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
WE’RE BACK to being a fully operational hive mind again. Funny how much of a difference a few creature comforts can make. Of course, because we are all snug as a bug in our beds, this must mean it is time to hit the road once again. Our last trip of the year comes later than usual and it promises to be a lightning attack on the city of brotherly love aka Philadelphia. We could say we’d rather be in Philadelphia, but that was meant as an insult and we are quite fond of Philly.
It was with great sadness that we bade goodbye to our beloved P.A.C.C., and so it is with great cheer that we welcome Locust Moon. Locust Moon is the new show organized by the proprietors of the legendary store and gallery and performance and even classroom space of the same name (which we now admit to never once yet visiting). They even appear to have included the organizers of the dearly departed P.A.C.C. in their plannings. The guest list also includes our favorites, Box Brown, Jim Rugg, Brandon Graham and Farel Dalrymple, not to mention Acres pals Brendan Leach, L. Nichols and our Koyama cousin (nephew?), Nate Bulmer.
We will be heading down with Sean Ford and meeting up with Eamon Espey, who will have both our first book of 2012, Only Skin, and our last book of 2012, Songs of the Abyss, ready and waiting for some superlative scribblings therein. We really are taking it back to the future since these were the guys who were with us for the last P.A.C.C. last year. Like that show, we will finally get to play with our Big Bro of the Funny Books, Chris Pitzer, who is bringing AdHouse back to Philly despite last year’s torrential tornado nearly drowning everyone and everything in the room (Sorry about that, Chris!). We cannot think of a better way to end this, the Year of the Greatest Comics Shows That Ever Were, than a run at entirely new show in a city that truly deserves a great one.
Meanwhile, it’s been a fairly quiet week or two for us (THANK YOU, JESUS.), but if you missed it, you should check out the site for the Horror Hangover Art Show, which was put together by Mr. Inkstuds, Robin McConnell. Paste magazine named our guy Joe Lambert‘s Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller to their top ten of the year. Rob Kirby had both our Wayward Girls and Only Skin on his best of the year. But perhaps most excitingly the lovely and talented Gabby Schulz, the artist formerly known as Ken Dahl, has finally gotten a new page up online. Don’t worry; he’s still working on Sick and that ish is ill. Before that, however, Gabby is popping up in the new issue of Arthur magazine. It’s been a long time since the last Arthur, so if you need to catch up, do that right away.
We’ll back next week with the lowdown on Locust Moon. After that, we’ll have one last post for the year with a sneak at what’s coming from us in 2013 – you know, if the world doesn’t end or something, which would be really annoying considering how killer next year is shaping up to be.
Barry and Leon
SINCE our collective voice cracked in last week’s post, Leon wanted me to chime in on BCGF and various Acres happenings. When it comes to social media, I get a little anxious about chattering on too much. As Tom Devlin noted on Twitter a while back, Leon is “the funny one.” I don’t know what that makes me, exactly (the dour one? The one who tries to be funny and looks like an jackass in the process? A little of both?Let’s find out!), but it’s true that Leon uses the Acres voice better than I can, and I suspect that posts solely from me will continue to be few and far between.
Leon suggested that my post address BCGF from a numbers standpoint, but I am not so convinced that anyone really wants me to prattle on about sales records and trends. I think I can summarize: BCGF 2012 was our single best day of convention sales ever, and those sales were strong across all of our titles and the books we distribute. Believe it or not, this is unusual. Convention shows each have a “character” of sorts where certain kinds of titles and artists sell, and other titles get no sales traction. BCGF’s character this year seemed to be: everything is interesting and sells. Being that we’re five years into publishing books and doing all we can to represent titles that are as diverse as our own personal tastes, this is the kind of sales spread that is particularly gratifying and validating.
We were scattered at BCGF this year, as Leon noted in his post. The storm prevented us from organizing our new office, titles were left behind and needed to be retrieved once the convention started, traffic was hideous, we relied on an electronic sales tracking system that we had never used before…it was mayhem. Unfortunately, SPX was similarly chaotic for different reasons. For both shows, I remained behind the table almost constantly because our poor organization was combined (blessedly) with brisk sales. At BCGF I left the table once to eat and once to investigate how it was possible that John Martz and Aaron Costain were able to enter the country without incident (if you need proof that the borders are improperly policed, may I please direct your attention to the ferociously bearded Canadian menace of John and Aaron). Julia Wertz showed me something unsavory on her cell phone and gave me a delicious cookie. Josh Simmons (!!!) came to the table to make a trade. And that was pretty much the sum of my BCGF-day socializing. I barely got to speak to Annie Koyama and I didn’t speak at all to a couple of other folks that are very important to us at Secret Acres: Chris Pitzer and John Porcellino. Because I made it to a number of pre-show parties (Desert Island, Tomato House, Bergen Street (x2)), I got to see a great number of my favorite comics people, but it never felt like there was enough time to catch up completely. I skipped the Saturday night party for fear that I would never recover from the weekend.
Several people have offered condolences to me about the storm, but I want to be clear that they should all go to Leon. He was evacuated and unable to return home for a month (and even when he did return, he had no heat). I was fine. Other than a little cabin fever (engaging in psychological warfare with my cat and playing endlessly disappointing games of “fuck, marry, kill” with the weathermen on The Weather Channel), the worst I had to endure during the storm was overhearing three intolerable investment bankers fret over the potential storm damage to their cars.
For a publisher, direct convention sales and online sales are the highest-margin sales that we make. At Secret Acres, roughly one third of our net sales are convention/online, one third retail/Amazon and one third distribution (Diamond/Baker & Taylor). Convention sales are crucial to our business and it’s the one sales channel where we get to interact with the customers. Another sales tidbit: SPX alone counts for 40% of all the convention revenue we make each year, and we usually go to five to seven shows. TCAF, CAKE, SPX and BCGF this year were all terrific shows for us and we’re excited to participate in all of them next year. Our last show of the year will be the Locust Moon Comics Festival in Philadelphia. We’ll be there with Koyama books as well as our own.
You know what numbers are interesting to me? Google analytics. Some trivia based on Google analytics:
Most of our traffic in the past two years has come from Twitter and Theo Ellsworth’s blog. A huge amount of traffic comes from Optimum Wound, which lists submissions guidelines for various comics publishers. Other large sources of visitors to the site: Facebook, Comics Reporter, Koyama Press and Michael DeForge’s site. The most traffic we have ever garnered was for our MoCCA 2012 post. Pretty much the minute we started Tweeting and Facebooking on a regular basis, all site traffic doubled.
Common search terms for people finding the site are intuitive: Secret Acres and all of the names of artists we work with. Most of you are probably unaware of this, but Secret Acres appears in a business textbook published by Wiley. They even included a CD-ROM with video footage of us trash-talking Diamond! Because of this, we get a lot of searches for people trying to get answers to discussion questions in the book.
Fun Search Facts: the creepiest search terms we get are for Troop 142, not Wayward Girls. Leon Avelino has 52 search visits and I have a scant 27. Funny brings the pageviews! Most creative spelling of Acres: achres (shockingly common). Weirdest search term that looks crazy but actually makes sense: garo prison journal secret dan “no good.” Other bizarre trends: someone really wants to know when Minty Lewis was born and no one can properly spell the name Schulz.
In the interest of answering some of the less obvious search queries we’ve received in the past two years, I am going to publicly provide some responses. Future search queries for these terms should direct people right to this blog post. Below are the search terms, followed by my response in bold:
- Secret Acres shipping to Canada: Email us for shipping quotes for all international orders.
- how long does secret acres take to respond: We rarely respond, if ever, due to time constraints.
- barely legal secret girls: Nope.
- books for wayward girls: That describes all of our books.
- can they take people in a secret room at scary acres: How about a scary room at secret acres?
- debate or discussion of boys showering with men: Like a round table discussion or maybe a televised debate? Sounds like someone has a great idea for a new Tumblr blog!
- even if i had tits i wouldn’t show you: Deal!
- how many books has ken dahl put out: 2 books and numerous mini-comics
- michael dawson sexy gay: I’m sure Mike would be flattered to hear it.
- pictures big ass gaskin: You’ll need to contact the artist directly.
- secret acres big man tcaf: That is absolutely correct!
- why are there queers in the gaylord: Because it’s the Gaylord. Duh.
- are reese’s peanut butter cups poisonous to squirrels: Probably.
- Gabby Schulz tall: Yes!
- “gabby schulz” gay: Technically, no.
- ken dahl gay: See “Gabby Schulz.”
You’ll probably hear from us once more before the end of the year, perhaps with some hints as to our publishing plan for next year and our first-ever plea for interns. I do want to reiterate that the craziness and awfulness of this past year has made our glacially paced submission-reading even slower than usual. We are going to try and catch up, I promise. As I note above, it’s impossible for us to respond to every Emporium and publishing submission we get, so please don’t be offended if you don’t hear from us. We get a lot of great work that we don’t think we can promote properly.
That’s it for now – I hope you all had an agreeable Thanksgiving. Even in a crappy year, we can give thanks for making it this far along. Take care and stay tuned – there are always more great comics on the way.
TWICE over the course of this Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival weekend, there were tears standing in my eyes. Luckily, they didn’t quite fall, because when it rains, it pours. I’m now on my third week of being rained out of my home since Sandy hit New York and New Jersey. On Sunday, heading back to see if the lights were on (and they weren’t), I ran into Dustin Harbin and his lady friend, sitting with Michel Fiffe on Michel’s stoop. After explaining where I was headed, I was asked by Dustin, “And you guys did a comic show in the middle of all that?” Well, we did and we didn’t. Note the pronouns. This one divided us.
Michiel Budel, who is Dutch, surprised us the Tuesday before Saturday’s show with the news that he was flying in from Holland. Normally, this visit would be a most pleasant surprise, since we’ve only ever gotten to talk to Michiel by phone. With Kevin Czap’s guidance, we found his Slechtemeisjes online and it was love at first sight. We also came to adore Michiel over the phone. Nobody else puts as much thought into the Piranha franchise. We’ve had nothing but great luck with finding artists that fit the familial spirit of our company and the comics community in general.
The trick was that we actually print Michiel’s comics ourselves, and due to their popularity, they were sold out completely a few weeks ago. Michiel’s impending visit made it imperative for us to have books for him to sign at BCGF.
Our Windsor Terrace office has been a disorganized mess since we shut down our storage space and moved our stock from Queens, along with the Koyama Press books and assorted mini-comics we distribute. We figured all the books would fit, and they do, but not much else does. In some ways, it’s encouraging to think that all of the unsold Secret Acres and Koyama Press books in the United States fit into half of what would be a good sized bedroom (by New York standards, at least). It took some creative arranging just to get access to the printing equipment, which turned out to be on the fritz when we finally uncovered it to make more books. We’re still not sure how we printed Wayward Girls 2 for BCGF, but it happened some time around dawn on Friday, after which we scrambled to get a post up on this very blog.
Did we forget to mention we received those lovely Nate Bulmer and Jane Mai Koyama books during a freak blizzard last week? Well, we did that, too.
Friday night at Matt Thurber‘s gallery, Tomato House, was the puppet show, Ishi’s Brain, based on the story of the same name from Eamon Espey’s new book, and our big BCGF debut, Songs of the Abyss. In the front of the house was a show for Michael McMillan, the man behind the sadly overlooked Terminal Comics. He’s something like eighty years old and his work is still futuristic. Accordingly, all the Gods of Comics were in attendance. We were introduced to a few, including Chris Ware, and we actually choked. It’s not often that we’re speechless. The Norwegian comics collective, Dongery, was also having a release party for their self-titled collection of the entirety of their zine work: a decade and a half of material which took four years just to get print-ready. It weighs in at several pounds and nearly 1500 pages, standing a foot tall in two volumes, one of material in English and the other in Norwegian, all in a slipcase. It is staggeringly beautiful and I kicked myself for not being able to buy it on the spot. An eighty-dollar book is still eighty dollars, and not cheap, but it was hard not to feel like a loser.
Those Arcade guys party a little too hard at any age, and right before we arrived, McMillan had collapsed and been taken off in an ambulance. There was a great deal of consternation in the house, coming to a decision whether or not to go on with the puppet show. We did. It was haunting, and a little scary, but a gorgeous and true adaptation of the comic. We’ve never seen anything we’ve published performed, and we were spellbound. As soon as it’s available, we’ll post pictures and video. It was a great moment for us, and hopefully for Eamon, despite everyone being so rattled earlier in the evening. When we finally remembered to turn our phones back on, there was a note from our own Mike Dawson, telling everyone that his son, Ewan Charles Dawson, was born happy and healthy, albeit powerless, in New Jersey. So we are proud Acres uncles once again.
Later that evening, at the SpaceFace and Oily Comics signing at Bergen Street Comics, it was announced that our second favorite Stone, namely Tucker, was being made a full partner at Bergen. We got home at four after a very late dinner or early breakfast with our man Edie Fake, of Gaylord Phoenix fame. I got maybe three hours of sleep before needing to jump in the car to get to the office to pack for the show and meet Barry and Edie before the doors opened on BCGF at noon. At 10:30, I was in tears for the first time that weekend, stuck in traffic behind emergency vehicles making their way over the Brooklyn Bridge in parade formation. Looking at the clock, there was no way I’d make it. Calls went unanswered because of cell outages. By the time I got to the office, I was in a complete panic, joined shortly thereafter by a decidedly less-panicked Barry and Edie.
We made it to the show exactly at noon, and rushed to get set up, while several very patient and polite customers watched our stupidity. By the time the car was parked, our setup looked like it had been put together with scotch tape by dehydrated freaks, which it had. We’d also forgotten a ton of books. There were at least a dozen people lined up to make nice with the artists and we were beta-testing our new iPad-enabled digital sales sheet, which kept losing its signal. Things were tense. I split and doubled back to the office to get the rest of the books. Sometime around two, we at least appeared to know what we were doing, but the pace of the show was relentless. There were no breaks, so we took turns relieving each other from the madness of the crowds, sneaking off to eat, to go outside, to get the fuck away.
Barry and I left the gang at the table and went to get pizza, maybe some of the best pizza in the city, which is up the block from the show. We ate in silence. This has been perhaps the worst and most difficult year of both of our personal lives, featuring abandonments, deaths and, just recently, devastating natural disaster. Throw in this kind of chaos, a panicked lack of preparation and days worth of unraveling, and you are looking at the kind of seething exhaustion and resentment that renders conversation impossible. We were having our best show ever, in many respects. Secret Acres is having a year so strong, it makes us feel schizophrenic when we step out of the hive mind and back into real life. Still, right then, it didn’t matter much. We were completely drained. We weren’t Secret Acres or the hive mind, we were just two guys eating pizza.
When I went back in, Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter himself, pulled me aside and said he’d heard what happened to my neighborhood of Red Hook, that he was amazed I was at BCGF and that Secret Acres was up and running, let alone having such a great show. Before we took another step, my hero and probably yours, Annie Koyama, took hold of me and told me she’d been worrying for me, that she was livid at not being able to spend enough time with me on this trip, that she was proud of me for figuring out how to survive this most terrible of years.
Things like this kept happening through the end of the day. It’s hard not to feel worthless when you’re too far gone to speak to your better publishing half, or he’s too over your bullshit to break the ice, but it’s impossible not to feel cherished when the people you admire most in the world give you their affection and concern. It’s even more overpowering when people you don’t know come in great numbers in the same day to thank you for all you do. It’s what I offer as evidence of my double life, my insanity, and it’s the source of my hope.
At one point, before the after party, I was thinking I’d crash that night at Barry’s with Edie and Sam Gaskin. I thought I should get myself a t-shirt on the floor during a lull. The day before, I’d gone and gotten myself some clothes to wear to the show, since I couldn’t make it home. My new clothes were in the car. If I got a t-shirt at the show, I’d have a complete outfit to wear in the morning. There was never a lull, though.
The farthest I got was over to the Fantagraphics table. I’d been looking forward to being in the same room with Josh Simmons for months, hoping to get my copy of The Furry Trap signed. Of course, my book was at my powerless and unheated home, and I hadn’t been there in a week. I was happy to buy another, but my old pal, Jen Vaughn, gave me one, which Josh drew all over. We talked a bit. He came upstairs to our table to trade books, which was a big deal to me. I love his comics. They’re one of the few things in this world that both terrify me and get me, um, excited, to be polite.
My friend, Robin Nishio, one of Annie’s crew, found me and showed me a shirt this boutique in Brooklyn had made of one of his drawings. He called it “Tom of Eternia.” It was a street art version of a Tom of Finland style drawing of He-Man pulling a train on his enemies. Robin told me that one of them was for me. I’d never mentioned needing a t-shirt to him.
While we were talking, Sindre, part of the Dongery collective, brought me their beautiful book, which he insisted I should have. This scenario of giving happened again and again with other folks as the show was closing. That was the second time I had tears in my eyes over this weekend.
Standing in the after party, knowing that we had just set a single day’s sales record, watching Mickey Z, the Hottest Chick in the Game, get her ass kicked by Lale Westvwind and finally getting caught up with the kids and the old guard, and those folks who are my family in this, our little, wonderful corner of the world, I felt blessed. The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, was talking to me, and she said something interesting, as she often does. She said that five years ago even, we couldn’t have even imagined this; that this “comics thing” isn’t a trend. Comics are just the Thing now.
(Happy birthday, Ewan. I can’t wait to meet you.)
P.S. Next week, you get Barry’s take.
WE ALL RAN to Short Run. Well, at least we sent Theo Ellsworth and Sean Ford off to Seattle’s Short Run small press event. They brought their own handmade goodies as well as a truckload of Secret Acres’ best. Given Sean’s take, it seems Seattle itself might have been the star of the show. Frankly, wer’re shocked he came back at all. This may have had as much to do with his extremely attractive and talented company, but he won’t kiss and tell, the prude (really, we’d have been just as excited to stare at Noah Van Sciver‘s smooth butt (see below) all day). If you’re wondering about sales, they were good, but weird. It was a little bit of an Opposite Day syndrome, with our traditionally bigger guns taking a back seat to our weirdest offerings. Perhaps we should have expected as much from the land of Twin Peaks. No more preamble, here’s Sean:
Have I Gone Too Far To Get Home
Last weekend’s Short Run small press festival in Seattle was the type of show that I want to call almost the lifeblood of comics. Remember when Dylan Williams made a post advocating smaller, more local shows? Well, that’s what Short Run was.
The show was small enough and local enough that it was unmistakably a Seattle-centric show, allowing local artists to connect with their community – complete with help from some donations that led to amazing food and coffee on sale at the show. (every show please do this from now on. thanks.) It felt like a weekend-long celebration of the local cartoonists and comics scene in Seattle. Which was great because there were a ton of cartoonists worth celebrating there. And great for me, because I learned about a ton of Seattle-based and more generally West Coast-based artists who I don’t get to see too often – this was my first West Coast show and only my second adult visit to the West Coast at all. And while I probably was a little out of place there, in terms of having travelled 3,000 miles to attend instead of like 3 miles, I was never made to feel that way. I went into Seattle feeling like I knew almost no one in the town at all. At the end of the weekend, I left feeling like Seattle is one of the greatest comics cities I’ve ever visited.
The show was expertly put on and run by Eroyn Franklin and Kelly Froh and probably a ton of great volunteers. It had an array of cool satellite-type events, like an art opening at SOIL (that I missed because my flight got in that night), a signing for Noah Van Sciver and David Lasky at the gorgeous Fantagraphics bookstore, a release party for the Intruder gang right upstairs from the Fanta store and the next night the show’s after party at a pop-up music club named after the Black Lodge.
As always, I didn’t walk around the show enough or find all the new comics I could find, but I did like the new Intruder stuff a lot, complete with great strips from Kaz Strzepek, Ben Horak and Marc Palm and a bunch of others. I need to find out how to order Marc Palm comics – that guy is good. I got the new David Lasky Carter Family book, which looks amazing. I got some Julia Gfrörer comics which look pretty great. I stopped by the Revival House table and got a new-ish Mike Bertino book I hadn’t yet seen – they didn’t have Malachi Ward’s new one yet, but will at BCGF, I think. There’s probably more that I’m forgetting and certainly more that I missed.
The show itself filled two small to medium sized rooms, with maybe 20 or 25 tables in each room. But those rooms were almost always packed to the gills with customers who seemed to range from neighborhood comics royalty just dropping by (think Gary Groth or Jim Woodring), to dedicated comics fans to friends of friends to people just checking out a local free event to see what it was all about. I sold a copy of Only Skin to a kid for the first time ever, then immediately had a panic attack that he was gonna get in trouble with his mom.
Did I mention that I was lucky to be able to share this show with the one of a kind Theo Ellsworth? He was there promoting his excellent-looking (I haven’t read it yet because I am a horrible person) new book the Understanding Monster. Theo sold out of his books by around 3 or 4pm, but had a bunch of prints and originals and a ton of fans welcoming him and saying hi. He is as gracious and kind a person as I know in all of comics. One thing I like about comics is that all the people who are best at it are usually the nicest and kindest people you will meet. Theo proves this – I was getting a little misty-eyed wondering when I would see him again before he mentioned that he would have a new comic at TCAF 2013 and planned to attend! (This is in addition to the Understanding Monster Book Two at SPX! Seriously, read that Comics Journal interview – Theo is the best.
As far as complaints go, they were minor – Theo and I both felt that we were squeezed a little tight behind the tables. Let’s just say our butts got to know the butts of the people tabling behind us, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. Other than that, things went off hitchlessly, smooth as a cartoonist’s butt, you might say. Butt I digress.
ALSO, I would be severely remiss if I did not extend a heartfelt thanks to Jen Vaughn and her beau Ryan Anderson for putting me up (and putting up with me) for the weekend and acting as tour guides and spokespeople for the wonders of Seattle. Jen graciously showed me the Fantagraphics office on Friday, an event that I tried to conceal was literally a dream come true type experience for me. Fanta was my entry into whatever we call these great comics – I found Eightball and Love & Rockets buried in the back of St. Mark’s Comics like 13 years ago when I was working there. (Also, fuck you, St. Mark’s Comics. For so many reasons. Seriously.) Seeing the Fanta office was surreal. A huge thanks to Jen and the Fanta staff who indulged me and allowed me to try to play it cool for a few hours. Also, Sunday I went to Olympic National Park with fellow CCS alum and talented Seattle cartoonist Colleen Frakes. It was my second time in Olympic and no less gorgeous.
Annnyway, as Dylan says in that link above, shows like Short Run feel like a good way to grow things: a community, an audience, good will, etc. I am going to try to go to as many of these smaller shows as I can – my next one is Genghis Con in Cleveland, Saturday 11/24 after Thanksgiving. I hope the Pittsburgh show and maybe that Minneapolis show make a comeback. MECAF is great. I hope the Locust Moon Show in Philly takes off. These small shows feel different, like a way to stay grounded and connected and also make new connections. (This is in no way meant to denegrate shows llike SPX, TCAF or BCGF which I think are amazing, tremendously important for the medium overall and some of my favorite days of the year. I feel like those shows are about the overall health of the medium and these smaller shows are about that, but also about the health of individual cities/scenes/etc.) I dunno, it was awesome. Seattle was awesome. In an alternate universe, I’m moving there with my dream girl right now. In this universe, I’m staring into the middle distance and sighing and dreaming of coffee-filled, rainy, warm days. Thanks, Seattle. You have good weather for comics.
- Sean Ford
There is some major news back here in real time on this coast. We have our final tally of Acres attendees for tomorrow’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. Edie Fake is in the house with a bunch of new minis. Sean Ford is sitting on Only Skin and those prints of his. Samuel C. Gaskin is rocking his new SpaceFace book. Joe Lambert can’t drop his original art cheap enough. Brendan Leach, pterodactyl hunter, is flying over for a guest spot. And, it’s true, Michiel Budel, the man who makes the girls go wayward, is here from Holland. You may never get another chance to get a signed copy of Wayward Girls. Of course, his visit was a surprise one, so you may get another chance. Who knows? We guarantee you nothing in this regard.
Our biggest BCGF news is, of course, the debut of Eamon Espey‘s new book, Songs of the Abyss. It’s big, it’s bad, it’s beautiful and you can take a look at the cover below. Eamon made that thing out of stained glass. It’s real. Speaking of real, tonight, this very Friday, Eamon’s story (and one of the songs of the abyss), “Ishi’s Brain,” is being performed live, with puppets and an original score and things like that. This is happening at Tomato House, the gallery and performance space founded by Matt Thurber, the 1-800-MICE god. Dongery, the Norwegian comics powerhouse, will be in the Tomato House, too, debuting their new collection, which clocks in at several pounds and over 1,500 pages. If you have the means, get there. This we can guarantee you won’t forget.
Barry and Leon
UPDATED: The performance of Eamon Espey’s “Ishi’s Brain” is happening this FRIDAY, the 9th, at Tomato House at 8PM, not Saturday, as previously reported. There’s more about this below…
IT’S A DISASTER AREA, literally (and not in the way people who fry every other syllable say literally, but in the literal definition of the word), for several of the Acres gang after that motherfucker Sandy flew through here, and we don’t mean Duncan, for once. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike Dawson and his clan. He’s been beset with desperate vibes at the Home Depot somewhere in the depths of New Jersey, but he has been brilliantly trained in the art of survival (see Troop 142). Anyhow, though we may be powerless, we are not exactly powerless. There’s a riot going on, so pay close attention. There will be a quiz.
First off, weather permitting, there is still a Short Run happening in sunny Seattle this weekend. We couldn’t get it together to attend the inaugural small press event, but it’s back, it’s bigger, it’s better and it’s got Sean Ford and Theo Ellsworth to boot. Those guys will have have Only Skin and the Understanding Monster and a host of our very finest books and things. Not to mention, Theo usually comes armed with irresistible prints and originals. You’ll count yourself lucky to get them even if you go broke at the Secret Acres table. But, really, spread the love, guys. Kill those cash machines. Like we did for MECAF, we will do our best to coerce our guys to write up the show on this here blog. (You did such a good job, Sean! Really!)
The following weekend, that’s November 10th, for those of you keeping up, is the big, bad Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in, um, Brooklyn. The guest list is absurd. As usual, the programming is unbelievable. Just go click on that link and come back to us. Forget about Chris Ware, that guy is all over. Oliver Shrauwen is going to be there. Like that ever happens. Don’t forget we’ll be there, too, and we’re ganged up: Edie Fake, Sean Ford, Sam Gaskin, Joseph Lambert and, of course, Eamon Epsey will be at and around our setup.
More importantly, Eamon will be sporting his new book and our last book of the year, Songs of the Abyss. It’s a delightful tune of a book, featuring Santa Claus! It makes a wonderful holiday gift. Not only will this be the first book from Eamon since his much beloved Wormdye, it will be the first Secret Acres comic to have a live adaptation.
In collaboration with Lisa Krause, of Black Cherry Puppet Theatre (and Bread and Puppet) fame, Eamon’s brought his Songs of the Abyss story, “Ishi’s Brain,” into the third dimension, with an original score from Stephen Santillan, formerly of More Dogs (Thank You, Ghost Life). Playing host to such madness is none other than Matt Thurber, the god who birthed the legendary 1-800-MICE. Along with Lisa and Eamon’s performance, Dongery, the Norwegian comics collective, will be having a book release party, for a collection of their work. It’s 1,456 pages long. Yep. This all happens ahead of BCGF, this Friday the 9th at 8PM, at Matt Thurber’s gallery, Tomato House. We won’t say you have to go, because you’re not obligated, but if you miss this, you might never forgive yourself. Or us. But we warned you.
Meanwhile, there’s been a bunch of love going around for our crew. Ahead of the game, ahead of even the book itself, City Paper has the advanced word on Songs of the Abyss and the “Ishi’s Brain” show right here. The Understanding Monster has withstood and conquered the critical eyes of the Comics Journal (more to come from those guys), Bookslut (one of the more moving reviews ever written about one of our books, we thought), his hometown Missoula Independent, Page 45, Comics Books are Burning in Hell, Under the Radar (whose only complaint was the color being a tad dark, which you can hang right on us and consider this a review a 10/10) and Paste (who were iffy on the book but loved the color, which you can credit to Theo’s genius). Oh, and Theo had this rather phenomenal interview with Tom Spurgeon aka the Comics Reporter. Joe Lambert got his own interview from Robin McConnell, the man that is Inkstuds. There was a comics format review of Wayward Girls by Suzette Smith that we somehow missed the first time. We’re not even sure how to link to this, but one of our nation’s greatest writers, Victor LaValle tweeted this about Only Skin. We will never get over that one and we will never get over the loss of the Ink Panthers Show!, which: what the hell, guys? If you want to bring the show back, you need to write Alex Robinson an actual letter and send it to his actual home. We have his actual address and we will actually give it to you. Just ask us.
Okay, that’s enough. No, it isn’t. There’s new stuff in the Emporium from Brendan Leach, Dakota McFadzean and Sean Christensen among others. And we should tell you there are new Koyama Press books in there, too, from folks like Dustin Harbin. Have a look. We’re sure you’ll find something you like.
We know we promised a sneak at next year’s books, but the lawyers said we couldn’t. Really. See you next time, hopefully, for some guest blogging and a wrap-up of Short Run. That’s where all the dirt is, anyway.
Barry and Leon
BEST EVER is a bold statement, yes, but there’s a lot to back up the claims that this was the year to beat for the Small Press Expo. However, before we go there, we need to give folks many thanks for showing up on a school night for Theo Ellsworth‘s signing party at ye olde Bergen Street Comics. Not that Bergen Street is in any way old, but when you know them as well as we do, it’s hard to remember what life was like before we had a pull list. It was a swell crowd, with lots of Acres represented. Of course, we have no evidence of this, because we forgot our cameras, and worse, we forgot the Cubeecraft paper pals that Theo went to all that trouble to draw. They’re very cute. Luckily for us, everyone else seemed too wrapped up in the glow of Theo and The Understanding Monster (and the awesome Theo-drawn Bergen tote bags), that they seemed to forget about them, too.
We went into the weekend fairly hobbled, with multiple, simultaneous and unrelated personal apocalypses rocking our worlds, so it’s no surprise that we forgot our cameras again when we were packing up for the ride down. We didn’t even remember a sales sheet. To be fair, we did stop to fill a decent Diamond order on the way, and we got Theo and Sean Ford to Bethesda without getting lost and in obscenely good time. Not that it made any difference, since on arrival we were surprised to discover that each of our rooms only had a single king bed in them, for six people. At least one of us is good at pitching an epic fit about stuff like this, but we had to make do because the place was truly booked all the way.
When we registered, it turned out Theo had no badge and wasn’t listed in the program, but was somehow considered a VIP. At least Gabby Schulz (aka Ken Dahl), Eamon Espey and Mike Dawson made it to the show in one piece. Stress relief was provided via an enormous bar bill (like more than our rooms cost us kind of enormous) on Friday night, which left most of our crew hung over heading into Saturday. The cherry on the cake was that all Ignatz nominees got a little balloon to tie to their tables so people would know where to find their books – all except Mike, whose Troop 142 was nominated for Outstanding Graphic Novel. But, hey, even we forgot to mention this via anything before we hit the road. Long story short: we got off to a shitty start.
Then all hell broke loose. Someone decided to open the doors and let people in. After that, it all becomes a blur. There are vague memories of us all happily picking at the Acres snack bag, which was stocked with some serious goodies in anticipation of Snack Wars with our friends and neighbors, Koyama Press and AdHouse. We wandered over to be the first people to get a copy of Noah Van Sciver‘s the Hypo (because everyone loves Noah (and we should have bought that Little Heart fundraiser date with him to stare into his pretty, little eyes)). There was whining about the balloon. Then there was bedlam.
Normally, there’s a rhythm to the show. While it didn’t have the assaultive, sudden crowds of years past, there were no lulls at all, ever, the whole time. It was almost a relief to head down to our panel, Publishing During the Apocalypse, the title of which couldn’t possibly have been more absurd. We were hosted by Heidi MacDonald and sat there with Annie Koyama, Box Brown and John Porcellino, while upstairs there were people like Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, both Hernandezes, Michael DeForge and, well, everyone. There was a moment when two people came to the table to pick up some books and those two people were Renee French and Charles Burns (who purchased several copies of Wayward Girls, much to our delight), and it was no big deal. Renee and Charles are gods to us, but we’d grown numb to it all so quickly.
So what about the apocalypse, exactly? This show was proof of the fact that comics has never been stronger, which was what we all said to a standing-room only audience. Yeah, we said some semi-provocative things (no offense to Diamond/Amazon/TopatoCo), but remember Secret Acres is a hive mind. If you want the whole story, you need us both in front of the mic. Plus that way, one of us can tell the other to STFU.
Our annual traditions at SPX include a pizza and Old Fashioned party in our rooms for all the Ignatz nominees on Saturday. Generally, everybody who shows up wins. This would include our pal, Brendan Leach, who ran off with a brick for Outstanding Comic. The doors were open wide to our little room and we had most of the Sparkplug, Adhouse and Koyama gangs squeezed in there, too. Chris Pitzer and Annie and those guys are family to us, but even that was overwhelming in a way. Usually, it’s a nice contemplative moment between the floor and the awards. This year could have been a reunion barbecue. It was better, sure, but it was way bigger. Also, since we all crashed on top of leftover pizza and open beer bottles, three men in the bed, one on the floor,the stench of dude on Sunday was so powerful that if there’s any truth to pheromones, all creatures possessed of a uterus within a fifty foot radius probably started ovulating on the spot.
Yes, we’re miffed that Mike Dawson didn’t get to cry over an(other) Ignatz for Troop 142, but the Hernandez brothers pretty much won everything, which felt like a moment far too long in coming. There’s no good way to describe the impact these guys have had on us, our friends, generations of cartoonists and readers. There will likely never be a better SPX, so if los Bros were going to clean up, it should’ve been this year and at these Ignatz Awards. That said, we had no idea who any of the presenters were. They were very strange. This, of course, excludes Tom Spurgeon, breaking out the first ever Golden Brick for Richard Thompson. Poor Tom would be assaulted with love and praise by our shockingly drunk crew the minute the ceremony was over. It’s true, Tom, we all love you. If what you said was true, that moments before our drunken proclamations someone had come up and said lousy things to you, just give us a name. We prefer to think you were being modest.
As wondrous as this SPX was, we got to see almost none of it. We managed to get over to PictureBox to pick up Bjornstrand and giggle while Dan Nadel looked over our copy of SP7 with what appeared to be approval. Other than that, we saw nothing of that half of the room. We missed Eleanor Davis‘ zine. We didn’t get to hang out with Eric Reynolds or Alec Longstreth or Kevin Czap. We never got a copy of Blacklung. There was nothing left of Drawn and Quarterly. While we did get to see Drawing Energy (the superpanel with Theo, Michael DeForge, Hellen Jo and Katie Skelly, moderated so smoothly by Jim Rugg you’d think he was running for office) we completely missed Mike’s panel. Supposedly, Derf Backderf was there someplace. We hardly saw Joe, as in Joseph Lambert, our guy, and he was at the table next to us.
And what about sales, you ask? We made more money on Sunday at SPX than we had at any entire show ever. We made way more money on Saturday than we did on Sunday. We took home maybe a dozen books, a ton of cash and Lisa Hanawalt. It was a relief to bring Lisa back to Brooklyn, because we adore her and we got to spend time with her, whether she liked it or not.
There was too much of everything and we missed more. And we missed Dylan Williams. It’s been a year since we lost him. We overheard someone talking about him and how they keep reaching for the phone now and then to call him, because they can never remember that he won’t pick up. Can you imagine what Dylan would have thought of this show? He was right all along. There are a lot of us comics weirdos out there and we can take care of each other. There’s no need to look for proof anymore. We may be back home, overcome by separation anxiety and back to licking our emotional wounds, but this comics thing is huge, beautiful and here to stay.
Barry and Leon
P.S. - So we didn’t have cameras, because we’re a hot mess, but we borrowed images from Yumcha Studios, Chris Pitzer’s flickr and the Comics Reporter. Sorry, guys. We’re desperate, but if you want them taken down, just holler at us. Thanks!
IT FEELS LIKE it’s been a thousand years since we last spoke. This is probably because so much has been going on. Worlds have changed. Universes have collided. We’ve got a ton of stuff to tell you, so there won’t be much editorializing (since we kind of blew our bitchy wad on the last post). Besides, you know we’ll deliver the dirt after the Big Show.
Speaking of the Big Show, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for us artsy comics folk. Yes, it is the Small Press Expo once again. If you want to see what the comics community looks like, get yourself down to Bethesda this weekend. Bethesda is definitely not the most obvious locale for the spiritual pursuit of comics, but it is home to the Marriott, aka Comics Camp. Once you’re there, there is no escaping. This will be our fifth SPX. Our fourth was both our most glorious moment as publishers and our most harrowing. Who can say what this one will bring?
Well, we can say. We’re bringing The Understanding Monster, the new book from Theo Ellsworth. It’s a departure for just about everybody. If you’ve never experienced Theo’s work before, you’re in for a shock. You’re in for a shock even if you’ve read everything he’s done. This will be the first full-length fiction comic from Theo. It’s also the first volume of three. You’ll be getting one a year. We’re breaking new ground here, as well. It’s our first hardcover and our first full-color book. Did we mention how big this thing is? It’s big. It will take you a while to get everything that’s in it out of it. The Understanding Monster is a trip.
Also making the trip to SPX will be Wayward Girls 2. Michiel Budel has been pushing the limits with his comic since he got started. The first issue nearly got us jail time. In this second installment of Wayward Girls, the stories have gotten a little longer and more developed, but no less dangerous. We’re grateful that we don’t need to stop at customs to bring this to you.
While we did okay at SPX’s Ignatz Awards last year (meaning we cleaned the fuck up), we are extremely proud that our resident All-American Boy Scout, Mike Dawson, has gotten yet another nod, this time for Outstanding Graphic Novel, for his rightfully ubiquitous Troop 142. We need your vote, fellow countrymen. Stuff those ballot boxes. Vote early and often. Disenfranchise the competition if you have to, because if Mike wins this one, he has personally guaranteed he will cry. Okay, he didn’t cry the last time Troop 142 won an Ignatz, but we promise to wax his nipples if he fails to squirt a few on this go. Besides, this book deserves it. For full disclosure, our lady of the Acres, Minty Lewis, and our man with a plan, Edie Fake, were on the nominating committee. We’re extra proud of them, too, because all the nominations are pretty badass.
You can find the Acres gang on three different panels this year. Mike will be moderating “Drawing Out Childhood,” with guests (and old pals) Julia Wertz, Derf Backderf, John Porcellino and MariNaomi. Theo will be joined by Michael Deforge, Jim Rugg and Hellen Jo for “Drawing Energy.” Finally, yours truly will be under fire from Heidi MacDonald, aka the Beat, but at least we’ll be sitting with Box Brown, John Porcellino (he’s everywhere and all over) and the Greatest of All Time, Annie Koyama (she hates that kind of praise, but we love her, anyway) – and this thing is called “Publishing During the Apocalypse.” Not a joke.
There’s been plenty of other stuff happening in the meanwhile. Sean Ford has been feeling the love for his Only Skin from IndieReader‘s Sarah Morean (If you don’t know who she is, look her up. We’ll wait.). Edie got a shoutout from the awesome Bitch Magazine. Gabby Schulz, the former Ken Dahl, was the recipient of some seriously glowing praise from Comics Bulletin for Monsters (which has to be the longest wait for a review we’ve ever seen). Mike got in trouble with Trouble With Comics, and his Ink Panthers Show! had one of their best spots ever with episode 142 (no relation to Troop 142), “The Voyage Home.” Theo had himself a big exhibit at Giant Robot, an enormous interview at Newsarama, and you can even see a preview of the rather large The Understanding Monster on the Beat.
If you’re in New York City or somewhere else but have the means to get to Brooklyn, you owe it to yourself to make the trip this Thursday night. Theo’s going to be signing The Understanding Monster at Brooklyn’s own Bergen Street Comics. The beer and bubbly start flowing at 8PM, so make sure you eat first. Get there on time, and you just might get one of these Theo-drawn Cubeecraft dolls (Assembly required, but, come on, look at that thing.).
Here’s something we’ve been very quiet about: on September 7th, 2012, Secret Acres turned five years old. We owe all of you, badly, for carrying us this far. We will do our best to live up to your support for many more years to come.
Sometime before our fifth, we got the keys to our first office. Secret Acres, named after a house that is no longer with us, is a place again. We’ve got .00390266 acres to be precise. It’s nice to have a home. But we’ve got to hit the road. See you in a bit.
Barry and Leon
THIS IS FOR YOU, Lisa Hanawalt… Like everyone else on our side of the comics fence, we read Dan Nadel’s blog post on the Comics Journal, “No Good Reason.” The post itself was a harshly critical assessment of Secret Prison 7, a comics anthology and an homage to Garo. The project is being edited by Box Brown, of Retrofit fame, and Ian Harker, who is one half of Secret Prison along with Pat Aulisio. SP7 is being funded via Kickstarter, and you can learn more about it there. There are several gauntlets, and boots, being thrown at issues great and small. A lot of this is a big deal to us and got us thinking about where we would locate ourselves within these arguments. If you haven’t read the post and the SP7 Kickstarter page, go ahead. We’ll wait here.
To begin, we should tell you that we know next to nothing about Garo and that we’re not exactly huge fans of manga. We don’t want to address that part of the critique here because, in all honesty, we’re not qualified to address it. That said, we’ll take Dan’s word for it that while manga has had a tremendous impact on younger, American cartoonists, Garo, specifically, does not have the same influence and in their description of the SP7 project, the publishers blur the line between Garo and manga. Garo certainly does not have the same influence that EC comics had on the Underground artists which followed them, though Dan refutes that influence only to retract it later.
Without adequately demonstrating a historical knowledge of the comics they claim have inspired them, the SP7 publishers have left the door open to charges of trend hopping, bending the comics community’s pre-existing interests to suit their needs. We’re not ready to convict them because they failed to show us that they’ve done their homework. In fact, this would have been easier if the publishers simply stated that they are putting together a Garo themed anthology because they think Garo is awesome, so please give them money because they’re broke. The comics that Secret Prison has produced have been too good to dismiss for their lack of historical context. They are often, however, fan art (see Rub the Blood, another Secret Prison publication which was an homage of sorts to Rob Liefeld). By nature, fan art capitalizes on a pre-existing interest, which makes it difficult to get around the trendiness knock. Fan art can be fun, and even good, but the work can’t stand on its own, to use Dan’s words. He would also use the word sleazy, but that’s too strong for us, like making fun of someone who loves the band Interpol because they have never heard of Joy Division.
Publishing something with a built-in interest, or a viable something as Dan would say, makes the low-risk approach of Kickstarter funding that much more damning. So let’s talk about Kickstarter, hopefully for the last time. We are not threatened by Kickstarter. We are speaking for ourselves only, of course, but the idea that we would somehow be shaking in our boots (not for sale, by the way) because Kickstarter is coming to kill us publishers is absurd. We don’t like its focus on popularity ahead of everything else. We don’t like the way it lets the market decide, appealing to the lowest common denominator and cranking out transmedia-ready crap by the busload. We sure as hell don’t like it as a tool for publishers, and would never ever consider using it ourselves, but we’re not sitting here cursing its name.
The reverse is not true. Going all the way back to MK Reed‘s essay on Kickstarter, someone always feels compelled to make the argument that Kickstarter has created opportunities where there were none, that it has eliminated the need for publishers, who have been acting as gatekeepers for artists everywhere. This is a crock. No one who does what Secret Acres does has ever intended to stand in the way of a cartoonist’s success. We are well aware of the historical and continuing abuses perpetrated on creators by certain large comics companies and maybe that’s what’s stuck in people’s heads. This is akin to conflating superheroes with comics, which is really annoying, isn’t it? Can the argument that publishers are abusive corporations with no respect for creators be applied to Annie Koyama? Get over it. We are nobody’s enemy. We are not tastemakers. We are not gatekeepers. We have no idea what anyone means by “a very personal Batman graphic novel.”
We publish artists, not books. We’re less concerned about products and properties than we are supporting the people who make the comics that we love so much. As publishers, our job is to create opportunities and to find an audience for the artists who put their trust in us. It’s not easy to connect art so idiosyncratic and wonderful to the readers who will make something meaningful of it. It’s the fact that these voices are so idiosyncratic and wonderful that makes it worth the effort.
If Kickstarter can help them, we’re into it. If it gets one of our books into the hands of a reader, we’ll happily sell our books on Amazon, too. Amazon is an inevitability. The internet allows people to skip booksellers and skip paying a bookstore’s overhead, and if Amazon didn’t do it, someone else would. We believe there’s a cultural shift away from reading that is rarely addressed, that is a great part of the decline in a certain kind of bookstore. We suspect that a huge portion of Amazon’s book buyers are the book buying population that will switch to e-readers exclusively, and probably would have done so with or without Amazon. Those of us who prefer paper books will be more likely to get them in brick and mortar stores.
Does anyone really miss Borders? Amazon is a bigger threat to Barnes and Noble than it is to Bergen Street. We’ve seen bookstores revitalized as cultural and community centers, giving the advantage to independents. Despite the economy crashing, the advent of ebooks and the increased procurement of all goods online, Desert Island and Atomic Books are still here and the Beguiling is doing better than ever. You can’t go to Amazon to see an author read or hang out with comics glitterati at a book launch. No community will ever take ownership of Amazon, and Amazon gets books to people in remote areas that can’t support bookstores. It’s also worth noting that Amazon serves the long tail economy – you can buy every single Secret Acres book on Amazon, but not at any single retailer (other than Quimby’s, probably). The Amazon problem is far more nuanced than we’d like to admit.
So we don’t have Dylan Williams‘ backbone. But who does? We do whatever we can, because we owe it to the folks who sweat and sacrifice to work in dedication to the world’s slowest medium. They’re not doing it to sell something, they’re working to express something, and hopefully it’s something people need to hear, because that’s what art is. They have enough to handle without being judged by their ability to self-promote. We do the dirty work. That’s what being a publisher is all about for us.
As for Dan, he can speak for himself. “No Good Reason” is blazing angry and has been met with the wrath of 10,000 trolls. We grant you, you trolls, you, that it’s tough to argue that Dan is not a gatekeeper. Dan isn’t just Picturebox, he’s the Comics Journal. Dan isn’t just the Comics Journal, he’s BCGF. After reading “No Good Reason” we were left wondering if Dan wasn’t pissed off about something else. The world may never know. We hope he’s never mad at us.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a treat. So here’s a peek at our two SPX 2012 debuts, one above and one below. When you see them, you will plotz.
Barry and Leon