What is a convention?
If I say I am going to a comic book convention to a non-comix reader, the image instantly arises of people in costumes, video game demos, film trailers, toy figurines, multimedia commercials–everything except for comics. Saying the exact same thing to a comix fan probably evokes those things as well–and lots of long boxes filled with old comics. But if I say I am going to a writer’s convention, people of all stripes will expect I am going to meet authors, partake in workshops, perhaps enjoy a panel discussion or two. In fact, this is why many writer’s conventions are called conferences.
More than any other artistic field, comix has been hijacked by people who have little to no interest in the field itself. For me, attending a contemporary comic book convention is a surefire method to induce headaches, vomiting and nausea without the help of a previous meal at Burger King. Each year the conventions in the Seattle area get more and more nauseous and, perhaps consequently, draw larger and larger crowds with comix itself easing further and further into the dark background–or under the stairwells where they can be safely contained. Emerald City Comic-Con is the worst by far but others are equally likely to make me wish I stayed home playing Chinese checkers with the neighboring crows or watching reruns of Studs.
Yet I have been a long-time reader of comix. I have published two zines dedicated to comix and sequential art. I have worked for two rather large companies in the industry which shall here remain nameless. I have managed one of the leading alternative comix stores in Seattle. I should fit right into any convention dedicated to this medium I love so much. But I do not. The key is in the last phrase, “dedicated to this medium.”
For years Steve Miner with his no-compete contract at the Seattle Center cranked out increasingly bland quasi-comics events to the complete detriment of anything else. The Seattle comic book scene was dominated by a single convention whose sole purpose was to serve as a holding tank for creators cranking out signatures on their latest hot property and for dealers who came with lots of old-timey stuff sitting in white longboxes waiting for that one person truly desperate to have a copy of the premier issue of Kickers Inc. or Ambush Bug.
Rare is the comic book convention in which the medium and its creators are front and center, either metaphorically or spatially. Instead the creators are either displaced by tangentially related excuses for cosplay shows featuring the latest fad in sci-fi, or they hide deep in the building as afterthoughts in what are otherwise merely overpriced flea markets.
Jet City Comic Show was at least a noble attempt to put comics back into comics conventions. Its founders referred to it as a “back to basics comic show” which is a fair description. There were some dealers, sure, with white longboxes of comics (I did not check for back issues of Kickers Inc.) and there were two costume shows featuring the latest fad in sci-fi. There was a huge display of Legos. Nevertheless, the concentration was clearly upon comics, comics art and comics artists.
The list of artists was appealing and diverse, containing artists who worked primarily on “work-for-hire” material at big companies, artists who worked primarily in webcomics, artists who worked primarily in alternative press comix, artists who worked primarily in illustration, and artists who spanned the entire range. Even better, there was a workshop on comics as a storytelling medium led by the respectable Ron McCain and live drawing events with Sean Dietrich, Vincent Gordon and Kai Martin of The Infusion Project and a “Drink ‘n’ Draw” event open to the public with artists from the convention.
In short, it was a convention. A place where people convened around an interest in a subject.
The feeling around the Exhibition Hall was joyful, friendly, even subtly blissful. At no point did I ever feel as though I could not strike up a conversation with a stranger about comics. I did just that: I had an extraordinary conversation with Natalie Nourigat that made me actually feel hopeful about comics. Everyone there I encountered had a clear interest in comics–a sense I do not get from Sakura Con or the rest. Artists received more floorspace than dealers and were easy to find on the map.
Jet City Comic Show is a start. It is not the ideal convention in my mind. My ideal convention has even more workshops, panel discussions with intelligent moderators, and more personal contact with artists. Somewhere, sometime in the future I envision a comics convention where there are no dealers at all, only artists and fans, and an approach and belief that prove comics are something more than an adjunct to a vague, frivolous “pop culture” miasma. The people at Jet City Comic Show seem, at least, to understand this. It is a young convention, and with a bit of vision may grow to be the finest convention Seattle has seen since the 1980s.