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
@TribeXX Thanks, John! We're very proud of that book.
- Tuesday Apr 22 - 5:44pm
JOY! It's Publishers Weekly's Panel Mania with an exclusive preview of Corinne Mucha's Get Over It! We've been looking forward to this one for what seems like forever, and now you can, too, because, really, you're gonna love it. Corinne's quite wise for her years, certainly, but that's probably because she's learned from her mistakes. She made a lot of mistakes. A lot. But everyone's got to find their own way back to sanity. Speaking of smartypantses, Zainab Aktar is responsible for this one, writing for PW instead of her usual Comics and Cola, which you really should check out. She writes things like, "The visualization of that process is often reflected in very compact, text heavy pages, simultaneously rich and yet precise in execution and clear in intent." She's way too smart for us. Sigh. What are we babbling about? Go read Get Over It! or at least a bit of it...
Hello! Are you in New Jersey or have you escaped? If you are still in Jersey or anywhere near it, you ought to stop by the Asbury Park Comic Con, which is right along the historic boardwalk, which is the site of some terrible goings on in Brendan Leach's Iron Bound. Of course, Brendan will be there, and we promise it's much safer than you would think after reading his book. If you don't have a copy of Iron Bound handy, you can pick one up from Brendan at the show. If you do have a copy, you might want to wait to read it until after the show. You can still play pinball at the Silver Ball Museum, though. Even more ridiculous, Jersey boy Mike Dawson is crashing the party. He's back living in Jersey now, but his latest book, Angie Bongiolatti, is all about life in New York post 9/11. His other books, Troop 142 and Freddie & Me will give you all the non-scary Jersey you need. Get over there and get some comics and take a little stroll along the beach, where the "Jedi" play "Tatoine," as the kids say. We actually saw that last year. It was HILARIOUS.
HEY! Are you in Portlandia or something? Because Edie Fake is in Portland, Oregon, doing some Linework. Linework NW, kinda like Edie himself, is blurring the line between comics, fine art and illustration work. They have Jim Woodring and Michael Deforge and some pretty killer events planned for the show, including an evening of Edie at the legendary Floating World Comics. We'd tell you what Edie is doing there, but the Lineworkers say it best, "Fake will be giving a short and colorful experimental lecture on the sexuality of patterns that weaves together fabric, the tarot, the concept of individuality and jeggings." Yes, sexy fabric and jeggings. Now you have to go! Read all about it here...
Hi! Are you in Ohio someplace? Because Sean Ford is in Columbus, Ohio, aka SPACE, the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo. Sean's got the brand new edition of Only Skin and a brand new issue of Shadow Hills, which is the third of that series (!). There's lots of fun programming, but you can also double dip and go check out the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum right next door. It's probably the largest collection of comics anywhere and, in conjunction with the SPACE Jam (that's a thing), they're opening up the Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes, duh) and Richard Thompson (Cul de Sac, duh) exhibits, too! Now that's worth the trip. Make sure you get Sean to sketch your books out. That guy acts like every day is Angouleme. Deets at the link!