Part of the reason for self-publishing collections of Falling Rock at this time was to have them ready for the Stumptown Comics Fest, which happened over the weekend. I went last year with Dancing with Jack Ketch and it was good to have something to trade. Instead of telling people about a website and hoping they’d eventually check it, you have a physical thing to give to them and say, “read this.” Since I have two years’ worth of comic strips, I chose some of my favorites and put them into the two collections, The Great Wave of Falling Rock and Owl and Other Comics.
Stumptown is the best. You get a wide range of cartoonists and publishers. Anywhere from photocopied zines to the hardbound “art books” from Fantagraphics. I took twenty copies of each of my comics with the goal of not returning with any of them. I achieved that goal.
My friend and fellow Oberlin alum Alec Longstreth got to be the Stumptown Welcoming Committee, which seemed to suit him just fine. He was literally the first person I saw when I entered the big room. His table was right in front. He told me that was just a fluke, but I have a feeling the organizers knew he’d be a good person to have close to the entrance. If you have not checked out his Phase 7 comics, do so now. He does a mixture of autobiographical stories and made-up ones (though, like any good writer, he blurs the fiction/non-fiction line when he sees fit).
A Portland cartoonist and Xeric Award winner, Aron Nels Steinke, was showing off his latest book, The Super Crazy Cat Dance. It’s a mixture of comic and children’s story, and it’s pocket-sized! He regularly does a series called Big Plans. He also has a story in the current issue of the comic anthology Papercutter.
The story, about the moment he realized he had to be a cartoonist, is both funny and meaningful. Why do any of us decide to do what we do? In his case, a series of blows to the head. It resonated with me because my own epiphany – “I must be a cartoonist” – was similarly gruesome. In his case, it took a series of blows to the head. In mine, my hand got mangled in a conveyer belt when I was in kindergarten.
The convention seemed to me even more successful than last year. There were rows of tables and the room literally hummed with conversation. I did a lot of trading and now have a stack of great comics I must read.
Stumptown was able to get a couple of cartoonist superstars: Nicholas Gurewitch and Craig Thompson.
Nicholas is the perpetrator of the extremely funny and disturbing Perry Bible Fellowship, a weekly comic strip whose style changes depending on the story being told. He’s a versatile cartoonist. I was beginning to think he didn’t exist at all, that there was a robot making those funny strips. When I first saw original art for the PBF, there was not a trace of pre-production. No stray pencil lines, no blue pencil. I couldn’t even detect the use of white-out. Then, at Stumptown, his table was unmanned for the first few hours I was there. It was only after lunch that I met him. Watching him slowly write in my name and inscription in his book, I realized why his comics look so pristine: the man is the most deliberate cartoonist I’ve met.
Craig Thompson is the cartoonist behind Good-bye, Chunky Rice, Blankets, and Carnet de Voyage. His comics are swirly, sweeping, and full of emotion. He’s been working on a huge adventure called Habibi for years now. I was glad to meet him. His comics seem so confessional it felt strange to meet the man; the character of himself seems so fully realized I began to believe that the character was the real thing. He has been living in Portland for quite a while: “old man Portland” even though he’s not old. Craig was generous; even with the long line to get his autograph, he took the time to chat with each person.
So that was Stumptown.
That afternoon I went for a run. I was doing laps at the high school near our apartment and I noticed something peculiar. A line of people snaking from the high school, down the block, and around a corner.
I finally asked someone what all the hubbub was about. “Bill Clinton’s here. Or he will be in a half hour,” she said.
I ran a few more laps but decided not to hang around. I did get to hear a crazy person railing against Bill and Hillary. Really screeching. He got booed by the crowd. No word as yet whether he was Ralph Nader.