VanCAF Organizer Shannon Campbell is New Kid on The Block

by BK Munn

The big news in Canadian comics last week was the surprise announcement of a new festival which will debut in May 2012. Sequential caught up with Event Coordinator Shannon Campbell for the lowdown on the Vancouver Comics Arts Festival.
The news of the this new comics fest seemed to come out of the blue. Can you tell me a bit about the organizers? Who is VanCAF and what led you to start something like this? Do you have a background in comics or comics shows? What sort of skills do you bring to the endeavour?
VanCAF has been about a year in the making up to this point–we just chose to keep it on the down-low until we had some definite guests, in order to get people more excited once the announcement was actually made. We knew that the now-defunct Anime Evolution was in its dying throes so we were eager to think up an event that could replace it, since the artist’s alley was always full of great local cartoonists. So we took the opportunity to fill the gap with a show that was more about comics.
My fiance is Sam Logan, the artist behind I’ve been traveling to shows with him for a couple of years now and I’ve become really invested in the business–especially with my friends over at Topatoco. It was frustrating to have to go abroad to get some really good shows (though I personally feel that the best ones are right here in Canada.) When you’re traveling a lot, too, you tend to start to brag a little about your home town. I wanted to bring the game back into my court so I could show everyone the fantastic art we have being produced in our own home–and the gorgeous city that inspired it.
I, personally, am a writer, only–but I feel that’s probably an advantage when it comes to the comic convention scene. To organize a proper show in Vancouver you have to be a local, and I feel that Vancouver tends to produce less of a commercial approach to comics and more of an indie thrive. The artists around here are so busy trying to tell their stories, it would be difficult for them to find the time to organize a show on this scale. I come to the scene with a passion for comics that’s tempered by obsessive organizational behaviour. Perhaps a potent mix?
I’m the main drive behind VanCAF, but I’ve already had a lot of encouragement from Christopher Butcher (TCAF’s founder) and from Cloudscape Comics, a local non-profit that helps cartoonists get published. They’ve all put me in the right direction to get the best guests for our event.
There are already regular comics events in Vancouver, including the Vancouver Comicon, Word on the Street/Under the Street, and the Vancouver Comic Jam. What kind of relationship do you have with these events and with the greater Vancouver comics scene of artists and retailers?
We have no direct affiliation with any of those events, although many of our guests and organizers have certainly participated in them. It was actually at the Vancouver Comic Jams that some of the early brainstorming for VanCAF was accomplished. We’ve already reached out to several local retailers and are getting great responses.
Our goal with VanCAF is to create something distinct and complimentary to Vancouver’s other events: an open festival that is free for the public to attend, entirely focused on comics, and that brings in a number of out-of-town artists while still featuring plenty of locals.
What kind of budget are you working with? Are you a charitable event/organization? How does that work?
VanCAF is a registered non-profit, so every cent we bring in will go directly into the show. This is our first year, so our budget is fairly modest. But we’ve received lots of great support from the community, including the Roundhouse, and we’ve had a few interested sponsorship inquiries which should make funding much easier. We wanted to our artist tables as inexpensive as possible, and we’re certainly going to be doing a lot of fundraisers throughout VanCAF in order to raise money for 2013 and beyond.
Can you talk a bit a bout your own experience of comics/favourite comics?
I first got into comics probably about ten or eleven years ago (betraying my advanced years, I’m sure) thanks to the web; I remember reading Sinfest, Exploitation Now, and Megatokyo with some passion. From there I got into anime, then manga, and finally turned to traditional super hero comics about four years ago. As it stands, I’ll read pretty much anything and everything. I’ve been writing my own comics for the same amount of time, though I also made the mistake of drawing a lot of them. Fortunately I’m not cruel enough to ever make those attempts public.
The comics most dear to my heart: Calvin & Hobbes, Bone, Ex Machina, Yotsuba&!, Hellboy, Family Man, Lackadaisy, and anything by Lynda Barry. Oh, and Korgi. Because seriously: corgis.
Can you tell me a bit about your plans for the event? Is it just a two-day thing or are you looking to have more event bracketing the weekend?
VanCAF is actually going to take place between the May 22-27, 2012, though the exhibition hall will only be open the 26th and 27th. We’re looking into booking a wide array of events in the downtown area, including readings, workshops, and panels. We’re still ironing out the details on where everything will be; the Vancouver Public Library is one confirmed venue, and more will be announced as time goes on. What we do know for sure is that every event will be 100% free to attend.
The website mentions Canadian and West-Coast American guests. Any plans to broaden that focus? International guests? How are you planning on recruiting talent –strictly through online applications or are you going to approach people one-by-one? Do you have some cartoonists that are on your wishlist?
Since VanCAF is free to the public, attendance-wise, it would be nice if passers-by could drop in out of curiosity and see this thriving culture of modern cartoons happening right in their own backyard. That said, cartooning can’t possibly be accurately represented in one geographical location. Pretty much anyone who expresses an interest in coming will definitely be considered–though we don’t expect to be a big draw to overseas guests until future years.
We’ve received a lot of interesting applications so far, but we have been approaching individual cartoonists as well to see if they’d be interested. For example, the current guests who are announced are all people that I have approached directly–and the listed exhibitors are the Cloudscape members who kindly allowed me to make use of their non-profit status when searching for funding. Because our event is new, and we want to make sure it’ll be a success, tables will be curated. We want to ensure that the cartoonists who are coming will benefit from our show just as much as the show will benefit from them. For that reason, a cartoonist who has just started may not receive an invitation this year–but will have better luck the next.
My cartoonist wishlist is huge. But David Malki is on it. Chester Brown, Brandon Graham, and the White Ninja boys are on it, too. If I give anything else away it might spoil the surprise!
What can you tell me about the venue, the Roundhouse Mews?
The Roundhouse is a dream come true. We were originally hoping to have the event in the Vancouver Public Library–but for various reasons it turned out to be impractical. It’s rather fortunate, though, because the Roundhouse has been amazing. They host a wide array of arts events all throughout the year and they’re extremely supportive of VanCAF. Their exhibition hall is by far the loveliest I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been in a lot of exhibition halls), and the Yaletown location, I suspect, will be what gives VanCAF some of its edge. I don’t think there’s anything cartoonists love more than bars. Bars that let you draw all night, maybe?
If I can, I’d like to take this opportunity to plug the Roundhouse’s on August 19th (). All the cool kids will be there. You’re a cool kid, aren’t you?
You mention being inspired by both TCAF and the Calgary Expo. What do you like about those shows and what do you think you might do differently or better?
Probably the chief thing I like about them both is that they’re Canadian–and the food is better in Canada. But they each have their individual perks, too. TCAF is run by an extremely passionate group of people who are just out to celebrate their love of comics; they’re not driven so much by a thirst for profit as just making sure everyone has a good time and learns about comics. I was obviously drawn to the idea that the event was free, which from a romantic point of view means that more people are drawn in to look at something they may have never otherwise considered–and from a commercial point of view, it means attendees have more money to spend on the cartoonists, who, quite frankly, could use the cash.
Calgary, on the other hand, is an excellent example of a more traditional convention. They’ve grown to staggering numbers in the past couple of years (I think their attendees actually DOUBLED in 2011) but they continue to run like clockwork, bringing people a well-organized, star-studded convention which is much better than a lot of shows south of the border. From that perspective, what we hope to do is bring the best of both of them together–and honestly I think our biggest strength is location. Toronto is massive, its downtown area practically a city all unto itself. Vancouver is smaller, more tightly-packed; and West Coast mentality makes it more likely that people will take the time to stop by and check things out.
But more importantly, we just want to represent. Vancouver-pride!