ShortBox Comics Fair Picks, Up and Coming Comic Creators, and Keeping Up with Comics: The October 2023 Mailbag is Here!

It’s that time again, as we’re back with the October Mailbag Q&A. It was a lighter month in terms of questions, but you all asked some doozies, ensuring it’s still a robust one. Let’s get to it.

Since you mentioned it in Comics Disassembled: which comics did you buy from the ShortBox Comics Fair, which of that lot were your favorites, and what specifically about those chosen few did you enjoy? There’s so much to see at the fair, it’s overwhelming, I can’t decide where to start! – Apropros If Nothing

Okay, here is a list of all the books I bought from the ShortBox Comics Fair, in order of how Adobe Acrobat lays them out in my iPad. As a reminder, I went off. My purchases were based on a combination of cover art, interior art, premise, and creator or creators (some were buy on sight):

  • I’m Stuck in Retrograde by Jade Zhang
  • A Three Body Problem by Tan Juan Gee
  • Auntie by Claud Li
  • Kanna Has Never Seen a Cat by C.R. Chua
  • Fight Like Hell by David Brothers and Nick Dragotta
  • Wolves by Bianca Bagnarelli
  • Little Eternities by Studio Puffery
  • Honey and Mangoes by Asma Aden
  • There’s Life After the Impact by Sara Cal
  • Alone by Diansakhu Banton-Perry
  • The Things We Carve by Chan Chau
  • It All Started That Day by Valentine Zhang
  • The Hawk and the Rabbit by Hwei
  • Come Home Safe by Boya Sun
  • Light Through Memory by Jean Wei
  • Fishing by Joe Sparrow
  • Ocean by Lucie Bryon
  • Birds of the Storm by Mathilde Laillet
  • Blue Hour by M. Suarez-Thai
  • Extinction by VER
  • Bingo by Jackie Files
  • Leave You Be by Barbara Mazzi
  • Avoiding Work at the Sunny Day Cafe and Bakery by Karenza Sparks
  • All’s Faire in Love and War by Laura Rovinsky
  • Immortal Milo’s Best Day Ever by Mindy Yi

So far, I have read five as I’ve been traveling a lot and I spent a lot of my flights writing. Before I share my thoughts on those five, I think the beauty of ShortBox Comics Fair is that there are so many books covering so many different subjects that they can really speak to anyone who is open to new stories from anywhere. These 25 buys hit on a lot of personal interests, ranging from specific creators and science-fiction to varying styles of art to cats and food to a million other things. It was an impressive array. Here are the first five I read, though, along with my thoughts.

  • I’m Stuck in Retrograde: This was a lovely read about memory, how we contend with our past, and how we keep pushing forward through it all. It’s a wonderfully personal work by Jade Zhang. The best part of it is Zhang’s art, which is tremendous throughout. It’s recommended if you’re into a personal story with exceptional art.
  • A Three Body Problem: Elite science-fiction story that explores identity and self with a world and energy that will speak to Blade Runner fans, I imagine. It’s part mystery, part light noir, part sci-fi, but with a lot of hope to it. Gee’s art was the big draw, as was the concept. It paid off big. This was one of my two favorite reads so far.
  • Auntie: This is my favorite. It’s about an older woman who becomes a dominant force in competitive poker, focusing on her first tournament and why she disappeared from the scene for so long. Claud Li’s work on this is exactly why I love the Comics Fair, as I never could have asked for this sort of story. Auntie is a lovely, inventive tour of memory and family. It’s also an awful lot of fun, even if it sneak attacks your emotions by the end.
  • Kanna Has Never Seen a Cat: Did I buy this because I loved the title? You better believe it. This is a lovely read, one that is exactly what it sounds like. It takes place in Heian Japan, and finds a young woman who loves and understands dogs before meeting a strange beast for the first time that listens to no one and does what it wants when it wants. It’s a lighter read than the rest, maybe, but it’s thoughtful, artful, and well-crafted. C.R. Chua does a heck of a job. I immediately tried to get my wife to read it because it is a charmer.
  • Fight Like Hell: This is David Brothers and Nick Dragotta’s love letter to George Morikawa and his boxing manga series Hajime No Ippo, and it’s one of the coolest comics you’ll ever read. What if the apocalypse centered on an endless fighting tournament? And what if there was a young man who only fights to win, nothing more, but is the greatest champion anyone has ever seen? This is about what happens when that person loses, and what you learn from the biggest loss a person can take. It’s Dragotta, so it looks absolutely incredible, and the whole thing just rocks.

Long story short, I’d recommend all five I’ve read so far, and for different reasons. Each has its merits, and each works well as a story and is lovingly crafted by its creator. The only question is, do you connect with the subject matter enough to want to read it? I did on each of these, for one reason or another, and the foot in the door resulted in me enjoying the heck out of each. I suspect you might even see some appearances on my year end list from this group. We shall see, though! There’s a lot of competition amongst the other 20 I still have to read!

Who are some up and coming comic creators you’re most excited about? – Mitch Krmpotich

Everyone in this year’s ShortBox Comics Fair? Is that cheating? Tan Juan Gee and Jade Zhang probably top my list, and the growing partnership between David Brothers and Nick Dragotta – that pair of Good Devils who are individually known but a bit newer from a collaborative standpoint – is up there too. Beyond that, Patrick Horvath, Will Morris, Richard Blake, and Dewi Petri Megawati (another ShortBox alum) are all of interest. Does Fernando Blanco count? I wasn’t familiar with his work before w0rldtr33 and I am very, very impressed by what he’s doing. Chan Chau probably doesn’t count because they’ve written and drawn best-sellers in the Baby-Sitters Club books and have been nominated for Eisner Awards. But still, they’re brilliant. Same with Sara Alfageeh, minus the BSC and Eisner noms.

This is a tough one because up-and-coming means different things for different people. It’s a bit subjective and relative to your awareness. I’ll say all these folks make it, though, and that’s assuredly missing plenty of others I’ll be frustrated about not including later on.

I recently made a list of all the OGNs that I thought were interesting from the past 12 months up till around May next year. It was over 200 items long. Less than a week later, I found out about Hope Larson’s Be That Way, which I’d somehow missed. Less than a week after that, I found out about a Tyler Crook project that was coming out in a few days that I didn’t know about. Both are creators I never want to miss anything from and I thought I was following their upcoming work pretty studiously. But everything is so fractured right now. For me, a big part of the way I keep on top of things is through SKTCHD and Off Panel. That and creator newsletters. But how do you keep up with it all? What are some of the best ways you think companies and creators are keeping readers in the loop with the things readers want to know about (as opposed to just telling them about everything all the time until it becomes white noise)? – Mark Tweedale

The short answer to how do I keep up with it all is…I don’t. I do my best. There’s just so, so, so much to keep up with that all you can do is just that: your best. But between direct market comics, book market comics, manga, webtoon (from all the companies that do those comics), things like ShortBox Comics Fair, and beyond, it’s just a lot to keep up with, especially with comics marketing being limited at best at this point in time. If you think about the Comics Fair alone, I bought 25 comics, which leaves 75 unread. It’s statistically likely that my favorite of the lot is one of the 75 I didn’t buy. But I just couldn’t buy them all, because I — like everyone that isn’t trying to bioengineer their bodies to make themselves younger — am not made of money.

As far as what are companies and creators doing that’s effective to keep people aware, that list is limited. Not to keep making this about ShortBox Comics Fair, but one thing that I think is very smart about what they did (and do) with that entire effort is they consolidated all of the push onto one event over one timeframe instead of trying to sustain everything. Part of that is defined by the nature of the event, but there’s a tendency some publishers have on spreading everything out so much to get more bites at the apple that each announcement is so low-calorie that we get nothing from it. If I were a publisher or creator, I’d do more to consolidate what I do on a project to have a singular push point that you can repeatedly drive people to and activate fans off of. Easier said than done, but I think that’s a learning that could be leveraged more.

I think creator newsletters are good, but the problem with those are you’re just speaking to an audience you’ve already converted. There’s no path to discoverability there. The truth is, I don’t really have a great answer as to what the comics marketing solution is right now, but it’s clear there’s so much noise it’s impossible to keep track of the signal. It’s a major issue. I’ll be writing about comics marketing soon, but I’ll say this: part of it isn’t a marketing issue as much as it is a volume one. It’s difficult for notable TV shows with millions of dollars behind their marketing campaigns to build awareness today, simply because of the competition out there. That’s not just a comics problem, but an every medium problem. It’s a serious one to contend with, especially with how fractured social media is now.

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