Our scheduled trip was to be about ten hours but hitting Friday evening rush hour traffic at the George Washington Bridge in NYC caused that to expand to more like eleven and a half. I was pleasantly surprised to make a stop in Stamford, Connecticut and find that most if not all of the damage the city suffered during the events preceding Marvel’s “Civil War” due to Nitro’s explosion. But, as the local signage reminded us, Stamford is “the city that works”.
We arrived at our hotel and after checking in and getting our pub crawl map from the front desk we proceeded to find other #NEWW pub crawlers. Thanks to the online miracle that is Twitter we soon caught up with Jeffrey Rowland and Meredith Gran and a whole gaggle of creators and readers. As the evening went on I had the opportunity to raise a pint with several creators of varying levels of success and notoriety. Finally the evening ended eating breakfast-for-dinner at a dingy little diner with a motley crew of writers, artists and fans. (As a side note, I accidentally got stuck paying for someone’s tuna melt in the confusion of everyone leaving but considering whom it was I didn’t mind too much. Lesson learned? Don’t be the last one to leave).
Whoever made the decision not to start anything until 10 AM the next morning, bless you. We arrived at the Eastworks building shortly after 10 and joined the moderate line checking in. Check in went surprisingly smooth, I guess it could have gone a little smoother had I not introduced myself as Scott Kurtz and asked if my table was ready. Thankfully several people were available to correct my identity crisis and let the check-in volunteer know that I was not Scott Kurtz.
As the creators took to their tables the crowd of fans grew. Hundreds of people crowded into the main space, but due to panels, exhibits and events planned throughout the building the size of the crowd never seemed to reach an overwhelming level. I was able to meet and talk to several creators in a way that would never happen at a big-time comic con. There was time to actually talk to them and listen to each other. By the end of the day my daily “must-read” list of webcomics had grown considerably.
I will take a moment to be honest, aside from attending part of the live draw panel and the Webcomics Weekly recording I attended none of the panels and I’m still looking for recordings to catch up on what I missed. Instead I took the opportunity during the popular panels to have more “meet and greet” time with creators and get sketches done. Even though I tried very hard not to be the fanboy that hovers in front of people’s tables, I became a fanboy that hovered in front of people’s tables. But please understand I was somewhat blown away by how accessible all of the creators were and how easy it was to walk up to folks and start a conversation.
The second evening was very much like the first except now we were all more familiar with the area and knew who to look for as we walked the darkened streets of Northhampton.Walking around, I mentioned that even the graffiti in this town was odd. I saw in several places spray painted on walls phrases such as “Cope” and “Change the Future” and “Make a Difference”. I have a hard time describing the artistic, creative energy that this entire region seemed to inspire. The only let down was that my midnight pancake diner was closed when I arrived.
Sunday was a much calmer day and far fewer people showed up. Many of the creators were leaving to catch flights by early afternoon and soon the grand Eastworks building was like a house with all the children gone. We began our trek home shortly before the awards ceremony guided by new directions that helped us avoid NYC altogether. Unbeknownst to us we had a fellow cartoonist’s luggage in the backseat of the car and due to my rabid insistence of never using the phone while driving I didn’t see the frantic tweets until hours later when we were already deep into New Jersey on the Turnpike.
All-in-all the first of what I hope to be many more Webcomics Weekends seemed to be a resounding success. Almost everyone that I’ve spoken too has had nothing but positive comments about the weekend. I will always cherish the fact that I was able to attend the first one but I am concerned about future visits. I’m afraid there won’t be the same “magic” to the experience. I fear the day when this turns into a massive three day event wherein thousands of visitors descend upon this tiny hamlet of a town and it becomes a webcomics version of San Diego Comic Con. In a way it would be great that we as a community could support such an event, but it would be sad that I wouldn’t be able to attend at that point. Part of the charm and attraction for this weekend was that everyone was down to earth and accessible. It was the kind of con that I remember from when I was a kid going to local conventions featuring local talent without the entire over commercialized hype. My hope and dream is that the New England Webcomics Weekend can continue to project this down to earth feeling in years to come when the crowds become huge.