What indie comic festivals should I attend?
March 17, 2013 8:48 PM   Subscribe

A question for the alternative comic book artists out there who sell their books at small press festivals across the country. What are the must-attend festivals I should try to register for and how hard is it to get in?

I just finished my first full-length comic book, which I will be selling at MoCCAfest in New York this April. Hoping to extend my "book tour" beyond this one event, I attempted -- in vain -- to get a table at SPX this year. Now I'm left wondering where to go from here. What are the other indie comic art festivals in North America (and maybe Europe) I should set my sights on? Some Googling got me APE in San Francisco, and perhaps TCAF in Toronto. Anything else? Please let me know which shows are curated and which are open to newbie exhibitors. Thanks!
posted by emiljaeo to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
From what I've heard, APE isn't worth it, but if you can afford it, maybe ...

You can try for TCAF next year. That's curated and already set. I think the same thing with I think MeCAF.

I think the list for Stumptown is probably already set. CAKE in Chicago may or may not have tables left. Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival hasn't announced 2013 dates yet, but is usually in November. It's curated and pretty competitive.

I can't give you much help on European shows, but there's Copenhagen Comics in June, which may be a little late for you this year (they don't seem to have it every other year).

Not knowing where you are, there may be smaller shows in your area you can try. Some zine fests are welcoming to comic people (and some are not). Likewise, some bigger "regular" comic cons are accepting of small press people -- it just depends, though. Baltimore Comic-Con and Heroes Con are both good there (maybe too late for Heroes -- probably not for Baltimore).

As far as SPX goes ... well, if you're close enough & can find crash space, just pack up your comics and come anyway. You may not find table space, but it's usually a good experience for people. I tend to encourage people to do that if they can. It's always fun.

If you let me know where you are, I can probably help with researching things more specific to you.
posted by darksong at 9:05 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this. I'm looking forward to next year as well, so even the festivals for which 2013 registration has come and gone are of interest. I'm in the NY area but am willing to travel for any expo with a good vibe. I went to the Brooklyn festival last year and was struck by how small the venue was, especially relative to the attendance. I imagine you have to be pretty well-established before you get a spot there.
posted by emiljaeo at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2013

Locust Moon in Philadelphia had a fest last year and may have one again this year (it was in December). I didn't go but friends liked it.

SPACE in Ohio is a fun little show, but depending on your comic, it may or may not be your thing. It's definitely more of a regional show.

I don't hear that much about STAPLE in Austin, Texas, but it may be worth looking into.

There are a few more specific shows like Kids Read Comics in Ann Arbor, Mich., but that sort of thing may necessarily apply to you or your work. I do have some comics-creating friends who've done well getting involved with more general book festivals or events that relate more to their subject matter, but that does involve a lot of hustling.

This is a little outside of what you're asking, but if you can afford it and have the time, go to as many shows as you can, even if you're not an exhibitor, and just start talking to people -- both attendees and creators. Also, a lot of shows look for volunteers and that's a good way to break the ice and gives you a great excuse to hang out. Many people have done that.
posted by darksong at 9:46 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a little outside of what you're asking, but if you can afford it and have the time, go to as many shows as you can, even if you're not an exhibitor, and just start talking to people -- both attendees and creators.

I'd suggest dropping in on a local cartoonist's meetup like this NYC comic jam and ask them for their advice and experience.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:22 PM on March 17, 2013

Take a look at every single comic convention you can make it to. THere are a ton. Pretty much the entire artists' alley/dealer room will be made up of independent creators. Marvel, DC (the Big Two) and Dark Horse (the big indie) only show up at the very largest conventions,* and even there they'll be hugely outnumbered by tiny independent presses and creators hawking their wares directly. And most of the people that create for Marvel and DC aren't actually employees of either company, so a lot of them will wind up showing up at cons around the country flogging their own stuff.

Oh, and do you want to wind up working for one of the big guys? Or just collaborate with someone else? Prepared to show up at after parties and get pissed. It's how those relationships are formed, and the comic book world is powered almost entirely by personal contacts, a significant percentage of which are facilitated by alcohol consumption.

The biggest problem with trying to do a "book tour" like thing is that cons are dispersed geographically but concentrated in terms of scheduling. As to what cons you could go to, check out this list. There are something like five dozen cons on that list for 2013. Con season runs from roughly February through Thanksgiving, peak season being something like May through August. But, for example, there are no less than six cons each on Memorial Day weekend and the weekend of July 26-28. There a lot of other weekends with more than one going. You can only do one con at a time, so right off the bat there's no possible way for you to go to even half of the cons in any given year, even if you had all the money and time in the world. Practically speaking, you can't even do that. If you did a con pretty much every week between April and June, your itinerary could look something like the following: PA, NY, DC, OH, MN, AL, PA, NC, TN, FL. You'd die. You'd also go broke, because you'd either spend something like two or three weeks in the car or five grand on airfare.

This is why most creators don't go to more than maybe half a dozen cons in a year, plus those few that offer to pay them to show up. As far as getting in, pretty much anybody who wants to can get a table in the dealer room. These things thrive on size and diversity, so they're looking to get more people to come, not limit those who can. They'll want to make sure you aren't selling anything illegal, and that you'll actually have stuff to sell, but I've seen setups as simple as a guy with a stack of books and a cash box. You'll do better if you invest in some marketing materials like display posters, racks, freebies, etc., as getting people to stop at your table rather than the ones next to you can take some doing.

*San Diego, New York, WonderCon, and a few others. Heck, even smaller presses like Archaia don't do all that many. Established publishers so much at retail that this kind of thing is more marketing stunt than business model.
posted by valkyryn at 1:54 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Comicons.org has a good solid list of upcoming indie comics fests.
posted by cadge at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're self-publishing, also consider Zine festivals. I went to Chicagos Zine Fest last year and there were lots of great comics.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2013

DC Zinefest is way smaller than SPX, but if you're in the area it might be worth a shot.

posted by forkisbetter at 11:25 AM on March 18, 2013

If you're selling an alternative comic, stick with alternative cons and not general cons that have an "alternative alley". The possible exception to this is Heroes Con in Charlotte as they do a great job of showcasing alternative comics.

Many of this years cons already are finished accepting exhibitor applications, but there are some left: Grand Comics Festival is curated, and the application deadline is March 20 - apply now!- BCGF (curated) and MICE come to mind). Autopic in Minneapolis is new and only one day, but is still open for exhibitor applications and has some prominent indy guests/attendees already. I also like APE and they'll be opening applications for October next month. APE can be harder for a newbie, but it depends on how much you've been promoting on Twitter/Tumblr/FB.

I'd recommend getting on the exhibitor mailing list for TCAF (curated) and CAKE for next year.

You may also want to network and see if anyone has bought a table at a non-curated show that they want to share. I've found that the best place to make connections with this scene is Twitter.
posted by quince at 5:14 PM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the responses so far. Every one of them has been helpful. I do agree with quince that the mainstream cons probably aren't the right fit for indie/alternative artists who would rather be published by Fantagraphics than work for Marvel or DC. I should have been more specific on that front in my original post.

If you can get a table, TCAF and CAKE definitely sound like they are worth making the trip from New York. BCGF, Grand Comics, Locust Moon and perhaps MICE are too close to not go. I'm on the fence about APE and MeCAF. I'd probably save STAPLE, SPACE and Stumptown for when I become a hardcore indie comic book artist traveling roadshow. Fair assessment?
posted by emiljaeo at 10:11 PM on March 18, 2013

the mainstream cons probably aren't the right fit for indie/alternative artists who would rather be published by Fantagraphics than work for Marvel or DC.

Again, I don't know about that. I've been to five cons in Indiana in the past two years, two comic, two sci-fi, and one gaming, and at that level the difference between "mainstream" and "indie" seems pretty negligible. DC/Marvel probably don't even know they exist, but there were a ton of indie comics creators and authors at all of 'em.
posted by valkyryn at 6:28 PM on March 19, 2013

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