The Comics Journal has a piece with comments from all the principals on the abrupt and much-mourned passing of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest. Like everyone else, we’re sad to see it go but we look forward to great things from Dan, Gabe and Bill (Bill K. remains the Director of Programming for SPX).
As we read this stuff, it is important to remember that anytime a partnership dissolves there will always be different points of view from the participants. Almost never is it a situation where everyone agrees on the right course. But there is more to tease out of this article than the he said / he said / he said of how things ended for BCGF.
The first thing is:
These festivals are HARD. Do not doubt that each event is a labor of love for the folks that put their hearts and their backs into bringing off a BCGF, MoCCA, TCAF, SPX, MeCAF, CAKE, MICE, Asbury Park, Locust Moon, Stumptown or whoever I’m forgetting (please forgive me).
The burden to produce a great show that hits a moving target of available talent, drawing power and creative growth year after year can be crushing. Being successful at it means attending just as much to behind the scenes growth and development as to what guests you deliver or how many bodies you can bring through the turnstiles.
We have had our share of ups and downs at SPX since ‘94 and the same thing - or something similar - to what occurred with BCGF could have easily happened to SPX at some point along the way.
I am glad - and we’re extremely lucky - to be still standing, still growing.
The second thing is:
Keep in mind that all of the shows I mentioned above are very different - they diverge in their various missions, how they are organized, how they are funded, what resources they have to work with and the personalities involved. While they all get yardsticked against one another, each one is its own beast, with its own burdens.
All of these events are dealing with a unique set of ongoing challenges and opportunities, from keeping up with taxes and business filings, balancing the books, working over the next several years of contract arrangements, recruiting top guests, coordinating programming, planning awards shows, registering and laying out increasing numbers of exhibitor tables (Yeah, that was painful this year. Did we apologize? Let me do so again.), lining up artwork, promoting your event, updating your website, working on your charitable efforts, arranging the front of the house, laying out a program, planning a righteous Tumblr Meetup, organizing volunteers, getting all those books to all those tables, doing steady multi-front trench battle with the venue and generally herding a mountain of lightsaber-wielding, feral cats that are also on fire.
As a bonus you get to do all this in full public view for no money.
It takes crazy commitment to come back and do this year after year. My sympathies and respect to everyone - all my brothers and sisters out there - who take up the challenge. And just because you’ve worked in one corner of this world doesn’t mean that the solutions and strategies from your home turf will work somewhere else… Each situation is different.
The third thing?
At the end of the day what any festival will be able to produce is going to be dependent on people and personalities as much as perseverance. You can’t fight this. You have to roll with it, embrace it. In my involvement with SPX over the last decade, it has really come down to this.
Yes, we have an aggressive mission to promote, preserve and protect independent comic creators and their art form. Yes we put on a well regarded festival. These are things we do. But these things are not what we’re about. To me (and I’m just this guy, y’know), SPX is about PEOPLE.
First, last and in between.
Relationships are what make this show. Fostering old ones and building new ones is what brings me back year after year. That’s true “on stage” as well as behind the scenes. I think this is also true of our exhibitors and attendees. Maybe it’s not the case for every show - and, really, it needn’t be - but it is the only thing that helps me explain our success.
I know I’m rambling. But the sad and sudden BCGF dissolution got me pondering. And that demands you suffer through my long, semi-coherent, decidedly non-official Tumbling.
The other thing…
There is a whole other deeper discussion to be had (please have it with me) about what these indie comics festivals mean to our community of creators and publishers. There are currently more of these shows than ever and they, for the most part, seem to be healthy and growing.
But as Bill K. points out in the article linked above, this industry - if we choose to think of our community that way - can’t depend on volunteer labor and artists working against their own financial interests indefinitely.
No one is guaranteed a career in comics but if SPX and our fellow festivals have any common role it is, I think, to expand the constituency of this art form - those who practice it and those who appreciate it.
If we’re doing our jobs correctly, year by year, we’re part of a progression towards the wider recognition and fair compensation of independent voices in comics.
Like I said. Labor of love.