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May 22, 2009

Stumptown Comics Fest and Zine Library Group Unite


This year, Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland, Oregon, had another participant—the Zine Library Group (ZLG) of Multnomah County Library. Comics are well-represented at Stumptown, as Portland is home to publishers Dark Horse, Oni Press, half of Top Shelf, as well as Sparkplug Comic Books and Tugboat Press. Portland also has many thriving comic book stores, including Guapo Comics, Cosmic Monkey, Floating World, Bridge City Comics, Excalibur, Things from Another World, and Future Dreams.
ZLG was formed to ensure that the zines, mini comics, and other self-published materials that make up the vibrant Portland indie literary scene were represented in the library’s collection. ZLG selects materials for the library and works with catalogers to process purchases. We coordinate with staff from our Central Library and 16 branches to make sure publications are displayed and weeded and maintain the zine pages on the library’s website. ZLG hosts events such as Zinesters Talking, which features local zinesters and comic artists speaking at libraries, and also tables at festivals, such as Stumptown Comics Fest and the Portland Zine Symposium.
What was initially seen as an experimental foray into zines and mini comics has become an important part of the library’s presence in the community. Zine circulation statistics continue to rise. Attendance at presentations ranges from 20 to 40 people…great turnouts for library programs. And tabling at community events brings the library to people, instead of expecting them to come to us.
An unexpected benefit was the connection this presence gave the library to the city’s younger demographic of 20- to 30-year-olds, both creators of publications and library users. “I never thought my library would buy my comics, pay me to speak, catalog my work, and podcast my talk! Thank you so much!” said one of our guest speakers. One cartoonist said, “Thanks for getting the library to sponsor us broke cartoonists!” The response from library patrons when we table at events is also gratifying. We offer people the chance to pose with our giant library card and have their pictures posted on Flickr. You don’t need a caption to know these people are saying, “WE LOVE OUR LIBRARY!”
In 2009, we decided to have a bigger presence at Stumptown Comics Fest, April 18–19, by tabling and purchasing materials and by hosting three speakers at the library. We coordinated with comic bookstore Cosmic Monkey to feature web artist Carolyn Main on April 17. Carolyn is a freelance cartoonist from Portland who specializes in the cute, gross, and bawdy world of animation, comics, and graphic novels. Webcomics on Carolyn’s site include the sci-fi epic Personal Mission and the gags of Quickies, along with short animation and comedies.
The following day, we featured two Sparkplug Comic Book artists. Dunja Jankovic is the author of Department of Art, which was nominated for the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Comic in 2008. She studied art at schools in Zagreb, Croatia, and in New York City. Hellen Jo is an illustration student in San Francisco and author of Jin and Jam #1, a comic about surly teens trapped in the ’burbs.
Both presentations were well-attended. Carolyn’s talk brought up the discussion of cartoonist techniques on the Internet and web vs. paper comics. Dunja’s reading was accompanied by keyboard sound effects and music, while mean teens punched and cussed their way through her presentation. The library podcast all three talks, and the podcasts will be cataloged in the library’s collection.
Several librarians of the ZLG attended readings that evening at Guapo Comics for the announcement of the winner of the Maisie Kukoc Award for Comics Inspiration and to hear comics read that they might consider for purchase.
The following morning, ZLG selectors were at the Stumptown exhibits to purchase materials. In the past, we’d done more buying from zine and comics reviews. But we found that purchasing from local events had more advantages. We could see the material; we weren’t relying on a review to let us know if it met our needs. Zines and comics were in stock, and we could purchase them that day. We established contacts with writers and artists, discovered possible speakers for future Zinesters Talking, and interacted with the community we served.

But the ultimate payoff of buying at events like this is that our collection improved. Circulation rose, as what we bought is a closer match to patrons’ needs. We have a better knowledge of our collection because we know the creators and their works. And we're supporting our local community with our presence, our purchases, and our sponsorship. Ultimately, working with local events like Stumptown provides libraries with a great way to use public money to buy what the public wants and support the local community that supports them.