Festivals are obviously a sticking point for me, but it's not all about the negative aspects of larger cons: it's also about the positive aspects of alternative possibilities and actualities. So, I was excited when I heard about PDX Popup Con, an impromptu event this week in Portland organized by Indigo Kelleigh of PDX Comic Arts – former organizer of the Stumptown Comics Fest – and local Portland comic shops.
Aimed mainly at those missing out on a tabling opportunity at the recently postponed Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC), the PDX Popup Con is setting up within the space of the participating shops and is charging no table fees. Given this unusual structure and how quickly the event coalesced, I reached out to Kelleigh to have a conversation about how the event came together, and what role he thought this kind of event may (or may not) have beyond this week.
The convo happened asynchronously over the course of the last two days that the popup con was accepting submissions. It's been lightly edited for typos and clarity.
At what point did you start thinking the popup con might be necessary?
The idea actually came from Katie Pryde at Books with Pictures. She posted on FB that her shop would be happy to host a few tables over the weekend, but needed help with logistics.
I thought it sounded like a great idea so we got together Friday afternoon and came up with a plan. I contacted a number of other retailers whose travel plans had all changed, to see if they were interested in being involved, and it just kind of took off from there.
Was charging for exhibitors ever on the table in discussions or did it start from the point of setting up the tables without charge?
No, it was free from the word go. The goal is to help out the creators who are already losing money from the postponement.
Help me out geographically: are the shops involved all pretty close together or is this more city-wide? (both can be true, of course)
It is city-wide, none of the shops are more than about 15 minutes away from each other.
And in terms of numbers, based on the rotating time slots you had in mind and the places participating, what is the number of exhibitors you are expecting to handle? Do you have any clue how many apps you have so far [as of Monday night]?
With the rotating slots we can accommodate about 130 different exhibitors, at the moment we have almost 50 registrations. The app comes down [Tuesday] at midnight, and I'm going to try to get the schedules put together and released on Wednesday.
Have you ever been involved with organizing anything like this before?
Yeah, I was the founder and director of the Stumptown Comics Fest for about seven years in the mid-2000's. So I knew what I was getting into.
Do you see this popup as mostly a stopgap or do you think it has legs as an alternative kind of comic event?
It's a stopgap, really. It's such a weird setup with all the retailers participating, I don't see how that could be organized under better circumstances.
Do you think the retailers wouldn't be willing without the extenuating circumstances or is it that the setup fragments the spaces too much?
It's an impact on their retail weekend. I think the big reason we got so many on board so quickly was simply that their plans for the weekend suddenly changed as well. I don't see that happening again outside of another large comics event cancelling. Which, I accept, is a possibility down the road. I don't know if we would try to do this again if RCCC or SDCC end up cancelling later this year, hopefully we'd have more time to think about it.
Obviously this is a question only individual retailers can answer, but from your perspective, do you think the prospect of having creators in their shops (people whose work many of these shops presumably make money selling) to allow them to sell things as part of this kind of (irregular) event really would be a hard sell? You've already said "yes" here I just want to unpack it a little more because this event is unusual in that it flies in the face of the relationship that we generally see shops having to these events.
These retailers have artists in their shop to sign books all the time - that's part of why I set up the pdxcomicarts.com site in the first place. But usually it's only for a couple hours, at varying times of the day, and it depends entirely on the retailers availability. Something like this, where we're blocking off a larger space in their store for an entire weekend, is really a huge ask, and I'm extremely grateful to all of them for being on-board with it, for offering up that space to us for this.
If you did have more time, what are the first things that would change logistically? Has anything particular come up for the next round of these that may happen due to other con cancellations?
The only thing I'd change would to move it to one centralized location. Spreading the exhibitors out is a challenge to the audience as well.
Even though it's just a stopgap, are there things you see this kind of event doing for the community that a Reedpop (or other large foreign corp) event can't? How challenging is it to balance the concern of exhibitor returns with getting the local community involved?
Larger events like ECCC can definitely provide more exposure and networking opportunities for creators, but smaller events like ours can provide a closer community connection. By exhibitor returns, do you mean sales?
I don't agree that those two goals are at odds with each other. Through years of involvement with Stumptown, I saw how strong our local community was, and how much they could accomplish when they all worked together. The community's involvement was what enabled Stumptown to become the largest creator-focused convention in the country.
Maybe they're not at odds in principle, but in practice it often seems like things end up that way. If I recall, cost was a major factor the Stumptown festival stopped running.
Stumptown itself was a profitable show, but it wasn't enough to support the board's year-long boosterism plans, unfortunately.