MEET THE CARAVAN
Do you know what the Caravan of Comics is? It is (or was) a three week cartoonist tour of the north-eastern bit of the USA, with a swing through Toronto. It said, “Hello, Americas! We do comics, and we kick bottom.” And it was a fantastic trip to be on.
I’m David, and I was aboard the Caravan (which, actually, was two big cars and a little one). My wife Sarah and I are both cartoonists. We went to New York on our honeymoon in 2011 and got half a table at a nice indie comics show called MoCCA Fest.
We saw an arseload of Scandinavian dudes there, all lined up in a great spot. Their tables looked fantastic; they’d brought their country’s best comics with them. I asked how they managed to pay for their trip. They hadn’t: their governments had footed the bill.
“There’s enough great comics work at home,” we thought, “that we could do a trip like this. Get a big group together.”
One thing we learned from that first MoCCA Fest experience was that everyone whose books were on the table would need to be there in person. People want to meet the creator. It wouldn’t work if Sarah and I went back with twenty different books we didn’t make.
Pat Grant is laid back, but he’s a fucking powerhouse, and he makes excellent tacos. So when Sarah talked to him about this, stuff started happening.
We reached out to people. Friends whose work we thought would do well overseas. They reached out to others. At one stage, there were 14 people committed to doing the Caravan.
They all had to be willing to pay their own way. There was no guarantee (and perhaps, only a small chance) that we would get outside funding for the trip. We’re cartoonists, not rainmakers.
A hell of a lot of work went into preparing for the tour. Everyone did their share, but I don’t think people would mind if I pointed out Sarah and Andrew Fulton as major arsekickers, whipping the rest of us into fighting shape and doling out tasks.
Sarah and Jen Breach wrote arts grant applications. Andrew and Matt Taylor cooked up the website, and Doug Holgate did the beautiful Caravan illustration, which hopefully will end up on a teatowel very soon. The rest of us organised transport and accommodation.
I nominated myself “documentor” and started shoving a camera and microphone in peoples’ faces at inopportune moments. I did manage to put together the Caravan’s intro video, though.
Money was a concern. Everyone needed to get time off work to take the trip, and flying ANYWHERE from Australia sets you back a fair bit.
Our grant applications were ultimately denied. Our submission to Australia Council of the Arts was lodged by the good people at MoCCA, who kindly got behind us when they learned about the scope of the trip.
The other festival we hoped to exhibit at, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, were extraordinarily welcoming. Since they’re a curated festival, I worried that they would agree to allowing the higher-profile Caravaners with “weightier” books an exhibitor space, but leave the rest of us (read: “me”) in the cold.
Happily, they not only allowed us all space at TCAF, they actually waived the cost of our tables. This, and their incredible attentiveness, speed and proficiency as an organisation, made them fucking heroes. Sarah, an events organiser by trade, totally got a “festival crush” on them:
“Look, there’s an up-to-date listing of changes to the festival programme!!!”
Pat had received some funding from his university for the trip, and generously used it to pay for a chunk of our transport – a big-arse “rapper van” seating six or seven people, plus luggage, drinks, bling, etc.
Andrew launched our “CROWDFUNDY THING”, a campaign on IndieGoGo to raise $4000, a number representing the cost of travel and accommodation for one Caravaner, although in reality the money (which we got, thanks to friends and comics fans!) was spread around, easing the financial burden a bit for everyone.
My favourite element of the campaign was the Postcard Club, members of which would receive postcards drawn on by Caravaners in New York, Toronto, Chicago and other locations.
The initial plan, based on the 2011 festival schedule, was to do MoCCA Fest, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and Stumptown, each on subsequent weekends in April/May. The spanner dropped into the works when MoCCA Fest and Stumptown announced their shows would take place on the same weekend in 2012.
This meant the Caravan trip would now centre around MoCCA Fest and TCAF; initially disappointing (we wanted to cram lots in!), but now there would be less plane travel required, the trip being concentrated in north-eastern USA. Sarah and I hunted for cool comic shops and other events we might be able to organise along the route that was forming.
Pat cooked up events at Chicago’s Quimbys and at the Center for Cartoon Studies. I heard about a kids cartoon festival called Kids Read Comics! in Ann Arbor –- right between Toronto and Chicago. Sarah contacted them and they organised a comics jam. Comic Book Jones welcomed an in-store event with us. Over time, a schedule built up!
Sarah pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to do the CCS event (in Vermont) AND set up for TCAF (in Toronto) the following day. So after New York we would have to split into two teams. “Team T” would leisurely make its way through upstate New York, visit Niagara Falls and get the tables at TCAF ready, and “Team V” would go to CCS, then sprint to Toronto as fast as the rapper van could go.
In part 2: