Friday, September 5, 2008

Decatur Book Festival report: comics!

Well, we're finally recovering from the huge blowout that was the Decatur Book Festival! The store was packed with people from even before opening on Saturday until we closed on Sunday... All in all, it was a huge success!

I'd like to talk about the whole thing, but there was so much, I'm going to have to break it up into bite sized chunks. First off, all the great cartoonists who came to DBF. Why them first? Because I can.--JCE

On Saturday, at the teen stage (called The Escape) there was a panel with Rich Tommaso, artist on the brilliant Satchel Paige biography from The Center for Cartoon Studies, and Hope Larson, whose Chiggers evokes the dreamy, wonderful days of summer camp. (Update: check out the "extra" Chiggers story on her website!

Rich and Hope discussed their careers, how they approach projects, tools of the trade, a whole lot more. Two very cool folks, and I'm so excited they came. Hope Larson had what I thought was one of the most provocative comments of the whole festival, saying, "If it were up to me, everything would be available on the web. I don't think online and print compete with each other, but publishers don't like that idea." (apologies to Ms. Larson if I butchered the quote)

Sunday, Rich also participated in a graphic novels panel with Ben Towle, whose historical novel Midnight Sun is a cool look into a failed attempt to reach the North Pole, and Robert Venditti, wearing two hats: that of employee of comics and graphic novels publisher Top Shelf and writer of the graphic novel thriller The Surrogates. Each of them discussed their histories, how they got into the comics business, the ins and outs of writers working with artists and vice-versa, and answered audience questions. A really interesting panel over-all. Interesting side note: Ben is working on an Amelia Earhart biography for the Center for Cartoon Studies, part of the same line of books as Rich's Satchel Paige book.

Also on Sunday, Patrick McDonnell, creator of the comic strip Mutts, "read" from his new picture book South. It's a wordless book, but it was fascinating watching him walk the audience through his book and his process. I had a really cool conversation with him afterward, in which we discussed his movement toward picture books (I asked him if that was intentional, considering the current sad state of newspaper comics pages--he said he'd always wanted to do picture books, but it was fortuitous that he was heading that way at this time...), and some of the other cartoonists at DBF this weekend.

Which brings me to the funniest moment of DBF for me: I mentioned Andy Runton (creator of the Owly series of pantomime graphic novels and comics) to Patrick McDonnell, who reacted favorably.

"Oh, yeah--I know Owly. Those are great books," he said. Or something to that effect. I don't remember exactly, which led to the grilling I got when, later that afternoon, I mentioned this to Andy.

"What did Patrick McDonnell say about Owly? What were his exact words?" Andy asked. I kind of shrugged, and said he liked Owly a lot, or something like that. I've got a horrible memory, to be honest. Andy, the nicest cartoonist on the planet, got as close to a growl as I've ever heard from him. "I need to know! My Mom's going to ask and I want to tell her that he likes my books!"

Tomorrow: picture books, plus photos of original art!

Update: artist links added!

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