WE KNOW you want the Small Press Expo Butt Touching Competitiion update that’ll put the butt back in Scuttlebutt, but first things first. Before we hit the road for SPX, we threw down at Brooklyn’s Grumpy Bert with Theo Ellsworth’s the Understanding Monster – Book Three. The place looked like someone had gone wild safari hunting down Sesame Street. Talk about setting the mood. The thing you need to know about Theo Ellsworth is that he is KVLT. People traveled from up and down the east coast to hang with him. Seeing these familiar faces joining in the cutest, most awkward convsersation of all time really warmed the cockles of our hearts. What strange feels indeed, releasing the end of the Understanding Monster, but there could be no better hands to hold Book Three. Many deep thanks to Albert and Remy for getting us off on the right foot. We promise to bring more carrots for you next time, Remy.
We were so well prepped for the road to Camp Comics that we made time for a pit stop at the American Visionary Art Museum. You might know this, and if you didn’t, you could guess, but AVAM was hugely inspiring for us when we started this here Secret Acres. A decade ago, we raided their gift shop (typically filled to the brim with actual, handmade art) and our haul very much informed our aesthetic. Returning to the scene of the crime with Theo, who had his big debut with Capacity for our first ever SPX back in 2008, while hauling the new edition of Capacity back to SPX in 2015, was a real treat for us. Plus Barry found the man or cat of his dreams in the men’s room. What a stall stalker.
Friday night found firebugs at Fantom Comics. Our very own Farel Dalrymple and our lady of the evening, MK Reed, dropped Palefire like napalm on an Orc army of the finest nerds our nation’s capitol could muster. We love you, nerds! Big boy Brandon Graham squared off with our power couple on the other end of the Fantom floor for what turned out to be an all-nighter. No surprise there, despite the absence of Brandon’s better half – and wither Robin, anyway? Congratulations to you little sellouts, and all hail Fantom Comics for hosting the SPX Eve pregaming extavaganza. We’ll just have to crash your party next year.
We didn’t wait up for them. Instead, we hit our secret steakhouse, grabbed our badges and wobbled over to the Marriott patio while the ever responsible Annie Koyama picked the lock on the ballroom to get set up before everyone else, even Chris Pitzer, who took his whole gang to the Nats game, naturally. We played catchup with the Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, over an intense, excited, hour long conversation about Big Media, pop culture, comics and women. It seemed to us that women had effectively taken center stage in pretty much everything, comics included. About twenty-four hours later, Heidi looked like a prophet. Occasionally, comics shows like SPX stumble into a theme, and this show was just such an occasion.
We admit the Secret Acres theme was decidedly less ambitious: be prepared. Believe it or not, we were set up before the doors opened. We blame Farel and his love of breakfast foods. The butt touching started early, too. We got to six, including going stealth butt to butt with Dustin Harbin and John Martz, before losing count. Our snack game on point, we waved goodbye to enough of Palefire, the Understanding Monster – Book Three and the new Capacity to set our new single day SPX sales record. Theo’s Special Guest status helped keep ’em coming. We owe you one, Warren. Farel raised the bar on sketches to Angoulême levels, practically giving us a free art class. MK took a ton of Palefire away from us and kept coming back for more. Ditto for our man Sean Ford and his big fat book, Only Skin. Ditto for Corinne Mucha, and her little number, Get Over It! Caught up in comics fever, we lost mid triple digit dollars to the floor, too. We’d expected that, with books from the likes of Kevin Hooyman, Bendik Kaltenborn, Cole Closser, Kate Beaton, Dakota McFadzean, Frederik Peeters, Maggie Umber, Derf, Rune Ryberg, Meags Fitzgerald, Simon Moreton, Anna Erhlemark and so on and so on and so on and so much for all our money. Our gang recovered over Dark and Stormies and American Ninja Warrior: Las Vegas.
Returning to the ladies, folks were taking bets with the adorably and inchoherently exhausted Comics Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon. During his job interview with us at the bar Saturday night, he postulated that this year, 2015, would see every single Ignatz Award go to a woman. He was right as rain on that one. Think about that for a second. Way back in 2010, with both of our SPX books, I Will Bite You! and Gaylord Phoenix, delayed, we received one helluva consolation prize having Lisa Hanawalt as Special Guest of the Secret Acres table. That very year, Lisa would be the first woman ever to win the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Comic. That was five years ago. If you don’t find that kind of progress exhilarating, go eat a dick. Considering some of the (nowhere near subtle enough) fit pitching from Kevin Smith era leftover men cartoonists after the awards ceremony, there remain a few steps to take to leave them in the dust for good. To quote Eleanor Davis, Ignatz Award winner for Outstanding Anthology or Collection, “Ready to watch the boys flee comics now that it’s ‘a girl thing.’ good fucking riddance <3” and we’d like to add: good fucking going, Eleanor!
On the way home, we found some extra outsider art at the rest stop, which was holding a Name That Teddy competition. Beauty finds us everywhere. Speaking of everywhere, you can find MK and Farel on their intercontinental tour for Palefire. We say intercontinental because Farel is making us all jealous by heading out to Leeds for Thought Bubble UK. Head’s up, England! All the details of said tour are sitting right at the end of this post.
There’s another ending requiring your attention: after six years, countless gallons of beer and bubbly and one wonderful community building exercise, our hometown Bergen Street Comics is turning off the lights. Bergen Street Comics brought back the pull list, gave us our beloved Casey, drew Tucker into our lives and launched a half dozen of our books. Heartbreak hurts, but this Saturday, they’re having the party to end them all. Join us for the big sendoff because the more shoulders to cry on, the better. We’ll pop up on the social medias to remind you of all this, and we’ll back for the run-up to the capper of the comics year, Comic Arts Brooklyn. Thank you, all you thousands of weird people who showed up at SPX. We love everybody.
Barry and Leon
PREPARE the way for some big time revelations. We’re set to release three books into the wild, or your hands, this very SPX weekend. Pre-gaming rolls out with a couple of events in our beloved Brooklyn and in our nation’s capitol. The big three books include Palefire, by long suffering Secret Acres comics mule, MK Reed, and world beater, Farel Dalrymple. The man who built our house, Theo Ellsworth, drops a deuce with both the Understanding Monster – Book Three, and Capacity, returning to glorious, extra fancy print. Our guns are loaded.
The fun starts with a triumphant return to Brooklyn’s own Grumpy Bert this Thursday at 7PM. Come witness the conclusion of Theo’s psychedelic epic, the Understanding Monster, and get your mitts on Book Three, which delivers a satisfying, oddball sucker punch of an ending. Hang out for the treats and cop a feel of the new Capacity in all its textures. Grumpy Bert stocks that place with must have curiosities on the regular, too, so expect an enchanted evening.
Wait twenty-four hours – and then find Farel and MK at Fantom Comics in the District of Columbia! Palefire burns down the house on Friday as part of Fantom’s Pre-SPX party. Let the high school noir romance that is Palefire mess with your head and you can tell all your pals that you got there first. If that twisted tale gets you in the mood for more surprises, Fantom has you covered, with none other than the extremely tall and talented Brandon Graham tagteaming with MK and Farel all night. Sounds filthy, no?
After all that, go ahead and do the walk of shame to SPX Saturday morning. Words are wasted in talking about how the Small Press Expo works, being the constant that it is, but: with the whole world marooned on Bethesda Marriott Island for a couple days, even massive con sales take a backseat to catching up with the medium and the community that are comics. As the San Diego Comic-con International serves transmedia properties, so SPX serves actual comics. For those of us who mark our seasons by shows, SPX, or Camp Comics, puts the back in Back to School every year. This year, that flimsy metaphor becomes literal as our table neighbors, Koyama Press, have threatened to make good on launching their Butt Touching Competition. We plan to destroy them with our snack game. More on that when we return for the recap.
The Secret Acres gang cover the floor pretty good this SPX. Theo Ellsworth enjoys Special Guest status this year, so he might have a balloon for you at L3-4, aka the Secret Acres tables. MK and Farel sharpened their pencils weeks ago just to sketch out your very own Palefire. Journey to table K3, and enter the world of Shadow Hills; our man Sean Ford dragged a brand spanking new issue of his series to SPX. Get over to E11A and Get Over It! with Corinne Mucha, too. Listen up on Sunday, as Farel, Liz Surburbia and Ron Wimberly get moderated by the aforementioned Brandon Graham on the state of indie comics for their panel, “Royalboiler Redux.” TMI?
Meanwhile, digging into the ICYMI files, we are prepared to offer you Rob Clough’s thoughts on Corinne Mucha’s Get Over It! and Mike Dawson’s Angie Bongiolatti. Edie Fake sold out his entire show, Grey Area, and wrapped a cover around H. Melt‘s latest. Theo Ellsworth cheated on us with kuš! and all we got this amazing mini, deconstructed here by Your Chicken Enemy. Saving the best for last, John Brodowski, Curio Cabinet–maker, popped up on Comics Workbook with a little number called the “Road Pt. 2.” In your face, Cormac McCarthy!
Sorry to blab and run like this, but there’s a riot going on. Of course, we’ll dig up some dirt for you for our post-show post in a bit, but come say hi. Really, be there or be square, as the kids say.
Barry and Leon
MAN ALIVE, knowing what you’re doing halves the battle for real. The unthinkable happened on our trip up to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this year: not a thing. Meaning, we had our paperwork expertly prepared, we were given all kinds of enthusiastic support from the beautiful people at the border crossing, we arrived in Toronto during daylight hours and managed to get set up and registered at the early load-in on Friday. This has never happened to us ever in our lives. God bless Peter Birkemoe and the good ship Beguiling for their expert direction which made us not feel like invading smugglers. Other than our Breeders run-in, the trip up north was never so magical.
Last year’s TCAF, we had an actual book (like with a spine) debut. Unfortunately, our planned TCAF 2015 debut is running two and a half years late. A surprising number of people asked about Gabby, his book, his health and his well-being. He’s still Gabby. Folks asked the same of Joe Lambert. He is alive and well. Secret Acres’ lucky streak continues, though, with Rob Sergel saving our days at TCAF with his brand spanking new, fourth issue of Eschew. It rocks, and if you missed TCAF, you can get yours right here. There were only two of us manning the booth and there could not have been a better tag team. Disasters averted, we sold a ton of books, way more than expected. If you remember our previous post, we explained that this kind of travel needs a great show to hit break even. We hit that in style.
Rolling into TCAF as a duo means a lot less time to explore the show itself, but escaping the major news of the day (and, no, idiots, Annie Koyama did not buy Drawn and Quarterly, nor did Blaise Larmee get into a fistfight) meant that you were deaf. Major props to Drawn and Quarterly, both for bringing out the biggest book of the show in D+Q: 25, and for keeping tight wraps on the changing of the guard over in Montreal. Chris Oliveros, founder and publisher and deity, is handing the reigns over to Peggy Burns, now capital P Publisher and still the best in the game. Congratulations, Peggy!
Imagine how tough it would be to accept that kind of responsibility. Back when Fantagraphics turned 25, people said D+Q would be the last comic company on our side of the comics fence to hit that milestone. That might be true (but probably not – and looking at you, Conundrum). The biggest reason for that likelihood is the publishing companies in the underground, indie world have never had a clear line of succession until this very moment. Add that to Chris Oliveros’ stupidly long list of accomplishments. You could even put that at the top. Leaving D+Q in such capable hands is about the best thing he could have done for comics.
We talked about all that plenty on Saturday night. We (meaning Nobrow‘s Tucker Stone and Koyama Press’ Annie) talked a lot about Consortium, too, the big distro that is threatening to make grownups out of all the little comics outfits. Speaking of which, more than a few folks at TCAF were picking our brains on that process and how we’re handling it. Short version: it’s really hard for us. With no power comes no responsibility and we’ve been cool with that for years.
We spent plenty of time with Alex Degen, otherwise known as A. Degen (and correctly pronounced A. DEE-gen), who promises to be a terrible influence on us. We got to hang with Hazlitt‘s own Anshuman Iddamsetty, a human reminder of just how dumb we are. We went to the Queer Mixer, which had Anne Ishii killing it with one-liners, but no fucking of any kind that we could see, which… We officially met the one and only Sophia Foster-Dimino, a cartoonist who has turned that corner from great to godlike genius, producing some of the best work the medium has seen in a long while. We hope someone is watching her read this, because we can guarantee that she is hiding her head under something. Seriously, if you see her, compliment her (because it’s your duty), and watch what happens. We love you, Sophia.
We made the rounds of the floor(s) early on Mother’s Day, after FaceTiming with our respective mommies on the library’s WiFi. Believe it or not, the second floor now wraps comics all the way around the library – and it ain’t filler, either. The strangest thing was the AdHouse setup. Chris Pitzer had just one book on the table and the booth would fill with water for five minutes every hour while Pitzer just held his breath and read. Amazing. Many thanks to the Space Face people for holding copies of their stuff for us in their odd room, which would climb, again hourly, in temperature up to 451° Fahrenheit, clearing out all the books with fire. Incredible.
Sadly, we had to skip the Sunday parties to make Rob’s flight home. After a tearful goodbye to the best table island neighbours (sic), Dustin Harbin and Conundrum Press, we packed up, exchanged pretty Canadian dollars for a fat check, and made it home in record time to bask in the glow of our separation anxiety. With TCAF done, we’re going to be relatively quiet for a while. But, in a David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive kind of way, when you see us again, you’ll have three rather enormous books coming from us. Spring break is over.
Leon and Barry
IF you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. New York’s original indie comics showstopper, MoCCA, has come and gone once again. As you almost certainly know by now, we’ve been co-steering this one for three years running under the warm and welcoming Society of Illustrators, who took over for the old Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art. Way back when, we dug ourselves a little hole, bitching and moaning about the declining fortunes of our fair city’s hometown hoedown. We volunteered to help if anyone ever wanted to let us inside, and, lo, our bluff was called. So how’re we driving?
The party started early for us on Thursday, which was the Society’s VIP night at their own glitzy digs. We probably spent a little too much time gazing at the downstairs gallery exhibit of Alt-Weekly Comics, and we feel safe saying that the microscopic patterns and textures in Mark Beyer‘s art serve as great evidence of his insanity. Upstairs, in the Society’s dining room, which someone like the Beat might call stately, we saddled up some signature cocktails and sliders. The bands played along while we caught up with Tucker Stone, flirted a bit with Keren Katz and cozied up to Leslie Anne MacKenzie Stein while staring in wonder at the Crumbs. We discussed our favorite kinds of drunks, the major categorical division being Defensive Drunks (“Bullshit, I didn’t do that!”) and Remorseful Drunks (“OMGZ, what did I do?”). Signature cocktails having signed our death warrants, and drunk on the evening’s glamour, we decided to pub crawl our way home. At least one of us woke up in a deluxe, crime syndicate townhouse surrounded by a pack of adorable dogs. Don’t worry, we couldn’t find our way back there if we tried. File us under Remorseful Drunks.
For once, we took advantage of the Friday early load-in, which meant that we were on time and fully recovered when the doors opened on Saturday. Going to MoCCA without a debut was tough, and we made it worse by not really having much of an artist schedule, either. The Jersey show, ECCC, as it’s currently known, divided a little bit of the day’s attention. Or so we thought. By the time Brendan Leach made it to the table, all actual MoCCA attendance records fell to pieces with over 5,000 guests wandering around Center 548. The space rocks. People complained about the stairs, which were overwhelmed by the traffic, for sure. MoCCA remains a little heavy on the Pikachu set, those exhibitors who exhibit the kind of Not Comics that one would expect of a show like APE. In these days of lotteries and curated everything, these guys looked like they crawled of 2003. The crowd changed a bit with the surroundings, though. They showed up later, they dressed better, more aligned to the folks at Brooklyn’s own CAB. They held on to their money a little tighter than we’re used to. Then again, we only had the classics to offer and the world loves a new kid.
We’ve talked a bit about the con economy on this blog before. But let’s go there again. MoCCA has the highest table cost of any show we attend at $460 per table. That’s a whole $110 above SPX and a whopping $64.50 above TCAF. TCAF costs attendees nothing. MoCCA is five bucks. SPX is three times that, asking a whole fifteen dollar bill of everyone coming through the door. They look alike from here. Or do they? Tony Breed, a Chicago guy and our RIPE neighbor of a couple weeks ago, came by and said the most interesting thing: his sales at CAKE were slow, but he makes more money at that show than at any other. This year, we brought home something less than half of our take from MoCCA 2014. We made money. We can’t not make money. We live here.
Our most expensive show, by far, is TCAF. Believe us, if we could afford to skip customs and ship our books to Canada, we sure as shit would. Depending on the exchange rate, food and shelter and gas, we need to clean up every year or we go broke. We’re pretty sure Annie Koyama is making more money at TCAF than she could at any other show and, at any other show, break-even has got to be way up there for Koyama Press. We’ve enjoyed a couple of years of making more money at TCAF than we have at MoCCA, but we took home less money every time. And we’re a publishing company, micro or no. If you’re an artist making mini-comics, you’re not making table at MoCCA without a gang to split costs – and profits – and if you can’t make it there, you’re not making it anywhere else, either. How much are you saving traveling to Toronto or booking a room at the SPX Marriott? If not for the money, why bother with shows at all? Do we really need to answer that question?
Speaking of Annie, she and her gang took our gang out to dinner on Saturday, because that’s how Annie does it. Ian Harker waited on us, saying smartass things, teasing us about desserts he wouldn’t give us, and reminding us, fondly, of ye olde TCJ message boards. We ran over to Bergen Street for some books, beer and bubbly, and a Bergen Street Amy sighting. Brendan pointed out that this was an entirely different crowd at Bergen, mostly people we’d never seen before in our lives. The weirdos multiply.
Sean Ford made his way to MoCCA on Sunday, Shadow Hills in hand. Having two of our gang at the table brought things to life a bit and let us sneak out for lunch with our VIP night flirtee, Keren Katz. The tales that woman tells. First, she’s an army vet, having run a runway or two for fighter jets. She bungee jumps to impress her dates. She wrangled a thousand escaped alligators. She holds more than a few passports. She may be a compulsive liar. We’re in love. And we’re heartbroken, too. For further evidence of New York’s devouring of it own soul, MoCCA finds itself homeless once again. (Unlike local deity Art Spiegelman who survived several attempts on his life over the weekend at the hands of an imaginary glass floor, his wife and her Jetta) Center 548 joins the ranks of Florent, Kim’s Video and Picturebox, going bye-bye. Yes, more condos. This city needs more condos like we need another round of gonorrhea. We’re bleeding friends here, as everyone who pretends to like us gets priced out to greener pastures. Someday, that’ll be us. Until then, we’ll keep cranking out comics that are probably too good to pay the rent.
Although a couple of our guys are blowing deadlines with gale force winds (not a good start for our new, grown up style distro), Robert Sergel has delivered unto us Eschew 4. We won’t be walking into TCAF unarmed, at least. We’ll return to remind you of all this before we head north of the border. See you on the other side.
Barry and Leon
TIME flies when you’re oversleeping. Secret Acres are not morning people. Outside of SPX, where we arrive the night before the show, we have never once set up on time. Not ever. This year’s RIPE, aka the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo, or RIIPE, would be no exception. What a mercy that eighty percent of success is just showing up, and not showing up on time. After jumping a curb while chugging coffee, we split MK Reed‘s digs about an hour late. The truly embarrassing part is that we had gotten the RIPE hours wrong and we were under the impression that the doors opened at eleven. Jesus loves us, clearly, because the show started at noon, so we were only twenty minutes late. Thanks, Jesus!
RIPE happens in the Providence Public Library, which is quite stunning, actually. Last year, tables were first come, first serve, so with our perpetual tardiness, we were way in the back on a balcony. This year, we were in the Ship Room, so called because there are model ships and scrimshaws and whales and things in there. We had some lovely neighbors in there with us, too. Jay Fuller, maker of the Boy in the Pink Earmuffs, which is both queer and kid friendly, was to our left. To our right were Jason Viola, of Festival Season and Herman the Manatee fame, and Georgia Webber, one of favorite people in the world and she makes Dumb (no, the other kind of dumb). As a very special treat, directly across from us were the men of Headmaster, which is some of the finest reading material around for those of us who appreciate the male, uh, form. Matthew and Jason, the two headmasters, have very different temperaments, as you can see below. RIPE is still pretty queer, in every respect, and we hope it stays that way.
MK was a real trouper. Not about the queer stuff, because that’s fun unless you’re insane, but she was willing to roll with the punches during one of the most hard-hitting interviews we’ve ever seen. Seriously, it was like 60 Minutes, only MK wasn’t smoking the whole time. The reporters really did their homework; there were so many personal questions – and MK was having a stroke in the middle of it. She don’t scare, though. Hellno.
We took naps after closing on Saturday, then split up after dinner to take in White Rope at AS220. There is no doubt that RIPE has the best post-show (official) parties. Whoever is getting these bands to show up, we owe you one. While White Rope was on, MK ran off into the night to shut down some bars, and the resident Old went back to the hotel to read some comics. Normally, we’d write about the standouts a little bit, but our haul was pretty damn ridiculous. If you’re curious, you can check our first ever haul pic below and holler at us if you want to know what anything is. We will take a minute, however, to discuss Georgia’s comic, Dumb. It’s been going for a while. We picked up her latest, Dumb 5, at RIPE. It’s great. We would even say that it’s important. For a series about voice, Dumb has certainly found its own. It’s also so fucking depressing.
We made it home okay, despite MK’s arguments with the Nav system. We will go back to RIPE every chance we get. It may have our favorite vibe of any show. We won’t be suffering our usual separation anxiety for too long, at least. MoCCA, the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art Festival, is a whopping nine days away. This was our third year on MoCCA’s steering committee, and the third year since the Society of Illustrators took over. Alas, there will be no Charlie Brown balloon, but the move to Chelsea’s gallery row should make everyone feel respectably artsy. Speaking of alas, this is our first MoCCA ever without a book debut. Why? Because we’ve switched distributors to Consortium and it seemed silly to release a book into the ether. When we come back here for our post-MoCCA post, we will talk about a little comic debut, the kind with staples, headed your way for TCAF. Don’t you just love surprises?
Barry and Leon
NOW is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by packing our bags and books and MK Reed and heading off to RIPE, dammit. That’s the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo, which really should be RIIPE. We had a little too much fun the last time, if you remember. Funny, our lone criticism of last year’s show was that it was in the dead of summer. While that did add a bit of humor to the name RIPE, it also meant the kids were out of school. Providence being the home of Brown and RISD and the birthplace of Fort Thunder, we should all be looking to corrupt the youth. Now’s our chance. Hide your kids, etc.
MK herself has served as our celebrity comics mule on a couple of our trips to TCAF. Why she agreed to that is anyone’s guess, considering the thrill of getting through customs. There’s no such danger this time around. More importantly, this will be MK’s first ride as an actual Secret Acre.
We’ve been doing a lousy job of keeping the cat in the bag, but MK Reed and Farel Dalrymple‘s Palefire will be heading your way this fall from yours truly (via Greg Means, the captain of Tugboat Press). Obvi, we love MK and Farel (and Greg). Go on and have a look at this dang cover right here…
Not bad, huh?
While we were hibernating and eating the paint off the walls – and all the Secret Acres artists were reeling from the realization that everyone else knew society was a lie the whole time, and they played the game, anyway – life went on without us:
Panel Patter and Rachel Loves Comics loved Corrine Mucha‘s Get Over It! The LA Review of Books was way into Corinne’s latest, too. Graphic Novel Resources celebrated Get Over It! for their Will Eisner Week, and Unshelved couldn’t put it down. Whit Taylor and Foreword Reviews even put Get Over It! on their Top Ten lists.
There were other Best Of things, like Sean Ford, whose Only Skin got some kind words from Andy Wolverton, getting his current series, Shadow Hills, on to Rob Clough’s besties list for the Comics Journal. Mike Dawson‘s Angie Bongiolatti made its way on to Rob Kirby‘s and MariNaomi‘s 2014 favorites. Baltimore’s City Paper and the Chicago Reader both counted Edie Fake‘s Memory Palaces among the best reads of the year.
As for Edie, the Hammer Museum put the spotlight on him and his work for Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair, and if you watched the Slap all the way through and didn’t blink, you saw his artwork for Scratchpad’s logo at the end of every episode. Theo Ellsworth had his own showings at Giant Robot and his hometown Missoula Art Museum (which is still going), and he was the subject of a lovely short film here. Even better, Theo’s second book of his Understanding Monster trilogy was selected for the Society of Illustrators Comic and Cartoon Art Annual, alongside Edie’s Memory Palaces and Corinne’s Get Over It! See? It all comes full circle.
Speaking of the Society of Illustrators, they’ve finally gone and moved the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival, better known as MoCCA. The ever-evolving MoCCA is moving out of the Park Avenue Armory this year. After all our whining and bitching, we might miss ye olde Armory, but the new digs are quite fancy.
We’ll babble more about MoCCA when we come back here with our RIPE wrap-up. If you have the means and the time, get yourself to Providence. We’ll be in the beautiful Ship Room at table 5. There will be snacks.
Barry and Leon
GRUMPY BERT warmed us up from that cold November rain. The evening began with an actual revelation. Fresh off the plane, Theo Ellsworth mounted original art from the first, the second and the never-before-seen by anyone, including us, final volume of his trilogy, the Understanding Monster. On a miserable night, celebrating the release of the Understanding Monster Book Two was a more intimate affair than we’ve had in a while, and we’re not referring to attendance. Grumpy Bert hosts gallery shows, writing workshops, handmade crafts, homemade brownies and a friendly pug. People who braved the weather came from as far away as Philadelphia just for the occasion. Selling books and cuddling rarely go together and we all hung around later than we should have. Many thanks to Albert, the not at all grumpy Bert, for sending us so sweetly into our Comic Arts Brooklyn weekend.
People came to party on Friday. The comics kids took over the Park Slope Ale House for the night. With Breakdown Press and Space Face Books and Hic + Hoc and Secret Acres in the place, what did you expect? We were relieved to have skipped bringing books to the bar, once the room filled up with cartoonists and beer. Speaking of cuddly, we lucked out and got caught up with the Comics Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon, on the eve of his great migration. We made pals with another bibliophile, Greg Farrell, whose graphic novel, On the Books tells the story of New York’s most storied bookstore, the Strand, and its union negotiations. And did you know the unionized Strand even carries mini-comics these days? Of course, we spent most of the evening talking about babies with Hic + Hoc chieftan Matt Moses, who has at least one cool daughter. Our very own Eamon Espey got there late after a grueling seven hour trip from Baltimore. Yes, Baltimore in Maryland. For once, we called it off relatively early and got some sleep before the big day.
We came pretty close to getting set up before Comic Arts Brooklyn opened its doors. Kudos to us! And several more kudos to what may have been the most helpful volunteers we have ever seen at any comics show ever. Even though we dropped down to a single table at this year’s CAB, we brought a ton of stuff with us. The volunteers met us at the door and carried our gear to our spot. We appreciated the help, and needed it, what with some among us under strict weight lifting limits post health scares (and Barry is recovering nicely, by the way). It took a minute for our entire gang to assemble, but finally we had Theo, Eamon, Rob Sergel and Corinne Mucha sketching and signing away. Rob delivered with his new mini, Joe Bonaparte and Eamon wowed us with his surprise fifth installment of Wormdye.
With all of that on top of the Understanding Monster Book Two, we somehow wound up selling about half as much as we did last year. That sounds way worse than it was. Sales-wise, CAB wound up being our best show of 2013, by far. Even cut in half, we had a very good day and got the Understanding Monster Book Two off to a flying start. Early in the afternoon, we heard a couple of publishers panicking about their sales, but most everyone was caught up by closing time. Some attendees may have misread the CAB poster, and we were all asked if we would be there on Sunday. That could have been it. Or it could have been con fatigue. Or maybe half the tables meant half the sales. Having the programming the day after the show also meant there would be no panel-related sales bump for anybody.
Logistically, avoiding things like this is near impossible if you’re planning a show in New York. Our time on the MoCCA steering committee has taught us just how difficult it is to get anything done at all, let alone done right. What CAB does right – and beyond right, to perfection – is getting the best possible mix of artists and publishers behind those tables. It never fails; every year we spend more money and discover more comics at CAB than anywhere else. We have no problem losing a table since we know it means more of these folks in the room. Every artist exhibitor we spoke to, and we spoke to plenty of them, couldn’t have been happier. Our only real sad note: we miss Cartoon House, the loss of which is a great indicator of what a pain in the ass it is to find some space in our fair city. No Cartoon House led to a quick and far flung dispersal. After a fast feast at our favorite taco joint, we retired to a little slumber party, staying up all night reading our haul and never coming close to making it all the way through.
We spent Sunday playing tourist with Theo, so someone else will have to catch you up on CAB’s programming day. If you missed out on any or all of this past weekend’s festivities, you can catch some animated Theo art at Grumpy Bert for their big artist flipbook show, opening up next Saturday. You can read reviews of the Understanding Monster Book Two at Sequential State and Festival Season. If you are called to adventure, you can go see Theo this weekend at Seattle’s beloved Short Run show. If home is where your heart is, you can order in some Understanding Monster, the latest from Rob Sergel and the brand new Wormdye 5 from our Emporium. If you’re among the first to order the Understanding Monster Book Two from us, we’ll send you a signed copy, with one these little guys tipped in (and assembly required, because we’re lazy).
If you’re in Minnesota and you are a stalker or a friend, you might catch us wandering around out there next month as we tour the home of our brand new distributor, Consortium. Joining them, and nearly of all our pals, promises great things in the year to come. Since this is likely to be our last blog post of 2014, we want to thank everybody who reads this blog, who reads our comics, who reads comics and who makes comics for what turned out to be our best year. We’d love nothing more than to spill the beans on what’s coming in 2015, but Consortium is making us act like grownups. They probably wouldn’t mind if we posted the cover to the Understanding Monster Book Three, though. We hope?
We have lots of paperwork to do and a website to spruce up, so until next year…
Barry and Leon
ONE LAST RIDE for 2014! Something about Comic Arts Brooklyn being our last show of the year makes it feel like a holiday affair. We set our clocks back, pack our comics and start following the scent of turkey to non-colonial Williamsburg. Forgive us if we’re a little nostalgic already for our fourth year camping out in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church: CAB 2014 marks the official debut of our fifth Theo Ellsworth comic, the Understanding Monster Book Two.
The middle of Theo’s Understanding Monster trilogy won’t disappoint. Some lucky folks got signed copies of the book at SPX, but missed out on Theo himself since he’d just become a father again. Rowan, the littlest Ellsworth, appreciates your understanding. Making up for Theo’s absence at SPX, Corinne Mucha voluntarily drew a baby in every Theo book that left our table. Before all that craziness, Corinne’s flight got rained out and she couldn’t make it to Brooklyn for her Bergen Street Comics event celebrating her latest and greatest, Get Over It! We are pleased as punch to tell you that both Theo and Corinne will be in town and at the Secret Acres CAB table, along with Robert Sergel and his new mini, Joe Bonaparte. Over the Oily table, you can get pick up an entirely new issue of Shadow Hills from our very own Sean Ford.
Join them and us everybody else this Thursday for a gallery show and some CAB pre-gaming at Brooklyn’s own Grumpy Bert! You can beat the CAB crowd to the punch and get your Theo books at Bert’s. Get there early enough and you can really lord it over folks: the first ten to arrive get a limited edition Theo print. Of course, there will be free beer and bubbly, too.
Speaking of beer and bubbly, Friday night you can catch us and Breakdown Press and Space Face Books and Hic + Hoc at the Park Slope Ale House. Assuming there are no comics gang fights, it’ll be a party to remember. Just don’t forget CAB starts at eleven, and you will want to look pretty. Check out this awesome poster by Joe Kessler with all the necessary details:
If, for some reason, you cannot make your way to Brooklyn for all this glory, you can pre-order the Understanding Monster Book Two right here so you won’t miss out. On an ICYMI note, there are reviews of the book in the Chicago Tribune and on Re:Views Media. One thing you definitely don’t want to miss: a live tour of Theo’s studio courtesy of Daniel McCloskey of Alt-Comix that’s happening RIGHT NOW TODAY.
For even more Theo, you can find a bit of the Understanding Monster Book One in the 2014 edition of the Best American Comics. That bigger and better installment has no less than FOUR Secret Acres artists in the BAC Notable Comics section, too: Eamon Espey’s Songs of the Abyss, Edie Fake’s story from Monster Vol. 1, Robert Sergel’s Eschew 3 and Sar Shahar’s Sequential Vacation 2. Also, you can now keep tabs on all this stuff on our new tumblr. We’re still figuring that one out.
To all the folks wishing Barry well through his latest round of ticker troubles, thank you. It really does mean a lot. In that excitement, we missed our own birthday, too. It’s been seven years of Secret Acres. This means all the cells in our bodies have been replaced since we got started and we have no biological memory of our lives before Secret Acres. What a thing.
See you in a few! We’ll back with the CAB recap in a bit…
Barry and Leon
THE MOUTH of Tucker Stone damn near swallowed us whole on the ride down to this year’s Small Press Expo. We are hereby awarding him an Ignatz Brick for Outstanding Shit-Talking Comics Mule. Who knew Nobrow was so gangsta? We appreciate it, Tucker; you were the best consolation for us being down a man or two heading into Camp Comics.
With no fully-fledged debut to speak of, we worried we’d get lost in the crowd. SPX fills the whole room up to the brim. Last year, we’d heard complaints from some that there were just too many cartoonists at the Bethesda Marriott. This year must have shattered last year’s exhibitor numbers. Warren Bernard, SPX’s showrunner extraordinaire, dropped by our dinner on Saturday and did the math for us. The show holds 280 tables and over a thousand exhibitors. It lasts fourteen hours. Hitting every spot, you’d get about three minutes for each table. That’s terrifying and beautiful both.
Honestly, the crowd messed with us a little. We don’t mean sales. Sales were phenomenal on Saturday, a bit less so on Sunday. But SPX is often called Camp Comics because it’s the entire comics universe all under the same roof for a weekend. Other shows sprawl while SPX achieves a black hole-like density. The togetherness is our favorite part of SPX, but, like Warren’s numbers, we were lucky to spend three minutes with any of our pals. Factor in the attendees, all several thousand of them, and you get a never ending rush of over-stimulation. One sad moment: Frank Santoro, sitting on the patio, wondering where his gang was. We feel you, Frank. One happy moment: Malachi Ward, supergenius, coming by, putting a hand each on Iron Bound and Angie Bongiolatti and pronouncing them two of his favorite books in recent years. Bless you, Malachi.
Missing Theo Ellsworth due to fatherhoodness, we still brought a bunch of his (and our) latest book, the Understanding Monster Book Two. Theo had thoughtfully signed and sketched a stack for the show – and many thanks to everyone who came by to pick up a sneak copy ahead of the book’s official Comic Arts Brooklyn debut in November. Corinne Mucha, stepping into her leadership role at Secret Acres, offered to draw anyone buying Theo’s books a sketch of his new baby – and Corinne HATES babies. Miraculously, she had five takers. She even managed to contribute to Sean Ford‘s illustration for a die hard Only Skin fan. Throw that on top of signing and sketching her own Get Over It! and Corrine was flexing some serious drawing muscles all weekend. She even cranked out a custom baby just for Barry. She’s a beast!
However, Corinne has never heard of the Breeders. Odds are, if you made it to our tables, you were asked if you had ever heard of the Breeders yourself. Most of the time, this question was met with incredulity and suspicion. We promise no fast ones were being pulled. We (meaning Sean Ford) were simply trying to educate Corinne. So here’s a little background on the Breeders:
The Breeders were formed by two women, Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly, from two different but equally earth-shattering groups, the Pixies and Throwing Muses. They met when both bands were on tour together in support of the Pixies debut album, Surfer Rosa. In 1990, Deal and Donelly submitted demos to 4AD, the Pixies’ record label. They were signed, and recruited bassist Josephine Wiggs of Perfect Disaster to record Pod with legendary engineer Steve Albini. While Deal was certainly an integral part of the Pixies, Pod at last showed the world just how colossally great Kim Deal had always been. Shortly after the Breeders recorded the brilliant EP, Safari, Deal’s other band, the Pixies, split up and Tanya Donelly struck out on her own to form the band Belly. Kim Deal brought her twin sister Kelley to the Breeders, taking over for Donelly on guitar. Legend has it that Kelley had never before played guitar. There must be something to genetics as Kelley is one hell of a guitarist. With the addition of Jim MacPherson on drums, the Breeders lineup was set and recording began on Last Splash. Last Splash went on to do what no Pixes album had previously done: it went platinum. The album contained the anthemic single “Cannoball,” which even cracked Billboard’s Top 40. The Breeders would later headline the massively popular Lollapalooza festival on their way to becoming a worldwide phenomenon on tour with Nirvana. Kurt Cobain cited the Breeders’ Pod as the third most influential album on his own sound. In 2013, the Breeders celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their blockbuster classic Last Splash with an intercontinental tour, including not only the original band members, but the original equipment used to record the album. The tour, titled LSXX, culminated in the Breeders headlining another massively popular festival, All Tomorrow Parties. On the LSXX tour, the Breeders also met us, Secret Acres, at a gas station in the middle of nowhere on the way to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. They gave us tickets to their show that weekend. We gave them comics. And wept.
Anyhow, you can catch us and Mike Dawson at the Brooklyn Book Festival in Brooklyn this weekend. His panel, “Single Facing City: Coming of Age Comics,” moderated by the Paris Review‘s Nicole Rudick and featuring Michael Cho and MariNaomi, will get the parted started early on Sunday at ten. We’ll be sitting with Sean Ford, Brendan Leach and Koyama Press‘s Patrick Kyle and Michael DeForge. There may even be a Special Guest appearance by this other guy, Brandon something or other. Don’t miss it!
We’ll be back in time for a rundown of all things CAB, including a Theo Ellsworth gallery event. Trust us: you want to see Theo’s art in person.
Barry and Leon
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Secret Acres had a grand old time at RIPE, the Rhode Island Independent Publishing Expo, which really should be RIIPE, but who’s counting? Dave Nuss, smooth operator of Revival House Press was our celebrity comics mule and neighbor at the show. We would like him to be our neighbor all the time. In appropriately odd fashion for the place that begat Forcefield and Fort Thunder, RIPE’s table arrangements were way outside of the box. It’s first come, first served at this show. What a nice way to give the locals the upper hand. We drove up in the morning, and drove to Jersey by accident, getting us there late and putting us way in back. It worked out okay for us. On a rainy Saturday, the turnout was what you’d expect for a brand new artsy comics show.
The Saturday night after-party, however, was probably the best comic show after-party we’ve been to in years. The secret weapon, of course, were some fucking great bands at Providence’s amazing AS220. Enormous Door blew our hairs back, but Lale Westvind was the ringer. She is not only one of the best cartoonists around, she’s an All-Word Guitarist. She would beat the devil in a duel.
Sunday had nice weather and a nice crowd, including one family so cool, we all immediately wanted kids. One unique thing about the show: it was the first time any of us could remember feeling like we were in the minority as cismen. It’s a great feeling! Ultimately, this show needs to happen when Providence’s colleges are in session, and that’s in the plans. Watch out for RIPE next year.
Shortly after getting home, we at Secret Acres found ourselves dragged into in an actual internet kerfuffle. A provocative Tumblr post from Mike Dawson about his dwindling audience, declining book sales and deflated expectations became the talk of the comics blogosphere for a good week. Suddenly, people in corners of the comics world we didn’t even know existed were looking at us. As Mike’s most recent publisher, and as the publishers of the poor-selling book in question, Angie Bongiolatti, we received plenty of uninvited criticism.
Believe it or not, we tend to get more compliments for our work than we get critiques. Naturally, we prefer the compliments (because we’re not insane). However, we do value criticism, no matter the source, and we address every concern as best we can. We’re not going to respond directly to every Twitter, Tumblr and comments section troll because, again, we’re not crazy. Consider this a general response to some of what arose:
People pointed to the cover of Angie Bongiolatti as the culprit for its poor sales. That’s a pretty subjective thing; everyone involved with the production of the book actually likes it, so it’s staying right where it is.
Some suggested that the cover copy and press copy for the book were weird or lousy. That might be the case. There is no “elevator pitch” for Angie Bongiolatti, and, generally, we’re not interested in elevator pitch type stuff. We’ve had plenty of success with our press copy, too, in places like the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Chicago Tribune, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Slate, Paste, Paper, NPR, the Onion AV Club, ForeWord, Booklist, the LA Review of Books, the Comics Journal, the Economist, Bookslut, Pop Matters, USA Today’s Pop Candy, Print, Bitch, Le Monde, the Stranger, etc. Some even complained about Eleanor Davis‘s quote on the back of Angie Bongiolatti. We like the quote. We love Eleanor. Also, SemiPro Tip: if you dislike our covers and our copy, you should probably stop submitting your comics to us.
Speaking of our press copy, people were confused about the street date for the book. To quote the press release: “IN STORES APRIL 15th, 2014” and, yes, this was in all caps. We suspect the confusion to be the result of the book having a different street date for Diamond Distribution, which has a monopoly on the distribution of spandex comics to spandex comic shops. Diamond does distribute some of our titles, but it represents only 8% of our total sales. We have to audition for Diamond with every title (or most, since there are plenty we don’t bother submitting to them). Sometimes there are several months between our submission to Diamond and the time Diamond puts our books in their catalog, but we don’t align our book releases to Diamond dates because it’s not a huge part of where our actual sales come from.
We turn books around too quickly. It was about 80 days from final files to the release of the finished Angie Bongiolatti, which is something we will never do again. So, point taken there.
Another useful criticism was that there weren’t enough preview pages of our books readily available on our site or on Amazon. We used to have book previews on the old site, but that never made it to this one. They’re up now, on both our site and on Amazon.
It was suggested that we rethink our roles as “distributors of content” because small press was in danger of becoming the “middle man” and that Mike would have been better off self-publishing Angie Bongiolatti. Sad to say, we can’t rethink our roles as distributors of content because we’ve never thought of ourselves as distributors of content. We are book publishers. We will have to disappoint again when it comes to being small press middle men, because all presses, great and small, are positioned somewhere between the artist and the reader. There’s really nowhere else for us to be. We gave Mike the opportunity to make whatever comic he wanted, knowing that we would publish it and stand behind it. That book turned out to be Angie Bongiolatti.
A lot of what we’ve published has been books we specifically wanted to exist. Imagine what a blogger who finds Angie Bongiolatti a tough sell as a literary graphic novel would make of Gaylord Phoenix or Songs of the Abyss.
Angie Bongiolatti outsold Gaylord Phoenix through their first 90 days. Gaylord Phoenix took a minute to find its audience and now it’s looking like it will need to be reprinted. Edie Fake doesn’t have a Twitter or a Tumblr account. Diamond told us that Gaylord Phoenix “wasn’t for them.” How did Gaylord Phoenix find its audience? You, mostly. People love that book because, well, it’s a great book. Bless you guys for expressing that love to one another.
And now the best bad news there may be: Theo Ellsworth‘s the Understanding Monster Book Two will NOT be debuting at this weekend’s Small Press Expo. There will be sketched and signed advance copies of the book, and plenty of them, though. We’ve moved the formal debut to the upcoming Comic Arts Brooklyn, as Theo will be unable to attend SPX since he’s just become a father! Everyone, please welcome the newest Ellsworth, young Rowan. He’s awful cute. We wouldn’t want to leave him, either. And the Secret Acres baby boom continues as we celebrate our first co-publishing venture with Grindstone, Harold. Hi, Hal! Proud papa L Nichols will be at SPX on Saturday with a brand new issue of Flocks (but not his brand new son). Congrats to all you procreating creators!
Don’t you worry, we’re not showing up to SPX empty-handed. Sean Ford will be there with his Shadow Hills, recently re-vamped Only Skin and some new prints and pretty things. Eamon Espey, local hero of Baltimore and author of the previously mentioned Songs of the Abyss, will be coming out to say hello. Last, and most definitely not least, grandmaster Corrine Mucha will have her big hit, Get Over It! in addition to her must-have teeny, tiny little paintings. Alas, Mike Dawson is unable to join us this weekend.
You can catch Mike next weekend at the Brooklyn Book Festival in our home town. Get there early and you can see his panel, Single Facing City: Coming of Age Comics, moderated by the Paris Review‘s Nicole Rudick and featuring Michael Cho and MariNaomi! In case you missed it, you can read about Angie Bongiolatti in french here, listen to a review in english here, and read about it on the Comics Journal here. There’s more love for Get Over It! at the Onion AV Club, Cosmopolitan UK, the Philadelphia Inquirer and HuffPo – and Edie Fake and his Memory Palaces got the royal treatment from the LA Review of Books. How cool is that?
We’ll be back with the lowdown on SPX and our guest comics mule for this show: Tucker Stone. Hoo, boy. This is oughtta be good.
Barry and Leon