Another Saturday in Olympia

Which is to say, it was time again for the Olympia Comics Festival.

And this year, by God, I was going to be ready.

Last year, we'd just gone for fun, and to scout it as a possible field trip for the cartooning class. This year we were not only tabling at the show but I'd even agreed to be on a panel. We were bringing not just the Cartooning class, in fact, but also I'd opened it up to the Young Authors kids since Kelsey Smith of the Olympia Timberland Library had made it a point to get those books into her 'zine collection as well.

What's more, I'd fought and bit and kicked and burned numerous bridges in order to get the use of the YMCA van, including retaking the driver's test as well as three additional first-aid classes. I was probably the most thoroughly trained driver in the history of the program. Even at that, I'd thought they were still going to find a way to hold it up, but by heaven, the certification came through on the Thursday before we were supposed to go. I thought then we had it locked up.

Unfortunately, history has shown that no matter how thoroughly Julie and I prepare for one of these student outings, something will still manage to go completely wrong. It's some sort of special sub-section of Murphy's Law.

In this case, it turned out, the usual permission slip was no good -- because it involved a trip in the minibus, we had to use the special long-form permission slip, the same form they use for three months at summer camp and so on. It was explained to me that if our mini-bus was hit by a semi or something and paramedics dragged kids' bodies from the flaming wreckage, it was important that we have the long-form slips with all the medical information to hand.

When I told Katrina, my TA, about this, she objected, "But if it's flaming wreckage and the slips are on paper..."

I shushed her and we sent out the new slips anyway. Kids groused about having to do it twice, but I explained that it was an office thing and we had to have it or no trip, and it got done. I figured that was our snafu for this time and Murphy was appeased.

And then we got sick.

Julie, myself, and Katrina all got flattened by one of the worst viral cold/flu bugs I think I've had in my adult life. In my case, it flared up into full-on bronchitis, largely due to the fact that I couldn't get ahead of any of my jobs enough to take real time off to get well.

But we had twelve kids signed up to go, plus Katrina; we had books to sell; it would be a first show for several of the kids, including Raegan from Young Authors; and I'd fought three years to get the use of the van for trips like this. I reasoned that it was just a forty-minute drive and then a few hours of sitting and talking about comics... if we loaded up on the vitamin C and cough drops, how hard could it be?

In retrospect, I probably should have just canceled the trip. None of us were really up to it, especially me.

But we went anyway, and I think as far as the kids were concerned, it was a success.

Olympia's festival has kind of an interesting structure to it. They open with a two-hour stage show.

There was a brief musical set from local band Spiritual Successor, separate mini-interviews with the festival's guests of honor Paul Chadwick, Megan Kelso and Larry Gonick, and a couple of fun slide shows about comics history.

The students' favorite thing about the stage show, though, was the "trivia contest." The emcees, Jon-Mikel Gates and Steve Willis, asked silly comics-related questions ("What comics-adaptation movie should NEVER be made?") and volunteers from the audience would answer, whereupon a prize would be awarded for whatever the judges thought was the funniest answer. Eli scored on the first try and from that point there was no stopping them, Eli and Troy and Josh were charging the stage at every question. After their third time monopolizing the stage I finally had to tell them to for God's sake stay put and give someone else a chance.

A close second to the contest, at least as far as my kids were concerned, was local comic Morgan Picton doing ten minutes of stand-up on deranged entitled fanboys, X-Men First Class, and January Jones that had us all on the floor. Even young Raegan, who was not really comics-literate the way the rest of the group was, thought he was hysterical.

So the stage show was by and large a success. After that, we trooped over to the Olympia Center to set up for the "Expo," where we were to man a table from one to six. There were also a series of panels and workshops, which was really what I'd thought the kids would be doing. I'd figured the manning-the-table duty would be pretty easy and Katrina and I and maybe a couple of the kids could handle it. Julie and the others could enjoy the show and see the various workshops and so on.

The way it worked out, though... well, I'll level with you -- I spent a large part of the day just trying to stay upright, after my cold tablets wore off somewhere around three-thirty in the afternoon. Everything had that weird, fever-bright haze and I missed a lot of things people said to me because my head was so stuffed up. So if you tried to converse with me on the show floor that day, I daresay I didn't hear you, which would explain the hoarse croaking non-answer you probably got. I went through most of a bag of Hall's cough drops.

My big thing was to somehow keep it together long enough not to make a fool of myself on my panel. Usually, when I offer to help out in this way (generally a matter of, months before, checking off a box on the application that says YES I WOULD PARTICIPATE IN A PANEL) I am asked to do a kid's drawing demo or something like that. Instead....

...I'd been scheduled to talk about comics in schools along with two of the three guests of honor; Paul Chadwick and Larry Gonick, artists whom I admired enormously. By the time 3 PM rolled around, I was just fervently praying I wouldn't give them this bronchial plague, and spent most of the panel trying not to breathe on them. Or anyone else. I honestly don't remember a lot of it, though Julie says it went well.

I do remember telling the story of my cartooning kids' discovery of Luke Cage, and making the point that you don't teach comics like an art class but rather, as a language class, and Larry Gonick being amazed that middle-school kids would work that hard. I explained that publication was the carrot, that for kids just seeing their work in print was so extraordinary and empowering that it made them willing to do everything they needed to do to make that happen.

And Paul Chadwick chimed in, adding that when he was very young and just doing his own zines, he'd line them all up and look at them. "And I'd feel... bigger."

By the time the panel was over my voice was completely blown out, I was rasping and croaking worse than Yoda with emphysema. Back at the table, Katrina was almost as bad. And we still had over two hours to go.

But an amazing thing happened. The students stepped up.

I've often said that one of the unintended consequences of the Cartooning class was that it ends up training kids not just to be cartoonists, but to be working, professional cartoonists. Never did I see that in action more than at Olympia last weekend. The boys, especially -- even Troy and Eli, who are normally disciplinary challenges -- stepped right into it like they'd been doing it their whole lives. They signed, they sketched, they gave the spiel about after-school arts... they did great.

The girls did dive into the workshops; Lexi, Allison and Kayleigh will draw all day if you give them the chance and they made the most of this one. So it was mostly Raegan and the boys on the floor with me. They did a lot of 'zine trading and shopping, while Katrina did a fair business in sketches -- she was determined to make it to her high school prom that night, illness or no, and she wanted some pocket money for that. In a fit of guilt over dragging her out of town on a field trip the day of the prom, I'd told her if she wanted to pick up some quick cash doing caricatures that was fine with me. Meanwhile, Julie and I mostly just sat and tried not to cough on people.

I'd brought a bunch of the Young Authors books so that Raegan would have something to sign as well, and I think she had an even better day than the Cartooning kids; Olympia is, after all, the home not just of a thriving 'zine scene but also Evergreen State College and the Riot Grrls, it's an enormously welcoming town to alternative media and young writers in general. As such, Raegan and the Young Authors anthology book were of considerable interest to everyone who came by the table, much more than the actual comics we had on display. So of course she was walking on air. Certainly, you could see that now she'd had a taste of that "bigger" feeling Paul Chadwick had described, she was never going back.

I did want to document the show a little, so late in the day I sent Raegan around with the camera. By this part of the day I was graying out a bit, so I think I'll just run those pictures here in lieu of trying to write anything.

Here's our delightful next-door neighbor, Brittany Dalberg from WITH SPRINKLES.

Apparently this was a first show for her. Julie bought her book THE PEOPLE ON THE BUS.

Next to Brittany we had Monique and her bottlecap jewelry.

Julie and Rachel fell in love with these last year, and this year Katrina fell for one as well.

Across from us we had these folks....

...the Olympia Comics Collective. It's about what it sounds like -- several local artists pooling their resources to do an anthology 'zine. I have a hunch our grads are probably going to be forming something similar in the future -- Katrina and Amanda are already talking about getting a table for SakuraCon.

This table I'm not sure of -- I THINK it's Milkweed. I do know that the cookies made it a popular stop.

I love that Raegan got her holding one of the kids' giveaway 'zines.

Here's my old friend Kelsey, from the Olympia Timberland Library. Long, long ago, when we were both working for The Corporate Printshop, she took the photos of me teaching at Gatzert Elementary that were incorporated into the first proposal for what became the Cartooning class.

I reminded her of that and she in turn reminded me of pictures I'd taken in Disneyland of her then-toddler and now teenage daughter Cleo. Then we both half-laughed, half howled, "Oh, God, we're OLD!"

No idea who this is at all, but I am guessing from the books that it must be Family Style, which would make this Francois Vigneault.

Anyway, Raegan took his picture so she must have liked the work.

Here's the crew from The Exiled.

It was a first show for them too. Oren, who writes the strip, came by our table earlier and was delighted to learn that Katrina was a fan; I gather that this was the first time Oren had ever met an actual reader.

Another table I have no idea about.

Other than that Raegan must have liked them. I'm guessing it's either Microcosm Publishing or possibly The Fox Den.


And that's all I've got. We gave up a little after five-thirty, mostly because Katrina and Julie were both fading fast along with me, and Katrina was still determined to get back to Seattle in time to make the prom. So she and Julie took the leftover books and other table display stuff in our PT NerdCruiser, and I took the kids in the Y bus.

I know I made the drive home and handing-off of kids to their parents without mishap, but it was largely on willpower; I couldn't tell you anything about it except when Josh thought it would be funny to start asking, "Are we there yet?" somewhere just north of Lacey I threatened to tie him to the roof. Apparently that persuaded the others that it was not a good time to mess with Mr. Hatcher.

I did ask them if they'd had a good time and if we should add Olympia to the rotation. The answer was a loud affirmative from everyone. "It was cool the way it was kinda homegrown," Troy added.

Which pleased me. That's how I feel about small-press shows, myself.

(Never working another one sick, though. Ever. I'm only just now getting back on my feet, which is why this column's going up today instead of Friday like it should have.)

On the whole, though, just this once... I think it was worth it. I just hope to Christ I didn't give the plague to every small-press publisher we met.

See you next week.

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