10.25.2013

Kent Comic Arts Fest 2013


Last weekend the fam and I trekked up to Ohio for, primarily, the inaugural Kent Comic Arts Fest and to a lesser extent, for a long overdue visit with my parents and my sister's family. KentCAF is a show that's been in the works for quite awhile...the organizer, my old friend Wayne Harold (best known as the filmmaker behind P. Craig Russell's Graphic Storytelling series), has been talking for years about creating a convention in my hometown, but life and other obligations kept getting in the way. Thankfully, things finally came together over the last year, and I'm really glad they did.

The small but extremely impressive guest list included old pals P. Craig Russell, Jill Thompson, Galen Showman, Jay Geldhof, Will Pfeifer, Neil Vokes and Jim Anderson...honestly, it was as close to a class reunion of the old Lurid.com Message Boards as you're ever likely to see...as well as folks I hadn't met yet, like Derf, Scott Hampton and American Splendor's "Genuine Nerd", Toby Radloff.

I have plenty of my own thoughts on the show, but before I get to them I'd like to share a few comments from Wayne with his take on how things went.

Overall, I think that things went really well! The weather took a turn for the worse and it was pretty cold and drizzly, but the audience built throughout the day so that by the time we got to The Artists of The Graveyard Book presentation at 3PM, the Kent State Kiva had a nice-sized, very engaged audience.

I’d like to get more foot traffic for the Guest Alley and Marketplace next year—especially since that portion is based at the KSU Student Center and is totally free—but the guests and exhibitors that I spoke with all said that they made decent money selling stuff, especially since it was a debut festival. Most have already signed on for next year and they promise that they will bring other creators and exhibitors with them.

We’re also going to expand the educational offerings next year. Jill Thompson called me on her drive back to Chicago and said that she would love to do a painting class and also portfolio reviews for budding artists. P. Craig Russell is up for the latter as well. I’m going to try to get another nice room for the all-day classes. So we’ll have a dedicated space for the educational portion, plus the free Guest Alley and Marketplace, plus the onstage programming at the Kiva auditorium.

With a lot of the shows lately, it all seems to be about herding as many people in as possible in order to outdo each other by trumpeting higher and higher “numbers.” I’d rather have a smaller number of really satisfied attendees—the whole KentCAF experience is all about getting to spend some quality face time with the creators.

We’re not doing the show to make money—there are a lot quicker and easier ways to make a buck. It’s all about promoting comics as a true art form, teaching eager folks some great techniques, and having a freaking amazing time at the VIP party. And on that count, I’d say we succeeded right out of the gate!

The first year is all about planting the flag, now we just have to keep improving the experience.

I think he really gets to the point of the show in that fourth paragraph. Granted, the size of this first KentCAF could've been much bigger...and it promises to be in years to come...but man, the quality of this small sample of exhibitors is beyond reproach. The same applies to the small but interested crowd. The focus on education is a worthy goal, as well.

I rolled into the KSU Student Center about a half-hour before the show was set to open and got right to setting up. The limited guest list, combined with a great amount of space, meant I could actually spread out my "shop" a bit...there was plenty of room for all my comics, as well as space for prints and original art, even my box of what I call "Fire Sale" art, weird odds and ends from 12+ years of freelance illustration gigs that I sell for $8 apiece. It's a nice change of pace from having to cram everything onto a six square feet of tabletop. Next year I'm bringing everything

Sales and attendance were good too, if not quite seeming in line with their potential. Granted, it was an amazingly shitty day weather-wise, cold and drizzly, not exactly the kind of stuff you get excited about going out in, but I did figure the free admission to the "marketplace" section of the show would bring a few more curious souls than it did. One problem may have been a bit of a lack of promotion...a friend whose son is a freshman at Kent told me he came to the student center to look at the show but couldn't find us. Nothing a few bigger, more colorful posters can't fix! And still, for the size of the crowd, I was amazed that almost everyone who walked by the table actually bought something...not just a $2 mini comic, either, but prints, original art, etc. Having a huge crowd of looky-loos is one thing, but it doesn't mean much to me as an exhibitor unless they're prepared to drop some cash!

Of course, the fact that KentCAF essentially took place in my hometown meant seeing several pals old and new who stopped by to check it out, including my friend RyCo who drove all the way from Pittsburgh and Brian who came over with his family from Youngstown. I saw a few folks like my friend Sue (with who I actually attended Kent State back in the 90s) and my pals Eric, Kelly and Bill who came in from out of town as much to hang out with all us arteests after hours as to shop around the festival. 

It was also just plain odd at times...at one point I walked to the lower level of the student center to have lunch in The Hub, a huge commons area that houses the food court, etc...I sat in that room on countless nights in 1994-95 working on my first comic strip, which ran in the Daily Kent Stater, but haven't stepped foot inside in well over a decade. Put me in a very melancholy place...got me thinking about what I'd done, how far I've come...but also what's to come, and frankly, what I have left. Hell of a thing to contemplate over a Subway Classic BMT, I'll tell you.

So overall, I'd call the inaugural Kent CAF a big success. There's definitely room to grow...I'd definitely love to see some not-quite-as-local folks as exhibitors next year, guys like Ed Piskor, Jim Rugg from Pittsburgh, Tom Williams or Jeff Smith from Columbus, more folks from Chicago...and I plan to contribute my efforts to make that happen. Also, I was too busy to take in any of the panels, which is frustrating if de rigeur, and I hope to remedy that in the future. 

So bring on KentCAF 2014! And until then, hop over to Facebook for a bunch of photos!!

Photo by Robert J. Lucas/Record-Courier

Me and RyCo

A couple sketches





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