Saturday, March 3, 2012

Signal Watch attends: Staple! - The independent media expo

So, every year since moving back to Austin I have wanted to attend the Staple! Independent Media Expo.  That's the name, but its really mostly about self-published comics on a regional level.  That doesn't mean that Austin's KO-OP radio didn't have a table, and a few others things like The New Movement Theater.

But, mostly, self-published (and self-stapled - thus the name) comics.

I have mixed feelings on the whole thing, but a few caveats:

1)  I attended by myself
2)  I have mild social anxiety issues, so I really didn't talk to anybody there
3)  As at all conventions (including the ones I've attended for work), I am not a huge fan of the table approach.  I don't know how to improve it, but there's really no polite way to approach a table and explore what is on said table without clearly raising the hopes of the seller or without feeling like you need to buy something.  There's some weird desperation going on there.  And if its not, then there's just a very bored person sitting behind the table contemptuously eyeing you for spending time at their table and not buying anything.

You cannot win.

But I figured if I was going to be serious about sticking around comics even if I'm pulling out of the monthly  superhero thing, I should probably check out what's going on with indie books.

The answer is:  I have no idea.  If I have one bit of advice to the people trying to sell a narrative - a banner with people posed carrying weaponry is not a narrative.  Especially when that's the same thing everyone else is selling on their posters.  Okay, "people" is a little narrow.  I also don't know about your manga-style cat lady with the broad sword and unicorn or whatever is going on there.  That isn't really a story, either.  That looks like a doodle in the margins of your notes when you were supposed to be watching a filmstrip in class so its hard for me to know why I should want to stop at your booth when stopping at your booth will suggest that I may have to buy something.

I did get wrangled by someone who informed me they were trying to "make it rain", which made me laugh, and we chatted for a bit and I bought a couple of comics from some locals.  I also bought some comics from one of the clerks at Austin Books, and some fan art by guys I think were contributors to GhettoManga Quarterly, a Texas-based publication (look, when I see a print of incredibly well realized fan art of Attack the Block, I buy that @#$%).

The expo was heartening, as its a kick to see so many people putting so much love and work into their independent projects.  But there's also a lot of it, and some of it is purely and obviously derivative, a huge chunk of it is just so poorly drawn (and not in a fun way that exhibits a style and intentional craftsmanship - see: Achewood) that I just can't imagine handing over money for the work.  Its a weird middle-ground of  folks putting themselves out there, but a lot of this is not ready for primetime (and a lot never will be).

I don't know what I was expecting, but it was far less embarrassing than table after table of people drawing awkward High School Intro To Art level renderings of Thor as I saw over and over again at Wizard World Austin (like, seriously, no).  And, as I said, I liked seeing all these bright-eyed folks actually creating their own stuff and standing behind it.  Literally, I guess.  That's sort of the table set-up.

Anyway, being a critic is easy.*  Making stuff is really @#$%ing hard.  But buying stuff is also expensive.  

And that's sort of where I think the rubber meets the road when it comes to the value of webcomics.  The low (read: non-existent)  price of entry is necessary for coming to comics and growing to support a voice of a strip, a character or creator.  Buying a comic for $30 just because that's how the creator figured they'd absorb their cost and because we're staring at each other across a table?  That's a wee bit awkward for both of us.  Growing to love a comic enough to kick a few bucks to the tip jar once in a while?  Buy the t-shirt or coffee mug?  Maybe the eventual printed edition? All do-able.  But, the economy on this is pretty mind-boggling.

*being an internet complainer is the easiest of all.  9 years!  Woot!


horus kemwer said...

Local indie comics are not the only alternative to mainstream superheroes, there's also foreign comics, or comics marginalized for other reasons. Also, of course, there are indie comics from other regions.

Three examples I'm 100% certain you will find solid investments, but which I'd wager aren't on your radar (in no particular order):

1. "Cursed Pirate Girl" (regional from Michigan)

2. "The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book" (subtle, hilarious, and amazingly drawn stoner Tintin parody from South Africa)

3. Dungeon (extended series of brilliant funny monster books from France)

Of course, there are my own idiosyncratic tastes as well, . . . but these I recommend unreservedly.

The League said...

Well, Austin Books does a phenomenal job of stocking all sorts of comics, well beyond superheroes and standard sci-fi. I've wanted to attend Staple! for years, but its never been convenient, as I am very curious about what's going on in my region.

Its great to get some recommendations! If ABC doesn't carry any of these, I'll follow up elsewhere online.

My next read is actually a kid's comic called "T-Minus: The Race to the Moon". 3 guesses what it's about.

The League said...

I should also mention - my post was generalizations regarding a lot of the truly independent media. Top Shelf actually had a table, and while I don't buy everything Top Shelf publishes, they've earned their rep.

But I guess a "Small Press Expo" might be more my speed. I'd love to see a First Second table, or an NBM table, for example.

horus kemwer said...

League - I hear you.

I was actually stressing most over whether or not I could pick things I'd be so certain you'd like but which you hadn't heard of. Have you heard of any of these before?

Anyway, if you do check any out, I expect a full review.

The League said...

Oh, no. I hadn't heard of any of these. But I like to try new things, absolutely.

Not sure the stuff I picked up at Staple! was my cup of tea, but I like getting pushed outside of my comfort zone with comics. I'll take a look on Wednesday to see if ABC has any of these, and if they don't... to the interwebs!