Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Sometimes smaller is better. And when it comes to a comics show, I’m about ready to say that smaller is ALWAYS better.
Certainly, this year’s trip to the Olympia Comics Festival was one of the best shows we’ve been to– the Cartooning students unanimously declared it to be “WAY more fun than Emerald City,” and I have to agree.
It was pretty much everything I hope for when we take the class to a show. The kids met other artists, traded ‘zines, attended workshops, and generally just had a great time. Actual Learning may have even taken place once or twice.
I think a lot of it was that this was many of our group’s first time here– and having had the madness and sensory overload of this year’s Emerald City as their only other show experience, the relatively tiny, no-pressure Olympia festival was a huge relief. It sure was for me. (Once we got the @#!! YMCA bus drama sorted out, anyway. I’d tell you about that but I finally got my blood pressure back down where it belongs.)
We took a lot of pictures and I think I’ll just put those up and talk about them.
Here’s the view from our table of the main floor, looking right.
And looking left.
Because it’s a small show, and frankly because I was so wiped out from trying to get our books to press in time for the trip, I decided against trying to do the big display with our banner stand and the display rack of previous zines we’ve done over the years. Instead we went with just the tabletop stands and a few stacks of books and called it done. It was another combined trip for us, with Cartooning from Madison Middle School and Young Authors from both Madison and Chief Sealth High School. I took this just a minute or two before the doors opened.
You can see our first shift of tablers Symphony, Iman, and Dimpal, representing Young Authors from Sealth, raring to go. Here they are signing a book for festival director Frank Hussey.
Both Frank and Perry Onorio, who was in charge of the expo this year, were amazingly supportive and helpful. We felt thoroughly pampered and even at that Perry still worried about us having a good day, he checked in with us several times throughout the afternoon. He had provided exhibitor badges for all the kids– something that doesn’t happen, usually– and even at that was apologetic because they weren’t customized with each student’s name. I assured him we were delighted just to have badges at all, the kids like having tangible souvenirs. He must have taken that to heart because after a while he was back with stickers, which were indeed a huge hit.
The truth of the matter is that we were having a wonderful day. Apart from the low-stress table experience, this was the first time many of my students had the opportunity to wallow in the world of indie small-press comics and most ended up converts forever. Here’s my TA Eileen talking to the woman from the Timberland Library about their upcoming zine event while Jude and Dimpal look on.
Eileen said later, “These comics are awesome! I don’t really care about all the superhero things at Emerald City but these are about things I really LIKE!” I think she meant Flying Dodo but she was doing trades with all sorts of people.
I was wary, after last year’s debacle with Carlos, to suggest the idea of ‘zine-trading but some kids were asking about it and finally I laid down some ground rules. “You can’t just breathlessly run up to everyone and push our books on them, be polite. And try to be reasonable. It’s zine-for-zine, keep it sort of equivalent. Don’t beg for shirts or jewelry in return for our tiny giveaway con book. And what you trade should be something you worked on yourself. If you ask for a sketch you should offer one of your own in return.”
They all agreed and they were off, and most of them seemed to do pretty well. Here’s Eileen, Iman, and Symphony strategizing about how to approach it. You can see that Iman and Symphony have already acquired a fair amount of swag.
But the chief attraction for the kids is always tabling. I had to shoo the older ones out after a while so our newer kids could have a shot at it. Here’s Antonia, Devon, Michelle, and Sage.
Antonia and Devon had both been at Emerald City in April, but this was a first show for Sage and Michelle– and it was also their first-ever publication in one of our books, the new Young Authors anthology Stuff and Nonsense. On top of all that, their book was the one that sold the best: we actually sold out of all the copies I’d brought and they signed most of those. So they were having a pretty awesome day. Since it was the first time they got to see the finished product (including what their classmates had done for the book) they holed up in a corner and read it cover to cover.
Devon was also very interested, as you can see, and the three of them bonded pretty quickly. Most of our kids were on the bus but Devon’s dad Aaron had driven her down, and we spent a lot of time talking at the table. I’ve said for years that once a parent sees his kid signing an autograph at a show, the program’s on rails, and Aaron was no exception. As usual, he had no idea how much his daughter cared about this stuff till he got to see her at a show. He’d brought her to Emerald City in April and hung around then, and after seeing how Devon blossomed there he was a total convert; there was no question but that he’d be at this one too. Here’s a shot of Devon watching the Sealth kids sign, with her dad in the background watching her with fascination and delight.
He kept asking me if there was more he could do, what did our program need. I told him, “Well, we always need money. But everybody needs money. What I would love, though, is to see more parents here. So far this year it’s just been you, and he missed this one but Dimpal’s dad came to the big Emerald City show. That’s it for parents, this whole school year. It frustrates me that the program is so invisible to most of our families. Look at Devon over there, signing the book she worked on and having the greatest day ever. And you’re getting to see it. Next to her there’s Michelle and Sage, selling and signing copies of a book they have a novelette in. They worked like dogs on that, writing alternating chapters with shifting points of view, it was very ambitious. Their folks should get to see the success they’re having today with that, and I’ll bet you they have never seen that manuscript or even know about the fact that we publish a book as part of the class.” I grimaced. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years now, and watching kids just come alive as they finally get to do this thing that most people have been telling them is a silly little hobby. Most of the time, nobody sees it but me. No other adult in their lives, not parents or teachers or anyone– ever gets to witness this amazing transformation they undergo when they see that doing this is legitimate, it’s a real thing. The fact that you’re here, that you support Devon– trust me when I tell you, that’s HUGE.”
Aaron nodded, still watching his daughter. “I think I know what you mean. She’s not very forthcoming.”
“None of them are,” I said, laughing. “They’re pretty inner-directed. Most of our kids aren’t really joiners. This is their one thing. The program gives them a way to do the work with people and be validated a little bit, but it doesn’t matter if no one sees it. I’ve been at this for decades and the thing I hear from parents more than anything else– seriously, nothing else is even a close second–is this shocked, My kid did this? Hell yeah, your kid did this. Your kid is amazing. Look at them go, out there. By this time of the school year they’re all total pros, I hardly have to backstop them at all. They know how to do the work and hit a deadline and even table at a show. Sage and Michelle have never been here before and already they’re letter-perfect on the spiel. Meanwhile Antonia’s bonding with Kira there at the next table and they’re swapping sketches. Some of the parents grasp that this is a big deal for their kids, I don’t mean to say they’re not interested, but more often then not the students themselves are too embarrassed to admit how important this is for them. You really want to help us out? Pass the word to the other moms and dads and let them know what the program really is about. Most of them have no idea.”
The kids really were amazing that day, too. I forget sometimes how good they are at the whole convention thing once they have a couple of shows under their belts. Here’s Will telling someone about the whole afterschool program, our part in it, and what the donations help with.
Usually I have to step in at some point to field a question or something like that, but he had it completely under control. You couldn’t tell him from someone twice his age working an indie show.
Our only real veterans were the eighth grade boys from Madison. We had Cal and Jude along as well as Will and you could tell they were getting wistful about this being the last one as part of our crew, after three years of Cartooning. Cal saw me with the camera and insisted on this group shot.
In the back you have Symphony, Will, Jude, Cal, and Iman, with Eileen and Dimpal on the floor in front. They ended up being kind of a posse that day after I told them to let the younger girls have a turn at the table, and after exhausting the possibilities of the main floor decided to try the workshops. The one on character design with Tucker Rzepecki, Zoey Hogan and Nathan Wirtz was a big hit.
Of course, Zoey and Joamette Gil are always great with the students. They each did new entries in our scrapbook, too.
We actually got quite a few drawings for the class book this time out. Towards the end of the afternoon Michelle was getting restless, as she often does, so I dispatched her and Sage and Devon to go see if they could swap some copies of Rising Sun, the fall Young Authors book, for some sketchbook entries. (I’d overprinted on that one for Emerald City and I really don’t need the extra forty books cluttering up my office.) They approached this mission with fierce dedication and if it hadn’t been so late in the day I think they would have gotten everyone. They started with our neighbor Scott Adams from Sukotto Studios.
I wish I could print the sketch– it’s really great– but it’s in non-repro blue. I toyed with having one of the kids ink it but decided not to.
Here they are with Richard Mann of The Mann, while Sylvia Mann does a drawing. I’m sorry you can only see Richard’s hands here, they were both lovely people and must have given the girls half an hour or so of encouragement and advice.
And here’s what Sylvia did for the book.
Here they are getting an entry from Taylor Dow. That’s David Lasky stroking his beard there on the right. It’s always nice to see David, he’s another local guy that’s always been great with the students.
And here’s what Taylor did for us.
I’m not sure exactly what that means. Some of the advice we got was a little ambiguous. Sometimes we’d get something really nice like this one from Hannah Fisher…
Or this one from Steven Brown, known as Stan!…
And then we’d get one a little off the beaten path, like this one from Mark Brill. It’s certainly good advice, but….
And once in a while we get one that’s… well, see for yourself.
I actually really love that one but it’s unsigned and I don’t know who did it; the girls were not terribly conscientious about getting names. But they sure had fun.
As did we all. You can tell from this one I took just before we loaded up and left for home that the show was a success.
I took this one for the bus people at the Y, actually– I wanted them to see what it was all FOR, in the hope that maybe next year I don’t get so much grief over getting the kids there in the first place. Like I told Devon’s dad Aaron, you use every arrow in your quiver at budget time. I’m not proud.
See you next week.
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