APE Recap/Round-up/Rant

This is my haul from APE. Here’s what you’re looking at:

APE haul, left to right from bottom:
– Love & Rockets New Stories Vol. 5
– Jim Woodring giclee print – These are one-offs that Woodring had produced for a gallery show – he had a stack of them, but this one was by far my favorite, and it is as much an iconic image of Woodring’s world as any I have seen.)
– Love & Rockets 30th anniversary poster
– EXXXS porn zine by Tom Neely – Beautifully produced handmade porn, I might add… although “handmade porn” could be misinterpreted.
– Negron by Negron – This guy’s going places. I still haven’t decided not to buy the deluxe edition from Picturebox, but I wanted to get my copy signed by Jonny while he was in town.
– The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell – Lots of love for Uncivilized Books… more on this below.
– Ticket Stub by Tim Hensley – Even more love for Yam Books (Bay Area represent, right?), and bonus points for the half-circle die cut.
– Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 2 by Tom Kaczynski
– Lollygag, edited by Lark Pien
– Jellyfish Boner by Jonas Madden Connor – Great local cartoonist getting recognition with an exhibition at the Cartoon Art Museum.
– The Hero with a Thousand Excuses by Jim Woodring
– Frank Vol. 2 by Jim Woodring – Picked this up from Stuart Ng Books for $20. Score!
– Burgermancer #1 by Jason Fischer – I declared myself the #1 vegan fan of Burgermancer, and J-Fish told me that was a-okay with him. Someone give this guy a publishing contract.
– The Return of Cyrstal Girl by Natalia Hernandez
– New York Drawings by Adrian Tomine
– Original illustration by Jason Fischer – See above RE: how much I like this dude’s work.
– Tim Hensley bookmark from Yam Books
– Venus by Gilbert Hernandez
– Frank (Spanish edition of Weathercraft) by Jim Woodring – By far the best edition of the book. Bigger format, and a great color-printed dustjacket. I’ll post more pictures of this on my Tumblr. I love it.
– Leporello by Joost Swarte – I’ve been looking for this for a long time. Another Stuart Ng Books score.
– You’ll Never Know by Carol Tyler – This and the Rege book both had SPX signed plates left over. No one does special plates for APE.
– The Cartoon Utopia by Ron Rege Jr
– “How I Make My Comics” poster by Gabrielle Bell
– Ticket Stub original title page artwork by Tim Hensley – I got this for way cheaper than I should have. Probably my best comics fest purchase of all time.
– True Swamp #2 by Jon Lewis

Okay, so what about the show? I still love APE, although more and more I feel like that’s due to APE being in my backyard and not anything intrinsic to APE. Let’s be positive and discuss the pros first:

1) Look at all the shit I bought! Not a single comics fan in the universe could lay eyes on that pile – which represents a fraction of what I wish I could have bought – and claim that APE is a lower-tier show. This is a better haul than the one and only time I went to Comic-con (and I think I spent less money at APE too). This photo also doesn’t include the sketches that I got in my sketchbook, which I’ll post on my Tumblr at some point. It has to be recognized that APE is assembling a top-notch collection of artists pretty much without fail every year.

2) APE is usually pretty good about bringing in big names from far away, which is the bane of most of the other shows on the West Coast. Comic-con is the exception, obviously, but CCI exists in another world for me. It is such a logistical nightmare to attend that even someone like me who lives a mere 8.5 hour drive away has only been there once. If you’re a publisher and your excuse why you never bring top out-of-area artists to the West Coast is that you bring them to Comic-con, you’re full of shit. Comic-con isn’t part of the West Coast, it’s on a weird fantasy planet that doesn’t actually exist. So good on CCI (the company, not the show) for saving some talent for APE and bringing in Jim Woodring and Ben Katchor, among others (who shouldn’t be discounted just because I’m not a fan of them like I am for the former two). It was also fantastic of Woodring to set up shop at his complimentary table for over half the festival, signing things, making drawings, and talking to fans hour after hour. (Sergio Aragones did this as well, as did Eric Drooker on day 1.)

3) Great year for smaller presses – in particular, Yam Books, a new publishing outfit run by Rina Ayuyang, and Tom Kaczynski’s Uncivilized Books. It’s great when an out-of-area press or two shows up at APE – Picturebox has done it the past two years, and AdHouse was out here a few years ago. After hearing everyone talk about how nice of a guy Chris Pitzer is, I was happy to finally have the opportunity to meet him and buy Duncan the Wonder Dog (which I still haven’t gotten around to reading, which is totally lame of me). Gabrielle Bell also did attendees a huge solid by sitting at the Uncivilized table for the entire show, rather than just scheduling a couple signing times. That’s dedication from a pretty big name. Yam is off to an incredible start as well – the first book, Lollygag is a really intimate sketchbook collection, bound by hand with a letterpress-printed cover that is a perfect first statement as a publisher. Following that up, though, is Ticket Stub, which is really exciting. New (old) Tim Hensley work is always a cause for celebration, and the book is just so perfect, from the design to the cover and the paper that it is quite frankly shocking that such a new publisher released it. Shit, Chance Press has been around for 4 years, and I’m nowhere close to putting out anything like that.

4) Fantagraphics crushed this show. It helps that they had Los Bros celebrating 30 years of Love and Rockets and Jim Woodring was already there as a special guest, but there was a consistent buzz around their table, and there were lines for pretty much every signing they had. Fanta also does a good job of finding local guys who happen to be at APE and bringing them over for a signing, which is cool for fans like me, since I often feel sheepish about going up to a guy who’s trying to sell minis behind a table and asking him to sign my copy of Mome. This year they had Justin Hall signing No Straight Lines, and last year they had Jesse Moynihan and Malachi Ward signing Mome. Good strategy. 

5) Zak Sally showed up as an attendee on Sunday to hang out with Tom K from Uncivilized and walk the show, and I couldn’t resist stopping and asking him if he wouldn’t mind signing a couple issues of Sammy the Mouse. I felt a little bad, since he was just there trying to enjoy himself, but he was genuinely nice about it and seemed happy to meet a fan of his work. That was an unexpected bonus just as the fest was winding down and I was getting ready to go home. (In case you’re wondering why I had those issues of Sammy, I had heard a rumor that he was in town, so I brought them just in case.)

6) APE is really well-run, both from an exhibitor and an attendee standpoint. It’s fast to get in and get registered, and the layout is open enough to browse without blocking aisles, but not so airy that you miss out on that buzzy convention feeling during the peak hours. The staff is super nice. They clearly know how to put on a good show. As you’ll see from my long list of cons, my problems with APE don’t have anything to do with the festival itself and more how it is treated from a marketing perspective. So, if you work for APE, feel free to send me death threats, just understand that my frustration comes from my desire to see APE become a destination show like you see on the East Coast, and not from any pleasure derived from ragging on someone else’s hard work.

Okay, here we go with the cons:

1) Almost everyone I talked to said their sales were horrible at APE. As a prior exhibitor, I don’t doubt this for a minute. The one and only time I exhibited with Chance Press, we did make our table money back, which, to us, made the show a success. (That’s after dropping $100 on a table at San Francisco Zine Fest and only selling $11 of books the entire weekend.) However, at least half of those sales were to people who would have bought books from our website, so it wasn’t such a great outing for us. Tom Neely said he’s not coming back, nor is Sparkplug. Let that sink in – fucking SPARKPLUG BOOKS, the publisher that even exhibited at an event in the fucking basement of Berkeley City College a couple years ago, isn’t coming back to APE. That they even exist anymore is such a testament to the will of the people behind it, pushing on after such a horrible tragedy, and it just sucks that even an outfit like that isn’t able to make it at APE. Picturebox came two years in a row and didn’t make the trip back, even though the artist behind one of their major fall debuts (Negron) was at the show, and the other (Harkham) lives a 6 hour drive away. I’ve met Dan Nadel enough times to know he doesn’t harbor some weird prejudice against Californians; he probably just thought that he wouldn’t sell enough to cover his plane ticket, and I’m not going to argue to the contrary. Hi Fructose Magazine/Attaboy has been exhibiting at APE for a decade, and this year Atta just showed up for a couple signings and to walk the show. This is a major problem for APE, but I can’t imagine a solution. How much better would you have to make APE before people will open their wallets? The art is there, the artists are there, and the people aren’t spending money. Is it too big? Is it the venue? The city? This blog doesn’t get many comments, but I’m genuinely curious – do others think that San Franciscans are just plain cheap? I heard from someone who has as much experience traveling to and exhibiting at festivals as anyone I can think of, and he told me exactly that. According to him, on a recent book tour with a prominent Bay Area artist, he sold out of books at almost every stop on the tour except in San Francisco. Is LA any different? Or Portland?

2) That being said, there is an almost-insulting lack of promotion from APE. They give you a table for your $200, plus a line in the program and a spot (no link, just your name) in the “Exhibitors” section of the website – that’s it. Because it’s so close to SPX, the comparisons are inevitable. I don’t know who is behind SPX’s promotion engine, but that person needs to be paid more (God I hope that person isn’t volunteering; I think I’d break down in tears). I posted this image on Tumblr a few weeks ago, and I think this pretty much sums up the difference between SPX’s and APE’s marketing.

It’s funny: my Tumblr feed is still showing up with posts from the official SPX account hyping people who were there. In the run-up to SPX, their Twitter feed was relentlessly building anticipation for the show, including making special mention of any book debuting at the show and driving traffic to artist websites that went way beyond just the official guests. I learned of at least two new people whose work I had never heard of solely from SPX’s pre-show media blitz. APE’s promotional campaign was decidedly more wan, with a few cursory tweets reminding people about the special guests, and other operational issues: register in advance! Courtesy bus runs to 8! Because nothing will make people want to attend more than a COURTESY BUS. I think this is part of the problem – people in the Bay Area may be cheap, but APE isn’t doing anything (beyond just holding APE) to encourage people to spend money. This works for Comic-con, but APE is different. I think APE suffers from voter apathy, because no one is running a get-out-the-vote campaign to get people into the fest. Are people traveling from out of state to attend APE? It still draws a good contingent of cartoonists from LA and Portland, but are people from LA and Portland showing up to APE? I know SPX was the festival to end all festivals, but I can’t believe that wasn’t at least in part because SPX bent over backwards to convince everyone that it was going to be the festival to end all festivals, and people were so amped up to help it deliver on that promise that it just exploded once the doors opened. Again, I’ll concede that the slate of guests in the aggregate was better than at APE, but I defer to my original point that, on paper, APE was one hell of a festival to fall so flat in terms of making people excited enough to actually spend money. As a coda to this discussion of promotion, more than once, someone said to me, “Wait, Gabrielle Bell/Tim Hensley/Mark Kalisneko/Insert Name is HERE?!” Part of this lack of knowledge about who is actually exhibiting is on the publishers themselves, but Uncivilized, Yam, and Fantagraphics (the corollary publishers in this example) did quite a bit of promotion pre-show – the problem is that social media becomes this cacophonous morass before a convention, and the fest’s official voice can cut above that. SPX definitely does, and BCGF is on its way as well. APE can’t afford to continue not doing this, or publishers will keep deciding to stay home until there’s not much left.

3) APE needs to figure out how to get more ambitious with the programming. This sort of contradicts my point above that they do a good job bringing in out-of-area guests, but not really. They do a good job. Other cons do a great job. The low sales make it impossible for the publishers to take this on themselves – I’d love to see D&Q bring out someone like Brecht Evans or Guy Delisle, but they’d never be able to afford that. One thing I’m seeing with these more aggressively curated shows is a real effort to bring people who almost never attend cons in the US – BCGF has a ton of Euro artists who I’d love to meet (I should have just saved my money from APE and gone to Brooklyn, but I’d have ended up spending my whole lot on the trip; still, talent like Blexbolex or Nine Antico is truly a rare find at a US con), and the Projects made it a priority to bring over Le Dernier Cri from Marseille. TCAF makes it a point to court Euro guys too, in addition to the usual stable of Canadian artists. Again, APE is doing fine here, with names like Ben Katchor, Matt Thurber, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, and Dash Shaw making long trips over the years. It’s more that I wish they could produce a coordinated contingent of guests that would be really unique and unexpected and generate some real interest (and then promote the shit out of them as suggested above).

4) What the fuck did they do to that Gilbert Hernandez poster? Here’s the original art:

Cool, right? Here’s the poster:

To me, this encapsulates my problem with the way APE is run. You take artwork from a true icon of the medium and then shit it up with your hideous font and not one but two logos… then, you extend the artwork so it fits the poster, but you neglect to take it back to the artist to fill in any of the extended area, making the shading over the green part look haphazard and shitty. Ugh. Who would buy a signed, limited edition copy of this? The poster can do more than just convey dates, times, and names, you know. It can inspire people to ATTEND THE FUCKING FESTIVAL. Or not.

Okay, enough with the list. I feel bad ragging on APE, since I have such fond memories of attending it the past 5 or so years. The year KE7 came out was still transformative for me – I don’t care what everyone’s saying about this year’s SPX, that show was better and will never be topped. The rain, the energy, the guests, the programming… I remember it as being just downright intense. I met some awesome people at that show, many of whom no longer exhibit or even attend. Plus, I’m sure the people who work on APE don’t appreciate my bullshit, since I have worked in a corporate environment and I can just about guess that the people who work on APE wish they could devote all their time to it, but they end up spending most of their time on CCI instead. That’s the problem – APE is the Comic-con leftover, and the fest that will keep on existing as long as CCI cares to put it on, but it will never develop, and other festivals are just getting better and better alongside it.

Unfortunately, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed, this was the last APE as we know it. I’ve heard from a few people (though no one directly affiliated with the show) that CCI is going to keep Wondercon in Anaheim and wants to make APE their centerpiece Northern California show by widening its appeal and moving it to Moscone. Good-bye alternative press, hello video games and Kevin Sorbo. I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen, but from a business perspective, I can’t understand why CCI even bothers with APE. And at the end of the day, APE is a poorly performing product in a portfolio of successful products, and so it just doesn’t make sense as a business to pour money into that product without substantially changing it to make it more profitable. SPX and BCGF strike me as labors of love, and there’s your answer to why they’re better.

But (I’m almost done, I swear) – what about the other labors of love on the West Coast? SF Zine Fest has grown by leaps and bounds, but you don’t see Fantagraphics or D&Q at that show, and the show is a long way off from getting an out-of-town guest like Jim Woodring or Ben Katchor. Without APE, will Zine Fest be able to step into the void, or will the bigger indie publishers just write off the Bay Area except as a sometimes stop on an author’s book tour? What about Portland’s show… or Emerald City? I refuse to believe that there isn’t a single area on the West Coast capable of holding a world class show that isn’t Comic-con. We’ll see… The Projects is only a week away, and maybe that’s the future right there.

2 Responses to “APE Recap/Round-up/Rant”

  1. 1 Blinders On October 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Great write-up! I agree with you on nearly every point. Damn, that poster is terribly designed.

    The next big show on the West Coast seems to be Short Run in Seattle. This November is only the 2nd annual (so it’s young yet), but last year everyone who exhibited made money. I think it helps that Short Run has free admission. So, passers-by walk in and end up spending some cash. Right now the fest is geared towards self-published and small-press, but I could see it gaining steam and growing over the next few years.

    Thanks for the wonderul observations!

    • 2 chancepress October 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      I’m really curious about Short Run… I’m considering tabling with Chance Press more in 2013, and I’d like to hit at least one show out of our area. I know a few people with comfortable couches in Seattle, so it’s a pretty cheap destination, too.

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October 2012

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