The Middle Ground #100 | The Show That Should Never End

This weekend brings with it not only the promise of better weather - You should see the grim, grey skies outside my window as I type these words - but the annual wonder that is the Stumptown Comics Fest here in Portland, which is pretty much the one comic convention that I can't bring myself to miss anymore.

It's not just that it's local to me, although that obviously helps (Seriously, if you can't make it to a convention that's less than twenty minutes bus ride from your house, chances are you don't really want to go deep down); I've written before about the fact that Stumptown appeals to me because it's not a convention in the traditional manner, and that's definitely a large part of its appeal still; looking down this year's schedule, you're more likely to find panels that ask questions like "What happens to comics when you take them out of the context of 'the comics world'?" (Comics in Other Contexts, Saturday at 12pm in room B111) or discuss the ability to make your self-published book stand out than another DC Nation or Marvel Universe panel. Sure, Stumptown has Brian Michael Bendis making an appearance, but it's for this:

Superstar comics author Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Powers, Avengers) makes a very special appearance to present this workshop on writing for comics. Brian will offer tips and tricks on all of the aspects of writing for this very nuanced medium, including creating dialogue to develop distinctive characters, story-building, professional conduct and collaborating with artists.

Stumptown is the comic convention that feels like it's all Artists Alley, with none of the overrun of TV programs, movies or "transmedia" programming that isn't relevant to your interests other than to pander and hope you tune in later (That's not to say it's just comics at the show; there's a Dr. Sketchy's "Anti-Art School" for a couple of hours, and a podcasting panel). The laid-back, relaxed atmosphere of the show is another lure - This is a show where you can get to talk to creators, and not just see them from afar or wait in line for thirty seconds and a hastily-scrawled signature (unless that's your thing). It's the show for people who like comics, as opposed to people who like specific comic characters or series or publishers; somewhere where, if you go with an open mind, you'll come away with at least one brand new favorite thing that you didn't even suspect existed earlier that day.

(Something that seems particularly inviting this year is the guided art gallery tour, which lasts a couple of hours and goes through galleries in town that have comic-related exhibits to tie in with the convention. A lot of outside events get into the act around the convention every year; in addition to these gallery shows, there's also a free event tonight put on by the local library system with T. Edward Bak and Vera Brosgol reading from, and talking about, their work and the latest installment of the awesome Comics Underground amongst other things.)

If you're getting the impression that I'm trying to convince you to visit Stumptown this weekend, you're right; it's a convention model that I'd love to see replicated all over the place, with the focus of comic shows going back to comics instead of Lou Ferrigno wherever possible. Well, that and the fact that I'm getting a kickback from the Portland tourism board in case tourist traffic gets a huge bump this weekend.

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