Stumptown Comics Fest 2009 - Part 1

Stumptown Comics Fest isn't a comic book show. At a comic book show it's all about filling out a collection, and trying to pick up a reasonably cheap copy of the new issue of Dark Avengers, or whatever's hot at the moment (remember Danger Girl?). And Stumptown isn't a comic convention either. A convention is where the fans get the chance to show their adoration to the creator in person, rather than just with their dollars.

No, the Stumptown Comics Fest is more like a chance for creators to talk amongst themselves, while sharing their creative experience with the fans. It's a place where anyone who has the guts can put their own comic on display and see how's it's received by people on a face-to-face perspective. The front of the program describes the Fest as "Workshops, Creators, Awards, Contests and hundreds of other things that astound the imagination!"

I spent two days at the Fest ($10 for a weekend pass), with my kids tagging along. The headliner for the show was Bone creator Jeff Smith, which was a magnet for munchkins of all sorts. The organizers even put together a sheet detailing which talks and comics were appropriate for which ages (although they unfortunately didn't include it in the program so I didn't find it until late Sunday). So, here are my notes from the talks I attended.

The first talk I attended was the "Spotlight on Jeff Smith", moderated by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Charles Brownstein. Smith has a new comic he's working on called RASL, about a guy who discovers how to slide between parallel universes and uses this to become an inter dimensional art thief. Of course the audience was there to hear about Bone, especially the younger members. Bone is Smith's 12-year magnum opus. He created, scripted and drew 55 issues (1350 pages!) of the story of Fone Bone and his cousins as they accompany a girl named Thorn on an epic quest and eventually save the world.

Smith said that he didn't draw Bone as a kid's book, but he was surprised after binding the 55 issues into a single paperback and self publishing it, it became the single most requested book at libraries by younger readers. The book is so thick that when Smith made a special hard-cover edition, the only publisher that could handle it was one that dealt with bible bindings. Scholastic heard how popular Bone was and acquired the rights to re-release Bone, publishing it in multiple countries. Smith says that in Angouleme, France, or in Mumbai, India, his comic readers are the same throughout the world. He added that thanks to Scholastic there's enough weight behind the book to have a faithful movie adaptation.

He spoke how the three cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone are archetypes also found in other stories: Harpo, Chico and Groucho; Jerry, George and Kramer; and also Mickey, Donald and Goofy. He also answered a question from my son on the tone of the book: why it started out light and then got much darker in the second half. Smith explained that he wanted to hook the reader into the story, and as Thorn matured, she had to confront darker and more "real" problems. When Smith started to write Bone he already had the plot for all 55 issues outlined on paper. Check out boneville.com for more info.

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