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Weekender: Phoenix Comic-Con, Ashanti Fortson, and ‘Lovers in the Garden’

Galanthus, Ashanti Fortson
Galanthus, Ashanti Fortson

 

The weekend is here! Take a look back at what’s happened in the past seven days. New comics, new stories, new podcasts, new art being made — it’s all part of the ComicsAlliance Weekender!

 

INDUSTRY NEWS

At the start of 2017, word started circulating that several conventions, including Phoenix Comic-Con, had started putting together a new strategy for how their volunteers would be accounted for. In the case of Phoenix Comic-Con, all volunteers are now being asked to join a non-profit organization known as the Blue Ribbon Army. It’s not possible to be a volunteer for the convention unless you have joined that organisation — which happens to have a $20 membership fee. So in order to volunteer at Phoenix Comic-Con, there’s a stealthy charge now in place.

It was initially thought that the convention organizers were trying to account for all their volunteers who went missing across the course of their event, either by not showing up at all, or by wandering off to do whatever they wanted. If you filter entry to those willing to pay $20, you’re going to theoretically be left with only the passionate fans who are willing to follow volunteer guidelines.

 

phoenix comiccon

 

However, Rob Salkowicz at ICv2 suggests otherwise: he traces the reason for the new fees to disputes and legal issues that event organizers across America have experienced for several months now. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, only non-profit organisations are allowed to have volunteer workers — and conventions, running for profit, would not fall under that category. Hence the Blue Ribbon Army, which substitutes for a convention like Phoenix Comic-Con, and allows the organizers to still have volunteers without having to pay for their time, beyond event privileges and likely the occasional can of coke.

Which makes the stance a little more understandable. One other aspect of the Blue Ribbon Army remains pretty galling, though; joining the group does not guarantee you a volunteer position.

All the talk in comics seems to be centered on the ‘bubble’ being created by comic conventions, of which there are hundreds, many of which are offering a reportedly substandard fan experience. With so many conventions out there now, there’s a huge amount of competition, and artists are having to work out where to invest their time and work. Creators from Rob Liefeld to Jimmy Palmiotti have recently spoken about this bubble, and the financial losses at Wizard World seems proof that it’s bursting.

Further evidence came through with the news that Amazing Comic Conventions is downscaling in 2017, with Amazing Arizona Comic-Con and Amazing Houston Comic-Con both cancelled for this year.

In a Facebook post, company owner Jimmy Jay puts the decision down to an oversaturation of the market in Arizona, with several other comic conventions also taking place around the same time. In the comments section, Rob Liefeld agrees with the decision, saying, “The landscape has indeed changed. Wizard is going tits up as we speak, their cons are cratering. Many smaller shows have attempted to rise, clogging up the landscape with their disappointments.”

 

Achewood paintings by Chris Onstad
Chris Onstad

 

All this, and I haven’t reached the “events” section of Weekender yet!

Moving aside from conventions just for the time being, 2016 saw the return of Chris Onstad’s webcomic Achewood, with several installments released in intermittent phases through the year. On Christmas Day, however, Onstad posted that he will be finishing up on the webcomic for the time being — likely not forever, it’s noted — in order to focus on other projects he’s never had time before to get started. Saying that he began Achewood when he was in his twenties, the now-fortysomething artist wants to try something else, likely starting with a novel.

 

EVENTS

The Eisner Awards have announced the 2017 panel of judges and opened up for submissions. This year the judges are Alan Campbell, comic critics Rob Clough and Martha Thomases, retailer Jamie Newbold, and academics Robert Moses Peaslee and Dawn Rutherford. The Eisners are generally considered the be the Oscars of comics, in turn making letterer Todd Klein the Katherine Hepburn of our industry.

The deadline for submissions is March 24, 2017, with the shortlist announced in April by Comic-Con International. Administrator Jackie Estrada asks that submissions be sent via post for print comics, and via email for webcomics (as well as the intangible awards, including the Best Comics Journalism category, which I unassumingly note ComicsAlliance would be eligible for, having won once in the past).

In 2017 we’re going to pay more attention to gallery work that features the talents of comics industry professionals, and later this month sees an exhibition of Jim Woodring’s work. Titled “The Pig Went Down to the Harbor at Sunrise and Wept,” because why ever wouldn’t it be, the exhibition will be held at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, and is planned to run from January 21 through to April 16.

 

galanthus
Ashanti Fortson

 

NEW AND UPCOMING COMICS

Galanthus is a webcomic set in space, but it goes far beyond the initial setup. Created by Ashanti Fortson, the series starts off by centering on Farah, who finds herself hired on as a tech assistant for a smuggler’s shop after stowing away on it. Quickly, though, the story shifts around, bringing in a wealth of other strange and delightful characters who form a shared mission together as the narrative develops into a race to retrieve an ancient artifact.

Fortson clearly has a lot of passion for the project, which shows in their ability to straddle a serious, complex narrative while constantly punctuating the story with bright, engaging character moments. The third page of the prologue is likely where you’ll start to find just how strongly their ability to make you like the characters grabs hold, and will just as likely suck you into the rest of the story.

And on that note, I believe it was also Fortson’s birthday this week — happy birthday!

 

lovers in the garden
Anya Davidson / Retrofit / Big Planet Comics

 

WEEKEND READING

Just a few pieces to start off the year, as we’re still coming down from stuffing our faces with Best-Of lists across the festive period. Firstly, to Sequentialist, where reviewer Sarah Miller takes a look at Anya Davidson’s latest comic Lovers in the Garden. Miller looks at the depth of the comic within her review, and how the cast of characters within the comic play off one another to create an engaging, vibrant, emotional heart to the story.

Albert Ching kicks off the New Year by interviewing IDW’s CEO Ted Adams, who is on ebullient form. Adams describes 2016 as the best year in the company’s history, in the process being very open about figures and statistics that go a long way in illustrating his point. He cites the ability of the publisher to diversify through the year into other ventures such as with the television shop Wynonna Earp, as the biggest driver for their success, but he also roots the conversation in upcoming comics ventures such as Woodworks, their new Portland-based imprint headed by Dirk Wood.

Over on ComicsReporter, Tom Spurgeon has been keeping up with his holiday interviews — long, in-depth conversations with people who interest him in the comics industry. He started off this time round with Tony Millionaire, which is as great a place to start as any. The best of the interviews so far, however, is with Sarah Glidden, who has had a tremendous year, and comes across as somebody with a lot of interesting, useful things to talk about. (Spurgeon accepts that this year’s holiday interviews are over-filled with white men, with Glidden so far being the only exception)

 

AND FINALLY

Fancy a stroll through Marvel’s Offices in the 1970s? A few weeks back some of Steve Sherman’s photos of the Marvel Bullpen were published online, offering a chance to admire the yellowing walls and semi-ironed shirts of the House of Ideas.

I think people sometimes forget that comics publishers aren’t some disembodied black cloud of smoke that barks mandates at chained-up freelancers, but instead operate in fairly dull offices. Taking a look through the old days of Marvel shows just how things have and haven’t changed over the years.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Have a tip you’d like to share for Weekender? Get in touch at steve@comicsalliance.com!

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