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Con Report: STAPLE! 2011 March 7th, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

Boy, I sure am bad about updating this thing with anything other than con reports, but timely con reports are better than nothing, right? Except I totally never mentioned that I was even going to STAPLE!, so…

But whatever! It was this past weekend! I went! And here’s the report (right after this picture of my swag)!

I had been iffy about attending STAPLE! because the price of the table was pretty high considering 1) it’s a small show, 2) it’s out-of-town, 3) it’s their first year being two days instead of one, 4) I think it’s their first year charging admission as well?, but mostly because 5) it would be my first time attending this sort of convention and I had no idea what to expect. The tables sold out while I was being indecisive, and I was pretty okay with that. But then I found the opportunity to share a table with an artist I respect and admire and most of the reasons I had to maybe not go to STAPLE! seemed kind of silly.

SATURDAY

As per pre-con tradition, I got about three hours of sleep Friday night. What was new was driving into city the morning of the con, rather than the evening before,  for the convenience of Jorge, the owner of the couch I was crashing on. So, three hours of sleep, driving to Austin at five in the morning against crazy wind and scattered storms, guzzling coffee, and singing myself hoarse to keep myself awake. That was my excuse for being really exhausted and out of it all Saturday… and really, all of Sunday too. But I arrived in Austin in plenty of time and had no trouble locating the venue… which was pretty awesome, considering the first thing you see when walking in is an open bar, lol. 10:30am was meeting E.K. Weaver, the very generous artist of a very excellent webcomic, and her amiable husband Brett. I think I was pretty awkward and probably didn’t properly express how big a fan I was, but that’s what happens, I guess. :X

We were situated in the first row of the Annex, table 57, and set up at a pretty leisurely pace.

The tables were surprisingly long, but it was still weird setting up for half a table again, especially without the PVC to hang things. I never seem to realize just how much crap I have until I set up, so despite having left a lot of stuff at home, I felt like my table was its usual great, big pile of mess. I think it’s a pretty accurate representation of the fact that I do way too many things and have a little bit of everything. Comics, bookmarks, buttons, prints, ACEOs, original drawings, paintings, more comics, blah… maybe one day it will be more organized. But probably not.

Here’s a picture of some other folks in our row setting up. The lighting in the room was pretty dim. Maybe it was to make everything seem more indie!

STAPLE! was officially open to the public at 11am, but things were pretty easygoing for most of the day. I was told to expect slow sales, but good conversation, and that turned out to be exactly how things went. I think the main difference here was that unlike every other convention I’ve ever been to, a vast majority of the people in attendance were artists. The main draw of an anime convention is anime — official goods, voice actors, related musicians, panels, whatever — the Artist Alley is a nice thing thrown into the mix, but hardly a highlight feature. Most attendees are not artists or even fans of artists. They’re fans of the things that inspired the artists. At STAPLE!, the main draw is the artists and their work. There is very little else, honestly. A handful of panels (by artists, for artists? Not entirely sure since I didn’t see any of them). But mostly, it is artists there to hang out with and support other artists.

I think the funny thing about indie comics is that a majority of its fans are indie comics creators. I have found few people in the scene that don’t make comics themselves. This is probably because of the prevailing “do it yourself” sentiment — even if a fan started off as just a fan, they are very quickly spurred into creating something as well because why not? Independent is independent. You don’t need anyone to publish your comics but yourself.

But it was weird for me. It was weird talking about my work to people. It was weird having them have their own work to talk about. I am not used to talking with other artists from behind my table. The closest thing to STAPLE! I’ve attended was the SCAD Minicomics Expo last year, which didn’t feel as out of place because a majority of the attendees or either students or folks that had wandered in out of curiosity because the venue was the upper floor of a popular tourist restaurant. So… I was probably more than a little awkward and a lot less chatty than usual, though this could also be attributed to extreme tiredness.

Thankfully, people I knew already did show up to say hi and make me feel more comfortable. Fellow SCAD grads, Whitney and Kara Leopard showed up early in the afternoon and bought some stuff, including Rainbows and Rainclouds. :3 Chuck Porcheron also showed up to chat a bit about the book, which he’d purchased at IKKiCON 5. In general, R&R seemed to be well-liked. I’m sure the price point was the deal-breaker for most, but it can’t really be helped. On the flip side, I did sell out of Sunflowers & Rainbows. Hmm. Maybe I will be drawing more of them. Jorge suggested the next one be Rainclouds & Kittens. Hmmm.

(By the way, someone bought a copy of Sunflowers & Rainbows, asked me to doodle in it, and wandered away while I did so. He never came back! If you are him, please email me or something, and let me know how I can get your comic to you!)

Some Closet Artists came by as well! Sammy Martinez and Emery Ferguson both draw comics for the Daily Texan and were there to help with the paper’s table. I’d never met Emery and I hadn’t seen Sammy since I left UT four years ago, so that was pretty cool. (And weird. You look so much older now, Sammy!)

And as I was told, there were indeed awesome conversations all around, both with people I knew and people I didn’t. I think one of the best parts was The Z Train catching the eye of a New Yorker, who went on to relay his opinion that the Z train is creepy because he’s never even seen it, despite having ridden the J before. Imagine his surprise at the exact subject matter of the comic. :3 For all the inaccuracies in the Z Train, I’m very glad that that part was right enough.

Between conversations, I passed most of the afternoon doodling doodles for a new Super Secret comic project, though maybe it is less secret because I talked about it vaguely to some folks who stopped by and asked. Shhh.

Around six, the band came through, more or less announcing the end of the day.

Jorge helped me pack up and I made a quick pass through the venue to browse the few tables that still had stuff on display and to collect business cards.

Then Jorge, Sammy, Emery, and I went to Chili’s for a Closet Artists Mini-Reunion and Also it is Sammy’s Birthday dinner. After that, we went back to Jorge’s place and played video games (Smash Bros and Scott Pilgrim) while passing around a copy of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea (which is quite excellent) for everyone to read… but it wasn’t long before everyone succumbed to food coma and we all passed out before midnight like a bunch of old people! (I mean, we partied hard late into the night and stuff like cool kids. Yeah!)

SUNDAY

Slept for ten hours and still managed to wake up tired and sore. Woo!

We went to Gamestop so I could pick up my copy of Pokemon Black (Important errand is Important!) and then stopped by McDonald’s for a quick brunch (it’s been ages since I’d gotten anything off their breakfast menu, wow). STAPLE! was pretty quiet when we arrived a little after 11am, so after quickly setting up, I took this second opportunity to go and scope out the other tables — this time, while there are actually people behind them! …Of course, this led to buying things, but hey, that’s what we’re here for, right? Peddle your wares; buy other people’s wares.

I’d already picked up E.K.’s limited edition print run of chapters 1-13 of The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, along with a button and set of acrylic keychains. Browsing through the other tables, I picked up a dozen new buttons for my hat, a couple of really awesome ACEOs (more people need to make ACEOs! I will buy them from you!), a hundred business cards, and David McGuire’s Gastrophobia, which was easily the most impressive-looking book I saw there. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure it’s awesome. I mean, just look at it!

But here’s the other thing that made me feel awkward at STAPLE!: the fact that I did not know and had never heard of a vast majority of the artists there. The guests? Yeah, who are they? :X In fact, E.K. and Diana Sprinkle (who had also been at Anime Overload and IKKiCON) were possibly the only people I knew of beforehand, and that’s probably because they both have one foot in the otaku circles. It was obvious from the polish of many of the tables and displays that almost all of them had been at this a while, and that their comics were all well-established in their own right. Many of the books were pretty long, and many of them had a sizable collection of other merchandise. These people are all great at what they do, and what they do is self-publish comics. Not knowing any of them made me feel self-conscious and like I didn’t belong there. I mean, everyone seemed to know everyone else. The comics scene is pretty small and tight-knit. The indie comics scene even more so. My professors had always been clear about that, and I guess it’s especially true in art-centric Austin.

I should read more comics.

A majority of the comics I read on a regular basis are webcomics, and I feel like I read a good number of them… but there were tons of webcomickers in attendance and I didn’t know any of them. This obviously means that I should read more, and I guess STAPLE! was that opportunity — I still need to go through that giant stack of business cards, but I don’t doubt that I’ll be adding at least a dozen new comics to my RSS feed when I’m done. I realized after the fact that Liz Prince was also at STAPLE!… not sure how I missed her considering she was in the same room, but heeeey, there were lots of tables!

But well, I suppose if I go again next year, I’ll have had time to read more comics.

In other news, my hat is getting pretty full! Two years or so worth of picking up buttons at cons does that, I guess. I was thinking of taking off the buttons that I made and just filling it with other people’s buttons, but since some of my buttons have since sold out forever with no plans to remake them, I figured keeping them is a nice chronicle of times past. …But I should probably stop buying buttons that are bigger than 1.25″! They take up so much space! (I’m lookin’ at you, Tazo chai tea button!) Once I fill the top of the hat, I will officially have filled it… I guess I’ll need to get a new hat. I was thinking maybe a cheap costume top hat. Those are pretty big, right?

I got back to my table eventually and sat there the rest of the afternoon feeling more out of it than the day before. Not sure how that worked out. I didn’t talk to as many people and passed the time doodling on and off, but it got increasingly more difficult to concentrate. A pair of Jorge’s friends from Dragon’s Lair stopped by several times to say hello. I’ve already forgotten both their names (sorry!), but one of them was a SCAD grad from years passed, so that was pretty cool. Matt Frank also wandered by at some point, lamenting again about how he really needs to snag a table one of these days. ;3

But traffic was much slower than Saturday. I wonder how things might have been if STAPLE! hadn’t been the same weekend as ECCC? E.K. said that a few (probably) big name artists (that I have never heard of) would have attended otherwise. Oh well. I’m used to Sundays being slow, but the three hour drive back home looming on the horizon did make me want more distractions or things to keep me occupied. My right trapezius was also killing me for some reason. I couldn’t find anything as far as STAPLE!’s official attendance numbers for the last few years, so I don’t have anything to go on… I would hazard to guess there were around 600-700 people, including artists/exhibitors, but I dunno.

E.K. and Brett were apparently feeling similarly sluggish that afternoon and a little while after they sold their last book, decided to pack up early, around 5pm. So I figured I might as well pack up too. The less time I spent driving in the hypnotizing darkness, the better, anyway. So Jorge helped me pack up, we said goodbye to Big Big Truck Productions, I dropped him off at his apartment, filled up the car at an outrageous $3.39/gal, then tore down I-71 at some really crazy speed and made it home in record time. It was a muted sort of ending for a weekend that felt far too short and far too long simultaneously.

I was probably a bit too preoccupied with feeling awkward and out of place this weekend, but I know STAPLE! was a good experience. I met lots of awesome people, and I’ll now be more prepared for Comicpalooza in late May. I need to get more organized. There are just so many things I could be doing… I will have to schedule some time to think about it in between this:

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