MEETING THE FANS Comic-book stars, from left, Chris Giarrusso, Kean Soo, and Becky Cloonan set up at the Maine Comics Arts Festival.
In its short history, the brand-new Ocean Gateway terminal hasn't seen anything like the hundreds of comic-book creators, collectors, and fans (900 strong, nearly half of them age 12 or under) who attended the inaugural Maine Comics Arts Festival on Sunday. Writers and artists with national profiles? Check. Strong local contingent? Check? Indie creators from all over New England and the East Coast? Check. There were even a few costumed devotees, and of course there was the Cat Dancer, about whom more later.
MECAF was the brainchild of Rick Lowell, proprietor of Casablanca Comics, who initially envisioned the event as part of the Maine Festival of the Book. When that didn't work out, he struck out on his own, and last Sunday all of his hard work paid off. Headlined by Becky Cloonan (Demo), Kean Soo (Jellaby), Gabrielle Bell (Cecil and Jordan in New York), and Chris Giarrusso (Mini Marvels) — and of course the madcap local crew responsible for The Undersea Adventures of Cap'n Eli — the festival offered panels and workshops as well as plain old mingling in a showroom that was all creators. No stores (not even Casablanca) allowed.
This gave the event a different feeling than the breathless hucksterism of so many comic shows. "As a cartoonist, I had an amazing time, and the festival exceeded any of my expectations," said Giarrusso. "More than any other show I've been to, I felt like I really connected with the fans."
Other creators echoed this sentiment, and noted the number of kids and families present. "What better message for those bold, young brains than a roomful of people doing what they want in life?" said Kirsten Cappy, of Portland book-marketing firm Curious City.
Among local creators, there was genuine excitement to have a hometown event. No longer does the indie creator have to head off to Boston or New York to show his or her wares. "This is the first Con I've exhibited in and come out ahead," wrote Joel Zain Rivers (Along the Canadian, The Collective) afterward. "Rick was great to allow local creators the opportunity to shine, and show the folks here in Portland a world of creativity they might have not known was here."
A highlight for your correspondent (Daredevil Noir) was a conversation with Cloonan about the Sub-Mariner's junk in some pages she's currently working on. That and the aforementioned Cat Dancer, a costumed local who danced to his own soundtrack in a leopard-print bodysuit with red wings. "Right out of Gilbert Hernandez's dreamscape!" marveled Dave Naybor (Walking Christendom).
Which is the kind of comment you could only hear at a comics festival.