One quick link to start off with: I have a review in today’s Manga Minis, for volume four of Go!Comi’s Ultimate Venus. It’s a fun little manga that I’ve enjoyed so far, and I’d recommend it as light shojo fluff. Now on to the real topic of this post.
So, over this past weekend, I attended the first annual (yes, they said so!) New England Webcomics Weekend at the Eastworks building in Easthampton, MA, just a couple of towns over. I read a few webcomics regularly, but my husband is the real fan, so though many of the panels sounded interesting to me, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was, however, an exceptional weekend, and I came away a fan of many more webcomics than I’d been when I arrived.
The first panel, “Web vs. Print vs. a Bear,” gave the convention a strong start. The three panelists were Jonathan Rosenberg (Goats), Chris Hastings (The Adventures of Dr. McNinja), and Steven Cloud (Boy on a Stick and Slither), and each of them talked about their individual experiences with print vs. web (Chris Hastings spoke eloquently on the plight of bears), and it was interesting to note how their experiences differed. Cloud, whose experience with the newspaper business (as well as with an editor) had been pretty negative offered the most compelling arguments against print, while Hastings said, bluntly, “Book sales pay my rent.” Rosenberg, who had just entered into a deal with a publisher, was feeling pretty optimistic, and that was evident in the fact that out of everyone at the convention, he was the only artist able to offer his existing books for the low, low price of five dollars apiece. There wasn’t time for a lot of discussion regarding the downsides/benefits of self-publishing vs. working with an established publisher, but it was clear that both methods were working pretty well for the cartoonists in attendance. The one thing everyone agreed on (and this was echoed throughout the weekend) was that the newspaper business is dying, and that it isn’t a really viable long-term option for comics anymore. I feel compelled also to note that this panel was extraordinarily well-moderated (as were many over the weekend) by Fleen‘s Gary Tyrell, which really kept things moving along smoothly.
Another Saturday highlight was “Comics Without Characters,” featuring Rob DenBleyker (Cyanide & Happiness), Zach Weiner (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal), and surprise guest Randall Munroe (xkcd), who each talked about writing comics without ongoing storylines. The panel was moderated by Ross Nover (The System), whose own comic is similar to the panelists’, and he was able to provide quite a bit of insight of his own as well. This panel was, more than anything, hilarious. They talked about jokes, fan mail, their moms–you name it. My favorite insights of the evening were both from Randall Munroe, who talked about having originally driven traffic to his comic by posting in comments at Slashdot, which was a funny story but also a very good example of how to effectively reach your target audience. He also talked about why he writes without an ongoing plot or characters, and that his goal is to “take away everything that is not part of the joke.”
On Saturday, I also picked up volume three of Chris Hallbeck’s The Book of Biff, as well as KC Green‘s mini-comics “Frikkin’ Gnomes” and “The Animé Club,” while my husband went for all three available volumes of Goats.
Sunday began with the the only real snafu in my personal experience at the con. The first panel was slated for 1:00 pm, so we arrived a little after noon and soon settled ourselves in the tabletop gaming room for lunch and a quick game of Dou Di Zhu while we waited for the appointed time. A few minutes before 1:00, we headed down the hall to the panel room, where we discovered that the panel had actually started at 12:30, though there had been no notice given, and even the sign on the door still read “1pm.” We snuck into the back of the very crowded room (which was standing-room only at that point), but I have to say it was pretty disappointing to realize we’d missed a full half-hour of the panel when we’d been right there in the building the entire time, and it seemed like something that could have easily been avoided if they’d just sent someone around to let people know.
That said, the panel (“Webcomics Can Get You In Trouble”) was pretty hilarious, featuring stories of hate mail, etc. from a number of cartoonists, whose faces I could barely see, and whose names I could not write down since I was standing up. After that, we stayed for the “Creative Partner Newlywed Game,” which was intended to feature writers and artists who create webcomics together, but instead ended up featuring actual romantic partners, since they were the ones who would agree to do it. As was the case with the rest of the weekend, though, even when things didn’t go as planned, they still went really well, and the panel was extremely entertaining. One of the things I enjoyed most about the panels was really getting to know the artists behind the work, and it made me a bigger fan of comics I already read as well as a new fan of several I hadn’t read before.
Gary Tyrell has a great write-up of the awards ceremony at the end of the day, so I’ll link to that to save myself from having to type it all up anew. :)
Any mix-ups aside, this was a fantastic weekend and a really enjoyable con. As thrilled as I am to hear that it will continue next year, it’s hard to imagine it actually being more fun and I’m pretty thrilled to have been there for its first run. I know they never expected the response they got in terms of number of attendees, and knowing now how popular it would be, I suspect they won’t be able to continue to offer it for free–not without some serious funding from somewhere. My one request for next year would be more panels. With panelists as fun and funny as these, I’d listen to them talk all day long, and I’d like to have more opportunities to do so throughout the weekend. I’m a panel girl anyway when it comes to cons, and in this case that goes double. I’d also love to see the event move to a space that could accommodate more artist’s tables, so that I could check out the work of everyone, including the folks who were represented only by their cards and small comics at the free table. I’m still going through all the stuff I picked up, but I can see already that I’ll be adding quite a few more comics to my daily reads.
Congratulations to everyone who made this weekend work! You were awesome!