Comic Book Writers Invited to Learn from the Best: Write to Publish 2016

In the world of comic books, Portland ranks among huge metropolises like New York City, San Diego, and Los Angeles. This is largely due to the city’s rich history of comics and the many vibrant comic conventions held here. However, the main catalysts behind the success of Portland comics are the creative comic book writers themselves. Ooligan Press, through Portland State University, hosts a convention called Write to Publish, which began as a simple fundraiser designed to publicize Ooligan Press. Write to Publish is now celebrating its eighth annual year and has grown from a fundraising event into an esteemed conference aimed at connecting emerging writers with those in the publishing world. It includes panels, workshops, vendors, and speakers––many of whom are professionals in the publishing industry. This year’s conference will be held on January 30, 2016 in the Smith Memorial Student Union, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Breakfast, including coffee, and lunch will be available.

We at Ooligan Press would like to reach out to all comic book writers and invite them to join us at Write to Publish 2016. Facets of the conference are geared specifically towards comic book writers, including a large raffle prize of two free tickets to Wizard World Comic Con, held February 19–21 and featuring special guests, such as William Shatner and New York Times best seller Colleen Houck. Alongside amazing vendors, such as Patterson Proofreading and PDX Writers, will be Oni Press. Oni Press publishes graphic novels and comics with genres that are popular in other media forms, like thrillers and romances. Aspiring comic book writers should not miss out on our instructional panels and influential speakers. The Writing for Comic Books panel is a great opportunity to learn. Panelists include Sara Ryan, creator of the Bad Houses comic; Virginia Paine, cartoonist of The WHYs; Bess Pallares, a freelance comics editor whose works include the comics Enormous and Spiritus ; and Jenn Manley Lee, senior production designer for Ziba Design and the creator of Dicebox.

Though Write to Publish is a conference aimed at helping all writers learn from those in the publishing industry, we want to especially reach out to the comic book writing community. Taking advantage of workshops and speakers is a great way to not only hone one’s craft but also to make connections, valuable assets in an industry where networking plays such a big role. We encourage those who wish to attend Write to Publish 2016 to purchase their tickets here. Portland is the home of many popular and successful comics creators. The diversity and talent of these individuals are what makes the city such a successful comic book hub. Attending Write to Publish is a wonderful way to get your foot in the door of this flourishing industry.

Comics Events Two Ways: Emerald City Comicon and Linework NW offer different experiences for fans, creators

Within just a few weeks of each other, two comics-related events were held this spring in Seattle and Portland, offering different opportunities for fans and creators alike to celebrate nerd culture and embrace comic art and illustration. As a comics fan and editor, I was excited to have easier access to comics conventions after moving to Portland for the Book Publishing program, including Emerald City Comicon and Linework NW. I attended each event this year with different goals and expectations, but I was still surprised by how shows that cater to a common medium varied so greatly in audience and mood.

ECCC, held March 27–29 in Seattle, has quickly grown into one of the largest comics conventions in the country, attracting more than 50,000 guests annually to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center for panels, gaming, a show floor featuring comics creators, and celebrity guests. Linework, held April 18–19 in Portland, is a young event—this was just its second year—and hosted about 2,500 guests over the weekend in a packed Norse Hall ballroom of illustrators, cartoonists, and independent publishers.

As a publishing student and comics editor, my approach for these events probably differed from many attendees’. I went into ECCC with professional goals and plans to meet certain editors and creators, as well as to encourage promising creators in Artist Alley to consider submitting to Ooligan Press in the future. I applied for and received a weekend Pro Pass based on my editorial work rather than buying a three-day pass, which would have cost $85. While I was successful in meeting the people I wanted to and handed out some Ooligan cards to writers and illustrators, the nature of the convention made it a difficult place to focus on professional work.


The Emerald City Comicon show floor.

The sheer size of the show floor—which spanned two giant rooms—and the fact that I needed a map to find the people I was looking for added an extra level of stress to the day. Shuffling slowly among the crowds, I saw thousands of cosplayers and more than a few robots perusing the floor, and just about all of them seemed to be more in their element than I was. At the end of the day, I felt successful but exhausted, and when I returned home to Portland, it took me a few days to recover and feel ready to “make comics” again. I think part of this stems from my introverted nature, but also from the format of ECCC, which is primarily a show that allows fans to celebrate their hobbies and meet their idols.

Just three weeks later, back in Portland, I felt refreshed and prepared to take on another event, but this one had a very different feel. Linework is billed as an “illustration and comics festival,” where the focus is not so much on the fan culture surrounding comics but on highlighting the work of independent comics publishers, creators, and illustrators. I also decided to take a different approach to this event, focusing on enjoying and supporting the exhibitors instead of trying to conduct any business of my own. The fact that none of my current collaborators were at Linework certainly also contributed to that decision.

The experiential difference between Linework and ECCC was clear before I even walked through the door. I had arrived at ECCC two hours early to find close parking, get my pass, and wait in line for the show floor. I arrived at Linework forty-five minutes early and ended up being one of the first people through the door, which meant that aside from free admission, I also received a swag bag full of goodies donated by local comics shops, publishers, and vendors.


A Linework NW exhibitor chats with an attendee.

The Norse Hall is a small but beautiful venue, and where huge vinyl banners promoting publishers had hung over the ECCC show floor, Linework proceeded beneath an array of Scandinavian flags. I didn’t see any cosplayers this time, but the room was still crowded, and I again shuffled through slowly. Instead of handing out cards and making professional connections, I tried to have short conversations with exhibitors—learning about what they do instead of talking about my own projects. I even came home with a huge stack of new reading materials, including zines, handmade mini-comics, and even a concertina. Partly because of the size of the event and partly because I had homework, I only stayed at Linework for a couple of hours, but when I made it home, I felt energized and excited by the work I’d seen, and I carried that feeling into my editing.

I don’t think either one of these events was better than the other, but they do offer comics fans and creators uniquely different experiences. For me, those experiences were heavily informed by my goals in comparison to those of the other attendees. I plan to attend both events again next year, but now I have a better idea of what to expect from each, professionally and personally.

A Journal for Comic Books: Gathering Input for a Possible New Project

Comics are an important part of Portland’s cultural landscape. Creators, consumers, conventions, cosplayers — they can all be found here. It is therefore, with great pleasure, that I introduce a new project group that began this term within Ooligan Press: The Graphic Novels/Picture Books Exploratory Committee. The group consists of Alex Haehnert, Molly Hunt, Bess Pallares, Brian Parker, and myself. We are tasked with researching the viability of Ooligan Press becoming involved in graphic novels, picture books, and related projects which may involve creating a new imprint at the press. Exciting, right? It certainly has the comic geeks among us excited.

There have been some exciting developments at Portland State University regarding comics, lately; I’ve already written about the new Comics Studies program, which you can read about here, is the most prominent example. Now, one of the projects that our group is considering is a comics journal, which could be done in conjunction with the Comics Studies program. Unlike a lot of other academic subjects, comics journals are a rare breed. One noteworthy example is The Comics Journal, but there are a few others. With that in mind, this possibilities for a journal are limitless — there are no rules limiting what we could include and who we could involve in the process of making it. Submissions would be easy to come by in a city full of comic creators, but Portland is also in the excellent position of being surrounded by other colleges that have comics studies programs and courses.

Because we have free rein to decide what we would want our potential comic journal to be, I thought it would be a nice idea to democratize the process somewhat by creating a survey. The purpose of the survey is to get feedback on what kind of content people would like to see in a journal and where we should draw submissions from. We want to involve as many people in this process as possible, so the survey is open to anyone who wishes to share their opinion on this potential future project.

If you have the time, please take the survey and let us know what you think of a comics journal. Feel free to share it with others who you think will be interested, as well.

What Comic Book Stores Can Teach Us

Portland is a great town for readers, so it’s hard to know if the trends in book sales here follow those for the rest of the country. Many who study the trends claim that the future of the publishing and bookselling worlds is grim, but you only need to look past the doors of Cosmic Monkey Comics to see that these premonitions of doom are overkill.

For those of you who haven’t visited the shop (and I definitely suggest you do), let me set the scene: the space is large—much larger than most other comic book shops you might have visited. Once you’re through the dark, unassuming doors, you find yourself surrounded by tall shelves filled to overflowing with all kinds of graphic novels and illustrated books. There are sections for every reader: rows of comic books for young adults, rows of children’s comics, and a separate row featuring only international faire. One corner is solely devoted to local zines and independent comics. This is all before you get to the recently printed bimonthly books and back issues that take up the rear of the shop.

What really makes this shop unique is the attention it gives to all of the great work being produced by individuals and small presses—both here and abroad—in addition to mainstream publishers. This gives those in charge at Cosmic Monkey a particularly nuanced viewpoint on changes happening across the publishing (and bookselling) landscape.

The shop has been going strong for ten-plus years, helmed by Andy Johnson (who goes by the title of “Comic Czar”) and Adam Healy (the “Comic Soothsayer”), and is one of the most popular dens of all things geeky in the Portland Metro area. I recently joined them for a brief discussion about some of the changes taking place in the publishing world. First I asked them if the growth in digital marketing for comics by companies like comiXology has had a negative effect on readership of printed books. Their response? “Not really.” Adam went on to explain that although they are aware of the changes happening in digital distribution, the effect on their bottom line has been minimal. In fact, both Adam and Andy agreed that purchases on ereaders are building interest and increasing readership.There has been a shift in the content being created, Adam remarked: publishers are starting to produce more entertaining and diverse general content, and paying more attention to the new readers. Instead of focusing on old, serialized content, publishers are reaching out to new audiences—some of which were turned on to comics through digital purchases.

Andy mentioned that Image Comics has been taking advantage of this new model by promoting their creator-owned titles, which often feature new and innovative storylines. One of these new titles, Rat Queens, has garnered a lot of attention recently and has even been optioned for a television show. This push for originality carries over to children’s books as well, such as those produced by publishers like Archaia and Top Shelf.

Adam noted the number of parents bringing their kids to Cosmic Monkey for events and weekend trips. “Parents are looking for a place to bring their kids that they feel good about sharing with them,” he said, and I can definitely see how that is true. There is a cross-pollination going on between popular media and comics these days, and parents are taking advantage of that by introducing their children to reading comics and visiting the shops. This is how the culture of comics grows, and that is where the lessons for struggling book retailers come in. When we discussed what bookstores could learn from comic shops, it was the building of culture that we all came to agreement on. Comic shops hold events, invitationals, and annual draws like Free Comic Book Day, which in turn welcomes new customers to the culture of comics. By building and nurturing this culture, comic shops ensure their relevance in popular culture. “It’s something I’ve noticed places like Green Bean Books [are] doing as well,” Adam said.

Getting accurate sales data for comic shops has been notoriously difficult. Most companies hold on to their proprietary data, as does the major comics distributor, Diamond, so getting a good idea of how comic book and graphic sales info compares to current book retailer data is problematic. Sites like Comichron are helpful, but really all you need to do is stop by a shop like Cosmic Monkey on a Saturday and see what the numbers can’t tell you.

Words and Pictures: The Comics Studies Certificate Program and Write to Publish 2015

Do you like comics? Of course you do. It is, therefore, noteworthy news that Portland State University is now offering a certificate in Comics Studies to post-baccalaureate and graduate students. While this program is meant for anyone interested in the study of comics, students in the Book Publishing program looking for a fun way to fill elective credits will find these courses especially attractive.

The program requires students to complete six courses for a total of twenty-four credits; ENG 449/549: Advanced Topics in Cultural Studies: Comics History & Theory is the only mandatory course. The remaining five courses are selected from the Architecture, Art, English, Japanese Studies, Philosophy, World Languages and Literatures, and Writing departments— a truly interdisciplinary collection. The program features visits from talented local comics professionals including Shannon Wheeler (creator of Too Much Coffee Man) and Brian Michael Bendis.

The Comics Studies program is the brainchild of Susan Kirtley, associate professor of English and the Director of Rhetoric and Composition at Portland State University. Professor Kirtley is busy: she will be one of the judges of the 2015 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, will cohost a panel called “Getting Respect: Comics Go To College” at Wizard World Portland Comic ConA, and will be appearing at the 2015 Write to Publish conference on January 31st. Despite her busy schedule, Kirtley still found time to provide me with more information about the new certificate program.

This is what I learned:

  • This program will partner well with a degree in Book Publishing. “We’re in a comics city with a lot of publishers,” Kirtley said. In fact, two of the elective options in the certificate program include Introduction to Book Publishing and Publishing Software.
  • Internships are in the works. The program has just gone live as of Winter Term 2015, so the details are still being worked out, but there are a lot of interested creators and companies.
  • The program could expand into a full-fledged degree program. “My hope is that eventually, over time, we’ll be able to expand . . . the idea was to start small and make sure that there is an interest.”

I also asked Professor Kirtley about the panel she will be on at Write to Publish this year, “The Graphic Novel Narrative: Where Words Meet Illustration.” The panel, which will also feature Shannon Wheeler, Leia Weathington, and Mark Russell, will address “the growing place of graphic novels in literature, how illustrations affect the narrative, and the relationship between writer and artist.” She thinks it’s fantastic that Ooligan is showcasing graphic narratives as part of the publishing landscape, saying, “I have witnessed that people in this area are very, very passionate and very, very excited about comics.” When asked how she thought the Write to Publish conference would benefit someone who is interested in working in comics, Professor Kirtley said the conference would offer a chance to ask questions of people who work in the field as well as the opportunity to get an inside look at the industry.

If you would like to know more about the Comics Studies program, you can visit the webpage. There you will find a list of courses offered for upcoming terms as well as information regarding admission and completion requirements. For more information about speakers, programming, and tickets for Write to Publish, check out the event’s webpage.

Publishing News Round-Up

Continuing in its quest for world domination, Amazon has confirmed that it will purchase the digital comics vendor ComiXology. In case you’re unfamiliar, ComiXology is a cloud-based purveyor of digital comics through mobile apps and its website. It features comics from Marvel, DC, and many other publishers, as well as providing its fans with a self-publishing platform—a service that Amazon has also embraced. ComiXology doesn’t only do business in the cloud, though: they also offer partnerships with brick-and-mortar stores through their “Online Pull List” feature, which allows customers to pre-order comics to be picked up at their local comic book stores, as well as offering a suite of tools for comic shop owners to create their own websites and sell comics online. One might expect Amazon to quickly do away with any feature that supports outside sales, but according to ComiXology’s CEO, David Steinberger, that isn’t a danger: “As a wholly owned subsidiary, we get to continue our relationships the way they are, we get to keep moving in the direction we’ve been moving in, and we get to explore the possibilities.”

On Friday, April 11th, the Authors Guild filed an appeal in its ongoing lawsuit against Google’s infamous Library Project. The Guild’s initial lawsuit accused Google of copyright infringement for unauthorized storage of complete copyrighted texts in its databases. U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin disagreed, issuing a ruling dismissing the guild’s lawsuit and stating that it is his belief that Google’s Library Project “advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders.” According to Judge Chin, Google’s efforts should be considered “fair use” under copyright law. In its appeal, the Authors Guild contends that Google’s aim in scanning copyrighted material for inclusion in its Library Project is not out of a noble desire to provide more people with more books, but that it is instead an attempt to bolster its own search engines in order to sell more ad space and “build its financial empire on the backs of authors.”

Stumptown Comics Fest: Searching for Greg Rucka

By Sarah Soards
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived at the Stumptown Comics Festival. Maybe some live reenactments of Superman’s death? Were catgirls going to be trolling the booths looking for hugs? I had been to an anime convention a few years ago, and was shocked to see cosplayers lined up in the hotel hallways with cardboard signs saying “Hug Me” in thick black Sharpie. Luckily, I was saved from having to give any hugs to strange, sweaty teenagers dressed up like Snake from Metal Gear Solid.
Booths were packed like sardines into the event space—it was a veritable comic book-filled labyrinth. It took a little getting used to, but once I figured out how to navigate the narrow aisles, it became less overwhelming. Dark Horse, Oni Press, and Top Shelf were just a few of the companies that filled the room at the Oregon Convention Center. With my trusty press badge around my neck, I plunged forth into a sea of comic books, graphic novels, merchandise, paintings, and chapbooks.
Know Your City
Now, I love comic books and graphic novels, but I am certainly no connoisseur. I can generally tell if the art is not so great, and I can separate a good story from a bad one. But there were so many amazing comics to look at and choose from! A bit overcome, I stumbled into a booth where a man declared that he had created a new type of superhero graphic novel.
The story follows a young man as he battles the forces of evil in order to save his city from destruction. The young man also happens to be gay. The comic’s creator explained to me that as a young, gay teenager he enjoyed the action and storylines of comic books, but was never fully able to relate to the protagonists. So he created his own superhero that he and other people in the community could connect with. He stressed that the comic still contained non-stop action and all of the standard superhero tropes, but that the lead character just happens to like men instead of women. It’s a story about a modern superhero for a modern audience. We had a great conversation, and I realized that this man was not the only one writing LGBT-themed comics.
I walked around a little longer, breathing in the stale air and smiling like an idiot. I ended up purchasing two graphic novels, even though I had told myself that I was attending purely as a press person. But there was so much excitement and hope squashed into that little room, how could I not buy anything? It’s an incredible community—they constantly support one another, which is how they have been able to keep growing over the past few years.
There weren’t any hugs, catgirls, or people yelling in Japanese, but there was still a sense of giddiness. There are so many paths that the industry can take—the possibilities are endless. Whether it’s a web comic or a perfect bound hardback, the comic book world will continue to push and explore boundaries, and that is something we can all look forward to.

Marni Norwich Guest Poet Post: “Why I Don’t Write”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Marni Norwich, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Why I Don’t Write

So many good books have been written on the subject of why to write, and none on the important question of why not to, that I think it is high time to redress the imbalance. Hence my current book-length project: Why I Don’t Write. This important contribution to the literature is not to be overlooked! In it, aspiring writers will find reams of accessible lists (arranged alphabetically and according to subject for easy finding) and chapters full of solid arguments against writing.
No more feelings of guilt, shame, laziness and dishonor from writers who simply don’t want to write! Writers need never trouble their minds in search of valid excuses when they can simply lick a finger and open the swelling pages of my tome. I always say that any reason is a good reason not to write, and done are the days when we need  seek validation for our still pens from outside sources!
From being under-inspired to being too inspired (why threaten that fabulous feeling?), from being intimidated by the great writers who have gone before to feeling superior to them (I could out-write Emily Dickinson in my sleep! Now, off to clean the bathroom!), this book will affirm your every withhold and add to the mix with compelling argument and rock solid logic.
In the current era, with its emphasis on creativity, process, and the “calling of our art,” so many people are racing to pick up notebooks and pens in the quest to express themselves. Everyone and their sister are busy writing poems, short stories, novels, and plays, and the market is flooded with books telling us why and how to write.
Write write write! That’s all I hear, wherever I go! Even while I sat innocently at a café, trying to get a moment’s peace with a cup of tea, the women at the table beside mine were speaking loudly about their “journal-writing process” and how fulfilling it was for them. After a few minutes of this, I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to turn to them and say, “Excuse me. You probably mean no harm, but there are people in this café who are successfully avoiding writing after years of hardcore activity and months of withdrawal, so could you please keep your inflammatory conversation down!”
Gratefully, they spoke in hushed tones after that, and—as you can imagine—I was much relieved. I softened and even considered talking to them about the upcoming launch of my book, Why I Don’t Write, but they left before I could gather my business cards.
To the old adage, “Those who cannot do, teach,” I add “Those who do not write, preach,” and by this I mean that those who have moved beyond the need to engage in this pernicious activity have an obligation to the lesser-advanced to drag them from their misbegotten inkwells to the light of day, and sometimes into public scrutiny! For shouldn’t the reading public be the final arbiters in the question of who is permitted to contribute to a global literature that affects us all?
What would our literarily demure forefathers have thought of today’s “democratization” of the written word? How would they have tolerated the plentiful and low-grade pulp fiction and comic books, the detective novels and fashion magazines? The answer, clearly, is not at all well!
My point is simple. For every reason a person can think of to write, there are twenty reasons why it is actually a very bad idea. My friends, I have a secret to share with you: Writing seems like such frivolous activity, but I have it on experience that it connects us with the deep underpinnings and unexplored yearnings at the very base of our beings! If you think that kind of unearthing will not kick up a storm of every magnitude, you have another think coming! If for no other reason than to preserve the untouched integrity of what is and the predictable unfurling of the human story as we have known it, I beseech you not to write!  Drop your pens now, before the stirrings of your souls herald a burst of change at a magnitude beyond the scope of imagining, encompassing yourselves and the entirety of this lumbering, multiform planet—this huge, blue-green spiraling notebook!

Marni Norwich is a Vancouver, British Columbia writer, editor, writing workshop facilitator, and author of the poetry collection Wildflowers at my doorstep (Karma Press, 2008). She’s been reading and performing on Vancouver stages for eight years, sometimes with the accompaniment of dancers, choreographers and musicians.
Marni’s poem “Hang On,” which was inspired by a ride on Vancouver’s 20 Downtown bus, will be featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.