Thursday, May 26, 2011

MeCAF 2011 Recap

Under the rotting pier posts lie the ruins of last year's Festival

Follow-up post to this weekend's fabulous event down in Portland where we manned half a table at my first-ever comics convention and had a great time meeting folks. Preliminary estimates from Festival organizer and Casablanca Comics owners Rick Lowell and Laura O'Meara showed at least a 20% increase over last year’s attendance, which was already at approximately a thousand people. There were enough presenters to fill both the main/upper level and the lower area of the Ocean Gateway facility and still leave enough room to navigate amongst the crowds. It made for a high-density corralling effect as the hordes were funneled first through “downstairs” (where my table was situated) before taking an outside ramp up to the main lobby.

"These aren't the comics we're looking for"- pic by Diane Hunt
(more below the fold)
Along with the bulk of festival creators, the rock-stars of this year’s event, Lincoln Peirce (“Big Nate”), Andy Runton (“Owly”) and Mike Lynch, to name a few, were all ensconced in the upper echelon, which comparatively speaking was a more open space with cathedral-esque windows giving spectacular views of the fog the amazing assemblage of top-tier talent. Given the intensity and duration of the event, there wasn’t much time to visit with folks up there, but I had a couple quick breaks to walk through and check out the tables and work of some of the other on-site artists.
There was an eclectic and diverse medley of talents on display that ranged from traditional comics to alt-indy efforts, and since there weren’t any of the stereotypical mass-market dealers set up, or the commercial trappings of the bigger Comic-Con-type extravaganzas, it made for a much more low-key and intimate event. The attendees were also from a wide cross-section of society; from older folks, college students, teenagers and family units.There was also a noticable influx of students from both the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont and the SCAD Sequential Arts program down in Georgia.
There probably were a few graphic images that were a bit out of place at the kid-friendly event, and I had a couple (brief) twinges of conscience over my “Kinky Crustacean” panel (“Daddy, what’s S&M?”). Coupled with my newfound allergies since moving to Maine, I know this barbarian from the North with his mighty post-nasal drip no doubt created an impressive first impression. For once it was both humbling and a real treat to be one of many cartoonists, as opposed to the usual Alaskan gig where I’m the only one. Everybody at MeCAF, visitors and vendors alike, was friendly, supportive, generous with their time, and excited to be there.

"In Alaska this IS a tan" - pic by Diane Hunt

I learned a lot by eavesdropping on my table-partner, John Platt: observing how both beginners and seasoned pros interact with the public can be a way to learn invaluable marketing insights at these sorts of public events. Like John said; “sitters don’t sell” – so as opposed to being hunched over a drawing pad it is better to greet folks with a welcoming smile and direct eye contact. On the other hand, standing on concrete for nine hours made me deeply appreciate the hotel’s robot massage chair afterwards.
I wound up giving away over 500 sample fliers, of which an estimated 80% were personally handed to any passer-bys that slowed down within reach. Once again credit has to be given to years of training as a waiter on peddling wares, that and how to look fabulously wealthy when in fact it’s just a huge wad of ones in your pocket. Even after discovering at the hotel the night before that I had grabbed the wrong case of books, I still sold a few of the twenty-year old compilations and a couple dozen minicomics: "made the table" and then some. Also note the spiffy duds, which scored a few guffaws.

"Whatever you do, don't look the cartoonist directly in the eye, make any sudden movements, or offer him any food"

Along with the comic art creators on-hand, there were also examples of related efforts by freelance illustrators, animators and writers. True to the convention's promise, there really was something there for everyone, all levels of skill and subject matter. Here's a partial list of the folks who had tables around us and linkage to samples of their work:

As the day wound down there was enough of an interlude to commence with the traditional swapping of swag and tradeouts, and now I have a huge pile of paraphernalia to peruse. The after-party at Andy’s Old Port Pub was also another chance to compare notes, talk shop and raise a few in honor of the festival’s organizers - fantastic job and many thanks to the rest of the staff and volunteers who helped make this a good time had by all.

(Everything actually WAS kinda blurry at this point)

I should definitely mention the meet-and-greet for creators held at the Shipyard Brewery, one of the Festival sponsors, who threw a beer & pizza party on Saturday night. It was a great way to initially meet a few folks over some of their phenomenal Nut-Brown Ale. Not really recommended for getting up or setting up a table early the next morning... but we did swing back to the brewery before leaving town to pick up a case of their amazing root beer "for the road." 

Andy Runton and Rick Lowell at Casablanca Comics

Afterwards we belatedly found out all the museums and many galleries in Portland were unfortunately still closed on Mondays, it still not yet being officially "open tourist season," which was okay since it freed up more feeding time and waddle about the wharfs. A definite high-point in scoring the absolute best clam chowdah evah + an awesome skillet-baked cornbread down at a dockside place called The Porthole. After a last-minute visit to Casablanca Comics we headed home, taking several leisurely hours of slowly winding back up the Coastal Route 1, while stopping in at many smaller towns along the way. 
Now it's back to the drawing board, and already looking ahead to next year's festival.


  1. Great write-up of a great event!

  2. Thanks John - couldn't have asked for a better co-tabler.