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MeCAF 2009 Con Report

This past weekend I attended the first annual Maine Comics Arts Festival, organized by Rick Lowell of Casablanca Comics, and what can I say? It was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had at a comics convention! First off, it was located right in downtown Portland, which is one of my favorite places to spend a short weekend vacation. Lots of nice little shops (including Casablanca itself, which was already one of my standard stops when visiting), plenty of nearby places to eat, and the city stays active late into the night, with plenty of live music and good places to get a nice locally brewed beer.

The pre-show began Saturday night, with a ferry ride to Peak’s Island, where Rick hosted con exhibitors at the Peak’s Island Inn with complimentary appetizers and beer (courtesy of sponsor Shipyard Ale). It was a pleasure to be treated so generously—our participation in the show was clearly appreciated. After the first wave of exhibitors left (we had to exit by ferry, so there was no gradual tapering off of festivities) I shared a table with Rick, my good friends Shelli and Braden, Kean Soo, Zack Giallongo, and another gentleman whose name I didn’t catch. We had a delightful conversation about Muppet comics and TV shows of our youth (who else remembers the creepy yet touching moment when Red Fraggle, trapped in cave-in with Boober, and slowly running out of air, turns to her friend and asks the immortal line, “Boober…what is it like to die?”) I was particularly glad to finally have a conversation with Zack—for several years it’s seemed odd that I keep missing him, considering he seems to be friends with all my other friends. And now that I’ve met him, I regret that it didn’t happen sooner—he’s excellent!

I followed up the Peak Island party by joining several other members of The Boston Comics Roundtable at Novare Res, a “beer café,” which has a beer menu considerably longer than most restaurant’s food menus. (The Smuttynose Chai Porter is a real one-of-a-kind, and quite good. I recommend it.)

The convention proper started the next day at 10:00 AM at the Ocean View Convention Center, literally right on the water—with two full walls of windows facing the bay, letting in lots of sunlight, and nearby doors propped to admit the fresh ocean air, it was about as cheerful and well-lit convention venue as I can imagine. And that good cheer was only compounded by the youth turnout—I’ve never seen so many kids at a comics convention, clearly having a good time. There was some complaint from exhibitors that if they had realized the audience was going to be so kid-heavy, they’d have planned their exhibition materials differently, and there is already some discussion of taking the heavy youth presence into account when arranging the table distribution next year. That said, though, it was really good to see an event so welcoming to younger readers—it was the best kind of outreach, and kids and parents alike seemed to appreciate it.

There were some great talents at the show, which really made me wish I wasn’t on such a tight budget. All very indy, with lots of cool looking minis and self-produced books. The Center for Cartoon Studies had a great display, which I didn’t linger too long in front of, for fear that I would be too tempted to part with my limited cash. And I very much enjoyed chatting with my table neighbor, Sam Costello, who had some nice looking print editions of his Split Lip horror series.

By sheer volume, though, The Boston Comics Roundtable was biggest presence in the room—with five tables, we spanned nearly the entire length of the convention hall. You can see our exhibit in this photo by Aya Rothwell. Shelli’s artwork is in the extreme foreground, and in the far back, behind Braden’s hat, you can see my wife Brandy in a white shirt, standing behind my table. Everyone in-between is a BCR member.

I didn’t make very many purchases—it’s frustrating that convention season is in summer, when my personal funds are the shortest—but I did pick a quartet of Zack’s Novasett Island minis, as well as the first two issues of the Underburbs, which as been repeatedly recommended to me. My only other purchase was an official, ridiculously orange, con t-shirt. I don’t usually wear t-shirts with images on them, but I liked the sea monster. Also, I have an odd weakness for ridiculously orange t-shirts, and this was the most ridiculously orange t-shirt I’ve ever seen.

Sales for those exhibitors selling more adult-oriented material were generally pretty slow through the first half of the day, when the kids were really out in force. As the day went along, though, the audience got progressively older, and sales seemed to pick up. Personally, I actually did a little better than I have at my last couple of shows, especially with my big-ticket textbook.

The con was just the one day, ending at 5:00, which seemed like just the right amount of time for a smaller show like this one, though I was still sorry to see it end. The last thing I did before shutting down my table was to head back into the exhibitor lounge to get one last cup of coffee—yes, there was enough free coffee provided to exhibitors to last the entire show. That alone wins my heart. Then we packed up, and Brandy and I headed to David’s Restaurant for some of their exceptional clam chowder (a culinary must anytime we’re in Portland), then headed home again. I’ll certainly be back for the next one—even if I hadn’t sold anything, it was such an energetic and fun con that I would gladly come back next year. It’s the sort of con that sends you home really excited to get right back to making comics.