April 27, 2015

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A Trip to Linework NW 2015

Packed House at Linework NW
Last weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of going to the second edition of my hometown indie comics show, Linework NW. Last year, I really had a great time, even though I'd just moved 2700 miles with all my stuff in a moving van and had basically no money to spend on anything. I saw the potential for a great indie comics show that celebrated comics as comics, not something to be used as a wedge to get into better paying mediums. In short, it was exactly the kind of comics show I like to attend, like the Small Press Expo or Locust Moon.

Sparkplug Books sells comics on Sunday at Linework NW
I'm happy to say that now, in an expanded, two-day rotating artists format, Linework NW is not only better than last year, it might have had the best concentration of quality creators I've ever seen at a comics show. That's nothing against the great folks who've tabled at other events I've attended. I'm just saying that, pound for pound, matched against my own personal taste, that Linework NW this year had virtually no creators where I thought to myself, "What are they doing here?"* Both days featured not just a range of the heavy hitters like Fantagraphics, AdHouse, Sparkplug Books, and others who are at most indie comics shows, but also a ton of people, many of whom I'd never heard of before, who were offering very interesting comics.

Another view of the Linework NW Crowd.
I was blown away by Matt Sundstrom, for instance, and dropped money his way--especially since he was practicing one of Rob's Rules of Tabling: Keep your prices down. Sean Christensen A.B.T had a great array of abstract-style comics, something I've been really digging lately, and so I got a few of their comics, too, because it covered another of my rules: Have something affordable for me to sample. I'm expecting to get more from them next time I see them at a show. Most of my money, admittedly, did go to my old and new favorites, from Liz Prince to Malachi Ward, but I took a lot of cards and found multiple artists I plan to look up and examine in more detail. While I do have more money available than last year, I don't have an unlimited comics budget, so sometimes it's a hard choice to make final decisions. Not buying didn't mean I didn't like what I saw--just that I liked something else I saw a bit better.

But my main point here is that Linework NW had a ton of stuff that was interesting to me and kept me looking and thinking across two days and several hours.  That's not always the case when I go to a show, and it's a tribute to the curating of the organizing team, of which Zack Soto and Francois Vigneault are the main public faces.

Moving on to some general comments about the the show, in no particular order:

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg holds up her newest mini, Middle #1, at Linework NW
The two-day, different creators style worked great from an attendee's standpoint. While I know that it's harder on the exhibitors (you have to make table in one day) and of course, sometimes there was that "Oh rats, I missed X" moment from those who came only on Sunday, I think it's a great compromise and does encourage people to make going to Linework NW a destination, especially since Portland is such a great city to visit.** Anyone who's a fan of comics that's looking to make a short flight or longer road trip has a bigger reason to do so, now. Additionally, creators who are just starting out have a better chance at getting in, because they're not trying to compete for less slots against better known creators or publishers. And lastly, it meant that creators themselves had a day at the show just to look around and hang out. I think it was a winning combination, and the way to go for the future of comics shows.

Pizza for show exhibitors may be the single-best idea I've ever seen for a comics show. Especially since the Norse Hall is a nice place, but not really close walking distance to any food outlets that aren't carts who've come in for the show.

Uncivilized Books Stands Tall at Linework NW
The Norse Hall is a really nice space, and the large room for panels is pretty nifty. But when Portland had a freak heat wave on Sunday, the inside of the venue became almost intolerably warm. Nothing they can control but I'm sure glad the Portland Zine Symposium isn't there in July. Yikes!

As with the first Linework, I loved that as I was walking around, there were so many people with comics in their hands that they'd purchased. A show can have great attendance, a nice venue, and cool people running it, but if no one's buying, it's useless. I didn't poke too much for specific numbers from people, but it looked like sales were brisk, though of course, not distributed completely evenly.
The show was pretty steady stream for the times I was there, between around 1pm and 5pm. I don't know how it looked later in the day, but there were moments where it felt incredibly crowded and dense. I have no idea if there'd be another venue to move it to that might help with this and still be viable for all involved, but I think a small expansion would be a good thing, if possible.

The Queering Comics Panel at Linework NW
I only made it to one panel, on Queering Comics, but it was awesome. tightly structured, panelists who knew their topic, and engaging conversation. Very well done.

Linework continued its egalitarian policies with regards to tabling. As with past shows, certain publishers had more space than others, and of course they were also anchors. But they were not given special treatment or placement. Each was melded into the show, and they were distributed in such a way that if you were looking for one in particular, you'd just so happen to need to pass cool creators who could draw your eye--and maybe, your dollars, too. Fantagraphics was hopping--and deservedly so--but it wasn't like people were only buying from the big names. If anything, they may not have done as well as the smaller folks.

Tucker Stone talks about Nobrow Books to an Attendee at Linework NW
Props to the creators who had friends at the show and therefore kept their stuff out there both days while only tabling once. I saw a few folks doing this--where Creator A would table on Saturday, then hang out while Creator B, their buddy, tabled on Sunday. Nice way to maximize your chances to get your name out there.

One more of the crowd at Linework NW
This show felt especially open and welcoming to everyone. I noticed a very high proportion of women at the show, for example, and I think some of that was due to the Linework NW team making sure that the exhibitors weren't just the usual, well-known male names. At the same time, though, there were plenty of folks wearing old-school t-shirts you usually associate with aging male geeks, showing that middle aged, indie comic-loving men were happy to be there, too. I did not notice inappropriate behavior, either. I have been to shows where there was quite a bit of leering. This may be due to the lack of cosplayers or just that the show was front and center about being an open environment. (Come on, people, who is going to show up next year looking like someone from Farel's The Wrenchies?)

Last but not least, Zack and Krista's baby was the real star of Linework NW. Don't even argue the point.

Chris Pitzer is happy because the Nats just won a game. From Linework NW.
On a personal level, this show was really good for me. I admit that early this year, I'd been feeling kinda bummed about so many bad things in comics. You know them, I'm not going to make this a litany of woes. But seeing so many people enthused about comics, to see all parts of the indie comic spectrum coming together without throwing daggers across the room (except for that time there was a dagger-throwing panel***), and to connect with some of the best people in the industry really made me feel much better about comics. It was also nice to have a chance to meet a few people in person for the first time, after talking for extended periods over email, particularly the folks from Uncivilized Books and Nobrow, as well as seeing my old pal Chris from AdHouse, and showing I've still got his tote bag.

Lucy Bellwood gains a new fan at Linework NW.

Getting to talk casually with some folks, just as people, and not as creator-to-writer was fun, too. Part of going to SPX was seeing people I'd come to call friend, not just creator, and I felt like this was the start of having some of those same relationships here on the West Coast.

Linework NW was a wonderful, and I am already looking forward to next year. I hope that the Linework team time continues to build on what is a really fantastic foundation. It's hard to believe the show is only two years old! With such a strong commitment to variety and diversity, I think the show can really lead the way in doing even better with non-white representation in indie comics. Sometimes when folks think of indie comics, they gravitate to the old, white guard, like special guest Daniel Clowes. What's great about Linework is that Clowes was lauded, but so were people who might have been tabling for the first time. And the special guests were split 50-50 male/female, too. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Linework be the indie comics show that finally brings more creators (and fans) of color into the fold.

That would take a show that's arguably already a model convention and turn it into something really special. No matter what, though, I can hardly wait to see what the gang at Linework NW comes up with next. I can't imagine not being there in 2016, and I hope you'll join me there!

You can find my collection of pictures from Linework  NW here.

See you next year, Norse Hall!
*Before you start tut-tutting, be honest. You know you go past tables and think that. Unless you are the comics version of Gene Shalit.

**Seriously, even without a comics show, you should come visit Portland. We don't bite unless you ask.

***Just kidding, That's on the agenda for 2016.