SINCE I went solo to Autoptic, I’m going solo on the damn Scuttlebutt. Deal with it. Now, I know that millennials are the only demographic worth targeting these days, and I understand that millennials like two things (other than having personalized food experiences): Buzzfeed and Snapchat. As near as I can tell, there’s no way to replicate the Snapchat experience via a blog post (or without disrobing), so I will try to make this Acres post relevant and “social” by making it more like Buzzfeed, which seems to be a place where there’s a lot of lists of things masquerading as news articles. So here is a list of things masquerading as a blog post about the recent independent culture festival in Minneapolis called Autoptic.
Three Things that Made My Trip Out to Minneapolis Fun:
1) Discovering that Aaron Cockle and I both booked the exact same flights to and from MPS. Also, seeing the vague look of terror in Aaron’s eyes when I waved at him from the back of the security line at JFK screaming “Hey, hey!”
2) Being seated with a family of hillbillies on the flight out. I was pretty sure they had a dancing pet raccoon hidden somewhere amongst their carry-ons. This family single-handedly justifies the practice of airlines charging for snacks. Someone could have retired on the proceeds from their in-flight harvest festival.
3) Xanax. When I unpacked I discovered that I had been using an airplane barf bag as a bookmark during the flight. And by discovered, I mean I had no idea I was reading anything to begin with until I saw twist ties sticking out from my book.
Five Great Things About Minneapolis:
1) It’s sparkly-clean! Except for the occasional instance of pseudo-inspirational graffiti that might end up annoying the crap out of Annie Koyama:
2) The regionally popular “Minnesota Baby Toss”
3) Extensive Sculpture Gardening
4) Vaguely sinister Anti-capitalist Bench Messaging
5) Urinal Splash Guards. WHY ARE THESE NOT IN EVERY MEN’S BATHROOM ON EARTH? And yes, I deserved the mortification I endured of having someone walk in the bathroom and catch me taking a picture of the urinals. Urinal documentation is a very specific kind of tourism.
Ten Great Things About Autoptic
1) The space. The space. The space. Probably the single-best convention location I’ve seen. Yeah, even better than the Toronto Public Library. One could easily even hose down the ARIA building at the end of the day to remove the exhibitor-stink, if necessary. The ARIA building seems like the sort of place where elegant vampires would congregate. That’s a good vibe for comics, music and art, I think.
2) Free wi-fi with an EASY TO REMEMBER password. Keep in mind that many attendees are cartoonists, not pirate-hackers. There’s no need to lock down the wifi with an elaborate hexadecimal passcode. No one is going to use your free wifi to infiltrate the NSA. It’s just for Paypal, Square Register and teh Twitterz.
3) The collective pleasantness of Minneapolis cartoonists. They want you to love Minneapolis as much as they do. I’ve never received as much attention from local comics folks and show organizers as I did at Autoptic. Is Jordan Shiveley charming? Jordan Shively could charm the white out of a blizzard. Everyone associated with the event was accommodating, pleasant and professional: Zak Sally, Tom K., Raighne Hogan, et al.
4) The star power attached to a single-day premiere show. Autoptic answers the question, what if you had a party and EVERYONE came? There were only a handful of comics folks missing that I generally expect to see at conventions: Sundays, AdHouse, CCS and Closed Caption Comics all come to mind, but many of the usual small publishers, self-publishers and collectives were represented in one form or another. Special guests included Jaime Hernandez, Lisa Hanawalt, John P., Marc Bell, Kevin Huizenga and many other greats. In no way did Autoptic ever feel like anything other than a tier one show.
5) Free admission! There were loads of curious passer-bys dropping in, just like at (the now defunct) BCGF. Autoptic felt like it was for everyone.
6) Convenient location for an out-of-towner. The ARIA space was a 15 – 20 minute walk from a large number of hotels.
7) A food truck outside ARIA that sold delicious LAMB BELLY TACOS. I am not fucking with you. Lamb belly tacos is a thing and it’s on a truck in Minneapolis for you to buy and devour when you go to Autoptic.
8) I was late to the party but there was a full week of stellar programming and events leading up to Autoptic (hopefully, there will be some blog posts by others on this). I did catch part of the Experimental Animation Screening on Saturday night presented by Lilli Carré and Anders Nilsen. Awesome, intricate stuff.
9) Top-notch volunteers. They came around to tables asking if exhibitors needed anything. Also, all of the books we shipped were delivered and waiting for us at set-up. And there was a green room! Totally professional.
10) For the adventurous conventioneer in search of an adult beverage who can convince the ever-selfless Eamon Espey to cover his table for twenty minutes, Minneapolis fancy cocktail destination, Marvel Bar is approximately across the street from Autoptic (and down some stairs and through an unmarked door, because every cocktail bar excursion should mimic a journey to Mount Doom, right?). One word of advice, do not order a daiquiri at Marvel Bar. Shit gets ugly if you order a daiquiri at Marvel Bar on a Sunday.
Five Challenging Things About Autoptic
1) No nearby ATMs. There was chatter that some sales were lost due to customers being unwilling to travel to get cash.
2) No alcohol. By what perverse circumstances would there be people dressed like bartenders standing around a bar-like structure, but refusing to dispense actual adult beverages? It’s no secret that part of SPX’s allure is its constant proximity to an operational hotel bar. Some of us like to numb the pain of poor sales with devil tonic.
3) Limited sales. There was a perfect recipe for a lucrative show: a large crowd, great weather and free admission. Attendees seemed very interested in comics and graphic art, but most of our sales were to local folks that were already familiar with our books. New customers seemed curious, but unwilling to make a purchase. I would say that a similar customer at BCGF would be much more likely to buy a book and check out something new. It seemed like prints and posters were the top sellers at Autoptic. From our standpoint, sales covered one leg of our flight out to Minneapolis, which is not good sales for us. Autoptic is not specifically a comics show, so that could also play a part in why our sales were so soft.
4) Erratic lighting. Certain areas were kind of dim. I was getting self conscious about which books I was relegating to the “dark side” of the table. To be fair, the space must be difficult to light well at all and most of the convention hall seemed appropriately lit.
5) Adorable but confusing map. I heard more than one complaint that the lovingly-designed Autoptic map might have been slightly confusing and/or misleading as to actual distances and directions. To be fair to the organizers, a comprehensive Google Map was provided on the site with all of the relevant locations keyed in that could be easily saved to your Google account and accessed on a smartphone. But I know two comics folks who don’t have fancy phones and maybe got a little lost. Like walking around Minneapolis for an extra hour kind of lost.
6) This has nothing to do with Autoptic, but the after party venue, The Red Stag Supper Club, seemed to be staffed for a much smaller crowd than the crowd that magically appeared. A lot of diners seemed to have difficulty getting food and drinks. But the space was great and once the crowds departed, the remaining conventioneers proceeded to have a grand time and I don’t think anyone ended up minding the initial wait.
Five Unsuccessful Things I Did to Try and Increase Sales
1) Move to the “dark side” of the table to look less conspicuous/desperate/predatory.
2) Pretended to sketch in a moleskine notebook like a real artist and pass off all of the Acres books as my own work under various crafty aliases.
3) Passively subtweeted about a comics celebrity with fantastic hair just for the attention and to remind exhibitors I was there selling books and participating in a panel.
4) Tricked Eamon Espey into covering the table. Actually, this did kind of increase sales. And I scored a sazerac at Marvel Bar. WIN WIN. Thanks, Eamon!
5) Glared at Aaron Cockle and Jen Vaughn to make it look like I was at Autoptic to settle a publisher grudge instead of sell books. “Oh you want to buy comics from me? Yeah, you’re going to need to give me a minute, I need to iron something out over at the Fantagraphics table with Princess Pink Hair. BRB.”
I was on a panel with Bill K and at one point we were discussing the role of conventions as a way of distributing indie books when there are no clear distribution channels if Diamond or Consortium aren’t really going to work for the majority of your published output, and what the real role of comics shows would be if the ideal indie distributor existed. It’s a very interesting topic to us at Secret Acres. Leon and I went to a lot of conventions this year and collected a lot of experience on what it means to participate in these events from a social and economic standpoint. I think our end of year blog post will address our collective thoughts on the awesomeness and (occasional) economic suicide of traveling to distant comics shows. I loved every minute of Autoptic but it was not a show that made any kind of economic sense for Secret Acres to attend. Even if we had debuted a book, I am not sure that we’d have come close to breaking even on travel expenses. That said, it seemed to make perfect cultural sense to attend – I got to connect with a lot of fans of Secret Acres’ books and artists, and I felt right at home with all of the publishers and creators that I’m used to seeing at other shows in other cities. It’s difficult to say what the right balance is between the two and whether or not participating at an economic loss is the right answer when Secret Acres needs to be smart about staying afloat and funding more and more great books and artists. Fortunately, it looks like the next Autoptic is in 2015, so we’ll have sufficient time to think on it and maybe squirrel away some funds so we can go again.
I did have one terrible moment in Minneapolis. I was heckled by a cyclist! Walking back to the Marquette Hotel from The Red Stag, over the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, the heckler screamed “Nice shirt!” as he biked toward me, and then “Actually, it’s not a very nice shirt!” as he zoomed past. These are the sort of atrocities that Minneapolis offers to the universe. If I never return to Minneapolis, you can thank the monster who insulted my light gray button down utility shirt. I won’t offer any distinguishing details for fear that Zak Sally would track him down and kick his ass.
It was very gratifying having a chance to meet and/or get caught up with a lot of folks: Annie Koyama, Tom Neely, David King, Brad McGinty, Anna Bongiovanni, Cathy G. Johnson, Kevin Czap, Greg Hunter, Elijah Brubaker, Virginia Paine, Laura Park, Noah Van Sciver, Ed Kanerva, Rob Clough, JT Dockery, Rob Kirby, Foxing Quarterly, Jim Rugg and others: The World is Yours!
We won’t be away for long – expect a pre-SPX post from us in a few short weeks! Iron Bound is here and we’re not going to shut up about it!
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