Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Four Days In Bridge City

My favorite way to think of Portland is that it reflects an alternate reality where John Lennon was never assassinated and Ronald Reagan was never elected. There’s something deeply loveable in the city’s homebrewed hipster sincerity. 

I know hipster is a term of derision in the contemporary setting, but I’m bored with hipster hating.  Hipsters are just the most recent permutation of the Bohemian impulse.  It’s an attractive impulse, one that says that the world doesn’t need to be the way that the forces of commerce, or politics, or propriety say it should.  It’s an impulse that says life can be lived artfully, creatively, on one’s own terms, and without permission from the powers that are.  

Hipsters and Portland are maligned for upholding a certain air of affectation in assuming those values.  So is my home base of Williamsburg.  And certainly there are the insincere poseurs within those ranks.  What most people don't notice is that most fleeting hipsters aren't insincere so much as they're just trying an identity on.  I say more power to them.   Phonies are phonies, and they’re easily flushed out and more easily dismissed.  The more people asserting or attempting an alternative mode of living to whatever happens to be mainstream, the better.  Humanity grows through diversity.  Diversity thrives amongst the oddball enclaves, whether we call them hipster, or hippie, or punk, or beat, or beatnik, or bohemian.  

Portland is one of the United States’ most vital places to assert that life can be organized in a fashion that is idiosyncratic and strange and, most of all, beautiful precisely because of all that.

Last month I got to spend 4 days in Portland for the Stumptown Comics Festival.  Here's what I saw.

I hit the ground running on Friday, going over to the Portland Convention Center to set up the CBLDF booth at the Fest.  The onsite team was on top of things and made getting the booth in a breeze.  After the booth was ready for the next day, I zipped down to Floating World for the Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever launch party.  The boy band above are author/instigator Tom Neely on the left, Benjamin Marra in the center, and Ed Luce on the end.

Floating World is a few blocks away from international bookstore icon Powell's and near Chinatown -- it should be a must visit if you're looking for funky comics in Portland.  Jason Leivian and his crew do a remarkable job curating a store of handcrafted art comics, prints, and objects, while also hosting a positive range of current comics & graphic novels, and vintage records.  It's a good thing I didn't have a lot of room in my travel bag, or I could have put some hurt on my budget in this place.  Here's a few snaps.

Floating World had a show of Benjamin Marra's American Psycho art up.  I've never seen Ben's originals before, and they were fun to look at.

After Floating World, Zack Soto of Press Gang, and Study Group, and many other comics oriented things including his own book Secret Voice gave me a lift up to Michael Ring's excellent shop Bridge City Comics on Mississippi where they were hosting the Stumptown Drink & Draw welcome party.  They were extremely crowded, even when I got there around 10, so I didn't get as many pictures.  This is another great store, though.  Clean, well designed, with a terrific graphic novel and current comics inventory.

After Bridge City, Zack & I headed to Waypost, where we just missed the night's comics reading, which is a drag, because Theo Ellsworth was one of the artists in the set, and he's one of my favorites.  I mingled there for a bit, then caught a lift with Tom Neely to the Horse Brass on Belmont where we had a nightcap with Andrice Arp, Sean Christensen, and Emily Nilsson.  I hung out a little bit after those guys left to grab a cab and was treated to some Slayer for my troubles.  Life was good.

The con started the next day, and I was lucky to have Craig Thompson signing for us.  He's a real class act, and did terrific sketches in everyone's book.  Here he is with Breena Wiederhoef, who was showing off her new book Picket Line.

Cory Marder passed at the end of Saturday, so I didn't have the gusto to go check out the party at the Jupiter for very long, but from what I did see it was extremely well attended and looked like fun.

Sunday the con was robust, and I got to go check out the floor a bit.  I picked up a lot of comics, but I'll leave that to a separate post.  Teardown at the end of the show was a breeze, and when I stepped out to flag a cab this dude picked me up:

He was cranking Overkill, so we talked about metal until he dropped me off at some brew pub where I caught dinner with Brett Warnock and his young son Carter, Jeff Lemire, Nate Powell , Emi Lennox, Joe Keatinge, and Chris Ross.  Jeff, Joe & I talked comics over some killer Asian fare, until Nate brought the topic over to metal, where I switched sides (of both the table and the conversation) and joined Brett, Nate and Carter in a conversation about favorite bands.  After that, Brett drove me down to Pony Club where I got to spend an hour with Ben Marra talking NFL and art.  Ben unpacked what was going on with the Draft, and we lamented the circus that will be the 2012 New York Jets.  I also expressed my strong desire to see Ben do a football comic.  It would be amazing!  After the event, Shannon Stewart took me to Dot's for a beer.  I love their bathroom doors:


Monday I had a Stumptown board meeting at the new IPRC. This is one of my favorite non-profits and I was excited to see it move into this killer space:

Later that day I met up with Shawna Gore to see Mares of Thrace, an astonishing metal two-piece from Calgary.  The singer Thérèse Lanz plays a forceful custom guitar made to behave as both guitar and base with a huge 20 piece effects set.  She rocks equally convincing cookie monster and classic vocals.  She also should be cast as Anne Bonney in a Kathy Acker meets Ridley Scott pirate movie.  Drummer Stef MacKichan had a huge, goofy happy grin as she played ferocious but spacious percussion.  This group is terrific metal, and a lot of fun to see live.  I really hope they open for High On Fire and come to New York, then my metal year would be complete.

After that I went out to meet up with Zack Soto, ending up at a house party where I spent the better part of the night talking to a fellow who taught me about the Coast Guard.  He'd served for many years, and made a convincing case about it behaving as the most civilized branch of the Armed Services.

See, this is Portland for you.  My passions are comics, metal and meeting people.  In my short stay I got to indulge in all of it. The folks I met were fascinating oddballs, every single one of them.  And that's the charm.  Sure, the world as we know it would likely be too dysfunctional to survive if everywhere was like Portland.  But the place is a good argument for the notion that the way we organize ourselves isn't the only way to live, and there's a great way of life to be found in pursuing an idiosyncratic path.  I love it for those reasons, and always get joy out of visiting the town and its people.  Portland shows that the way it is is the way we make it, and don't let anyone else tell you different.

Keep at it Bridge City.  You're a beacon of hope for the rest of us.

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