“As tattered rags against the mast press fictive ships to imagined dawn, so currents of culture, zeitgeist and taste hasten the hipsters hither and yon, we must away to the STAPLE! show! We must to Marchesa Events Center! For comic books are all we know, and it only costs ten bucks to enter…” reads the illustrated poem by artist Geoff Sebesta.
Story by Devonshire Lokke
Photos courtesy of STAPLE!’s blog
On the weekend of March 1, artists, authors and comic-admirers of all kinds attended the 2014 STAPLE! Independent Media Exposition. For 10 years, the indie media expo has brought creatures from a multiverse of ages, home bases and artistic abilities to unite in Austin.
Chris Nicholas — “Uncle Staple” — founded the event to fill a hole in the comic-loving hearts of the South. As an emerging comic creator, Nicholas and his collaborator noticed that “at that time in Texas there were very few shows,” and therefore “not a lot of ways to distribute [comics]” other than taking “expensive vacation” trips to conventions in cities like San Francisco, Portland and New York, making three-dollar-per-comic profits simply not worth the trouble. Nicholas recalls that the shows already existing in Texas “were very mainstream, which tended more towards pop culture” than comic creation. “They would have the artists in an area called the ‘artist’s alley,’ where they kind of ghetto-ize them and stick them off in a corner so they’re not part of the show,” Nicholas reflects.
At his exposition, independent comic creators are the stars, because, as Nicholas says, “it needs an outlet, it needs a showcase,” and “what better place than Austin.” Nicholas smiles as he looks around the bustling lobby, and continues, “there’s an audience for it here,” then interrupts himself to sing along to the Mario theme song playing nearby. “And the rest is history, you might say.”
Although the spotlight was on comic artists, the diversity of media was more colorful than the artwork itself. Novels, zines, anthologies, toys, jewelry, board games, video games, posters, prints, canvases, sculptures and playing cards were just some of the other treasures nestled amongst comic books. The two convention floors hosting rows of showcased artists were just packed enough to feel overwhelmed by all of the eye-catching artwork and just roomy enough to freely explore without bumping the pieces off of their tables. Some artists sat sketching, which gave the passerby a glimpse into each unique creative process. Others embraced old friends and fans, eyed their neighbors’ art with appreciation or passionately divulged their characters’ latest adventures to the eager ear.
This year’s exposition boasted the attendance of Francesco Francavilla (NY Times bestselling author, award-winning storyteller, writer, artist and illustrator), Chip Zdarsky (whose current project, Sex Criminals, is Time Magazine’s #1 Comic of 2013), and Rob Harrell (author and illustrator of the syndicated daily comic strip Big Top and the long-running daily strip Adam@Home, which appears in more than 140 papers worldwide). A series of Q&A panels with these big names provided an intimate setting for attendees and fans to get answers and advice. Other panelists included webcomic creators Jeremy The Artist and Monica Gallagher, all-ages comic creators Rob Harrell, Paul Benjamin, Andy Hirsch and Jessi Jordan, as well as game moderator Scott Morris and game designers Matt Udvari, Aaron de Orive, Robert Garza and members of Stoic Studio and Binary Solo.
Nintendium 128 dropped in for a performance of the song Mario Gangham Style, and After Midnight also presented a performance of a Dr. Horrible shadowcast and sing-along. Artist J Hause hosted a digital painting tutorial, and the Kid’s Comic Corner let young artists-to-be get in on the action. Mindzai Creative set up shop so guests could grab a freshly live-screen-printed shirt to commemorate the event on their way out of the Marchesa Center. And if that wasn’t enough, there were also epic light saber fights in the lobby.
Everyone at the expo agreed that STAPLE! has something no other expo has. The environment of the indie show was inclusive and encouraging, as artists and art-appreciators bonded over common interests and mutual respect. “It’s got a warm vibe to it,” Nicholas says. The founders of Binary Solo Game Design echo this sentiment. “I like that everything here is lovingly hand-made. It’s all somebody’s weird idea that they eked out some space in their time, in their budget, in their garage, to just make that thing they’ve been dreaming about making,” Zeb West says. “Everyone is so passionate. The energy is so enthusiastic and wonderful to be around,” he adds.