This past weekend was the sixth annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), my hometown show and a festival that will always have a special place in my heart. The first CAKE in 2012 was my first comics show ever, exhibiting or attending, and I had the honor of serving as an organizer of the festival for three amazing, exhausting, deeply fulfilling years. For half a decade CAKE has been the highlight of my year, and this year was no exception.

A quick nuts & bolts con report: attendance felt light on the floor on Saturday compared with previous years, which everyone I talked to attributed to the extreme heat and the Cubs home game a few blocks away. However, Sunday felt packed, and it was just as hot and just as close to another Cubs game! Predicting attendance at festivals is better left to readers of tea leaves than to lowly exhibitors like myself. My sales were down from previous years ($920 gross, about $300 of which came from print sales). In previous years, that would constitute one day of sales rather than the whole weekend. This could be attributed to many things: because I'm tight on money I didn't order copies of my hardback "In the Sounds and Seas" from my publisher, which might have been a big seller, but I couldn't risk the possibility of losing money by over-ordering right now. Also, I have noticed that the more books I have on my table, the more unpredictable sales are. It's a mystery! 

Also at CAKE: half an hour after the doors opened on Saturday, I moderated a panel with Ron Rege Jr, Lale Westvind and Jesse Jacobs on the topic of Maximalism. Since the discussion revolved around a question of aesthetics, the three panelists gave brief artist talks to introduce their work to each other and the audience. Once the discussion started, the three panelists had immediate and easy conversational chemistry--it was a dream to get to hear these three genius artists in conversation with one another. (Special shout-out of gratitude to Jessica Campbell for coordinating the panel!)

Comics festivals are strange, emotionally heightened liminal spaces; even short interactions  start to take on disproportionately magnified meaning. We're all there for a shared interest as creators and as fans, vulnerably presenting the comics we've worked hard on, passing the same $5 bill around from table to table as we ravenously buy each others' books. We see each other in different conference hotels or exhibition halls every few months, talking shop and catching up and drinking bad diner coffee or cheap beers. This year I got to help RJ Casey and Eric Roesner celebrate the last day of Yeti Press, 5 years after meeting them at the first TCAF we'd attended. At that dinner I got to meet the lovely Erik Nebel, whose work I've admired for years, and catch up with Kevin Budnik, who was tabling with RJ and Eric at that first TCAF and has been a friend ever since. My monthly comics critique/support group (Jackie Roche, Emi Gennis, and Sophie Goldstein) and I went out to a dinner that left me feeling deep-in-my-guts grateful for their thoughtful engagement with comics, critically and professionally, and for their open-hearted friendship. Late nights & early mornings hanging out with Sophie Goldstein & Carl Antonowicz & Caitlin Skaalrud & Scotty Gilmer filled my house with enough laughter & joy to last a few months of head-down working on new projects. Kindness and warmth from old friends and new acquaintances, high-fives across tables, quick jokes in line for a signed book from a comics legend: it is such a gift in my life to be a part of the comics community. Thank you to the CAKE organizers and coordinators (all of whom are talented cartoonists themselves, donating hours every week year-round) for your hard work to create this space for art and community and joy.