This year was the first time I attended the Alternative Press Expo, held in a part of Northern California known for earthquakes, big trees, gay people desecrating the Institution of Marriage, hippies, and a heartfelt desire not to be confused with Southern California.
My trip into the heart of Bigfoot Country began with a drive through Redwoods State Park.
The trees there are as big as advertised. In fact, my traveling companion Andy and I came across this tree, known simply as Big Tree. The Park Service calls 'em like they see 'em.
The scale was confusing as dusk approached. Were the trees really that big, or had we shrunk?
With trees this huge, it was hard to refrain from just cutting them all down. That was the first reaction of the people of the last few centuries, and I can see why. With something this extraordinary, this powerful, this magical, your first instinct is to tear it to pieces. In spite of this totally understandable response to the beauty of nature, many big trees still stand.
My wife, who was sadly not able to make the trip, had made one request of me: cut down a redwood and bring it back to her. Like any good husband, I wanted to fulfill my duty to my lady. Yet, despite meticulous planning and one of those very long saws, Andy and I couldn't figure how to load a tree onto my tiny VW. Knowing the wrath I would incur back home, I left all trees standing.
Redwoods are not the only oversized phenomenon in Northern California. Living in those woods is the rarely seen Bigfoot. Here is a plaster cast of a Bigfoot track, seen with my foot for comparison.
The Bigfoot is so elusive that even the museum dedicated to him was closed. Oh Bigfoot, how can we know you better if you never allow us to buy key chains in your image?
But the main goal of this trip was not to find and befriend Bigfoot. It was to sell comics. APE, in San Francisco, is held in a large yet comforting space just south of downtown. This being my second show as an exhibitor, I had no expectations sales-wise. I set up my table and waited for the crush of humanity. This is how it must feel for Bono and The Edge just before a show.
I highly recommend the work of my table-mate, Kenan. If you're wondering, that's a comic story masquerading as a calendar on the left side of his table. To the right of Kenan is Cate, who was absolutely not for sale.
I met a lot of very nice Californians at APE. I was also able to reconnect with cartoonist friends, which is nice because normally when two cartoonists see each other on the street they must duel to the death. The townsfolk scatter, the sheriff pretends to be busy, and the casket-maker rubs his palms together in anticipation. But at events like these, the rules are suspended and we all get along.
After APE was over, I was able to wander the streets of San Francisco a bit. In many ways the city reminds me of a larger version of Portland.
Instead of the Willamette River, they have the Pacific Ocean.
They have a number of public transportation options, including these historic streetcars.
The Castro Theater was playing Grey Gardens. Very amusing.
In spite of these similarities, there were moments when my expectations of San Francisco did not match up to its present reality.
One of my two disappointments was the Haight Ashbury district. Instead of a freewheelin' love fest, I found million-dollar condos and a Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop. I love ice cream as much as the next guy, but it was something of a let-down. At least some dude parked his VW bus right on the corner. Thanks for keeping it real.
On the upside, there was a cool bookstore on Haight which took my Falling Rock books to sell. Thank you! I was pleased to see many such thriving independent bookstores in San Francisco. The kind of bookstore that doesn't have much space, but somehow manages to carry all the awesome books you've never heard of but really want to read.
Besides Haight Ashbury, my other disappointment was Berkeley College. If I had driven my VW to campus 40 years ago, I would have been greeted with a flower wreath and offers to smoke from a dozen bongs. This year, I got slapped with a parking ticket for hopping out of my car to take a few pictures. Enjoy this one; it counts as one of the most expensive photos I've ever taken.
I'm sad to say my trip included the discovery that hippies either fried themselves on drugs or went corporate. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
In spite of being let down by the hippies, my trip was both productive and enjoyable. The state of California is only bankrupt in the financial, not the moral, sense. (Except Berkeley. I hate you.) CA certainly knows how to put on a cracking good comics fest. Thanks to APE and to all the people I met. I hope we can do it again sometime.