MAYBE we should be rushing this one out, for a couple reasons at least, but we have to beat Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter, to the punch before he steals all our ideas. Or maybe we’re stealing Heidi MacDonald’s, meaning the Beat‘s, ideas? Of course, this may simply mean that we are all thinking alike. Anyhow, we’ll get to our semi-collective major observations of the Small Press Expo landscape in a minute, important as they might to anyone who cares about comics.
First and foremost, we owe Bergen Street Comics a huge thank you for hosting our Iron Bound party. Those guys can seriously throw down, and, sweet Big Baby Jesus, did they kick Brendan Leach‘s big, bad book off to a flying start. The place was packed to the gills from the get until closing. We didn’t bring enough books, not by a long shot. Lucas Gutkowski and the Newark Wanderers cranked up the volume to eleven. If there had been any wiggle room, wiggling surely would have occurred. It was the biggest party of our careers, and one of the biggest Bergen has seen (up there with Xaime, Jeff Smith and Wonder Woman, we were told, but how many people got lucky at those?). If you were a part of it, we extend our deepest thanks to you. If you couldn’t get an Iron Bound, there are more at Bergen now, we swear.
The party was a good omen for us, what with it being Friday, the 13th and Yom Kippur all at once on packing day. Normally, we’re a hot mess getting our asses out the door, but we got our snacks and books fully loaded into our stolen, fully loaded Benz quite nicely and got our booze for the pre-Ignatz pizza party in time for dinner. We’d never been to a liquor store in a Mercedes before, but it turned out okay, too. Also, we went into Bethesda proper for Friday night eats. The last time any of us had seen actual Bethesda was during ye olde SPX days before it moved into the Marriott. It has been completely paved over, rebuilt and glamorized with “new luxury townhomes starting from the several millions.” Seriously. Moby Dick House of Kabob was still there, though. That’s a real thing; we’re not being pervs. We even managed to get up and set up on Saturday before the doors opened for the first time at any show in 2013. We had our act together!
The same can’t totally be said for SPX, though. This is a strictly personal, Secret Acres related thing, because no one else had much to complain about from an organizational perspective. For two SPXes running, something’s been amiss. Last year, our very own Theo Ellsworth drew some stuff for the show and was listed as a Special Guest. Only he wasn’t, in fact, listed as a Special Guest. He didn’t even have a badge. Mike Dawson, whose Troop 142 was up for the Outstanding Graphic Novel Ignatz Award, didn’t get a balloon that all the other nominees got. What kind of person doesn’t give Mike Dawson a balloon? Really. The response was basically to tell us to stop being babies. And this year, after a going without an official SPX tweet leading up to the show, Secret Acres wasn’t even in the program. Yeah, we’re being babies a bit but feelings were hurt. So there’s your institutional whining. We did, however, have a great – no, make that phenomenal spot on the floor. Our whole gang, Rob Sergel, Eamon Espey, Special Guest Jon Allen and SPX table neighbor Secret Acres artists, Sean Ford (with a new comic!) and Joe Lambert all sold lots of books while Brendan sketched out scores of Iron Bound. We had a great show.
It was a very SPX SPX, except it wasn’t. Come with us, back to that first paragraph, as we go over the origins of a thought. Last year’s SPX was commonly thrown out there as the greatest SPX that was or would ever be. Every titanic titan was present. Sales records were shattered. Dylan Williams was memorialized and Tom Spurgeon was born again hottie. For 2013, SPX had hit the wall, and not in a figurative sense. The entire hall was wall to wall SPX. Normally, the show eats most but not all of the space. There was no space left to eat in the Marriott this year. It was the aforementioned Beat, celebrating her 75th year of SPX attendance, who started off our Friday night at the bar, crunching numbers. With all the new tables, she reasoned, there had to be at least 750 individual artists and exhibitors sitting at 280 tables. It was probably closer to a thousand. As Heidi mentioned, you could walk the back wall, or Webcomics Alley, and find a major book at every table.
During the day, we talked to Dan Nadel briefly about a feeling among publishers that sales were soft this year. They weren’t soft at all, for us (or Picturebox, we don’t think). We all sold books and made bank. The soft quality could have been the result of this show following an inarguably hard SPX 2012. We didn’t think that was it. It could have been the trickling in of attendees. Usually, we get to the floor late and freak out, scrambling to get our books on the tables while a line of folks waits sort of patiently for us. Having gotten set up before the doors opened, for once, we jumped behind the table and waited for the opening rush, which didn’t happen. Upon investigation, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, coming in two at a time or so. It was a trickle, but everything filled up. So the soft stuff couldn’t be the result of declining attendance.
Talking to Tom Spurgeon at the bar on Saturday night, we came up with a theory. If the room had hit the space max, with more exhibitors than ever before, the show was simply diffused. It was the LA to last year’s New York. The bigger space made the crowd seem smaller a bit. The huge number of exhibitors gave the crowd more options that it ever had before. The big fish, the Fantagraphics and the Drawn and Quarterlies and the Top Shelves, suddenly didn’t seem that big in such a big pond. You could spend an entire weekend and thousands of dollars at SPX and not feel like you got to it all. Most interesting for us was all the new blood on the show floor. There were hundreds of cartoonists we’d never even heard of, and we’re supposed to know these things, damn it. Like the move to the Marriott back in the day, this is a transitional year for Comics Camp, both in quality and in content. It was a sea change and it was not subtle or sneaky.
SPX is still Comics Camp, though, so don’t get that twisted. Every night, when they throw us all out of On the Rocks, the official(ly racist) bar of the show, there’s a logjam getting out the door because of the hugging. Zak Sally even tried to make out with Noah Van Sciver or something like that. There was no room in any room of our pizza party. We got to cuddle with Annie Koyama, whose Blobby Boys book stayed home. Nate Bulmer brought his lovely wife and she didn’t leave him. Becca Lambert brought her husband, Joe, the bellwether of good men’s hairstyles for indie comics. Ted Bak was in the house, complete with his Island of Memory, a book fourteen years in the making. Mike Dawson was there, we promise, though he never made it to the table (and he didn’t throw up once). Tom Neely made it all the way east, looking great with his new Henry & Glenn Forever. Everyone looked great. Maybe it was just the new kids, but the cuteness index was up a whopping 38% year over year. Plus, can we all stop talking about Anna Bongiovanni already? It’s embarrassing.
So there. Now we’re off to pop our Brooklyn Book Festival cherries. All our big news will be in the wrap up post for that show, because, well, we’re exhausted. We will get a nap or two, so get yourselves over to BBF. Hopefully, we’ll be in that program someplace.
Barry and Leon and Casey
IT’S TIME to dance! We are finally, finally ready to rumble with Iron Bound, the new graphic novel from Brendan Leach. Man, oh, man, did this one ever feel like it was years in the making. It wasn’t, really, but we just couldn’t wait for it. Plus, we love SPX and we can’t wait for that, either. It is our church, and Iron Bound is our big, fat and only Small Press Expo debut this year. Yes, if you’re counting, we owe you a book or two, but get to SPX next weekend and you’ll have your hands full with this one, promise.
You may be familiar with Brendan’s Xeric Grant funded, Ignatz Award winning and Best American Comics selected Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City. That was the first of Brendan’s comics that we ever saw and it was love at first sight. It is ingenious. Without any hesitation, we can tell you that Iron Bound completely kicks its ass. This is saying something. Like Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City, Iron Bound is a period piece, set in Newark’s tougher-than-leather Ironbound district in the year 1961. There may be people living now who were alive in 1961, though we can’t confirm that. Brendan somehow did his due diligence in representing old Newark, though. It sure looks as pretty as it was gritty. He even got the sound right.
Iron Bound is a tough, little book, but you can, in all seriousness, dance to it. This edition comes complete with a blood red, seven inch, flexi record with two songs, one for fighting and another for a slightly more cuddly kind of fighting. Both are written by Lucas Gutkowksi (and recorded with Brendan himself) for the Newark Wanderers, the official Iron Bound band. They even show up in the comic! On the way is a full album of Iron Bound inspired music, available online on September 6th (or so we are told) and on non-flexible vinyl (Dude!) in November. Between the digital and physical releases, the Newark Wanderers will be out on tour with Brendan. We’ll have links and dates and details for you soon, we swear. Meanwhile, we can say that the tour plans to get as far out as our beloved Windy City of Chicago, at least.
You know, it was fun for us being a record label for a minute. You kids won’t remember records or tapes or compact discs, but trust us, music is amazing even off a computer. We know, and we weren’t even alive in 1961, either. You might, if you are very wise, remember music videos, so here’s this ludicrously awesome thing for your viewing and listening pleasures.
If you are one of the lucky dozen million or so in the greater metropolitan area of New York City, you don’t have to wait until the fall to party with the Newark Wanderers. You don’t even have to wait until SPX to get your hands on a copy of Iron Bound. You fellow New Yorkers just need to get yourselves to Brooklyn’s own Bergen Street Comics this Friday. Starting at 8PM and going until the Bergen folks pass out, Brendan will be signing copies of Iron Bound just for you. He’ll make it nice, we swear. Of course, records will be spun, but, even better, the Newark Wanderers will be performing live in the store. This means free music, free bubbly and free beer! This could get ugly. Maybe it should get ugly.
If you can’t make it to Bergen Street, you have to go to SPX somehow. In addition to Brendan, we’ll have a Special Guest in the personage of Jon Allen at our table. Jon makes this and this and that and this and this. Eamon Espey will be on hand, having recovered from his own national tour. The one and only Mike “Gags” Dawson will be warming a seat. Even fellow Secret Acres gang members, Sean Ford and Joseph Lambert have threatened to wander by. If that’s just not enough, and you really can’t get yourself to SPX, you can always pre-order Iron Bound here.
We will return with our SPX rundown. We might even have some news, or a lot of news, or a lot of really big news if the lawyers tell us it’s cool to spill the beans. Keep your ears to the streets.
Barry and Leon and Casey
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!
IT’S A LONG drive to Chicago from up here in Brooklyn. Especially if you don’t realize the GPS is on Scenic. Still, everyone got there in time to get the keys to Andrew’s place. You may be wondering who the hell Andrew is. He’s the guy whose apartment we infiltrated for the weekend. It’s an amazing spot, totally rentable and is something of a bohemian ideal (see below). We’re not telling you this as an ad for Andrew’s Place, but because we beat the ladies of D&Q to the punch reserving it. Then it turned out Andrew worked at a restaurant near the Center on Halsted and had served pretty much all of indie comics all weekend, but, strangely, not us. We ran into him (and immediately after, the D&Q folks) on our way to the show on Sunday by complete coincidence, prompting Andrew to say, “You comics people have taken over the whole city.” That’s about as good proof as you’re likely to get that a comics show is a huge success, which the Chicago Alternative (K)omics Expo sure as hell was.
The sun-filled, air cooled show space (a big, skylit gym named for Billie Jean King) and the building (complete with a Whole Foods, for all you poor bastards with dietary restrictions or for people who are just plain picky) are gorgeous. There were even three theaters in the Center for panels and stuff, with killer A/V, plus that balcony for smoking and eating and a green room and actual cake and coffee and Chris Ware and posters for the big Dan Clowes exhibit on every bus and it’s a free show – what more do you people want?
It’s a pretty gay show, too. Yes homo. The Center on Halsted is Chicago’s big LGBTQ Community Center. Us here at Secret Acres are a couple of New York queers (like you didn’t know), and they kind of make us look like bums in comparison. It’s shocking, really. This is New York, as in Stonewall, where gay was invented. Yeah, TCAF has a ton of queer events and programming and a big, gay guy at the helm, but this felt gay-er. There was gay line dancing in the sky, for the love of the Benji. This was a good backdrop to drop our latest, Sequential Vacation 2, which, for you folks that have yet to read it, is pretty gay, so don’t worry too much about reading gay into it. It’s okay. Sequential Vacation 2 went over very well, as one would expect.
For us, the fun started after getting lost Saturday morning, driving up and down the wrong street in torrential rain and getting to show late. There were folks taking bets on whether or not we were going to get there at all. Seeing Gabby Schulz for the first time in an entire year was kind of like a Wham! reunion tour for us. Our very own Edie Fake was running shit and for real running, constantly. We barely got to throw pizza at him. Our haul was supersolid, including picking up two comics from Marian Runk and one from these guys, which will be appearing in our Emporium momentarily. We got to chat with our hero, Josh Simmons and grabbed a couple of copies of Habit from him. Tom K had seventeen new books and we got this one and that one. The rest of the time, it was like Christmas. People just brought stuff over to us. Beautiful things. Silk-screened things. Riso’d things. Things.
Sometime after being bamboolzed by dazzling, light-up Kamikaze shots at the first after party at the gay bar across the street (and drinking with local favorite, Grant Reynolds, and our table neighbor, Rob Kirby) Gabby pointed out that we didn’t sell anything the whole day. This was a slight exaggeration. It didn’t keep up from enjoying Fried Chicken Pad Thai and Hot Cheese Wontons with all our feet dangling in a pit, faking sitting on the floor of a Thai place that we walked miles to find, and discussing the possibility of opening a Tofaffles shop with Ms. Runk. It certainly didn’t keep up from us getting a PBR (of COURSE) off Lale Westvind while watching Mickey Z lose another squatty loft deathmatch, this time to Witch Hat in a battle of the bands while Zak Sally looked on, wearing a very sensible dress, though we prefer Zak wearing a dog. It’s also didn’t keep up from selling like gangbusters on Sunday. What were you waiting for on Saturday, CAKE people? Maybe us, because we were late. To make it up to you, here is a picture of the lips of Sar Shahar, as requested for she who shall remain nameless:
Sar, obviously, fits our gang like a glove. We could not be more pleased with him, his comics or his lips. Thankfully, Sar does not follow Gabby on Twitter, so for all he knows, Gabby is just a nice guy. Speaking of Gabby, we promised news on Sick, and, well, it’s looking like a TCAF debut. Sorry, everyone. Since we’re already apologizing, we ought to spill the beans and tell you that Theo Ellsworth‘s the Understanding Monster Book Two won’t be making it to SPX, either. That leaves Brendan Leach flying solo with Ironbound, and we’re ecstatic to say that we will for sure have that big, fat book and record rocking the block in September. Meanwhile, Sar got his first ever review of Sequential Vacation 2 over here. Eamon Espey, whom people in the Windy City seem to truly adore, got a little more love from French GQ for the French edition of his Wormdye. Some big ups are in order for our Koyamamate and pal, Nate Bulmer, whose ladyfriend is finally making an honest man of him tomorrow as part of the Year of the Comics Marriage. Somebody please rundown all the comics weddings in 2013 for us.
Alrighty. We’re gonna go sleep and check out some nuptials. Maybe we’ll see you at Pat’s place? Anyhow, we’ll be back here in time for Autoptic, we swear.
Barry and Leon
IT’S VEHICULAR WARFARE out there. Secret Acres is making a lightning attack on Chicago, particularly on the Chicago Alternative (K)omics Expo – and we’re gonna eat it, too! Yes, this will be the longest road trip of all time, but what would all you brohemians do without your comics? Flying in from the City of Angels is the newest of the new Secret Acres gang, Sar Shahar. We fell so very much in love with his Sequential Vacation 1 that we picked up the bill for Sequential Vacation 2.
Sar is no dummy. In fact, Sar’s a teacher and a Cal Arts grad, so pay attention to this one. The first issue of Sequential Vacation was included on The Comics Journal‘s Top 30 Minicomics of its year and this new installment is that much better. Sar’s got a way with texture and geometry that puts in a similar camp with Edie Fake and Robert Sergel, so it’s no wonder we like him so much. Plus, the new one is about a sexy beach romance fantasy. Sequential Vacation isn’t just a pretty face, it’s good company for the lonely. There’s more on Sar and a look inside Sequential Vacation 2 here on the CAKE blog.
Sar’s not making this trip on his own, though. Back to CAKE, for his first Secret Acres table appearance since the first ever CAKE in 2012 is our own lonely (but never alone) Gabby Schulz. We were hoping to have Weather, Gabby’s mini-comic CAKE debut of 2012, reprinted and ready to go, but, alas we’ve been busy with this Ironbound superbook and record coming to SPX from this Brendan Leach fella. In case you were wondering what’s up with SICK, Gabby’s new graphic novel, it’s coming along s-l-o-w-l-y. We promise it will be worth it’s wait in gold (and no joking, it’s one of the best comics we’ve ever read). At the very least, we’ll be getting caught up on SICK this weekend and you folks can get your books scribbled on by the king of the con sketch.
While we get packed up, there’s some stuff you might have missed. There’s new minis in the Emporium, one from the aforementioned Edie Fake, and two new ones here and here from Theo Ellsworth, who hasn’t missed a beat since dropping his Capacity 8 on TCAF last month. You can read about one of those minis on Printed Matters. Edie’s also popping up on the Pitchfork lifestyle site, because there really is a Pitchfork lifestyle, and his show, Memory Palaces got a once over from Vorpalizer‘s Sean T. Collins. Speaking of shows, some very serious congratulations are in order for Eamon Espey, who just wrapped his tour of Ishi’s Brain, the live show based on the story of the same name in his collection Songs of the Abyss. He really did cover the entire country, just about. We hope you got a chance to witness it, but if not, there’s some fascinating writing on his book from Phantasmaphile and Endless Falls Up, the latter of which is practically written in Eamon’s own language. We speak that language!
We shall return with our thoughts and our loot from CAKE 2. Gotta love these summer blockbuster sequels.
Barry and Leon
SORRY it’s been a week since TCAF but we’re raw, where the shot leaves us gagging for the arrow. This year’s official Secret Acres comics mule, Dash Shaw, amazingly did not want to kill us after we spent the better part of the ride up arguing about the existence of Bigfoot (or Bigfoots, or Bigfeet?). Casey Gonzalez, popping her Acresmobile cherry, insisted there are at least eight hundred of the hairy things living in the suburbs of Toronto or somesuch. Dash thought this far less interesting than the possibility of alien intelligences. At some point, while Casey claimed all kinds of evidence of Bigfeet, like the accidental killing of a baby Bigfoot by a hunter who failed to produce a body, we completely missed our to turn to Syracuse and drove all the way to Albany. So we had to get gas, and then we ran into the Breeders. There are many versions of what happened next and here they are:
“I was gassing up the Acresmobile, which is this big, thirsty SUV type of thing, when Sean started screaming my name. It takes a while to fill ‘er up, so I didn’t go running right away. I got the receipt (because I like giving Barry the receipts for stuff even though he tells me not to if it’s something that’s going on the company card, but he gets really mad when I do it and it’s funny to me) and moseyed over. Sean and Casey and Dash were talking to a bunch of people carrying their rest stop bags and Sean was furiously beckoning. I looked and thought, ‘Huh. That lady looks a lot like Kim Deal.’ Then Casey pulled me over and said to me and the woman next to me, ‘He didn’t get to go to the Bell House show, but he’s driving us up to Toronto.’ Then the woman next to me said, ‘Give us your names and and we’ll put you on the list.’ I couldn’t speak because I was sure she was Josephine Wiggs, which meant that the other lady was indeed Kim Deal, and that these were the Breeders and that Sean was giving Kim a copy of Only Skin and that Jim Macpherson was waving at me from their van. I think I squeaked out a thank you. In retrospect, I was really happy about the Bigfoot bullshit.”
“Earlier in the drive up to Toronto, we’d been discussing what it’d be like to see Bigfoot. Was such a thing even possible? Would it just be kind of lame seeing a big, hairy person? Why waste time thinking about the existence of such a thing at all? I like to believe in the possibility of such things, but when I think about it too much, it makes me sad. It makes me worry there’s no mystery or magic in the world and that we hold onto these myths as some vague way of hoping there might be. Meeting the Breeders at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York and getting to shake Kim Deal’s hand precisely because we’d missed a turn (We actually missed the turn while we were talking about Bigfoot. (Okay, actually violently arguing about bigfoot.)) and driven 100 miles out of our way was sort of like losing our way on a hike and happening upon a Bigfoot, a giant squid and a great white shark chilling at a waterfall or something. And it allowed me to continue to labor under the hope or illusion or sweet lie that all the mistakes and regrets and stupid decisions that lead you far out of your way can somehow lead you to the exact right place at the exact right moment and crystallize into weird magic. Maybe there is mystery. Maybe there is a reason to hold on to some tiny sliver of hope when every single sign says otherwise. It was also a good reminder of why going to TCAF is something to treasure – a room of Bigfoots and werewolves and other mystical beasts and moments of magic surrounded by a forest of comics. Or something. Anyway. I’m sure that sort of awkward meeting happens to the Breeders all the time, but they were very kind about it and gave us tickets to see them play in Toronto (where of course they were going, too), cementing their status forever in my mind as some of the coolest people on the planet. And it gave me an excuse to buy their box set, so I have something to play on my record player while i’m boring people with this story when I’m sixty-four. Thanks, breeders. <3″
“Gorgeous badass Josephine Wiggs put me ‘on the list’. I haven’t felt so alive since the time RuPaul retweeted me.”
“They were nice. Kim Deal said she liked my pants.”
There you have it. So we threw Casey under the bus and made her deal with the border stuff, while we read the Canadian newspapers in the waiting room and discussed whether or not Dash looked too creepy for the border guards (and he doesn’t) and Leon looked like a wrestler (and he doesn’t). Despite the wrong turns and glorious run-ins with superheroes like the Breeders, we made it to Toronto in time for the first night of festivities at the Pilot, which hasn’t happened in years. And we found Theo and Edie and Joe and Brendan and everyone else, so we were looking pretty good on that count.
Saturday we had that panel first thing in the morning, on the State of the Small Press. Earlier that night, we’d grabbed the programming director and made it known that we were adding Matt Moses, the Hic and Hoc guy to our bill. It was totally fun having Annie Koyama, Austin English, Bill Kartolopoulos, Jordan Shiveley and Matt at the same table. Hopefully, the audience had as much fun as we did – and thanks, folks, for showing up early for our little panel party, even though we had no video and moderator Andrew Murray had to scramble with about twenty-four hours notice that he was hosting.
For the first time, this was a big TCAF complaint, that the programming stuff was fraught with issues, technical and otherwise. We’re glad it wasn’t just us. The only other panel we caught was Tom “Papa Bear” Devlin’s with Viz’s Fawn Lau, the superdapper Chip Kidd and last minute addtion, Jim Rugg. Tom actually gave us a shoutout for our design skills after we reminded him of the title of the Oliver East book he was admiring (which was Swear Down). Tom even called out Gilbert Hernandez for his cover art skills, which, damn, Tom. But Gilbert’s cover looks awesome, so Tom wins again. He always wins. He never loses.
Back on the floor, we were next to Tom and Drawn and Quarterly, who were totally ripping off Paul Levitz’s swag with their corporate logo denim jackets. That really happened. We really got killed at this spot. Chester Brown‘s signing line was right in our grills. We probably should’ve just sold the copies of the Playboy that people kept trying to buy from us. It wasn’t too bad, though. Capacity 8 got out of the box nicely and Theo Ellsworth is a good defense against crappy sales. We sure did spend a ton, though. Like rent money kind of money.
Saturday night had folks doing their best impressions of the Exorcist. It was all dancing, romancing, puking, crying, laughing, schizo nonsense from our gang. While we did catch the Breeders playing the entirety of Last Splash, we missed Tom Spurgeon singing Bette Midler. On the other hand, we had a romantic evening playing porn trivia with Chris Pitzer. It’s okay to be jealous.
Sunday was family dinner with Annie Koyama and the kids, followed by the TCAFter party at Lee’s Palace. It was there we finally got it up to talk to Gengoroh Tagame. We even shook his hand. It was tempting to tell him what we do with that hand while holding his book in the other, but that seemed a little TMI. Finally, it was a topless man singing fun. over our attempts to talk MoCCA shop with Charles Brownstein that got us dawdling to bed.
Our entire crew went on a three mile walk around Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood on our way across the street for breakfast Monday morning. This is the Curse of the Cartoonist. They are compelled to stand on street corners for at least two hours before anyone can make a decision. So we ate the Last Breakfast together, left Theo in the hands of Fantagraphics and Robin McConnell who swore to see him to the airport, and hit the road.
We screamed at each other on the way about the rumblings at the top of the indie comics Mt. Olympus. It’s tempting to dish on all this, but we’re small fry and they’re gods. Some of that thunder’s already sounded in the sudden demise of our beloved Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. Anyhow, we like each other, or super-like each other (Are we post or post-post alternatives?) and we’re hopeful something will rise from those ashes. Who knows, it might even be CAKE.
We’ll be back in a bit with the details on the Chicago Alternative (K)omics Expo. We’ll even have a debut for that show, namely this guy. Speaking of Chicago, hats off to Eamon Espey, whose Ishi’s Brain show tour wrapped up at the aptly named Brain Frame last night. Now we’re gonna cut a record with Brendan Leach and listen to it. You’ll be hearing the sound of Ironbound soon enough.
Barry and Leon
P.S. – We totally stole that picture of Edie and Tagame from these guys. Sorry, guys. If you want us to take it off, just yell at us. Thanks!
TO BE completely honest with you, we had no idea who the hell was even riding up to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival with us this year, until about five minutes ago. Theo Ellsworth is flying into Toronto from his home in the wilderness known as Montana, skipping the trek in the Acresmobile, so there was an extra seat. Sure, Theo is a big jet-setter, but he may simply be smart enough to avoid our ridiculous, smuggler’s idiocy that made our last trip to Toronto so much more exciting than it ever needed to be. It was nice to see that folks were concerned for us, but don’t worry. We learned our lesson. Or we hope so, because if we fail to get Dash Shaw to the show, people will have our heads. You gotta admire Mr. Shaw’s gangsta for hitching with us.
Praise be to Casey Gonzalez for making the Acres a trio instead of a duo. As luck would have it, we will be setting up shop and then running right to our panel, on the state of the small press, featuring the always astonishing Annie Koyama of Koyama Press, Bill “Killer” Kartalopoulos of Rebus Books and the ever lively Jordan Shiveley of Grimalkin Press. Grimalkin Press and Jordan Shiveley have been cranking out those pretty Hive anthologies for years and have been teasing us with Phil McAndrew‘s big book, Crying in Font of Your Dog and Other Stories which was supposed to be out in 1998, but is truly arriving at TCAF. Bill K’s Rebus Books will have the superb Barrel of Monkeys by Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot. Surely, by now, you don’t need to hear any more about Koyama Press, but, in case you missed it, they’ve got four debuts, including Julie Delporte‘s Journal, Victor Kerlow‘s Everything Takes Forever, the fifth installment of something called Lose and a collection of odd, dangly bits, “Very Casual” both by this Michael DeForge guy. We promise to talk as much shit as possible.
And what of little, old Secret Acres? We’ve got good, old Theo Ellsworth making his first ever appearance north of the border for the international dropping of Capacity 8. Yep, that’s Capacity 8, of Capacity fame, meaning his ongoing series that we first collected way back in 2008. To say that people love Capacity would be the understatement of the decade (and we’re all about enormous hyperbole here). People are rightfully crazy about Capacity. We were just as surprised as you to learn that Theo was heading back into Capacity territory. The previous seven issues that comprise the collection are wrapped up pretty tight by a much larger and longer story. One could say that these weren’t collected, but completed – and one would be right about that. If the first Capacity collection was about the creative process, this eighth issue sets the series on a path to explore the future and the world at large. The stories in Capacity 8 are less about the expression of ideas and more the embodiment of thought. If you’re thinking that Theo has abandoned his other opus, the one that got started in the Understanding Monster Book One, we can say for certain that he has not. You’ll be getting more of the Understanding Monster soon enough.
Speaking of the road, Eamon Espey has been burning it up. Eamon and Lisa Krause have, of course, been on a nationwide tour with Ishi’s Brain, the live performance based on his story from Songs of the Abyss. It’s been a treat from us hearing from folks all over about the show. If you’ve missed Ishi’s Brain, or if it’s missed you, you’ve still got some chances left:
There are probably more dates to come, but that’s what we’ve got so far. We’ve got to get packed up. So do you, if you know what’s good for you. Miss TCAF at your peril. If BCGF is home and SPX is church, then TCAF is where the party’s at. Of course, you may be checking out Eamon’s puppet show, and that’s okay, too. We’ll be back in a bit with all the dirt and recrimination we can muster..
Barry and Leon
WERE you wondering if we’d take it easy on MoCCA because our names were on the steering committee? If so, wonder no more. We looked over our previous MoCCA wrap-up posts before settling it to write this one. From the first Armory year onward, they become increasingly vicious. It isn’t so much that our criticisms were unfounded, but the mounting frustration from the lack of response from any of the festival organizers was ammunition for some of the more zingy zingers. We could have been nice about it. We were not. We’re not apologizing now and we aren’t letting ourselves off any hooks, either.
Yes, we were on the steering committee (and we talked about why just last week). This was not the Secret Acres Show, however. The jokes we got all MoCCA from folks telling us we did a good job were funny at first. Okay, they’re still funny. Let’s get this straight: We are not festival organizers. Considering how wiped out were just thinking about the show, there’s no way we’re cut out to be actual show organizers. Maybe it would be different if were doing this from the ground up, but we were strictly advisors. In that capacity, we want to hear all of your complaints (though a little praise would be nice) because we’re in a position to relay them to the folks who really do run the show, the Society of Illustrators.
One supposedly fun thing we’ll never do again: moderate a panel. Many deep thanks to Heather Benjamin, Zach Hazard, Mickey Z and (again) Annie Koyama for bailing us out. It’s easy to be on a panel and be snarky and provocative, but we’re just too damn anxious to get up there and make it happen. Seriously, it fucked us, socially, all weekend. Lucky for us, we’re a trio at the moment, so we’ll let Casey Gonzalez give you the Party Report.
But first, let’s see how the new administration did in answering the questions we put to MoCCA on this blog over the years…
Q: Simply put, MoCCA is too fucking expensive, for the exhibitors and the fans.
A: This has not changed at all. MoCCA is still too fucking expensive. It’s difficult to go knives out on the Society for this since the show was locked in to the Armory and the Armory is too fucking expensive. Pardon the F-bombs, folks.
Q: And, no, MoCCA, the exposure isn’t worth it if you need that money – and most cartoonists do need every penny they have.
A: This is for sure still true. We’re not sold on the idea that MoCCA is some kind of media hub for anyone. The identity crisis of this show is not over by any means. There are some things that definitely do help, like the new prizes, which we loved, but more on that shortly. To the point, MoCCA does not need to be about hits in local papers and local news, though they don’t hurt. The valuable exposure that cartoonists find in any show is almost always community-based. Getting your peers (and publishers micro and macro) to notice your work is key, but this isn’t what the previous administration (and possibly the current one) were thinking about when using the word exposure. Secret Acres doesn’t give a shit if MoCCA gets a shout out on Comedy Central, but that’s us.
Q: If you’re going to limit the audience to the hardcore by the Armory move, then, for the love of Benji, expand the show. It shouldn’t be strictly about D&Q, Fanta, Secret Acres and the publishers above and in-between. Nor should it be for people with their character platform multi-media crap and huge banners in comic sans fonts and Photoshop gradients, hoping Disney’ll notice and not giving a shit how much money they lose.
A: MoCCA is about publishers and has been for a while. There were signs of change here, at least. Gregory Benton‘s B+F was the consensus Book of the Show. It’s a self-published comic. The first ever MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence were awarded to Mr. Benton, Kim Ku, Kenan Rubenstein, Andrea Tsurumi and our pal, Jane Mai, with honorable mentions going to Simon Arizpe and Nick Offerman. That kinda rocks. They got Wacom tablets and trophies. For all the bullshit we heard from other paranoid, bitter publishers about the jurors (though there seemed to be some confusion as to who was on the steering committee and who was on the prize jury) and the eligibility issues (yes, the youth and pluck part), you can’t mess with the winners here. Though we’re sure people will try. The prizes were a very good thing. Still, there is that problem of MoCCA being a publisher’s show, not an artist driven show, but this is progress.
Q: MoCCA ought to take a page from the new guy, BCGF. Let people in free, or cheap at least. Consider who gets table space. Have a sliding scale. Pantheon can pay $500 a table, no problem, but make a section for the little guys. And not the crappy little guys, either. Invite folks. Turn some others down. Make it an arts festival proper.
A: This raises the Big Question again, as to what the MoCCA festival is supposed to be. Yes, you need enormous houses like Pantheon and First Second, and the Drawn and Quarterlies and Fantagraphics of the world to show up, because they bring the Chris Wares, Paul Popes, Kate Beatons and all the Hernandezes you can find to the show. You still have to get people in the door and those guys get people in the door. The entry fee for MoCCA is a killer. The big boys are not coming to play unless they’re making money off your show. That means the aisles need to be filled, not just the tables. The sliding scale idea was in play for the new MoCCA, but until you let people in free (or real cheap), a show of this kind is fucked. Unless, of course, you want to steer MoCCA into San Diego Comic Con territory, in which case we’ll drop out and leave the floor to Drawn and Quarterly and Disney.
Q:We can whine, yes, but an even better MoCCA depends less on the museum folks and more on all of us behind the tables and walking the aisles.
A: Did we write this bullshit rhetoric? Talk about reaching. Sorry about that one.
Q: It is no longer the one and only New York show and that may be changing things as well.
A: With the rise of BCGF, MoCCA’s days seemed numbered. This is absurd. It’s New York. It can handle more than one show and it does (like New York Comic Con, which, please kill us if you ever see us on that floor). The Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Festival knows what it is. We were talking about that show with Annie Koyama, our MoCCA table neighbor and MoCCA panelmate. We agreed that BCGF was the show that got us best. If it ever goes away, we’re in trouble. Koyama Press had a good MoCCA, though, despite not having any big gun debut at the ready. MoCCA’s got a focus problem. The complaint was made that a good ten percent of the tables were devoted to a kind of advertising, people with iPads with nothing to sell. That has to stop. That’s NYCC marketing type hype and they have that covered. What does MoCCA cover?
Q: Which is more depressing, that attendance is dropping like a stone or that this fact can’t even be acknowledged by the festival’s organizers?
A: Attendance is still on the decline. We had our worst ever sales at MoCCA. We hedged our bets, though. Normally, we debut a big, fat book at the show, but with the diminishing returns of last year (the first year we’d ever made less money at MoCCA than the year before), we were cautious. Still, we were down a good third of last year’s take and a good half from two years ago. This is what happens when it’s too expensive to get in the door. Especially when there are free shows with their own audience. We’re looking at the Armory here. The Society did the absolute best with that space. The lighting was still harsh, but the division of the space (with the perplexingly controversial red curtains) made a big difference, the art show in back was fantastic, the lounge, the cafe, the panel audio and video, the volunteers were all top notch. That’s as far it goes in that building. Remember what happened to APE, with its crap location and novelty toy tablers? We don’t, either.
Q: The real problem is the disconnect between the museum and the festival.
A: Goodbye and good riddance to you, Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art.
We love the Society of Illustrators. They’re great people. Not good, great. We’re looking at getting some memberships even, and not just for the dining privileges. Convincing the Society to scale back and change the nature of the show might be tough, though there’s no question that they aren’t more responsive, and smarter, than the outgoing administration. They’re sending out a survey and they are looking for feedback. If you have ever had any reason to trust us or what we write on this blog, do this: LET THEM HAVE IT. They’ll listen. In any case, if the steering committee changes hands for next year, we’ll be happy not to hear it from other publishers next year. Criticism is fine, but we’re lost as to how to address a lot of what’s been said, some of which has been baffling in its hostility. Don’t worry; we’re tough, so lets us have it, too.
Now, the Party Report, brought to you by the newest of the Acres gang, Casey Gonzalez:
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
In years past I’ve stared at Barry and Leon longingly from across the table—just another plebeian in the crowd. I’ve flirted with them at BCGF and poured them champagne at many a Bergen Street release party, but at this year’s MoCCA I finally squeezed my way behind the Acre’s table, accidentally knocking Jane Mai’s Award of Excellence over on the way (sorry, Annie!).
My MoCCA weekend started on Friday night at the Hic and Hoc party, where cartoonists crowded children and Knicks fans away from the bar at Park Slope Ale House. My pal Joe Lambert was in town from White River Junction, and dashing Secret Acres mainstay Sean Ford bought us our first round. My favorite part of con season is catching up with comics buddies and meeting new ones. I met French phenom Boulet and was totally starstruck. He broke the ice with a little scatological humor and charmed me every time we crossed paths this weekend. I didn’t make it out from behind the table in time to grab his 24-hour comic the Darkness before it sold out. Ah well, there’s always TCAF.
Team Acres met outside the Armory at the crack of ten to get set up. Well, Leon did all the heavy lifting while I tried not to drip cream cheese on his borrowed Benz. This year’s festival promised a lot of big changes, and when the doors opened none of us knew what to expect. Fifteen dollars at the door is nothing to sneeze at. Had I not been working the con, I’m not sure that my broke ass could have attended. One of the bigger gaffs was that the only map of the show was in a five dollar ‘souvenir’ program.
The crowd early on was made up of familiar faces, and even at its thickest, it didn’t match or exceed years past. The high cost of tabling also meant fewer mini-comics and more…crap. All that being said, the Armory looked better than I’ve ever seen it, and I was eager for improvement over the stifling, poorly lit, nerd stank filled cesspit of years past.
I headed to dinner with Oily Comics’ Chuck Forsman, and the inimitable Matt Seneca. We glommed on to an expedition into Korea Town led by MoCCA Guest of Honor Jillian Tamaki. My bibimbap was off the chain, but the real treat was breaking bread with so many folks whose comics I’ve loved for a long time. I went back to the Armory for what I knew would be a high school dance style after party. It didn’t disappoint. Paul Pope warned my boyfriend not to cross me, and MoCCA volunteers handed out sweaty bottles of Brooklyn Lager. I glimpsed Jen Vaughn’s bright mane across the room and followed her to a bar nearby. The Bat Signal must have been blazing because the entire post-MoCCA flock ended up there. I knocked a few (too many) back with Nate Bulmer et al, and listened fascinated as two sorority girls—the bar’s normal denizens—did blow in the bathroom stall next to mine and wondered aloud, “But do you think the Wolverines will REALLY win?”
I slunk in an hour late on day two, and hoped that Daddy didn’t notice. Once behind the Acres table I had the special pleasure of spending time with Robert Sergel, author of our MoCCA debut comic, Eschew 3. He’s the strong silent type, as his comics let on, and he was a great tablemate for day two. Eschew 3 was our number one seller this weekend. The crowd was bustling in the afternoon, and some old dude who was charmed by Leon’s panel bought every single Acres title – though that may have been our sales peak for the whole weekend. The show ended with an abrasive blast from an air horn. MoCCA 2.0 was over.
Though Leon gallantly led the charge, I didn’t have the energy to make it to the Beat/Comixology party. Sunday night found me in Brooklyn, shoving falafel into my face with a table of bleary-eyed cartoonists. This year’s MoCCA wasn’t exactly a brave new world, but it was the first in what I hope will be a new era of greater transparency and better ‘tudes.
Thanks, Casey! If you’re still here, and we bet you are, stalkers, there’s some big things happening right now. If you missed Eamon Espey‘s performance of “Ishi’s Brain,” the beautiful and moving puppet show/concert/dramatic art piece based on the story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss, well, you can rectify that issue right now. Eamon and Lisa Krause, of Bread and Puppet fame among other things, are on a national tour and likely making stops near you. More details here.
In other news, Joe Lambert got nominated for a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society for his brilliant graphic novel, Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller. He’s up against some guy called Chris Ware, who did a book about buildings or something. Our man Edie Fake took over the Art:21 blog, which is real treat for us because we loved that PBS series almost as much as we love Edie himself. Last, and not least at all, Theo Ellsworth’s the Understanding Monster Book One was chosen as a book of honor by the Penn Center for the Book’s Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of the Year. This is a real treat for us and for Theo. The Understanding Monster is a beautiful book, yet it’s so personal and so idiosyncratic that this kind of recognition and resonance makes us all a little more hopeful than we were before. And who won the Lynd Award? That Ware guy! Again! Who the hell does he think he is?!?
Speaking of Theo, he’ll have a new book out for the Toronto Comics Art Festival. It’s called Capacity 8. Sound familiar? We’ll back in a few to remind you.
Barry and Leon and Casey
WE’RE not dead yet. In fact, we’re very much alive. We have a history of behaving like bears, though we are bears of neither kind. We do need to take a break every once in a while, and do our spring cleaning and the like. You may have noticed some additions to this, our overly robust site. There are new members of the Acres gang, but we’ll get to them in a minute.
Don’t think we’ve been sitting around getting fat this whole time. At least not the whole time. As we have written here, we were drafted into the steering committee for the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival, aka MoCCA, now under new management, that of the Society of Illustrators.
There are several reasons why we agreed to sign on. We have done nothing but bash MoCCA for a few years running. There were suggestions made left and right, here on this very blog. Promises were made, too, that if anyone ever thought to listen to us, we’d happily pitch in to clean MoCCA up. If we’d said no when Tucker Stone, of Bergen Street Comics and Factual Opinion fame (and the husband of our beloved Nina Stone), came to us with this proposition, we’d have been the biggest hypocrites in the business. It was not an easy decision, but it was the only decision.
You might wonder why they’d invite us to the table. We certainly did. We can think of several possible reasons. Having our mircopublisher name on the menu is a sign that MoCCA, as we knew it, is dead – and long live the new MoCCA. Trust us. Ye olde MoCCA never paid much attention to us. This was the heart of the problem. The museum did not focus on what the festival exhibitors were doing, which was a dick move if ever there were, because the festival was the sole fundraiser for the museum.
So does that make us bait for other publishers of our ilk? It might. Truth be told, our job on the committee really did seem to be convincing everyone else it was safe to get back in the water. We had to eat no small amount of crow, from several folks who were disappointed in us for agreeing to return to MoCCA, let alone lend ourselves to the steering committee. Everyone else had to make their own decisions. We didn’t convince anyone of anything. We are happy to tell you that AdHouse, Picturebox, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics and, for the first time, Koyama Press are all going to be at the show this weekend. It’s not fun having your choices challenged by people you respect in your chosen field. It does, however, force you to clarify your position.
How is this MoCCA different from all others? For starters, this administration is way more transparent than the exiting one. We’ve seen the numbers. What may have been a cash cow for a museum that didn’t give a damn about us is now what it’s meant to be: a festival, not a fundraiser. Every anticipated dime is being poured back into the show. The committee isn’t any more fond of the Lexington Armory digs than we are, but it’s going to look a hell of a lot better this year, and there has to be a this year if there’s going to be a next year. The Society of Illustrators knows what it’s doing. Consider the artists drawing posters and badges. These are folks like Jillian Tamaki, Brandon Graham and Michael DeForge. We’re even moderating a panel, featuring Mickey Z, Zack Hazard and Heather Benjamin. Look us in the eye and say that would have happened at ye olde MoCCA. Thought so.
There’s another reason why we’re back at MoCCA. It was the only local show for the likes of us for a while. We discovered a ton folks there, including Jamie Tanner, who got us thinking about starting this little company of ours, and Minty Lewis, whom we followed across the country trying to convince her to let us publish her comics. It was the first show at which Secret Acres ever exhibited. It was five years ago that we dropped our first books at MoCCA, Fatal Faux-Pas and Wormdye. It has pretty much sucked for a few years running. And it is still worth saving in our book.
So. For our sixth MoCCA, and in celebration of our fifth anniversary as publishers, we’ll be debuting Eschew 3. We have a history with Eschew and Robert Sergel, too. Eschew was a Sparkplug comic for its second issue. We fell in love with it after Dylan Williams (founder of Sparkplug and beloved friend and trailblazer who will be eternally missed) showed us the first issue.
We’ve written about Dylan’s weird way of reverse poaching his artists. His thinking was that it would make room for him to publish someone new who needed a hand. Dylan was, however, always trying to pry our own Eamon Espey from us, at one point offering up several of the folks on his roster in a trade for Eamon. It hurt to say no when he threw in Robert Sergel and Eschew, but we bit our lips and shook our heads (because we would NEVER give up our guys EVER). Yes, Eschew is that good.
What else is going on? The Ink Panthers Show! is back! Mike and Alex have not missed a beat. Actually, we were on hold about as long as they were, so we can’t say anything, as much as we would like to. There have been a million, Brazilian reviews of our books, but you can go get caught up on all that on the artist pages if you like, which are being updated as we type. Speaking of artist pages, check out the new guys, the aforementioned Robert Sergel, Sar Shahar, the guy who makes those amazing Sequential Vacation comics (which we are now publishing, thanks) and Brendan Leach, creator of the Xeric-funded, Ignatz Award winning Pterodactyl Hunters and the forthcoming big, fat Secret Acres book (and record), Ironbound. Also, that Joe Lambert guy? Who did that I Will Bite You! book? He got nominated for a Reuben Award, which he is going to win, and for which we will feed him a reuben. Best news: we’re no longer a duo, nor are we a sausage party. For the past couple weeks we’ve had a new Lady of the Acres pitching in, namely Casey Gonzalez. She can speak for herself, so we’ll pass the mic’ when the time comes.
Obviously we really missed you guys, since we can’t shut up. We’ll be back here after MoCCA, with a rundown on the relaunch of the show.
Barry and Leon
WELL, it wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be, but it wasn’t a total waste for us at the Locust Moon show down in Philly. It started with some confusion about the start time, as the Facebook page and the Locust Moon site and e-mails all listed a different hour. These weren’t the most communicative organizers we’ve ever not talked to.
Then a couple of headliners backed out at the last minute. We felt bad telling folks who came by our table looking to get their copies of Multiple Warheads signed that Brandon Graham was not to be found in the room. Not that Brandon would have been sitting with us, though that would have been just fine, too. Our gang showed up as promised, meaning yours trulies, Sean Ford (with Only Skin) and Eamon Espey (with Songs of the Abyss). We did, of course, come ready with our Koyama books in tow.
The result? The Koyama books outsold our own. That’s not much of a surprise considering we’ve gone the way of the big, expensive books this year and this show had a bit more of a mini-comics vibe to it. Or maybe it didn’t. Truth be told, Locust Moon would appear to be straddling the line between mainstream and indie. It’s not shocking to us that these guys had no idea what Secret Acres is. Like we’ve written before, we’re a bookstore publisher, but it was definitely a surprise to us that the Locust Moon store doesn’t carry our books. At all. As in not a single copy of anything we’ve published. It’s a beautiful store, though.
The show was fairly dead, save for one hour-long afternoon rush. After the psychotic, overwhelming and amazing crowds of our last couple of shows, this was actually kind of nice. We got to spend time talking to our pals in the room for once. We were right next to Kevin Czap, cartoonist and porn monger who is largely responsible for Wayward Girls making its way to us. We got a little coffee klatsch together with Brendan Leach and Nate Bulmer. We talked smack with Michel Fiffe and snuck in a smoke break with L. Nichols (Yes, we’re all back on the wagon since. Chill.). We even bought a bunch of comics.
Best of all, we got to enjoy a lovely dinner with Chris Pitzer and Jamie Tanner. It was a fitting last hour on the comics show year in 2012 to be sitting down with Chris, who’s been an enormous help and an inspiration to us for so long now – and he’s the guy who published Jamie’s book, the Aviary, which collects the minis that got us talking about starting our own company way back when. Our burgers were good, plus we got to order a beer called Round Guys Banana Hammock. Finally, Jamie hitched a ride back home with us. It turns out he does a great Bane voice. Yep. Sometimes we are nerds. We’re still going to miss ye olde P.A.C.C. show.
When we got home it turned out Theo Ellsworth‘s the Understanding Monster was in the New York Times Sunday Book Review with a picture and a little blurb from Douglas Wolk. Thousands of years ago, Douglas wrote the first ever article on Secret Acres for Publisher’s Weekly. It fits that he’s the one to crack the New York Times for us. We’re New Yorkers and this is the Times, so it’s about as big a deal for us as you can imagine. It’s the best way to shut mom up, too. We’re very proud of Theo, of course. Also, the Understanding Monster wound up at number sixteen on CBR‘s 2012 list, which is way, way up on where our books have landed on that last in the past. Speaking of CBR, they’ll have a preview of Theo’s newest comic up shortly. It’s not the one you were expecting (Keep reading.).
So endeth 2012. Great year for comics, shite year for us. Now, here’s a look at 2013…
That new Theo Ellsworth? It’s an all new eighth issue of Capacity. Capacity 8 is Theo’s first single issue comic since Sleeper Car. While both Sleeper Car and The Understanding Monster are works of fiction, Capacity has always been a true story. This latest installment is no exception. As Theo would tell you, everything really happened – in his mind. This one is headed your way for TCAF 2013. No worries, the second book of the Understanding Monster is well on its way, too, coming to SPX.
Meanwhile, there have been some new initiates in the Acres gang. If you’re watching us like stalkers, you can probably guess that Brendan Leach would be one of them. We’ve been in love with Brendan’s comics for a while now. Track down his Ignatz Award winning Pterodactyl Hunters if you have not seen it. You might have seen the first two minis of Ironbound, chapters from his forthcoming Secret Acres graphic novel of the same name. How big of a deal is this? So big that this book comes with a record. Brendan’s an extremely talented musician, too, and we’re suckers for vinyl, so a book and record set was bound to happen sooner or later.
Surely, we’re not the only people in love with Robert Sergel’s Eschew series. Like you, we’ve been wondering where the hell Eschew 3 is. Wonder no more, because we’ve got it right here. Eschew has always been the best brand of it’s-funny-but-it’s-not type of cathartic comics we’ve ever read. To say the least, we were delighted to hear that the third issue was on its way, and we were bouncing off the walls when it landed with us. Rest assured, you’ll see yourself in this issue, too. For better or worse.
The last of the new gang to join is Sar Shahar. We’ve got the first issue of his Sequential Vacation in the Emporium and the second issue is coming from us in 2013. Get to know this guy. Sequential Vacation is almost like Eschew in reverse. Sar does an incredible job of demonstrating just how disconnected we have become, and, oddly, in revealing our isolation, Sar manages to show us at our most human. Don’t get us wrong, though. His comics will have you loling, though it might be an uncomfortable loling (which, let’s face it, is kind of the Secret Acres specialty).
Finally, we’ve got one more Secret Acres guy returning to the lineup for 2013. We used to call him Ken Dahl, but that got old. His name’s Gabby Schulz. His first Acres book, Monsters, won a ton of awards and stuff. It was really good. His new Acres book, Sick, completes his webcomic of the same name, only this time in hardcover and in full color. We think it’s one of the best comics we’ve ever read. We suspect it will be one of the best comics you will ever read.
Stay tuned, because we just might have a few surprises left for 2013, but now’s about the time we go dark and retool our website and things like that. We’re also going to be busy helping to put the MoCCA Fest back together again. The Society of Illustrators has taken over and they’ve invited us and some other folks to fix what was the formerly ailing show. We did hand MoCCA its ass a couple times on this blog, so even if we didn’t want to help (which we do), we’d have been obligated. We promise MoCCA will be much improved. Hey, it already is, just going by our first meetings.
So. We’ll miss you, but we’ve got homework to do. Happy New Year, everyone. See you in a few.
Barry and Leon