Quirks

Dildos. Notes. Gratitude. Portland's eccentricities have made the news—but they're part of what makes this place so great.

Say Nice Things About... Portland's Comics Makers and Sellers!

Artist Ross Jackson describes his love affair with the Portland comics scene... via a comic!

Say Nice Things About… Portland Sports!

“Portland isn’t a good sports town”? We beg to differ.

[Welcome to our "Say Nice Things About Portland" guide to the city! Did you know that this feature package is also in PRINT?? That's right, this is our first print product since the start of the pandemic, and we're psyched to produce a lot more. Find the "Say Nice Things" guide in over 500 locations around the city, and if you'd like to see more guides you can hold, please consider making a small contribution to the Mercury, please and thank you!—eds]

Portland isn’t fancy. It never has been and no number of Gucci storefronts or celebrity gin distilleries is going to transform this dirtbag timber town into some glossy magazine cover of a city. In our hearts we know we are dingy and dog-eared and rough around the edges, like a paperback book left in a bus terminal waiting room. And honestly? That’s pretty fucking chill. There’s no freedom like the freedom of being a slightly rumpled outlier to the crushing grind of mainstream success. Our entertainments tend to reflect that too, even after they tore down the last of the old porn theaters and all-night coffee shops. So let’s take a tour of some of our less flashy preoccupations, from rep screenings to VHS swaps to the backyard comic cons that make our city the slacker middle child of West Coast metros.

1. Old Indie Theaters

Art is art, and I’m sure you can have a perfectly enjoyable time watching Avatar on a busted Nokia if you want to, and there’s surely a case to be made for cutting-edge 4DX and laser IMAX experiences. But Portland is also home to a truly respectable number of beautiful independent theaters, some of which have weathered a century or so of changing tastes, shifting media landscapes, and a whole-ass pandemic. These theaters represent both a living connection to the history of film and the experimental frontier of indie cinema, and it’s amazing that we still have as many to choose from as we do.

There’s an undeniable magic to seeing an old film in the context in which it was intended to be seen, surrounded by like-minded strangers in the flickering darkness of a big art deco cave. No one alive today could have seen the opening weekend of Metropolis, and audiences famously slept on cult classics like The Thing and Blade Runner. Queer and outsider voices were often relegated to the sidelines of a limited release, or quietly dumped on video. Getting an opportunity to see these films in a full house is a kind of cultural time travel or alternate history, a chance to claw back a unique and fleeting moment from the never ending churn of popular culture.

Cinema 21 - Photo: Suzette Smith

In particular I’d like to spotlight Cinema 21, which has been screening some absolute classics lately like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd alongside new and emerging indie voices you’re not likely to find elsewhere on a big screen. There is simply no greater pleasure for a Portland cinephile than watching some inscrutable piece of avant garde nonsense at Cinema 21 and then going next door to Coffee Time and arguing if it made any goddamn sense over clattering cups of scalding espresso.

On the other side of town, Cinemagic has transformed in recent years into a true movie lovers clubhouse, blowing the doors off with delightfully trashy VHS and Laserdisc nights and incredibly rad one-weekend screenings of ‘80s bangers like Akira and Aliens. And no discussion of the Portland film scene would be complete without mentioning The Hollywood Theater, a non-profit institution with one of the West Coast’s most beautiful rococo marquees that is 100 percent where the ghosts of old vaudeville stars hang out and chomp cigars. You don’t have to pick a vibe with Hollywood, they screen deep cut gems like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Venus Wars in between austere 70mm prints of 2001 and Barry Lyndon.

2. Video Stores

Maybe I’m an old media obsessive and maybe there isn’t a second part of this sentence to refute the first part—but dammit, video stores are cool too! Setting aside the inevitable ‘90s kid nostalgia and vaporwave Instagram memes, there’s just something existentially reassuring about flimsy wire shelves densely packed with the hopes and dreams of a thousand curious filmmakers. Streaming is cheap and easy and I don’t think anyone anywhere is advocating for society to un-invent it. But every movie and TV show and ill-advised holiday special took a lot of work to make, and it’s a bit depressing to see thousands of hours of collective labor boiled down to the size of a commemorative postage stamp on the Netflix home screen and left to the mercy of an unfeeling algorithm.

Portland used to be home to a fair few video joints, even after the big rental chains went the way of the payphone. Now all that remains is Movie Madness, which these days exists as a community space as much as anything else. Every weekend the on-site miniplex hosts free screenings of oddball employee picks, Movie Madness University offers continuing education for aspiring cinephiles, and there’s even a li’l library of film books now for the deepest of the multimedia deep dives. It feels weird to be saying this in 2023, but they’ve even got one of the better physical bulletin boards in town, which gets regularly updated with flyers advertising movie clubs, tape swaps, garage sales, and rare or unusual film screenings.

Movie Madness  /  Photo: Zoë Lawrance

3. Comics

Despite the ballooning cost of living and omnipresent pall of seasonal depression, there’s still a thriving community of comics professionals, aspiring creators, and fans here in Portland. Looking for a painterly YA graphic novel with a dry wit and a lot of heart? Allow me to direct you to Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (who, full disclosure, I’ve collaborated with in the past) or The Ghoul Next Door, illustrated by Portland native Cat Farris. Need a magical realist queer sports webcomic? That’d be Midnight Furies by Jess Herron. High-concept espionage action? Check out Retroactive or Jager by Ibrahim Mustafa. How about hardcore sex escapades with a humanist twist? Look no further than Oh Joy Sex Toy created by locals Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan. And while the industry as a whole has calcified around spandex-clad shared-universe stories from Marvel and DC, local heavyweights like Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Lieber, Jeff Parker, Joëlle Jones, and Benjamin Dewey are all doing compelling and innovative work in that space.

You can see any of these creators at any given comic con in the region, although the average big convention tends to be fairly expensive to get into and more oriented towards waiting in line to see one of the stars of Supernatural than anything related to comics themselves. A better bet is to check out a signing event at one of the constellation of comic shops in town, from old hands like Excalibur and Cosmic Monkey to more boutique-y places like Floating World or Rose City Comics. Shops like those, and the dozen or so more I don’t have space to mention here, are another example of Portland’s resilient physical media landscape, and a pleasant alternative to big box stores or Amazon piss jar factories. And the BWP minicon put on by Books with Pictures in July will be a free, outdoor comics event featuring many of the above creators in front of a chill, queer-friendly, and Eisner award-winning comics shop.