While the festival didn’t officially kick off until Thursday evening, I took the whole day off to do one of the things that I love most in the world… Slack for a full eight hours in a coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop, either: My favorite in Columbus. If you haven’t been to Kafe Kerouac , it’s a pleasantly divey little joint just north of Ohio State Campus. In addition to a two buck bottomless cup, Kerouac features a great selection of used books and indie comics curated by by long time friend Jack. I was hoping that I could show it off to some of the visiting out of towners. I was joined in my pre-festival “hang” by J.T. Dockery, Michael Neno, Christian Hoffer, Kevin Czap and somebody else who I am just remembering as a blacked out silhouette. (I’m so sorry shadow person…. It’s a been a long few days and many of my facts are loose.) The Hang lasted until about 4:00 when J.T. headed back to his quarters for a meal and I went record shopping.
Side note, I imagine that the record store trip was my last to visit Johnny Go’s before the wrecking ball takes down that whole strip of buildings and a new set of concrete and steel chain store bearing monstrosities. I also visited the place I still call “Flying Pizza” even though that hasn’t been its name for years on Friday, also slated for demolition. It’s sad to me that while we watch the birth CXC, its primary host neighborhood is finalizing a methodical stripping of its character. I’m scared that in future years people coming for CXC will talk about the great festival in the city that has all the same crappy stores that they already have in their home town.
I didn’t stay very long at the reception, as I wanted to head over and see the collection of Walter Lantz cartoons presented by expert Jerry Beck. (How much of an expert is Beck? Before the presentation the Billy Ireland drafted him into service, chaining him to a table and making him identify animation art.) I had considered skipping this presentation in favor of dinner, but I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t think I had ever seen any of the old Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons and certainly had never seen the swing music themed “Abou Ben Boogie” which, some unfortunate racial stereotypes aside, was amazing. And yes… You can all refer to me as Abou ben Boogie from now on.
Wrapped the evening with a late dinner with some buddies at the Blue Danube, a diner which is another fine dive hang-out that needs to be shown to all visitors as a right of passage through Columbus.
Despite the fact that I got to bed at a reasonable hour, I couldn’t actually bring myself to sleep much. (I was still very wound up). Kind of a drag since I knew that I had to get up and out of the house to run downtown for what ended up being my favorite part of the festival… Finally meeting my long time good on-line friend Javier Hernandez in person. I had promised that I would pick him and Rafael Navarro, whom I had met a couple years ago at APE, at their hotel room to both give them a crash course in the COTA bus system and rescue them from the slim downtown breakfast options. Cheers to Sol-Con organizers for giving their exhibitors a set of day passes for COTA. Very cool. I had to do all of this and get them to Hale Hall in time for a 8:30am set time!
Anyways, the three of us bussed up to Jack and Benny’s, one of my favorite places that I rarely get to hit up due to long weekend lines. Since it was early on a weekday, we could cruise in and out without a problem. (In fact, we were the first customers of the day)
We could have not have had a better start to the day. Javi and I share the same sense of humor in person as we do on-line, which I’m sure many of you know is not always the case with such meetings. While I had met Rafael before, we had never hung out and that was a pleasure. The waitress was amazed that we were cartoonists and treated my guests like the rockstars. It was a loud and obnoxious breakfast in the best of ways.
(For instance, I think there were several comments from the panelists and audience regarding Diamond’s monopoly on comics distribution, but no one offering up ideas on what it might take to actually bust Diamond’s stranglehold.)
After that presentation, I skipped out for a coffee break with (among others I’m sure I’m forgetting) Derf, Jim Rugg, Chris Pitzer of Adhouse books, Gregory Benton, Chip Mosher, Eric Reynolds and Frank Santoro. I like all of those people. A big chunk of them went off on a tour of Columbus comic shopping sites and I went over to see what Sol-Con looked like in full gear.
I’ll confess to being concerned pre-show about a having decent number of feet through the door for our out of town guests… It’s a new type of event for Columbus and promotion seemed to come late in the game… But most of those fears were alleviated when I entered Hale Hall and saw that almost every sol-con exhibitor had people at their tables and were engaged in conversation. Rafael and Javier reported excellent sales to me. I really liked the Lowriders from Space book by Raul III and hope that the wexner store still has copies.
Tail between my legs I headed off towards the Billy Ireland to grab lunch and try and check in on the talk and teach sessions. Somewhere in there I was joined again by JT. once more, who is always a welcome addition to any of my adventures. We had some pizza at the soon to be gone establishment mentioned above before returning to the cartoon library.
The only talk and teach session I managed to catch was Billy Ireland Curator Jenny Robb’s presentation on how cartoonists can best preserve their legacy. There was some interesting information on what qualified as tax deductible donation to a museum and what doesn’t. Short version… If you made it, you can’t count it. (Well, I guess the interesting part is that ruling comes from Tricky Dick Nixon trying to deduct the donations of his own papers to the library of congress when he was Veep.)
The second conversation was Tom with Zippy the Pinhead and Arcade magazine creator Bill Griffith and was a very different experience from the previous interview. Bill is on a promotional tour for his graphic memoir “Invisible Ink” which is about a long term affair his mother engaged in with cartoonist. It was a great interview not only because it was the first time the vet cartoonist had ever attempted such a project (which he did on weekends while churning out his DAILY strip at age 71!) and also because the normally glib Griffith was forced to show another emotional side to his public persona.
t the end of interview, Griffith was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the end of his interview. More thoughts on that below when I talk about the other surprise award of the weekend.
There was a conversation between Jeff Smith, Kate Beaton and Craig Thompson, but I was eager to get home and see my wife Kate and my dog Minnie. I had such a long and busy day that it seemed like I hadn’t seen them in ages!
The only bummer about the party? there was this beautiful cake someone made for the party that had a menacing “do not eat” sign tacked to the table next to it. I was a good boy. I didn’t eat the cake… Even though it looked delicious. I figured that it was being saved for some grander purpose, but when I checked facebook the next morning I found out that the cake had eventually gotten eaten. Without me. Dammit.
(Watch for a cake at the Nix Comics Quarterly #8 release party. I’m going to make you all watch while I eat it all by myself.)
Here’s something I bet you didn’t know… Bob Corby and I were designated as “special exhibitor liaisons” for CXC. As we were asked to do very little actual liaising, the appointment was largely titular up until Saturday morning, when Bob and I arrived before anyone else and started to set up tables. We figured it was our time to take executive action. I even went as far as grabbing the table assignment list and map and pointing my fellow exhibitors to their spots. I made some on the fly changes, giving my buddies PItzer and Towle an extra half table to split because I was drunk with power. My thought bubble read “IT’S MY EXPO NOW, SPURGEON!!!!!”
Kidding aside, I was really honored to be included among the exhibitors at this first year of CXC. I felt like the other exhibitors either fell into the category of young phenoms breaking new ground or veteran artists with 20 or more years of work. Either way the resumes felt more impressive that what I’ve been able to cobble together on my five year Nix Comics resume. To be considered a peer by the folks jurying the show is mind blowing.
Speaking of young phenoms, the absolute highlight of the day was when Jeff and Tom presented Katie Skelly with their newly minted Emerging Artist award. Award and prize, I should say. Cartoon books kicked in $7K for Skelly to use to advance her career. I can’t wait to see what she uses the money for! I think that the awards issued at the festival (to Skelly and Griffith) really go a long way to defining about what CXC is about: Honoring the history of a great medium and doing what it can to ensure that it continues.
My spot was in between the Laughing Ogre table, run by local artist Lauren McCallister most of the day, and Denver cartoonist Melanie Gillman. They are both super cool. Thanks to this being artist pay week for Nix Comics Quarterly #8 (Cough… Still on kickstarter to your right… Cough…), I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. I picked up Greg Benton’s Shadow and one of his pocket sketch books, Melanie’s Toxoplasmosis “cat horror” comic, Jackie Estrada’s first volume of comic book people, Pope Hats #3 and Bruce Chrislip’s Mini Comix history. The last of which Bruce was hustling without a table in the aisles and at the CXC events all week. Old freakin’ school!
For me, the show went pretty well for the first half of the day. Everybody always wants to know about sales and mine were better than I had expected them to be given that the room was packed with both superstar out of towners behind the tables and lots of local people who already own my comics in front of the tables. I wasn’t really there for the sales, more to have a great time schmoozing with my fellow creators and enthusiasts. The fact that I more than made back my table money is just a bonus. (I’d say icing on the cake, but then I probably wouldn’t get to enjoy it…)
Sadly, my CXC came to an early end when I suffered some sort of vile attack on my immune system. Sometime after lunch I got a real pounder of a headache. The kind where you start to feel a little dizzy from its insistent pressure on your skull. I toughed it out until around four when the nausea set in. It became apparent to me that if I didn’t leave I was going to become immortalized as “that dude who threw up on Bill Griffith” or someone/something else. I managed to avoid that, but only by moments. Apologies to all of the people who I didn’t talk to while rocking back and forth on the bench outside while waiting for Kate to pick me up. I was quite literally afraid of what might come out of my mouth. I pretty much spent the next 36 hours sleeping off whatever it was that came over me, missing the rest of the festival and after parties.