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Last Saturday in Olympia – UPDATED!

This year’s excursion to the Olympia Comics Festival was, without question, the most painless field trip the Cartooning Class has ever done.

I suppose, after eighteen years of teaching, sooner or later we’d have an outing with the students that WASN’T an ordeal, just because of the law of averages. But I was still shocked… especially after Emerald City has ballooned up to a month-long panic that feels like trying to plan the invasion of Normandy– with only one car to transport all the troops and supplies. Furthermore, our last two tries at getting the kids to the Olympia show were a huge pain because of bus problems and illness respectively, though we’d still pulled them off.

But this trip was smooth as could be — even getting the use of the YMCA minibus was just a matter of filling out a form and picking up the keys. Other than arriving a little late, there wasn’t a hitch. Maybe we’re getting better at this.

In any case, it was a great day and we had a lot of fun. I think that rather than try to write up the entire festival experience, I’ll just run the pictures we got and comment on them.

Here’s our table setup.

Jack, Jude, Cal, Samantha, and Raegan. All of them old convention hands now.

We decided to include Young Authors again as well, and as usual they were an even bigger hit than Cartooning. Olympia loves writers. (And a lot of the kids are enrolled in both, so it’s not as crowded as you’d think.)

Both classes had worked very hard to make a print deadline just before the festival so we’d have new books to display, and that really paid off.

Francois Vigenault shows off his copy of LIMITLESS, the latest Young Authors collection.

I was pleased to have every student who came represented in print– this doesn’t always happen, and since everyone who comes by the table asks the kids So which one is yours? it can be demoralizing for a student to be the odd one out who has to admit, “I’m not in this one, mine comes out next month.” Because of that I try to make sure each kid has something to point to, but I don’t always make it.

But this time out everyone had something in print on the table, and several had more than one piece. Phung, in particular, has become unstoppable; she had two stories in the new Young Authors anthology, illustrated a third for someone else, and did the cover art besides.

Here's Phung's illustration for Raegan's story in the new book.

Phung’s twelve. By the time she’s twenty-one she’ll be her own publishing firm, probably.

That was why I wanted her to come with me to the Local Cartoonists panel; I know Phung is going to be one of the ones that comes back when she’s in high school and asks me helplessly what to do next, now that she’s not able to publish things through my class any more. I figured if anyone could offer some insight on how to get over that initial hump and get your small-press groove on, it’d be the Olympia comics crowd.

The Local Cartoonists panel -- from left to right, it's Chelsea Baker, Tucker Rzepecki, Joamette Gil, Zoey Hogan, and moderator Jon-Mikel Gates.

Samantha came along as well, and my Young Authors TA Tiffany. The Local Cartoonists panel was somewhat under-attended, seeing as how it was opposite SPOTLIGHT ON MIKE ALLRED, but I think the girls all got something out of it and I certainly enjoyed it.

And it had the added bonus of introducing the kids to the Olympia Comics Collective and showing them that yes, grown-ups also really do what we do.

Joamette Gil and Zoey Hogan at the Olympia Comics Collective table... I'm afraid I don't know the others. When I sent the kids out with the camera, I forgot to tell them to get names.

They were great with all my students and I think the girls especially were really impressed with the variety of work on the table and the group’s cheerful just-do-it! sense of mission. And Joamette Gil and Zoey Hogan both did lovely sketches for our student scrapbook too.

Another shot of the Oly table crew clowning around. This one's kind of blurry because I think Raegan was laughing when she took it.

I was surprised and pleased to learn that Jo had a piece in Womanthology alongside our own Kelly Thompson, and she had the Sketchbook right there on the table, so I bought one.

The $50 hardcocver is a little out of my range, but I could certainly manage $20 for the sketchbook.

The Sketchbook was an immediate hit with everyone at our table, and got passed around quite a bit. Tiffany wanted to know how I knew Kelly, whereupon I explained about the group of us that write for the blog here, and our consensus opinion that of all of us, Kelly is the most fearless in calling dumb things dumb. I mentioned her “No, It’s Not Equal” as a typical example… so then Tiffany pulled out her phone and dialed up that very column.

Story continues below

This was towards the end of the day, and as you can see, Samantha and Phung are drooping a little. Behind them, Tiffany is reading Kelly's column.

When she was done reading Kelly’s piece, Tiffany told me, “That was really good,” and added, “I had no idea ‘the brokeback’ was such a thing it had its own name.”

“Oh God.” I shuddered. “You have no idea.”

Really. She doesn't have ANY. IDEA. Neither did I till I Googled it. Oh my GAWD.

The boys had fun too. Cal and Jude spent a lot of time at our table churning out sketches.

Well, really, Jude kibitzed and Cal sketched. But they were having fun.

They even did this one of me, which melted me… especially since I spend most of my time in class trying to persuade them to sit down and keep their voices below a shriek.

This is what you call 'working the ref.' But I was flattered, especially since they edited out about seventy pounds. Julie loves it.

The boys did manage to do some running around too. They bought a fair amount of stuff from the other tablers, and they were overjoyed to discover Max Karl Key and his three-panel improv gag sketches.

Max Karl Key, GREATEST SKETCH ARTIST EVER, according to my students.

Another popular artist with my kids was Greg Fling, who’s always fun to talk to and his comics are often fall-down funny. They bought a couple of ‘zines off him, I think.

Greg Fling waving, and one of his zines.

And of course there’s Monique and her bottlecap pendants. It wouldn’t be the Olympia show without her. The kids got a couple, and Julie always has to have at least one.

Monique clowning for Raegan and the camera on the left, and a better look at her wares on the right.

The girls, meanwhile, were thrilled to discover that the other exhibitors would TRADE BOOKS with them. Samantha and Phung, especially, did a lot of wheeling and dealing.

Samantha and Phung, shocked and delighted to find our books serve as small-press currency. Sam is holding up a pin someone traded for a copy of LIMITLESS.

As for me, I was happy to be able to relax at a comics show for once and catch up with people. This is the only time I ever get to see my dear old friend Kelsey, now working at the Timberland library.

Kelsey's on the left, in the glasses. I'm told that's Linda from circulation next to her.

She must have really been in the PR zone when we arrived, because when I came up to the table and asked in an awkward hillbilly voice if it was actually LEGAL to have comical books in a library, she shot back, “Sure, there’s lots of good stuff in comics these days, they’re very literate,” without even looking up. I started to laugh and then only did she look up and realize it was me.

There were a series of cards hanging over the Timberland table, an improvised jam comic that Kelsey plans to put together into a ‘zine. Kelsey was recruiting cartoonists to contribute and she asked me if I wanted to add one just as Shannon Wheeler was giving her his.

I said, disbelievingly, “You want ME to follow Shannon Wheeler.”


I felt absurdly intimidated. Fortunately for me and my insecurities, as it turned out there was another guy ahead of me and I ended up following him. Phung did one as well.

Here's a slightly better shot of the improv pages.

So eventually we’ll be in the same book with a bunch of famous– well, moderately, indie-comics-level, famous– cartoonists. That’s kind of cool.

It was also a pleasure to get to spend some time talking to Chelsea Baker, who puts the whole shindig together. One of the reasons the Olympia Comics festival is such a delightfully laid-back and informal affair is because of Chelsea’s determination that there be as little drama as possible.

Somehow we missed getting a good picture of Chelsea, but here's one from the side. She's been drawing a comic a day for years and I try never to leave Olympia without the latest collection of those strips.

Chelsea is always scrupulous about giving us a table at the end of a row so the kids can swarm in and out without being too disruptive. Our next-door neighbors were remarkably easygoing and tolerant, both Tim Basaraba and Hazel Newlevant… and especially the gentleman doing the caricatures, whose name I never DID get, but I was later informed that it was Jesse Reklaw. He was great and had a steady line of customers all day.

Here's Troy getting one done of himself.

Including my students. Here’s the one he did of Troy….

Troy is very tall and very loud, so he is often mistaken for one of the adults at the table. It irks him.

And I even sprung for one myself, for the youth office at school.

The girls of Young Authors! Samantha, Raegan, and Phung.

Overall, it was just a great day for the students, and even for Julie and me…. and all the artists we met swore up and down that it really lifted them up as well, seeing the class there and having young people be so interested in what they do.

So we’re definitely calling this trip a win. Thanks to Chelsea and Kelsey and all the artists, and especially, thanks to my old friend Sena… who mailed us a check for the booth fee out of nowhere after I bitched online that the school suddenly balked at funding two shows in one semester. If you have a young person in your home who likes dog stories, you could show Sena a little love by picking up her new book….

Definitely for younger kids, but completely adorable.

At any rate, it was well worth it, I think. Here’s hoping its just as much fun next year.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS– I knew this but I should have made it clearer, and I’m embarrassed that someone had to email me to point it out.

What I should have explained and didn’t was that Chelsea Baker puts together the Expo part of the festival, the part we attend. But the WHOLE festival, including the stage show and the creator signings and all the rest of it, is masterminded by festival director Frank Hussey, co-owner of Danger Room Comics. Without him there wouldn’t BE a festival. So he deserves acknowledgement, and frankly, if you are in the Olympia-Lacey area of Washington, Danger Room deserves your business.

So there you go. Anyway, thanks again to everyone!

See you next week.


Too bad you guys didn’t have enough time to see one other thing in Olympia besides the legislature….Dukakis!!

That’s Jesse Reklaw!

That’s Jesse Reklaw!

Thanks for letting me know! Edited in now.

The person that drew that illustration is only 12? That’s unbelievable. If she sticks with it I can’t imagine her not making a living as an artist.

This is a nice change of pace from some of your previous-year reports on cons or festivals, which are usually run-down of your various travails involving over transport or similar details (although I admit they do make for entertaining reading).
Anyway, thanks for a great column – I really like the slideshow format!

Love these recaps, and the peek into a different part of the DIY world. Sounds like this really was a home run for you and your team!

Hey Greg

Inspiring stuff, as always.

Thanks for the mention.

Also, I predict Phung will be taking over the world any minute now!


Also, I predict Phung will be taking over the world any minute now!

One of the awesome things about my job is getting to see kids like Phung blossom. She practically slunk into the room last fall, vaguely afraid we were lying about what we’d said about actually publishing student work… she’s one of those kids who just needed an outlet. Once she realized we weren’t kidding about really putting the stuff in print in front of an audience, there was no stopping her. Same story with Raegan and Cal. Sometimes all a student needs, especially if they have strict parents who don’t really get it, is permission to just go for it, and in no time at all you see great things from them.

Very nice read! It’s always great to see these, particularly one that went so smoothly!

I think I know Hazel Newlevant, but I didn’t know she was doing comics.

Nice report, Greg! I love hearing about your class and I hope they go on to bigger and brighter things!

No worries, Greg, Chelsea deserves all the kudos she gets.

Thanks for sharing these great photos and your memories — these are the things that make it worthwhile to me. By the way, I never got one of the kid’s collections this year. If you are ever down Olympia way, I’d love it if you could drop one by the shop.

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