WE JUST KNOW you’re reading this to find out how abysmal Chicago’s first annual CAKE convention really was, and it’s common knowledge that Secret Acres pulls no punches in its reportage. You want to hear about the table mix-ups, artists being forced to censor their book covers, prohibitive and unannounced entrance costs, food truck stomach viruses, and unbearable AC malfunctions. You need to hear that everything that could go wrong at an upstart comic convention, in fact, went horribly, horribly wrong, because it’s more thrilling to read a convention horror story, peppered with violent and often unintelligible comment threads. But the truth is that nothing went horribly wrong this past weekend in Chicago, and the CAKE gang are due some deep thanks and heartfelt congratulations from the comics world. For its inaugural weekend, CAKE was meticulously organized and executed, and pretty much everything that you’d hope for with a debut comics festival. Haters to the left.
Sales were soft. We’re not going to gloss over that one, so it might as well be the first thing we hash out in the blog. Some tables did well, but most people we talked to were at least mildly disappointed in their earnings. While traffic was generally steady over the course of the weekend, there were some major lulls in activity. We weren’t wowed by our own earnings, but we weren’t crushed, either. It was right in line with how we did at our first Stumptown or our first BCGF. Taking into account airfare, hotel, shipping books and table fees, we ended up a bit in the red, but it doesn’t sting much considering we went to Chicago with CAKE being a total unknown. We could have hedged our bets, waited for year two, or put all the chips on the table and treated CAKE like a proper festival. Because our guy Edie Fake was working on CAKE, this was a no-brainer for us. We’d follow him into hell. We debuted Gabby Schulz’s Weather, flew Sean Ford out to promote his Only Skin, and generally behaved as if we were going to SPX (minus the banners and our mini-comics ranch, which was a mistake on our part, but we’ll get to that). The fact that we didn’t come home with cash to spare strikes us as eminently tolerable given that this was the first CAKE ever and we were high rollin’ it a bit.
We heard some complaints from exhibitors tabling in breakout rooms that they felt removed from the show and subject to less foot traffic. Whenever we traveled to the side rooms, they did seem a little quieter than the rest of the show, so there may have been something to that.
Based on what we saw, CAKE was more of a mini-comic show than a big, fat graphic novel show. Attendees seemed to gravitate toward the floppies and newsprint comics. The crowd was a younger, more heavily inked incarnation of the folks we see at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival each year, and those BCGF kids are young. There was a smattering of people with strollers and a few solo olds, but most everyone was in the (well) under thirty demographic. Our sales could have been boosted significantly if we’d brought along the fine, fine minicomics that we distribute in our online Emporium.
All of the TCAF-ish components of a good comics show were in place at CAKE:
1) helpful, friendly volunteers
2) access to change for exhibitors
3) a comfortable, temperature-controlled, easily accessible venue with an appropriate amount of space for panels and foot traffic
4) water and snacks for volunteers and exhibitors (and actual cake!)
We felt right at home amidst the other exhibitors and completely overwhelmed by the density of comics talent all in one place. Friends like Chuck Forsman, Melissa Mendes, Dane Martin, Colleen Frakes, Penina Gal and Damien Jay were there, along with compatriot small press/distributors like Koyama Press, Tugboat, Sparkplug and Spit and a Half. We were happy to see the familiar faces of some of the former Pizza Islanders and the Closed Caption Comics gang. We got to meet and rub elbows with a whole mess of comics folks that we’ve only interacted with online or remotely: Angee Lennard, David King, Noah Berlatsky, Annie Murphy and Raighne Hogan amongst others. Nate Powell was just a few tables away from us, selling books to attendees by the armful. He let us in on some of the secrets of convention sales, and no, we are not sharing any of them. We were pleased as punch to say hello to Lark Pien, Rina Ayuyang, Grant Reynolds, Nate Beatty, Lilli Carré, Hellen Jo, Brian Ralph, Corinne Mucha, Jon Chad, Chad Sell, Ben Catmull, Zak Sally, Michael Deforge and Kevin Huizenga. Getting an idea of what an amazing crew of cartoonists were at CAKE now, aren’t you? That’s just a small sampling. Despite the fact that it was the first serving of CAKE, a shit ton of veterans were in attendance. Without much effort, we also had the honor of talking at length to two of the co-organizers of the convention: Grace Tran and Max Morris.
As a distraction to the comics extravaganza that was happening indoors, the Acres posse was treated to a little sexytime pool action at the hotel across the street from the convention that we could see from our table. It was blazing outside and the pool looked delicious. We wouldn’t blame anyone for taking full advantage of it.
Like most fledgling shows, we expect CAKE to get bigger each year. Just about everyone we spoke with intends to return. For us, it had the star power of SPX, the organizational mastery of TCAF and the vibe of BCGF. Without Fantagraphics, D&Q and the other Front of the Armory publishers in attendance, it also had an intimacy that made it unique among comic shows (with the exception, perhaps, of PACC and maybe Expozine). It’s not yet Everything You Want From a Comics Show, but it’s pretty damn close. We wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes as high profile as SPX or BCGF in a minute. We’ll never miss it. CAKE suits us just fine.
We haven’t heard a peep from reviewers on Gabby Schulz’s new comic yet, but the reviews for Sean Ford’s Only Skin continue to roll in, including some kind words from Greg McElhatton at Read About Comics.
Now that CAKE is past us, expect Secret Acres to be relatively quiet for a bit unless the aforementioned PACC returns this summer. Hopefully, those guys are listening. We’re not quite ready to make a formal announcement, but if you live in the U.S.A. and like those Koyama books, get ready to be happy. Meantime, we’ll be keeping our heads down and prepping four more new comics for you to devour this fall – including a very special, very big, very hard SPX debut. Because we’re total teases, there’s a teeny, tiny bit of the cover at the top of this post to keep you tantalized until September.
Leon and Barry
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