Growing pains hitting many indie comics shows

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201305171857 Growing pains hitting many indie comics shows
Even indie comics are getting to be, if not big business, then extremely popular. More popular than a street fair, even. The last two years, perhaps inspired by BCGF and TCAF, have seen indie shows spring up in many cities from Minneapolis Autopic, to Portland’s The Projects to Chicago’s CAKE.

While we noted that last weekend’s TCAF has mostly outgrown its venue, and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival shutdown came partly over problems over the show’s growth (more on that in a minute) it’s also evident in the trouble exhibitors had getting tables at SPX. Even a comparatively small show like this weekend’s Maine Comics And Arts Festival had a very quick sellout in January:

The first wave of exhibitor tables has sold out. We have started the waiting list and will fill the remaining tables from that list.

[snip]
Based upon the number of requests for information that we received this year we knew that the demand for tables would be more than in previous years. We have seen many first time exhibitors get tables tonight.


In a post on MeCAF’s old website (now gone) the show’s owner Rick Lowell had mused about what to do about growing demand for tables. MeCAF is definitely a smaller show, but it’s a delightful one, and a growing one, and even a show in an out of the way state is getting too big.

Speaking of too big, Tim Hodler has the behind the scenes on the end of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival and it’s kind of he said/he said. Turns out the show’s remaining two co-owners couldn’t agree on how to move forward with Dan Nadel having to bow out due to his other duties. And Gabe Fowler didn’t even know yesterday’s announcement was coming. And someone has already pulled the plug on the shows’s website, which is kind of sad and final (or petty). All the guests, all the fests…gonna have to live on in our memories and Facebook, I guess.

Bill K. has a lot to say about growing pains and how indie comics festivals fit into the industry structure:

Kartalopoulos elaborates: “The other thing I would say is that the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival has been a very successful event. Every year it grew beyond our expectations. I think anyone who was at the 2012 show probably observed that the festival was sort of maxing out the structure that had been built to support it. I mean both literally in terms of the space and also, I would say, organizationally. So you know growth is hard, and presents a lot of challenges. I think that the 2012 event represented the peak of what could be accomplished within the constraints of the current model. So even though I’m sad and upset in certain ways, I am happy to go out on a high note rather than start hitting walls.”

[snip]“As far as I’m concerned, money-making has never been a consideration,” says Kartalopoulos. “The festival just needs to support itself.” But he does think that the perception brings up issues worth discussing. “There’s a bigger infrastructural point here which is that a big part of the indie comics economy at this point seems to rest on the shoulders of people who work very hard for very little reward to create these festivals,” he says. “I think there are some structural issues that I hope people will start talking about, even if not as a direct result of this situation. It’s really hard and it’s really a lot of work to put together these festivals. No one is making money personally doing these things, and you can’t have an industry that depends on volunteer labor forever.”


We noted that TCAF had growing pains this year as well, and showrunner Chris Butcher looked exhausted and said as much. The shows are so important to the economy of small publishers, but they are not, in and of themselves, a profit center for those running them. TCAF doesn’t even charge for admission OR tables!

At some point making money for what you do is a good reward and a good incentive to keep doing them and keep doing them right. That goes for show runners as well as cartoonists. We’re a long way from that being the case on the indie circuit.

In the meantime, Brooklyn will not be without a comics show. The brand new Grand Comics Festival in Brooklyn rolls out June 8-9. See ya there!

Comments

  1. Monica says:

    I think from here on out it’d be cool to start up smaller, more frequent one day shows. The pressure to pack everyone in to one show once a year in one place is too much.

  2. TCAF do indeed charge for tables. Unless they just thought they could get a quick $175 out of me. Others paid too, right?

    …right?!

  3. Yup, TCAF charges $175 for a half table and $350 for a full table.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    Two solutions:
    1) The craft fair model, where you rent out a high school gymnasium or cafeteria, set up tables, and sell by word of mouth. (Ramapo and Hawthorne High pioneered this model, and BCGF added a curatorial model.) Hold it monthly around different locales, just like the dealer shows you find in hotels and shopping centers. Or like the street fairs which clog Manhattan every weekend. Maybe Etsy could run them…

    2) A full-fledged summer arts/book festival.
    It’s a bit like the old New York Is Book Country… or the Omaha Summer Arts Festival. (http://www.summerarts.org/2013/maps.html)

    You set up a street fair with tents and events.
    You get arts council funding. add some entertainment, face painting, indoor events, some food trucks… Maybe you grow it like San Diego, but start from the outside, then work your way in… Street festival, tents, and then eventually add a convention center for indoor panels, screenings, demonstrations, and a Basel-style fine arts fair.

    Yeah, it takes a lot of organization. Just look at CCI in San Diego.

  5. Dean Haspiel says:

    Big Laundromat. Beer. Comix.
    Win. Win. Win.

  6. jacob lyon goddard says:

    I like to think of these conventions as warm ups for a North American Angoulême.

  7. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    I would like to see and NA Angouleme, but torsten brings up a unintended point in that you need something else besides comics to bring in more people, but unlike Comic Con keep it supplementary and not become a hipster pop culture fest.

  8. Living in North Brooklyn, I can assure you that “hipsters” have nothing in common with Comic-Con’s shift toward general movie-game-pop culture.

  9. patrick ford says:

    Someone needs to organize a circuit along the same lines as the very popular festivals which tour regions. There are already circuits for Craft Festivals, Chalk Festivals, Art Festivals, and various others. Many of the people who turn out for these events and spend money turn up simply because it’s something to do on a weekend. I see no reason why a circuit supporting small press comics would not do well. In fact it might really broaden the base of support.

  10. MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) ran into this problem last year when its 2012 show tables sold out in 3 hours.

    For this year’s show, the MICE team prevented the first-come-first-served server crash and sellout frenzy by doing a show that’s 75% curated and 25% lottery, where applications were accepted for 2 weeks back in April. The curating is done to meet the show’s goals of highlighting local creators and having a good mix of pros and newbies.

    See you at MICE on Sept. 28-29 in Cambridge!

  11. Torsten Adair says:

    I like the MICE model… it’s a bit like CCI inviting guests who are featured, then letting others apply to fill the big tent.

    Here’s another crazy idea: Sundance.
    Angoulême in a Colorado ski resort during the summer.
    I’ve been to Keystone in August, which has weather similar to San Francisco in August. (Average July high at Keystone: 74F)

    Place it at Dillon/Frisco. The Summit Stage offers free bus service to nearby ski resorts, which would have lots of time shares and hotels available in the off season. Highway 6 for the scenic route, I-70 for convenience. 1:45 from Denver International Airport.

    Make it half comics/pictorial storytelling, half 2-D artwork (prints, photos, paintings, posters).

  12. Torsten Adair says:

    Almost every city has a film festival.
    http://www.festivalfocus.org/

    What if the same were true for comics?!

  13. So the Brooklyn show shut down because it was too successful? Because it grew too much? Gotta be a better reason.

  14. MeCAF was just held this past weekend, and it was another successful show. Our featured guest Jeff Smith was a huge hit with the fans, and we saw increased attendance again this year. Sales reports so far indicate that most people had very good sales, and several exhibitors sold out of books early in the day.

    We work very hard all year to prepare for our one day show. This year we increased our staff, and they did an amazing job. The exhibitors and guests all seemed to have a great day. I would suggest checking the hashtag #MeCAF on twitter for photos and reports. One of the things that sets MeCAF apart is its location. The event is held in a beautiful facility on the water with huge glass walls overlooking Casco Bay in Portland. It is filled with natural light, and you can watch sailboats pass by all day.

    Next year’s show will be on Sunday, May 18th. We will be moving to an application process for exhibitors next year, and will begin accepting applications in the fall.

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