There was a small comics alley in the exhibit hall at Wordstock, including a booth for the Stumptown Comics Foundation. I spoke to Indigo Kelleigh, the Director of Stumptown Comics Fest, a yearly comics convention in Portland, Oregon. The next festival is in April. Despite my somewhat gloomy picture of Kelleigh, he was actually quite cheerful and I had a nice chat with him.
GeekDad: So, tell me a little bit about the Stumptown Comics Fest!
Indigo Kelleigh: The Stumptown Comics Fest was founded in 2004, and the focus is to be a creator-oriented show. So we don’t have a lot of dealers who sell old back-issues of comics. Our floor is almost entirely made up of small pressers, self-publishers, artists, writers, people who actually create comics. They come to the show, they share their work, and they talk to the fans. A lot of times they’ll give presentations about what they’re working on or what they’ve just published.
It’ll be here in the Oregon Convention Center. We’ve got Hall B reserved for us. Last year we had about 3,000 people come through. That’s our most-attended show so far. It’s been growing pretty steadily since its founding. I think the first show we had about 150 or 200 people.
GD: How many exhibitors/artists/writers do you get?
IK: Let me think, last year we had about 130 exhibitor tables and 20 booths. A lot of the tables get shared, so I think in total we ended up with about 300-400 exhibitors and artists.
GD: Do you get big publishers attending as well? I know we’ve got a few comics publishers that are in the region like Dark Horse and Oni Press.
IK: Oh, yeah. Top Shelf has actually been exhibiting since the very first year. Oni came in just a little bit later, maybe the second year. Dark Horse has been exhibiting the last four or five years. Those are the biggest publishers that we get exhibiting at our shows, because they are really creator-oriented. They’re very creator-friendly, most of the books they publish are creator-owned, meaning the publisher doesn’t own the characters or any of the intellectual property and the creators can do whatever they want with the characters afterwards. As opposed to companies like Marvel or DC, which do not typically exhibit at Stumptown. Someday, maybe, if we actually have the space for them. But right now it’s still a small enough show that they would dominate the space, and I would rather give that space to other creators, honestly, at this point.
GD: You do some comics of your own as well, right?
IK: I do, I try to. Not as often as I would like.
GD: Have you been to the San Diego Comic-Con? I’ve been just twice so far, years apart, and it’s great being able to talk to comics people and book publishers, but there’s just so much other stuff there that it’s hard to sift through all the Hollywood presence.
IK: I’ve exhibited at San Diego a couple times, and I’ve gone just as an attendee once or twice. I enjoy Comic-Con, I think it’s a great show, but I have a harder time every year really thinking of it as a comics show. Because over the last ten, twelve years, it feels like the media presence has just exploded there. And it’s to the point that I think it takes over half or more of the floor — it’s movie studios, TV productions, video game companies. There are still a lot of comics being presented there. But again, a lot of the comics section is taken up with dealers and toy sellers and T-shirt sales.
While I think Comic-Con is a great place for that kind of stuff, I’ve always wanted to see just a show like Stumptown, where it’s really just the creators and the comics they’re sharing themselves, and the publishers who support them.
GD: So what exactly is your role for the Stumptown Comics Fest?
IK: My official title is Director of Stumptown Comics Fest. I have a team of volunteers that coordinates the parties, workshops, panels, etc. So there’s a lot of people in charge of that stuff, but I kind of oversee and try to help shape what the festival looks like each year. But then I get to hand it off to them to handle all the details.
Probably the most important thing that I get to do pretty much all by myself is that I get to build the guest list. I get to invite people to be guests at the show, coordinate all that.
GD: Do you already have some guests lined up for next year’s show?
IK: Yeah, the three that we have lined up right at the moment are Geof Darro, Stan Sakai, and Kurt Busiek. I’m especially excited about Kurt because we’ve been trying to get him to come for years. Stumptown has always had this reputation as being a small press, art comics, independent kind of show. And he never really felt that his work would fit into that. He’s come to the show, he’s attended a few times and seen it.
We’ve been working really hard to try to broaden our scope to include more of the mainstream comics. There’s a lot of mainstream comics that are being produced here in Portland. Pretty much across the board, we’ve got art comics, small pressers, independents, web comics, black and white guys, full-color mainstream superhero comics, all kinds of stuff being produced here. So we’ve been working really hard to make sure that all of that is represented at Stumptown.