I haven’t attended any sort of fan media convention in over ten years, so when I stumbled across mention of Staple! Independent Media Expo in one of Janelle Asselin’s Hire This Woman series on Comics Alliance I got very excited. Unlike the majority of the cons I hear about online this one was local to me, and the entry fee was reasonably priced enough to fit my budget ($10 for one day and $15 for both days…I only had the energy for one day). I pulled some money out of my bank account for shopping, programmed the location into my Google maps on the phone, and packed my Fanboy Comics business cards for a day of meeting, greeting, and promoting.
I arrived at The Marchesa Hall and Theater a little after 11, but the parking lot was already full with exhibitor, visitor, con guest, and organizer cars. I was lucky enough to find a spot directly across from the sidewalk crossing between two parts of the theater, so I just jetted through to join a group of comic fans heading to pay the entry fee. One day visitors got a purple wristband that I promptly managed to stick to my arm hair as I fumbled with it (note to self: in the future put the sticky band on the left wrist, so my dominant hand is doing to the sticking). I received a program guide when I got my wristband, but instead of wisely looking at it to determine where things were I just kind of wandered with people who seemed to know where they were headed, which lead me into the Annex portion of the con.
Initially, I just meandered between the booths trying to figure out who was where and what caught my eye. The first order of business was shopping for a birthday present for a 9/10 year old, so I was particularly eager to find anything that appeared to be all ages. Somehow my first real contact at Staple ended up at booth 79, peopled by creators Bis Thorton, Sara Goetter, and Angus Henderson. Not only were they lovely to chat with, happy to take business cards, and offered me some of their free comics for the birthday boy they had FINGER PUPPETS! One will be staying with me, and the other two will be going on a journey with the rest of the birthday stuff. I also ended up buying a couple of Bis’ more mature titles when she mentioned they included LGBTQ characters (reviews to be coming). Sara also had an excellent fantasy adventure title that I think will be appreciated by someone in the birthday boy’s home. All in all they were such sweet, lovely people that I can’t thank them more for starting the con off on a positive note! I believe they were the first group to clue me into the rough indie comic scene in Atlanta as well. Apparently, getting your books into a comic store is nearly impossible, and store owners won’t reimburse indie creators for damage or stolen merchandise. Since I’m not directly involved with the publishing side of FBC I don’t know if this is common or not, but I think it’s awfully harsh to put the entire burden of loss and cost on the creators. One of the things I kept hearing from the Atlanta crowd was that it’s just better for them to sell online only. Maybe I’m spoiled because Austin is a pretty indie friendly scene regardless of your particular art?
Somehow I started the con in the back corner, so when I turned to head back down another aisle I stumbled across Rachel E Kelly’s display of her Colorworld series of novels. The family lives in an RV and travels from con to con (they told me that they had 46 conventions to attend this year from coast to coast!). After Rachel told me the premise I broke out the spiel about “maybe I can help you” along with the FBC business cards. What I expected was that sometime in the future I’d get an email asking for reviews and to get them in touch with Barbra, my managing editor. To my pleasure and shock Rachel passed me over to Brad, her husband and publicist, once we determined I did not need print copies to review (good grief, I know how expensive those are for poor indie authors to put out!). Within minutes I had Kindle editions in my email on my phone, and I hashed out what would best help promote the novels. Wow! Sometimes asking is really all it takes! I’ll be starting the first novel tonight, so I hope to have that one reviewed before the end of the month.
The order of checking out booths gets a lot fuzzier from this point on, probably because I already began to overload from the con. I’m not sure if I visited Mittie Paul’s or Meghasissues’ booth first, but given how closely they were located (only a number or two apart) I’m not sure it makes a huge difference. Mittie Paul’s adorable comics were all completely handmade works of art. Some were more traditionally printed and stapled, but she had a wire bound spaceship (Unfortunately, this one will probably be phased out due to supply issues with good, inexpensive wire binding) and one made out of nifty cardstock with cut outs to show the shiny material underneath and a reflective sticker in the upper left corner to provide a simple mirror for the story (apparently, she had used glass mirrors in the past, but the fragility was an issue). I ended up passing up the adorable comics but did take home a sticker sheet of Anxious Dragons! Meghasissues offered a wide variety of fun comics as her booth as well including one that made me snicker, but would not have met the humour needs of a tween, Damn Hipsters. However, I know that her adorable comic, Cat Therapy, will be greatly appreciated by at least one person in the birthday child’s household. It’s a collection of cute and funny cat drawings created when Meg spent about a year in the hospital. As a typical comic artist she couldn’t not draw during that time, so she created something to help cheer up her fellow patients. I’ll have to pick up a copy of Damn Hipsters at another time when I can use more of my budget for myself.
I believe the next booth I visited was David Lujon’s Nerida booth, which had been tucked into a corner due to last minute registration. Someone had provided a standing lamp, but it was still a little hard to see exactly what was happening in the space. His comic is a blend of various legends about paranormal creatures who can be trapped when they lose important components of themselves i.e. selkies, tennyo, and Nerida is a mermaid who has lost her special skin that allows her to live underwater. David is also one half of the dark indie pop duo, Bitter Birds, and I snagged a card for a music loving friend who I thought might enjoy their tunes. Ironically, I think we chatted a bit more about the Austin music scene than comics since I have an acquaintance who is a member of the band Flametrick Subs.
My exact timeline gets a ton fuzzier around this point due to overload and exhaustion. I know at one point I wandered out into the lobby and chatted with the ladies at the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas table and the Jerry’s Artarama table including putting my business card in a box to win a free comic (using comics to promote literacy for the win! I also mentioned Reading with Pictures as a resource for their clients.) and getting some swag (art contrast pen for inking…but I can barely draw, sticker, button). I also got a card for Austin Writers Roulette, which is a regular function in South Austin for spoken word and poetry once a month. Austin area writers, check it out and maybe prep something on the themes for one of the events! Teresa and Jasmyn (the LitCo ladies) also showed up in costume, which was awesome!
I’m going to babble about the amazing author/publishers/Bond aficionados I chatted with before going into the incredibly talented crafty ladies I encountered before the Hire This Woman panel. When I left the Annex to try to find the location of the panels I actually stumbled across into the main hall where there were even more booths (yes, I could have avoided this surprise by actually reading the program)! I was transfixed quickly by a display of books with geeky and witty titles. Seeing my interest Rick Klaw invited me to talk to him, which startled me since I’m used to older men ignoring me at conventions. Obviously, Klaw and his companion, Mark Finn, are not the type of scary old skool comics types. Also, they recognize the value of connecting with potential customers. I chatted with them a little about their wares, picked up Mark’s freebie card for his novel, The Transformation of Lawrence Croft (yes, I will review it even if he was giving it to anyone who bothered to check out his display), and did my best to promote FBC. As I was explaining what I did as a reviewer and contributor I mentioned the Bond op-ed I did earlier this year, and a light turned out for both Mark and Rick. I left the table with both men’s business cards, the card for a free Kindle copy of Mark’s book, a connection for possible reviews, and a list of Bond films to check out beyond the ones I had already seen (although Mark did insist that I’d done well seeing Goldfinger and Live and Let Die). Hilariously, these guys are close enough friends that they engaged in a friendly argument over best movies and best Bonds with me, and I will be tracking down some of the more current Bond flicks as the need for slick spy action hits me.
I suspect I hit the crafty lady booths before my Bond loving writer duo because all three were located in the Annex. I believe I stumbled across Kristin Hogan’s Squid Friends display first because I was hit with dismay that my budget was not nearly big enough for incredible plush stuff (nor do I need to have more stuffed animals in my home that I have to keep from the dogs). Kristin is one of those crafty people I envy deeply because she can paint and sew, and her critters all look the way she intended (I can make pillows…kind of). While cephalopods are Kristin’s main love I suspect she’d be willing to try her hand at any sea critter you can dream of and maybe some land ones as well. She also has quite a following based on the likes to the photo on my Facebook!
Valerie G and her Cultured Critter Collective is a Houston based urban vinyl and mixed media crafting enterprise. She does a lot of work in polymer clays, and I was fascinated by her skilled use of varnish to add shine to each item (I thought a vinyl pig was ceramic…but I also did not touch the pretties). Her tiny polymer monsters are adorable, and if money were no object I would own the sushi monsters in the Japanese style spoons…all of them! Valerie also will do commissions, time permitting.
Tanya Davis’ sculpture, custom vinyl toys, prints, and jewelry had some similarities to Valerie’s offerings, but Tanya definitely focuses a lot more on steampunk and less on cute. Don’t get me wrong…there’s something downright cuddleable about a steampunk ducky, but her aesthetic is a little different. I didn’t get to talk with Tanya as much as I did with Kristin or Valerie, but she was thrilled I wanted to take a photo of her booth and just asked that I tag her on Facebook (already done!). Tanya is also willing to take commissions if she isn’t prepping items for cons.
Oh…and I learned one good thing for any con attendees: artists are usually pretty willing to let you take photos of your stuff if you ask first! I asked in advance, and not one of the three ladies turned me down. Valerie just declined to be in the picture, and I respected her wish. This stuff is their bread and butter, so if they don’t feel comfortable with you snapping pics just respect it and move on. It doesn’t make the artists bad people; it makes them sensitive about intellectual property theft.
I stumbled into the theater at the end of the Life in Panels: Autobio Comics panel with Jess Fink, Kate Leth, and a young woman who had been added to the panel as a pinch hitter whose name I didn’t catch…embarrassing since I grabbed her to concur on her adoring The Chipmunk Adventure. I took a moment to gush at Kate Leth about her work on Adventure Time and actually spent several minutes with Jess Fink and the lovely lady whose name I didn’t catch gabbing about Chipmunks trivia and craziness in voice acting. Okay…Staples posted a photo of the panel and ID’d my mystery lady. She’s Rachel Dukes of Mixtape Comics!
Okay, honest truth…I managed to make a bit of an ass of myself with Hire This Woman panelist and talented trans*woman author, Jeanne Thornton, by generally being a little bizarre and self-deprecating every time I saw her. She is a much kinder soul than I am, or at least recognized that I was probably just overstimulated and nervous, and gave me a copy of her publication Rocksalt when I visited her booth as well as a print of her upcoming book releases and was thrilled to accept my business card when I wandered nervously back on a fourth pass (Kristine…I did kind of imply you’d want to review some of her stuff because it’s very trans* positive…please don’t hurt me). Thank you for your courtesy!
The other ladies on the Hire This Woman panel included Jamie Kinosian, CM Bratton, EK Weaver (she currently is running a Kickstarter for a TPB of her work TJ and Amal; just search for the title if you like her stuff!), and Maria-Elisa Heg. Janelle Asselin kept the tone similar to her famous column, and all five panelists seemed to enjoy sharing their ideas and experiences with the audience. I’m glad I caught it!
However, the real highlight of my Staples! 2015 is probably when I accidentally stumbled on Mark Nasso’s after browsing and purchasing a necklace at Jessica von Braun’s booth. Okay…why was this such a big deal? I reviewed Mark’s editorial compilation Doom Ranch 5000: Texas Artist Anthology</em, so this was my first opportunity to meet a creator in person after I reviewed their work. Mark generously gave me a hard copy of the anthology, signed his page, and tipped me off that several other contributors were at Staple. Between Mark’s advice and the program (yes, I finally used it) I tracked down Jessica again, Chris Ruggia(first con for Chris, and he was so excited that I wanted his autograph that he also gifted me with a collection of his comics; a review will be forthcoming), Isaiah Broussard (the cutest creepy stories you’ll find, I swear), and Chris Sweet. All of them were thrilled that I wanted their work signed, and when it seemed appropriate I passed out FBC cards.
By the time I gathered my last autograph I was exhausted, and I still needed to hit AHS for my regular dog walking shift. I hadn’t managed to see Babs Tarr, but I didn’t feel gipped at all. Meeting creators and seeing that they appreciated the work I do as a reviewer was a much bigger positive reinforcement. I may have felt like roadkill the next day and struggled to fight off con crud, but it was fun. I think Staples! is one con I will keep on my list for next year.
As my managing editor, Barbra, said in an email after I reported my work to her: “Indie creators, unite!”