Last year, what had originally been intended as a one-time gathering of web cartoonists to hang out, drink and just generally shoot the breeze became the first New England Webcomics Weekend. This year, having learned from the first and having months instead of weeks to plan the event, the second NEWW took place in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
The Eastworks building, an old factory that’s been converted to multiple uses was once again the setting and though the crowds were larger than last year, the organizers took pains to cap attendance so that it wouldn’t be overwhelming. The Eastworks Building is in use throughout the weekend, so the deli, restaurant, ballet school and hair salon on the ground floor were open for business which, along with the fact that the building allowed dogs, gave the weekend a very different feel from your typical comic convention.
The ground floor was often packed with people, but with attendance capped at a manageable level, much of the day saw the crowds spread out through the building, at panels and other areas. That said, lines dominated the tables on the ground floor. It seemed as if half the people there that weekend waited in front of Kate Beaton’s (“Hark! A Vagrant”) table, which wasn’t entirely unexpected considering the lines she’s drawn at bigger comics conventions.
David Malki was another creator dealing with well-wishers all weekend. Besides having copies of “Wondermark” available for purchase, he was selling copies of “Machines of Death,” an anthology which was currently the number one book on Amazon, and which Glenn Beck attacked on the air.
Danielle Corsetto (“Girls with Slingshots”) had such a long line throughout Saturday that her table was moved on Sunday because it was deemed a fire hazard. Local resident Jeph Jacques had his new book, the long-awaited first volume of “Questionable Content” available and fans lined up to get a copy.
Writer Bill Barnes shared a table with the two people he collaborates with on two webcomics, Gene Ambaum (“Unshelved”) and Paul Southworth (“Not Invented Here”). Though the three were rarely seen together, they made a very interesting group during their panel on Webcomics Collaboration as they shared a couch and compared their work to marriage.
The panels ran the gamut from instructional to interesting to flat out silly. One room, the Chamber of Mystery, was where the instructional panels took place as creators discussed and demonstrated a variety of illustration techniques from inking to coloring and more while drawing for the audience. In the main panel room, which had a particularly unique layout, Chris Hastings (“Dr. McNinja”) interviewed John Allison (“Bad Machinery”), other creators discussed the unique challenges and experiences of working with a partner, while another was titled “Cartoonists Answer Your Questions About Star Trek.”
The list of webcartoonists featured at the show was lengthy, and there were many more wandering the halls, attending panels and passing out books and flyers. Meredith Gran (“Octopus Pie”), one of the show’s organizers, was in a constant state of motion, seen with either a mug of tea or a dog the entire weekend. Liz Baillie (“Freewheel”), Jen Vaughn (“Mermaid Hostel”), Megan Beahr (“Fried Wontons”), Darryl Ayo and Sam Carbaugh were just a few of the people that could be seen discussing webcomics and buying books through the building.
Expanding the events beyond the comics panels and tables this year, Friday night featured a pub crawl through nearby Northampton. On Saturday, nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot performed two shows and if that wasn’t enough, there was a shuttlebus manned by Richard Stevens of “Diesel Sweeties” fame running between the Eastworks building and the nearby Clarion Hotel.
In its second year, its clear that Webcomics Weekend has found its niche. It has already found it’s identity as a weekend devoted to creativity and community where no announcements are made and no crowds are crushing people. There are lines, but they’re orderly and polite. At a time when the trend for conventions seems to be they grow and expand beyond comics, there’s a very clear need for shows for those of us who love the medium and hate crowds. People claim that the internet can bring us together and create new communities, and though many would argue that the web is mostly a diversion, NEWW is proving to be the best of both of those worlds.