"Hey! Have you guys seen this Web comic?" shouts a pony-tailed stick-figure from her workstation in a recent installment of xkcd titled "Signs Your Coders Don't Have Enough Work To Do."
OVERCOMPENSATING by Jeffrey Rowland.
For those not similarly underemployed,xkcd is among the most popular comics on the Web, topping an enormous list (more than 18,000 is a recent estimate) of slices-of-gamer-geek-life, manga-esque elf-and-dragon adventures, philosophy-spouting dinosaurs, and ironic slacker soap operas.
Fans will gather at the New England Webcomics Weekend on March 20 through 22. Originally planned as a small, informal gathering, the event has snowballed into a sort of Web-comics Woodstock — but in Easthampton, Massachusetts.
"We wanted to have a few of our friends who did Web comics come out for the weekend, show them the area, and tell them how we organize our business," says Meredith Gran, one of the show's instigators. "But . . . the response was massive."
In fact, registration has been officially closed because of parking restrictions, so chances of getting in at this point are dicey. (Gran promises, though: "This will definitely be a yearly thing.") At press time, more than 700 artists and fans are scheduled to descend on the Eastworks Building, a converted factory at 116 Pleasant Street in Easthampton, where they'll buy and sell merchandise and attend panels and a Web comics award show.
The remote small-town setting, limiting though it may be, actually makes sense. The Pioneer Valley is becoming the geographical center of the virtual Web-comics universe. Gran, who writes and draws the thrice-weekly Octopus Pie, is one of several Web cartoonists — including creators of Overcompensating, Diesel Sweeties, and Questionable Content — with studios in the Eastworks Building, a converted Easthampton factory. Eastworks also houses the online comics collective Dumbrella and merchandise distributor TopatoCo, which ships T-shirts and paraphernalia for numerous Web comics — the income source that allows these artists to justify doing what they love. And there are dozens of other Web cartoonists in the area — most still clinging to day jobs.
"We all sort of congregated here by accident over time," explains Gran, a New York transplant. "The costs are low; it's a college town. . . . People have gotten this idea that this is the land of milk and honey as far as Web comics go."
For more information (or to pre-order a souvenir T-shirt) visit webcomicsweekend.com.