APE is an indie comic convention on the West Coast, similar to MoCCAfest and SPX in size and intention. I opted not to apply for a table this year, since I'd never done a convention on the West Coast, and I didn't know what sort of crowd would attend, and the thought of packing for a convention that I had to fly to wasn't an appealing consideration.
I'd been aware of APE for a few years, but it wasn't until my friend Candace Ellis suggested I fly out so we could meet that I seriously considered attending. Unfortunately, she couldn't make it to San Francisco due to a family emergency, and while I was disappointed not to see her, I enjoyed my time in San Francisco immensely.
Heidi Black and Joseph Coco also flew out with me to San Francisco, and we flew out on October 1st, with APE being the weekend of October 4th and 5th, leaving time for a bit of sightseeing, as well as a tour of VIZ Media.
Touring VIZI'd mentioned back in August and September that I might be visiting the West Coast, and Joel Enos of Perfect Square and VIZ Media offered to give me a tour of the offices if I made good on that visit. As a young teenager, VIZ Media was my holy land of manga (they published all the titles I liked, the titles that inspired me to make comics), and that hasn't really changed in the passing years. With the promise of a tour as an incentive, I worked to solidify travel plans. The departure date was right on the heels of Anime Weekend Atlanta, and as my plans solidified, I worked hard to finish as much of ongoing 7" Kara and Gizmo Granny as possible, so I could bring a portfolio of fresh work.
We made plans to tour Thursday morning and took a Lyft to Market Street, where VIZ Media is located, and headed up to the VIZ Office. Although I tried to play it cool and had managed to keep my anxiety in check, it really flared up once I entered the VIZ office, and I felt nauseous. Fortunately, Joel soon arrived to collect us, and his friendly demeanor quickly put my jitters at ease. I'd prepared a "Thank you!" bag that included copies of 7" Kara and Hana Doki Kara, as well as a little Naruto watercolor (he'd been editor on it for a long time) and some Bang Candy (a local candy maker that makes delicious candy) and we were surprised to receive adorable goodie bags in return!
|The front lobby not only included a spinner rack of VIZ manga to peruse, but Naruto and Sailor Moon were on the big screen TV's. 14 year old me would've died, 28 year old me was pretty excited.|
|The meeting rooms had framed VIZ covers along the walls.|
|Joel was nice enough to take some photos with Heidi and I in front of the Naruto decal. I won't lie, if I had Naruto in MY studio, I would be a lot more inspired!|
|And here we are, trying to find Catbug in Perfect Square's beautiful Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug hardbound book, which Joel edited. You guys should definitely check out Perfect Square, a VIZ imprint that handles American properties and produces gorgeous books.|
|Mouth watering displays hint at the goodies within, and make ordering easier.|
Outside of Kinokuniya
|Beautiful, original signboards displayed just outside of Kinokuniya, featuring art by popular mangaka.|
|The view outside the crepe shop in Japantown's mall.|
The tour of VIZ went so well that I was pumped and eager for more action. We decided to go check out Japantown while the adrenaline was high. Although Japantown is larger than the area we scoped out, we spent our time at the two malls that house Daiso, Kinokuniya, and numerous little shops and restaurants. We enjoyed dango (I was surprised by how delicious sweet soy sauce dango can be), perused Kinokuniya for manga and art books, and shopped for pens at Maido. Had I not limited space to pack souvenirs, I could've spent forever in Daito and Ichi-Ra-Ka.
|APE was on a beautiful weekend, and Marina Blvd is right on the bay.|
|Totally taken at a different location, I confess, but Marina Blvd was across the bay from here.|
Our time in San Francisco concluded with attending APE on Saturday and Sunday. This year, APE was located in the complex on Marina Blvd, in a large building toward the piers.
|Actually taken at the correct location. |
Shots Taken Inside APE
I'd heard from various sources that the West Coast is far more tolerant towards manga influences in comics than the East Coast, and APE seemed to be a good place to prove that theory. Unlike East Coast indie conventions like MoCCA-Fest, SPX, or SPACE, APE seemed to be very diverse in terms of not only style, but what was being sold. Along with comics, artists might sell artbooks, prints both original and fanart, buttons, stickers, or shirts. In terms of offerings, many aisles felt like a well curated anime convention's Artist Alley more than the indie comic conventions I've attended on the East Coast. This became a theme in our interviews with artists, exploring the differences between both comic scenes, which are more numerous than they might appear at first glance.
Photos below taken by Joseph Coco, used with permission. Permission was obtained from table owners as well. If you see yourself, and would like to be individually credited, please let me know and I'll add a credit beneath your photo with a link to your site. If multiple people are sharing a table and wish to be credited, please specify who is who.
Although some tables were split many ways, the fast majority were owned by single artists or split between two separate artists, quite different than the time sharing that occurs at many East Coast conventions. Time share table splitting is done to help keep costs down, as tables at large East Coast indie cons can go up to $400, and it's difficult for lesser known artists to recoup that cost in addition to travel and hotel costs. APE had several food trucks located just outside the convention doors, providing (somewhat) affordable food options within easy walking distance. The building itself had lots of windows and glass doors facing the beautiful bay, which probably made sitting behind a table all day much more pleasant than at conventions where sunlit windows aren't an option. While APE was fairly crowded on both days, I never saw the crush of poor traffic control like I've seen for years at MoCCA-fest or the year I attended SPX, although I can't be sure if that has more to do with having a bar/drink stand and seating area located away from the tables (encouraging people to congregate there rather than in front of artists trying to sell), the crowd itself being generally more polite, or the fact that APE may have been slightly less crowded than SPX or MOCCA have been in recent years.
I definitely splurged during this trip, since I didn't have a table to tend to, I spent a lot of time wandering around, admiring the table setups (far surpassing the majority of what I've seen at MoCCA and SPX in terms of care dedicated to actual design and setup), lovely art and comics, and chatting up other artists. I spent more than I'd really intended to spend, but that's alright, because I feel like I got my money's worth out of APE. The mix of art styles, especially styles that appealed to me aesthetically, was extremely exciting, and Joseph and myself had the opportunity to talk to so many phenomenal artists who are not only talented, but extremely nice. Joseph conducted several artists interviews at APE, you can view the videos here.
Rachel Ann Miller
Unfortunately, APE has been recently bought out by Slave Labor Graphics, and is moving from San Francisco to San Jose next year, so things may change drastically. While I'd love to attend APE, and I think it would provide a lovely change of pace, I'd like to wait a few years to see how the change affects the convention and the attending demographic. However, I'll definitely do my best to attend the ALA conference in San Francisco this summer, as San Fran seems like a fantastic place to be a comic artist and enjoy the nerdier arts. While I haven't traveled enough to say this definitely, I feel like there are distinct regional differences when it comes to comic craft and accepted aesthetics, and it was exciting to spend time in a place that is more accepting than those I've previously spent time in. I see a lot of similarities between San Francisco and New Orleans, and I hope that some day, the New Orleans comic scene, which is very much fledgling now, may some day be as diverse and accepting as the San Francisco scene seems to be.