Interview with François Vigneault about Linework NW (April 12, 2014)

One of the things I'm excited to do once I move over to the West Coast in a little over a week is to start going to the shows out there, which are some of the best around. While I will miss my East Coast shows, this is a great new opportunity for me.

I couldn't ask for a better introduction, as Linework NW comes on April 12th, and barring catastrophe, will be my first comics show as a Portland resident! Though they're extremely busy, François Vigneault, the show's co-organizer (along with Study Group's Zack Soto) took some time to do an e-mail interview with me. Here's what he had to say:

Panel Patter: For those who may still be unaware, tell them a little bit about the purpose of the Linework NW show. Why did you come together to create it?

François Vigneault: Linework NW was created to fill what we perceived to be a void in the Portland comics scene, a art-forward festival that was small enough to be fun and manageable, but enough of a draw to bring in amazing talent from outside of the city and attract the biggest possible cross-over audience. Portland is well-known at this point for being one of the major comics communities in the country, but despite hosting shows like Rose City Comics Con, the recently retired Stumptown Comics Fest, The Projects, and the Portland Zine Symposium (all shows I've always enjoyed), there didn't seem to be the sort of marketplace-driven show that catered to what I would think of as Portland's core cartoonist and illustrator demographic: Visually adventurous and independent creators.

Panel Patter: Linework NW isn't designed to be a replacement for Stumptown, but can you speak briefly about the differences between the late show and the new Linework NW?

Vigneault:  The main differences that I see would be matters of atmosphere, focus, and accessibility. We are a free event, showcasing a tightly curated selection of artists, right in the middle of the city. I think that our venue, the Norse Hall, is a really fun and relaxing place to attend a show, it is right in the center of town (one block north of Burnside in the Central Eastside district), and is a charming old building within blocks of dozens of amazing restaurants. I think that by having Linework there we are really making it clear that we are NOT trying to be the same sort of show as Stumptown, which in recent years has been held in the somewhat cavernous Convention Center, the same spot that other, more mainstream shows like Wizard World and Rose City Comic-Con are held. We want to put forward the idea that we are an indie-driven event, from the moment you walk in the door.

Panel Patter: Who are the organizers behind Linework NW? What can you tell readers about them?

Vigneault:  Zack Soto and I are the founders and chief organizers. We are both cartoonists and small-press publishers; Zack is the creator of The Secret Voice and the publisher behind Study Group Comics (they are running a great Kickstarter, by the way!), I am writing and drawing a comic called Titan and have run the small-press publishing house Family Style for the last ten years. We are also being helped by an amazing circle of folks: Sam Marx, who also helps to organize SPX, Shanna Matuszak, who is the Co-Editor at Study Group Comics and the Gallery Manager at Reading Frenzy, Sean Christensen and Emily Nilsson of Gridlords, Matthew Davison of Dueltone Printing, and many others. We are also relying on the help of dozens of volunteers on the day of, and we are still looking for more... email if you are interested!

Panel Patter: What were some of the challenges in putting together a small press show in such a short time, and how did you handle them?

Vigneault:  There are many, many challenges, but luckily we had some strong experience between us that allowed us to pull it together. For my part, I previously ran the San Francisco Zine Fest for six years, so I had a good idea of the difficulties that awaited us. I would say the biggest thing is just juggling all the various balls at once. If you put too much focus on any one thing you soon realize you have neglected some other, essential part. We also had some nasty surprises with last minute cancellations; you've always got to have a back-up plan for those contingencies!

Panel Patter: The show is free to the public. What drove that decision, especially when many similar events charge a nominal entry fee?

Vigneault:  We are really trying to make a show that is as friendly and welcoming to the wider audience as possible. I think the first and most important thing any festival has to do is simply be free and open to the public. Most comic conventions charge a ticket fee to get in, ranging from $8 to hundreds of bucks! That has always been crazy to are asking people to pay money to get into a big hall to spend more money? The only people that works on, in my opinion, are folks who have already "bought in" to comics fandom. As much as I love comics fans (I am one myself), I don't think that is the way to grow the art form. Our hope is that by making the show free we will be a fun destination for all sorts of folks who might be interested in art or comics casually, but who would normally balk at attending a normal convention.

Panel Patter: How did you create the process of selecting publishers and creators for the show?

Vigneault:  We always had the intention of curating the festival's exhibitors; I think that offering spaces on a first-come, first-served basis just can't work in the modern, lightning-quick internet era. Inevitably folks who you want at the show will be left out. We also had a strong idea that we wanted the show to be a very strong roster of what we (very subjectively) consider to be the best work out there. In order to make sure that we were considering things from a variety of viewpoints, Zack and I enlisted the help of three amazing illustrators with keen critical eyes to help us: Meg Hunt, Kinoko, and Justin "Scrappers" Morrison.

Attendees will notice right away is that the Norse Hall is small. We had the option of looking at other, larger venues, or even renting out a second ball room at the Norse Hall, but instead we embraced the size constraints, and I think that made our curation process for the exhibitors really key. I think that if you look over the exhibitor list you will agree that we have a really tremendous pool of talent signed up. We also tried very hard to expand the concept of the show beyond just comics, which is one of the reasons why we call the show an "Illustration & Comics Festival" and not vice versa: We want to foreground the fact that we are looking to be something different. Of course, there's no arguing matters of taste, and not everything at the show will be for everyone, but I think that anyone will be able to come in and find illustration and comics work that really speaks to them.

Panel Patter: Tell us about special guests Jim Woodring and Michael DeForge, and why you wanted them to be the first-ever guests of Linework NW.

Vigneault:  Two amazing talents who are, I think emblematic of the show's ethos. Jim Woodring has long been a huge inspiration to Zack, myself, and countless other cartoonists; and iconoclastic talent with a truly singular vision. He's been creating his absolutely amazing work for decades now, and in all honesty he is probably producing the best work of his career right now. He's not slowing down for anyone.

Michael DeForge is, I think, one of the most important creators working in the comics medium today. Always exploring new techniques and methods and pushing the art form forward. The amount of work that he has put out in the last few years is astounding, and I can only imagine this is just the beginning for him. We are honored to be hosting both our guests this year, and we think that attendees will definitely be able to see some interesting parallels between Jim and Michael's work.

Panel Patter: Most Panel Patter readers are going to be familiar with a lot of the publishers named, especially Fantagraphics, Dark Horse, Oni, Top Shelf, Sparkplug, and Koyama. Who are some of the lesser-known folks that you could highlight for readers to seek out at the show?

Vigneault:  Of course, there are so many creators that is is hard to single out anyone, yadda yadda. But that said, here are some folks whose work I personally find to be really interesting: Sam Alden has been putting out a prodigious amount of work in the last few years, both as a self-publisher and with some of the best indie-comics publishing houses around today. Anyone who is a fan of subtle, emotionally rich, and sometimes bizarre work has got to check out his work. Husband-and-wife design duo The Little Friends of Printmaking produce incredibly charming work that is sure to please, if you pick up one of their gorgeous screen prints as a gift you will be in good standing with that person for life. The Snakebomb Comix crew is bring along a huge posse of creators, including Josh Burggraf, Alex Degen, and many more... If you like your comics funny and raw you've got to pay their table a visit. The fantasy illustrator Julie Dillon is coming up to the show from California, and I love her rich, other-worldly paintings.

Panel Patter: Let's think positive: Linework NW 2014 is a big hit. Where does the show go from here? What would you like to do in a second, fifth,tenth year?

Vigneault:  Ha ha! I'll limit myself to a second year. But we definitely are planning on coming back again next year. We are working out the details now, but we expect to be a significantly larger show next year, with an even broader range of top-notch exhibitors from across the illustration and comics mediums. Maybe we'll even dip our toe into the world of animation a bit more next year! Stay tuned for an announcement at Linework NW itself for more!

Panel Patter: Thanks for doing this, and I hopefully will see you at the show!