Is it worth recapping APE? APE isn’t going to change, and as more cartoonists drop out, APE will just fill the space with people selling crafty stuff like laser-cut jewelry or felted shit. I guess they’re moving to Fort Mason next year, so maybe the shake-up will be good to breathe some life into the convention.
Okay, I’ll give you a mini-recap. This year’s APE was fucking weak. There was no energy at all, and this was the 20th anniversary. There were cool guests, but no one who could really bring in a crowd, and so the traffic was light all weekend. There were cool exhibitors, but they were sprinkled among an endless parade of illustrators selling prints of their fantasy artwork. Some exhibitors clearly didn’t want to be there and it showed. APE is in crisis as crowds dwindle and cartoonists (people who actually have something to do with any sort of “press”) drop out, so they go and raise the entrance fee to recoup that loss. That way the can make the same amount of money off 20% less traffic! It’s genius!
The new breed of convention now follows SPX’s lead and relentlessly promotes itself and its exhibitors through social media. APE tried to get in on that game this year by issuing “Toucan Tips” on the Comic-Con blog. Gems like, “Meet a special guest!” or “Attend a panel!” MDT should send them a thank-you note for making him look so good by comparison. A list of convention debuts, a Tumblr reblogging the work of exhibitors, that kind of stuff… no way. They’ll buy a few ads in the alt weeklies and leave it at that. And when San Francisco doesn’t show up, they’ll just jack up entrance fees next year to cover the shortfall.
I don’t know what San Francisco needs to do in order to get a good show. I really want to find out. Tracy from D&Q straight-up told me that their sales are terrible on the west coast, which is why their authors rarely tour here. I’ve heard this line about not being able to sell books here from everyone else I’ve talked to, so it’s not as if D&Q is outside the norm on this. Part of me wonders if it has to do with media coverage… I’m just speculating here, not accusing, BUT… I wonder, if you looked at the top five most trafficked comics blogs/websites and counted the frequency of every cartoonist covered in those blogs, what you’d find. Would there be equal representation between east and west coast? Does it even matter? Local cartoonists who exhibit at SPX do way better there than they do at APE, so the lack of sales probably doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not people are getting press.
The obvious answer is that LA needs a show. Maybe LA Zine Fest could be that show, but I think they’re still dealing with size issues - from reading the 2014 application, it sounds unlikely that they have 2-3 table blocks to give the big publishers who can come in and anchor a festival for all the little ½ tables. SF is over and done, because years and years of everyone’s shitty sales have entrenched this idea that the Bay Area is a bust. People aren’t traveling to APE, but I guarantee you that SF and Portland people would travel to LA if LA managed to have a show in the mold of CAKE, SPX, Autoptic, CAB/BCGF, etc. If I knew the first thing about organizing a convention, I’d do it myself, but I don’t, and plus, I don’t have the connections to make something like that happen. The only reason APE manages to survive is that it’s the only major west coast show besides San Diego, and without any natural predators, it can keep going ad infinitum. Maybe an LA show can put it out of its misery already.
Epilogue - I’m not a negative person by nature, and I don’t like to write negative, mean shit. There’s a lot to love about APE, and so subsequent posts will be about what I liked about it, not why it was lame. Plus, I’m sure there are some people (not including the volunteers who make APE a breeze to attend year after year) who work really hard on APE, and I don’t want to shit all over their work. The simple fact, though, is that APE continues to fall back when other alternative press shows are surging ahead. There seems to be no recognition of this trend on APE’s part as a whole, and as someone who dedicates a lot of time and money to being a comics fan, I think it’s important to point that out. I also think there’s a productive conversation to be had about:
a) why the west coast is a black hole for book sales, and
b) whether it’s in the best interest of the alternative press for Comic-con to own and manage the major west coast convention in the first place.