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Feeling Minnesota

Blog-Header-08_20_13SINCE 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:

 

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STFU hippie!

2)   The regionally popular “Minnesota Baby Toss”

 

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3)   Extensive Sculpture Gardening

 

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4)   Vaguely sinister Anti-capitalist Bench Messaging

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.”

 

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Leaving Minneapolis

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.

 

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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!

 

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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!

Hugs,

Barry

8 Comments

  • jameswheeler says:

    That is, in fact, a very nice shirt.

    Reply
  • Chris Pitzer says:

    I snorted at the shirt story.

    I would have LOVED to have been at Autoptic, but the cost to fly there made it not possible for us. Not sure what the deal was, but the ticket was $300+, add in the hotel, exhibitor cost, etc., and that’s why I decided I couldn’t make it.

    I hope to make it in 2015, because I do pretty much like everyone who was there.

    Thanks for the recap.

    Reply
  • J.T. Dockery says:

    I might resemble one of the guys that got “lost” although we, sans personal hand held computers, had printed out directions beyond the lovingly if not slightly misleadingly hand drawn map. Our grousing was more at the fact that beyond our walking to our destination, the kick-off party (our destination) was magically in a neighborhood lacking restaurants and, having spent the day traveling instead of eating lunch, we were getting DESPERATE after we walked to two restaurants which both ended up being closed despite friends reporting stated bizness hours to us as we hoofed it via our non internet walkie talkies. But when we did find the Chinese joint open, our last hope, it was the best meal and best beer we ever had, at least emotionally, and we fell back in Love with Mini-apple, etc, despite sore feet (at least old arthritic pappy here had barking dawgs). While I didn’t approach anything close to profit, I had a good time and did well enough that I was not disappointed in the slightest with sales. Eamon and I wanna share a table at Autoptic again in 2015, it’s done been decided. Our main thing is we wanna suss out crashing at someone’s place, who preferably has a car, as opposed to being on foot. We will be accepting applications from Minneapolis residents who enjoy hosting weirdos. Also, I realized after the fact that I talked to Tom Hazelmyer at length during the day’s preliminary tobacco break outside, artist/musician/founder of AmpRep records but didn’t realize who I was talking to at the time. Duh. Beyond that, I really wish I could remember the tail end of the after-party, or maybe I don’t. Either way, I made it back to the hotel with all my personal belongings intact, if not my brain. Good times.

    Reply
  • Yeah that shirt is fine. Nice even.

    People look at me weird when I start to rave about those pee guards, they just have no idea!

    Reply
  • …also . . . **BLUSH**

    Reply
  • Eric Reynolds says:

    Great post, I’m bummed I had to miss the show. Your comments about striking the right balance between attending unprofitable but awesome shows is something I’m still trying to figure out, 20 years in.

    Reply
  • Dustin says:

    I’m a Twin Cities local and Autoptic was actually my first experience at a comics convention or show or what have you. I had a lot of fun with it and am really glad I went! I walked in with 100 bucks in cash to spend and probably dropped close to thrice that. Totally worth it, though. Really hope they do it again next year.

    I can verify the ATM scarcity as well. I had to walk to Sex World to get some cash. Granted, it was only a couple blocks away but I can definietly understand someone not wanting to take a 15 minute walk to a porn store to have cash on hand.

    Reply

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  • Autoptic and the costs of comic cons cnd CAFs — The Beat - 23. Aug, 2013

    [...] here.) It was by all account splendid, but the account that matters the most to us is as always the one by Secret Acres. The show provided entry into a vibrant local scene, a gathering of the best and the brightest of [...]

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Facebook IconAugust 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

ZOMG! It's Tim O'Neil for the Onion AV Club on Corinne Mucha's Get Over It! and it's a pretty darn good review, too. Tim's clearly on top of his comics game, name-dropping and comparing Corinne to none other than Kate Beaton, John Allison and Dylan Horrocks - pretty much a Mt. Rushmore of the medium. He gets it right; Corinne hits every bump on Heartbreak Road, ever stage of grief, but all told, it's actually kind of... ...fun? As Tim puts it, she "turns a book about three years of anguish into a page-turner." There IS something fun about being heartbroken, and not just the rebound. It's like a license to crazy. At least we think so. There's lots of other good stuff reviewed here, too, including Rocket Raccoon's latest, Superman and Roman Muradov (love that guy). Corinne's got some good company for Get Over It! Thank you, Tim, and thanks, AV Club, for the very kind words. You guys go read now at the link!

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Facebook IconAugust 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm

We are outta here! Or at least will we be in the morning. Actually, the very early morning. Sigh. But we're going to the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo aka RIPE! This is our first time at the show. It's also the first time FOR the show. RIPE is brand new and the brainchild of some folks we truly adore, like Mickey Z, who roped us into going way back when at the last Comic Arts Brooklyn. Yes, it is suspicious that there's a comic show in the dead of summer called RIPE. We've stopped showering and wiping for the occasion. Kidding. At our table will be Brendan Leach, of Iron Bound fame, and Sean Ford, he who has brought you Only Skin. Not only will Sean have the new and improved edition of Only Skin, he will have the fourth, yes, FOURTH issue of his new series, Shadow Hills. Playing the role of Secret Acres comics mule on the ride up will be Dave Nuss of Revival House Press, home of folks like Malachi Ward. It's a star-studded event and we don't even have to worry about crossing any borders! Doors are at noon and details are at the link below. If you're in Providence now, there's all kinds of stuff happening tonight, too. We will see you tomorrow...

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Facebook IconJuly 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

The thing about Mike Dawson's newest graphic novel, Angie Bongiolatti, is that it's daunting at first glance but kind of impossible not to identify with its characters. Well, you could somehow not identify with them, and that's your right, but you'd probably be completely insane. Rob Kirby, writing for the Comics Journal, writes about Angie Biongiolatti so well, that he might just be the ideal reader for this one. He's sensitive, empathetic, politically conscious and he likes to party. He also nails Angie, the character, who can come across as enigmatic or aloof, but it's her faith and her clarity, as Rob puts it (and we're paraphrasing), that make her the best barometer ever for the most difficult of times and the craziest of people. The key, though, is Rob writing that he knows these folks and he's partied with them. It would have been a lot easier for Mike if he'd had an agenda when he drew these people. Yeah, we might have recognized the ideas, but maybe we wouldn't have recognized these people. Poor Rob! He's one of THEM! Thanks, TCJ, and Rob, especially. This was a really good one.

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Facebook IconJuly 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Well, folks, Edie Fake has arrived! This newest LA native gets a very warm welcome indeed from Joshua Michael Demaree at the LA Review of Books. It's both a full-blown interview, a complete history and in depth review of Memory Palaces, Edie's latest and our first ever art book. If you're worried about Edie going Hollywod, go ahead and worry since Demaree has christened him a "flourishing celebrity." At least, he's a flourishing celebrity in the queer art world. There's some stuff in here that rarely gets discussed, including Edie's background as a video artist and the influence of that medium on his comics work. We even get a mention in the story of how we met Edie, which almost didn't happen. Plus, and this was news to us as well, Edie's return to Chicago (after "going feral") coincided with the death of Michael Jackson. But was it a coincidence? Thank you, Joshua, for all your super thoughtful work here (and for making another dream come true and writing up a Secret Acres book for the LA Review of Books). Go and read this very funny and very serious career retrospective right now!

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Joshua Michael Demaree on the career of Edie Fake.

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