This year’s Alternative Press Expo, which I blogged about already here, here and here, gave independent and small press publishers, creators and fans plenty of reasons to visit the San Francisco Concourse this past weekend.
Some wanted to meet Chris Ware, who made a rare convention appearance at the show. Others wanted to see in person, and maybe even buy, Kramer’s Ergot 7, the oversized $125 anthology that comes out from Buenaventura Press this year. Still others bought table space to sell their creations, from graphic novels and mini-comics to posters, art prints, stuffed animals and T-shirts. And let’s not forget the fully stocked bar, which allowed fans to sip on a whiskey sour while looking at the latest books from Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Oni, SLG and other publishers.
But some of the attendees weren’t there just for the comics – they were there for college credit. Both the Academy of Art University and the California College of Arts attended the show to promote their comics programs and give their students a chance to display and sell the comics they created in their classes.
“It occurred to me that the California College of Arts San Francisco campus is a very short walking distance from here, and I have two classes worth of comics students,” said Matt Silady, the Eisner-nominated creator of The Homeless Channel, who also teaches courses in comics at the school. “I thought, ‘Well, they should just go to the CCA table at the show,’ until I found out there wasn’t a CCA table, and I thought something needed to be done about it.”
So Silady worked with the recruiting department at the CCA to purchase table space. Then Silady and his students each took shifts throughout the weekend working at the table, selling their comics and talking to prospective students. “There’s no better advocate for bringing people into your school than someone sitting there selling their first comic with a big smile on their face,” Silady said.
The Academy of Art University, meanwhile, had their table right next to the CCA. Dan Cooney, an instructor at the school, has made comics for the past 11 years for companies like Alternative Press, Top Cow and his own imprint, Red Eye Press. While he had his own table at APE to sell his self-published graphic novel series, Valentine, he remarked with pride that several of his students also had their own tables at the show.
“I have four or five students with their own tables and their own books this year,” he said. “We’ve joked that it’s more of an Academy of Art student show because we have so many former students, current students and even some future students here.”
Cooney started teaching a Drawing for Comics class at the school three years ago as a part of a comics curriculum they offer. He said he teaches them not how to draw, but how to use their artwork to tell a story, as well as discipline and structure in doing their work. “At its heart, it’s not the style, it’s the substance,” he said. “It’s always clarity through communications, storytelling first — we’ll work on style later.”
In addition to Cooney’s class, students can also take a Writing for Comics class from the Liberal Arts department or even a graduate-level class that allows them to work on their own book as a special project. There’s also a “pitch class,” he said, “for those who want to go the Marvel or DC route.”
While they learn about storytelling in the classroom, APE offered the students a different kind of education in selling their comics. Rebecca Hendin self-published her own 24-page color comic called 800 Days, which she was selling at the CCA booth all weekend. While the book cost her $24 a copy to produce at Kinko’s, she was selling it for $10 on Saturday because, she said, “nobody’s going to pay $24 for it.” By Sunday, she’d dropped the price to $8 — and even offered to refund $2 to me.
Overall, however, Silady said sales were better than he expected at the table. “I was a little nervous about it being right after Halloween, but it turns out we’re doing really well,” he said. “People respond to the students and want to support them.”
As it turns out, it wasn’t a bad deal for the recruiting department either.
“Not everyone’s aware that all these art colleges are starting to offer an emphasis in comics. We’ve had several kids come by, and they bring their parents and say, ‘Hey look, this is a real job.’ Then I’d step up and say ‘I’m the senior lecturer of comics,’ even though that sounds like a fake job, too,” Silady joked. “Hopefully this will become a tradition after this year.”
And speaking of tradition, educating potential creators about the craft of creating comics is something that falls squarely into the longstanding mission of Comic-Con International, which puts on the show.
“One of the reasons we have these spotlights on our special guests is that they’re doing it, they’re putting their work out there,” Ibrahim said. “I think it’s really interesting for the fans to talk directly to them and ask ‘How did you do it?’”
So attendees can not only learn from experience, but also learn from some of the masters.
“That’s really a special aspect of APE,” said Eddie Ibrahim, director of programming for Comic-Con International. “It really does focus on how to self-publish, how to become an independent publisher and how to get your work out there.”