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Small-Press convention, Groningen, May 14, 2005

I'm a bit jealous of Jeroen right now. At the Small-Press Convention in Groningen on Saturday, he sold out of his new mini De Ballade van Kittepoes in just a few hours. Visitors, most of them female, were falling over one another to buy the book, which was priced at € 3 for a stapled A5 minicomic with a color cover and six pages of black and white art inside. Amazing.
Mind you, it is all very pretty, cute and stylized. Jeroen has created a cat character who works as a silhouette, creating an impression of cuddlyness while preserving a sense of a feline in motion. The design is very strong throughout, and the book as a whole is simply desirable to a lot of people. I need to create something as desirable as that, sometime.

Smash successes aside, I had a good time at the convention, hosted at Vera. I sold some books myself, but kept a better balance between holding down the fort and getting in touch with other cartoonists and comics people: journalist Joost Pollman, Stripster main man Henk Schouten, Tommy A, the Saiso girls, Liz Groenveld (who possesses blackmail material), Maaike Hartjes and many others. Mostly I reconnected with people I knew from the last time I did the convention thing with any regularity.
Had an interesting conversation with reader Michiel Prior who asked if I was feeling better now. That puzzled me a bit - while I've definitely had problems getting back into gear with comic production recently, they're basically the sort of thing one gets after completing a long and draining project. Now that I've given myself some time off, I'm actually feeling fine (apart from maybe feeling another cold coming up - we'll see in the morning) even if I'm still in a bit of a dry spell and finding it hard to get the work done. Professional satisfaction and personal happiness are different things after all.

What I didn't do was talk to the unfamiliar artists there. There were a couple of people there doing interesting stuff and in retrospect I should have taken the opportunity to get to know them better. Ah well, there's always a next time.

What else was there? The Lamelos crew had all dressed up as pirates, but they were upstaged by Hank and Lily from Canada who wandered the room in their stage costumes. Hank was a cowboy with a metal mask; Lily a deer-creature with antlers, carrying (somewhat disturbingly) a rucksack with a saw in it. They're multimedial, putting out comics and CDs, as well as performing live, which they would do in the evening.

The evening held a party with live music, also at Vera. First band on the bill were The Heights, featuring cartoonist Marc van der Holst on drums and his regularly featured character Dave on bass and vocals. Completed by a female singer/guitarist, they made a sparkly melodic noise that sounded like a cross between Weezer and Betty Serveert. I'm told that their album isn't great but I thoroughly enjoyed their show.
The second band were Parker Machinery, a boogie-rock group who didn't quite hit the spot for me. They got the basics right, and I really enjoyed the deep, overdriven guitar sound of cartoonist Mark Retera, but it lacked something to take it to the next level. It was a bit like ZZ Top without the lead guitar. A few people in the audienced criticised the singer, Retera's writing partner Wilfried Ottenheim, but I don't think his performance was the problem.
The aforementioned Hank and Lily topped the official afterparty bill. I know the people in the audience loved it, but I wasn't so sure. It seemed to me that if you ignored the costumes and the backstory, what was left was a pretty good garage rock duo with a few extra elements such as Lily's playing of the musical saw (so *that's* what it was for!). I liked Lily's drumming which got a lot of energy across. I didn't care as much for her little-girl voice. Hank's guitar playing was big and loud and occasionally out of tune, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
The problem with them is that the band grew out of the idea of making a soundtrack for the comic, but what I saw on stage was a garage band slowed down by superfluous gimmickry. In terms of the pair's original aim, it wasn't working.
After Hank and Lily, the audience were temporarily turfed out of the hall to prepare for the regular dance night (more regular Vera dance people were showing up by now). But those of us who still hadn't had enough of live music needed only go downstairs to the basement, where a punk trio The Low Point Drains delivered a blisteringly loud gig. I enjoyed this band most of all, despite the late hour, the fatigue and the beer. Powerful, tight, more inventive than punk has any right to be. A wallopping to the ear drums. Couldn't handle the volume for too long, though, and eventually retired to the corridor to talk some more with comicky types and watch revelers come and go. And there was beer, some of it coming from seemingly out of nowhere. Should go to the dance nights more often, should see that band again, should maybe get back on the convention circuit after many years off.


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