APE’s set-up in San Jose is very interesting. The main exhibition showroom where the vendors and artists will be is located at the convention center, but many of the workshops and panels are being held off-site at SOFA Market and Anno Domini Gallery. While these local businesses are within easy walking distance of the convention center, I’m curious how the distance impacted attendance at the panels.
I wasn’t able to make it to any of the programming this year, which is heavily focused on education. On Saturday morning, there were several drawing classes, including Just Draw: A Workshop in Mindfulness and Comics for the Stressed Out with Mark Badger and Cartoon Calisthenics with Brian Kolm. Later in the day, there were workshops that focused on using graphic novels in education, introducing them onto library shelves and integrating them into the curriculum. “Where Are Your Comic Books?” Getting Graphic Novels In Your Stacks and Classrooms and Make Read Write Draw: Enhancing Library Programming and Classroom Activities with Comics both sounded like a lot of fun, and I hope many of the librarians and educators attending the show were able to attend. APE made a concentrated effort to attract teachers, librarians, and local retailers to the show by offering them free tickets, and several of the vendors offered discounts or special gifts to them, too.
There were also several “traditional” comic convention panels. The CBLDF provided updates on its efforts in CBLDF: State of Censorship. Andrew Farago, curator of the (currently homeless) Cartoon Art Museum, led a panel with Jason Shiga and Thien Pham on the Bay Area comics scene. It was very easy to spend the entire day roaming the panels, without stepping foot in the dealer’s room.
But the exhibition hall is where I spent my day. With over 250 vendors crowding the hall, there was plenty to see and do. Within a few minutes, my wallet was begging to go out on a shopping rampage.
There are so many talented artists selling prints, stickers, and short art books. I’d estimate about half of them were fan artists, drawing popular characters from Doctor Who, Sailor Moon, and other popular properties. It’s amazing how creative they can be with their representations of a character, capturing the essence of Disney princess in a decidedly un-Disney style. Since they don’t own the characters, though, their vending occupies a legal grey area that challenges the notion of “independent press”. After all, they aren’t creating a new property or publishing independent works. But at the end of the day, when given the choice between a fun drawing of a character you love or an indie comic in a genre you don’t read, wouldn’t you go with the fan art? They definitely seemed to do a brisker business than the men and women peddling new works.
Independent comic book creators face a lot of challenges in getting their work noticed, and with so many others to compete with it gets harder every year. A lot of the booths were either promoting Kickstarter campaigns or selling stock from a previous successful round of funding. It’s harder to shop their work casually, too. When you pick up a comic and start flipping through it, one of two things happen:
- The creator starts looking at you like a starving puppy and you become intensely aware of them until it’s too awkward to concentrate on the book in your hands
- The creator starts pitching the book and even after it becomes clear you aren’t interested keeps talking and you can’t get away
I’m being unfair. It’s not always like that. I always have a great time talking to comic writers and artists about their work, and I usually end up walking away with handfuls of great titles. But when I’m on a budget, and I know I can only buy a few things, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about someone’s project and then walk away with nothing. I try to take a business card so I can try to pick up a copy later, but let’s be honest, follow-through isn’t perfect.
I had brought a sketchbook with me because I like to collect artist’s drawings. I spent most of the day passing it around from one artist to the next, usually paying $5-$20 for them to draw on one of the sketchbook’s pages. I looked for creators with original properties and asked them to draw their original characters, assuming something about their art style appealed to me. I started bringing sketchbooks because I want to support the artists I like, but I already have far too many art prints and postcards and loose paper ephemera picked up at conventions and shows. I just can’t justify buying any more. At least drawings in a book will stay relatively organized, and it’s often cheaper than buying a full-sized graphic novel.
So APE was pretty cool, overall. I had originally intended to return again today, but I realized as I was looking at the Sunday schedule that nearly all of the panels I was interested in had taken place on Saturday. I tapped out my budget for the dealer’s room, so there didn’t seem much reason to return. But the convention was definitely a great one day event, and I look forward to its return in 2016.