This Year's Saturday in Olympia

And when I say 'Olympia,' as usual, I am referring to our annual class pilgrimage to the Olympia Comics Festival.

For the second year in a row, it was surprisingly painless, given that it was a school trip that involved requisitioning a bus and also getting two sets of parental permission slips from two different schools. Part of it is that by the time this show rolls around, we've already gone through the craziness that is Emerald City, and both my middle school and high school classes are completely trained for the convention table experience. Also, we also had a lot of students who'd been to the Olympia show last year and were just happy to be going again, particularly Cal and Hina.

The new things we did this year were to include the high school Young Authors class, and we also let Lindon come along and showcase her manga-themed jewelry. She didn't bring her high school cartooning students-- adding a third school and its attendant budget hassle was not something I was prepared to do. But we like having Lindon along and she would be company for Julie on the road (who was following the bus in our own car with all the kids' books and table-setup things.) It worked out really well since Chelsea, who organizes the expo part of the show, had a cancellation on a half-table and she let our kids have it. So we just decided to let Lindon and her homemade jewelry take the space as a thank-you for all the unpaid help she'd given me this school year.

I had told the kids that Olympia is a much smaller, friendlier show, and the point was to enjoy themselves and engage with the comics community a little more. "Get out from behind the table, talk to the other exhibitors, trade some 'zines, see a panel or two."

Except, as it turned out, there weren't that many panels and zero interest from any of the kids for any of them. I did go to the "Small-Press Roundtable," because I was interested and our old friend Roberta Gregory was moderating it.

It probably would have been too dry for the kids-- lots of inside-baseball stuff about printing and distribution and cost-benefit ratios and promotion and all of that. But I was interested. Small-press is hard and successful small-press is incredibly rare (and that's even when you define success as 'not actually losing money.')

I was especially impressed with Chris Christiansen from Northwest Press, who goes by the name 'Zan' ("Yes, from Super Friends-- he was the useless one who only turned into water, or stuff like that," he explained) and actually makes a living off his publishing company. Mostly from having a strong internet presence, and also relentlessly touring-- he does around twenty-four shows a year, he said, which made me tired just thinking about it.

I stopped by his table afterward and chatted a little. His company is focused on doing adult books aimed at the LGBT community, which is quite a ways out of my staid mainstream wheelhouse (although I almost fell for a lesbian sword-and-sorcery epic, The Adventures of Bold Riley.) But I wanted to support him and he had a book about bullying I thought my students might get something out of, THE POWER WITHIN.

When I told him I was thinking about taking it to class, he told me there was actually supplemental discussion material in the back, and also that there were special deals for teachers. If you are interested, you can get it as a free PDF download here. I think it's a pretty powerful book, and well worth your time even if you're not an educator. Plus there's all sorts of cool bonus pagess from Donna Barr and Greg Rucka and Phil Jiminez and lots of other folks.

That was all the chatting and shopping I got to do for quite some time, as chaos had erupted among my young charges. Amazingly, it wasn't the younger kids, but the older ones.

In a way, I suppose, it was my own fault. I knew Carlos tends to get carried away, and he needs to be told things five or six times, usually. In particular, he had seized on the notion of doing 'zine trades as being synonymous with 'get free stuff.' The part about exchange of ideas, community, networking-- that was all lost on him. So in about fifteen minutes he'd papered the room with our latest Young Authors book and fast-talked himself into an armload of loot in return, before any of the others had any chance to circulate at all. Most of his classmates were just eye-rollingly exasperated, but Kelsey was genuinely hurt, mostly by Carlos' habit of referring to the anthology as 'my' book, but also by essentially destroying the market before she had a chance to walk around with me and be introduced to other exhibitors.

The reason she was waiting for me is because I'd told her I'd go with her. She wouldn't have gone, alone, certainly not to talk to a total stranger and offer to trade a book she had work in. Kelsey is extraordinarily shy, and often made fun of and shoved around by the other kids in school, and, like many outcasts before her, she takes refuge in my class. (At the high school, Young Authors is occasionally referred to by faculty as "The Island of Misfit Toys." The general consensus is that we're all a bunch of weirdos, which is why I try really hard to get the kids to events like the Olympia festival and Short Run in the first place, so they can see that even us weirdos have our place in the scheme of things and a community where we can prosper.)

Anyway, even among our band of oddballs, Kelsey is not terribly sure of herself and tends to take everything personally. Julie became aware of this situation and scolded Carlos and told him to sit down and let the others roam for a while, which had in turn caused more bickering and bad feeling.

This is why I never leave the table, usually. Because the students all know better than to pull this sort of thing when I'm there; Carlos, in particular, would never have dared to swagger all over the room taking credit for everything in our anthology if he thought I could see him doing it. It took a few minutes of everyone yammering at me before I was able to sort it all out. (Julie was especially furious, since she had also been a shy overweight kid who got picked on a lot, and she was taking it as personally as Kelsey herself.)

So I gave Kelsey some of our DOODLE INC alumni books to trade instead and sent her out with the camera to take pictures, and added that she should get business cards or something from the folks she photographed so I could sort out who everyone was. Since I figured I better hang around our table and insure that Carlos didn't start any more mayhem, Kat went as moral support instead.

And all these folks were uniformly lovely to her. These are the people she photographed, and I'm linking to their pages wherever possible because you should support them. (I really hope I'm not mis-identifying anyone... the girls were not terribly diligent about telling me who was who, and I've spent a considerable amount of time trying to check and make sure. Still, every year I always seem to get at least one caption wrong for the tablers at Olympia.)

Here's Wade Busby from Archetype Media.

He doesn't seem to have a website, but he does a book called Mr. Emergency! that looks like a fun read.

This is Annie Jennings, whose work is here.

She was great with ALL my kids, and urged us to come down to the Portland Zine Symposium in August. I doubt I can put together a summer trip for the students, but Julie and I might go.

Of course, it's not an Olympia show without Monique and her bottlecap jewelry.

Julie loves it and I had assured Monique that my wife would be by to get something. However, Kelsey was so instantly enamored of it that I think Julie ended up financing something for Kelsey instead. My bride is a soft touch.

We had nice neighbors. Suzette Vander Smith was right across from us, and though I didn't really get a chance to say hello, I appreciated her patience with all our boisterous noise.

I was looking on her blog to make sure I had the name right and she has some cute pieces up there. Check it out.

Here's Nathan Wirtz.

Just a couple of tables down from us, and a very gracious guy. I didn't get a chance to see his stuff but quite a few of the kids told me his book Vaudeville looked really cool.

Right next to us -- actually, next to Lindon and her jewelry-- was Matthew Rainwater.

His comic is called Garage Raja and I really like it. That kind of old-school cartoony style done with this level of craft and polish from an indie creator always wins me over... and he was a really nice table neighbor. Because I was kept busy trying to herd my more energetic students into remembering their con manners, I barely got more than a second to nod gratefully at him, but I hugely appreciated his easygoing attitude towards the chaos just to his right, and I loved the work of his I saw.

Nest to Mr. Rainwater was this gentleman, Matt Youngmark.

From Chooseomatic Books. As you might surmise from the name, he publishes books riffing on the old 'choose your own adventure' multiple-outcome paperbacks. Another really polished indie pro with several cool comics collections for sale. Again, I was kept busy issuing Solomonesque rulings on acceptable behavior so I didn't really get a chance to talk to him, but I caught him grinning indulgently at us once or twice.

And of course, Chelsea Baker herself is always a total sweetie to all my students. There aren't words to adequately convey how grateful I am at her efforts to keep everything as simple and painless for us as possible, every year. She even makes sure to give us an end table so the kids can swarm in and out without disrupting any of the other exhibitors.

That's her on the right. Her comics are here.

Now, I don't mean to imply that it wasn't a successful show for us or that the kids weren't having fun. They had a great time. The Madison kids, especially Cal, really love tabling.

And even Carlos got into it, once he was over his sulk. Here he is showing off his sketchbook.

The kids also did a lot of sketches for people.... here's a souvenir sketchbook page several of the students contributed to, for Tim Basaraba.

The prospector guy is Cal; "Haunted harmony" is Justine; and the penciled girl with the kitty ears just below Cal's is from Lindon.

And I did finally get to walk around a little, late in the afternoon. At least long enough to say hello to my old friend Kelsey Smith from the Timberland Library, who once did the apron and nametag thing with me at the Big Corporate Printshop, long ago.

You can hardly see her, but she's down in the corner there, laughing. Kelsey keeps all the kids' books in her library's zine collection and even makes sure they're searchable in the catalog. This is a HUGE deal for the Young Authors, especially. I always enjoy seeing Kelsey, and we had a good laugh over Carlos' antic, if somewhat misguided, PR campaign.

My favorite con moment was during my brief afternoon stroll around the tables. Mark Monlux-- The Comic Critic-- had a book display that caught my eye. Once I saw it I knew it was for me.

So I bought one, and Mr. Monlux offered to sketch me, participating in any movie I wanted, in the frontispiece.

I said, "Road House," and by God, he did it.

I was delighted. I immediately went to show Julie, who said instantly, "Oh my God, it's Road House," and collapsed into giggles.

What can I say? My bride knows me that well.

So that was our day at the show. It was, in fact, the last day or Cartooning and Young Authors for this school year, as well, and definitely was a nice note to go out on. Thanks again to all the swell exhibitors, especially Chelsea, for making it such a great experience for the students and for us, too.

As for me? I'm going to catch up on my sleep. The first two weeks of June are always hellishly busy and emotionally exhausting, what with each crop of grads that want to check in and say goodbye, and of course for Julie and me they're all 'our' kids; we get horrible empty-nest syndrome every June and this year was no exception. Between that and trying to put a show trip together during the last week of school, I'm wiped out.

But I should be back and rested by next week. See you then.

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