peter birkemoe

Today is the tenth anniversary of my life saving surgery.

This is a longer post than usual but please bear with me.

I’m not one for taking a lot of time to reflect on my accomplishments as any of my friends will tell you, but I do try to remember to keep what is valuable in life in mind.

I’m very proud to continue to run a small press in my hometown of Toronto, one that has become known all around the world. With the invaluable help of Ed Kanerva and Helen Koyama, we’ve risen to meet a lot of challenges and are very excited about what is to come. Ed and Helen have been effective in curbing my tendency to give all of the books away for free and that is no small feat.

This is a difficult business in that very few people make much money at what we do but I feel so privileged to have been able to introduce a lot of artists and their work to the world in eight years.

No one succeeds in a vacuum and I will be forever indebted to people like Chris Pitzer, Barry Matthews and Leon Avelino who all stepped up to support me early on. People like Diana Tamblyn and Jamie Q helped me in the early days. As did Aaron Leighton and Tony Shenton.

I can thank good printers, local and overseas, Laura Legge, our copy editor, Jessica Fortner and Mike Wandelmeier who’ve designed our website and continue to contribute. Thanks for the advice and help from good retailers here and abroad, especially Chris Butcher and Peter Birkemoe, John Porcellino and the folks at Consortium and Raincoast/PGC who distribute our books.

Festival and show organizers have been enthusiastic and helpful over the years, which has made it easier to shine a spotlight on our artists and books.

Tom Spurgeon, Heidi MacDonald, Sean Rogers, Jeet Heer, Sean T. Collins, Chris Mautner, Françoise Mouly, Robert Boyd, Robert Clough, Zainab Ahktar and many others have all helped the press gain a wider readership.

The artists that we publish form the building blocks of a good press. I have to thank people like Michael DeForge, The Wowee Zonks, Dustin Harbin, Jesse Jacobs, Steve Wolfhard, John Martz and many others who came up with me as I learned how to be a publisher and more established artists like Julia Wertz and Renee French who took a chance on working with a smaller press. All of these artists helped provide a pretty diverse but interesting catalogue.

Without the people who buy our books, what we do would be a pretty expensive hobby. It will always be amazing to see fans come and meet the artists and to discover new artists and their work. Seeing photos of our books as far away as Beijing and Melbourne is thrilling. Seeing our art books in museum and gallery shops is fantastic.

Without Canada’s granting agencies, small presses like mine would be treading water.

Thanks to friends like Steve Manale, Sean Wainsteim, Steve Wilson, Patrick Kyle, Kate Nation, Dustin Harbin, Jen Breach, Rina Ayuyang, Robin Nishio, Tom Humberstone, Kenny Penman, Martin Steenton, Revival House, Peow Press and Nobrow for helping rep us at shows.

Last, the biggest thank you to my partner Scott Mackenzie who has stuck with me through thick and thin (or perhaps the opposite). It’s hard enough to find a mate who is supportive of anything you choose to do but to find one who gives me tons of space and stays with a person who suffers chronic illness, is very, very special and I know how fortunate I am.

There’s not enough time to get involved with all of the people or organizations with whom I’d like to work but I do try to cover as many of them as I can. I hope to keep helping behind the scenes for as long as I am able.

If all goes well, I will have a big announcement next year that will see several artists’ works be made available to the public and that is very exciting.

Ed Kanerva told me early on that the irony of being a publisher is that I wouldn’t have time to read any more, aside from submissions and related books. He was dead right and I plan to start reading again. I’m in the early stages of getting my whole weekends back after eight years and if feels pretty good.

Ten years out, it’s harder to remind myself to seize the day but I still do try.
If I am fortunate enough to be around, I am stoked about the next ten years.

Thanks for reading and apologies to anyone I inadvertently forgot to thank.

-Annie

3

It’s been over a week now since Comic Arts LA happened and even though it feels a little late to be writing a recap, the more time passes the more real it seems. I could make a long list of the ways planning a comics show felt exactly like planning a wedding, but the year-long buildup leading to one swift dreamlike day was definitely part of it. If it weren’t for all the wonderful photos, tweets, and emails we’ve received to remind us what happened, I’m not sure I’d fully believe it was over.

When Angie Wang texted me about a year ago and asked what I thought about organizing an LA based comics show my immediate response was something like “hmmm, I dunno”, though my actual thoughts were “NO, ARE YOU CRAZY?!” Neither of us have had any comparable experience in event organizing, and when I imagined life as a show-organizer I saw long volunteer hours and stress tearing friendships apart. But when I shared the conversation with Jake, instead of scoffing he actually responded to it very enthusiastically. Why not? Los Angeles had been needing an indie comics show forever, and the more cartoonists moved here for work the more painfully overdue it felt. Just going to a BBQ felt like being at a TCAF afterparty sometimes. Everybody wanted it, but nobody wanted to do it—including me. But after some time to think about it, I came around. So why?

Because shows are important. All the most meaningful moments of my career as a cartoonist stemmed from going to a show. Shows are where I’ve met some of my dearest friends (including Angie). They’re where I’ve gotten the biggest boost in confidence and encouragement as a budding artist, and where I’ve met many of the people I would eventually work with. They’re where I made incredible discoveries that continue to inspire me. I don’t enjoy most comic shows, and I don’t attend very many, but the ones that stuck with me made a huge difference in my life.

But also? Shows have the power to reach new audiences. Only a small handful of cartoonists can actually make a living off their work and the vast majority of incredibly talented artists never get their work seen by the audiences they deserve. Cartoonists are without a doubt some of the hardest working and passionate people I know, and I want to see them succeed, I want to see them get paid, and I want to see them appreciated. My first trip to TCAF in 2011 was an incredibly moving experience because I’d never seen so many curious passerbys stop in for a free event just to look at comics. The show did such a good job demonstrating you don’t have to be an insider to go to a show; Comics are for everyone. People brought their parents, their kids, and their friends. This is the future of comics, I thought. This is how you get people to discover something they love.

So we started planning CALA. Venues came and went, setbacks surfaced, but overall working with Angie, Iris, and Jake was an incredibly smooth, energizing experience. In the weeks leading up to the con, I started to wonder if expectations were too high and we were setting ourselves up for embarassment. There’s no dress rehearsal for a comics convention so everything we did we did on blind faith. But the big day came, all the equipment fit perfectly and the space looked beautiful. Our volunteers were amazing and all our last minute additions worked out. I expected the day to be a long nightmare behind the scenes but things went so well I spent most of it running around having fun like everyone else.

Ultimately, CALA worked because all of you wanted it to work. A show is what it is because of everyone who participates. The enthusiasm wasn’t something the organizers created, the feeling was already there. We just gave it a space. Indie comic fans in LA finally had a place to go, and they were happy. Everyone that day brought so much positivity, I genuinely feel like we were the lucky ones who got to put together a show for all of you.

But I want to take a moment to give proper credit. Angie and I get a lot of the props because we’re the most visible in comics, but it was a true four person collaboration. Jake Mumm, the only one of us with any organizing experience tackled all the bureaucratic issues nobody else wanted to do and single-handedly masterminded the exhibitor lunch delivery service that turned out to be one of our biggest successes. He also built our fantastic website. Iris Jong was our spreadsheet guru and across-the-board admin superhuman who managed our budget, wrote all our copy, and essentially kept everyone on task. Angie of course was the brilliant designer for all our materials. Her unshakeable optimism has kept us motivated since the very beginning, and none of this would’ve happened if she and Iris weren’t brave enough to ask: “why not?”

We also couldn’t have asked for a better group of volunteers. They were enthusiastic, resourceful, willing, and without them the show absolutely would not have played out the way it did. Again, it felt like we were the lucky ones.

Special thanks to Indigo Kelleigh, Chris Butcher, and Peter Birkemoe for the incredibly helpful advice early on. And Secret Headquarters for their flexibility and support when we needed an ally.

Extra special thanks to Patrick Nissim and Jacob Patterson at Think Tank Gallery who understood from day one what we were going for, and did everything they could to help us achieve our vision. Working with them has been an amazing experience and I highly recommended them to anyone.

Last of all, thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone who supported the show. Everyone who attended, tweeted, cheered us from afar, or passed along an invite. This experience has taught me so much about community, and leadership, and what it means to bring out in the best in people for something you care about. We are already working on next year, and we hope you join us.