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BAKER'S DOZEN for 10/17/2007
An All Mod Con
Brian Germain on Xcape CON 1 and more
I first met Brian Germain in the late 90s, and have been increasingly impressed with the work he's done as an artist and comics creator ever since. He's a regular fixture on the Michigan con circuit, and I always try to swing by his booth to check out what he's been working on and what he has coming up. And, as I've learned over the years, I'm invariably both impressed and pleasantly surprised with what I see and hear at his table. Still, none of those past experiences prepared me for his latest project: Xcape Con 1, a brand new gathering which features comics creators alongside other artists and performers, set in a venue just outside of Flint, Michigan.
And if you think that there's nothing much that's decidedly different about this convention, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Bill Baker: What is Xcape CON?
Brian Germain: Xcape CON is the first and only Comic and Pop-culture convention in Mid-Michigan in over 20 years! It also has been said that it is the largest one in the Mid-Michigan area ever! We are also lucky enough to have what I believe is another convention first, and that is live bands that will play from the time the convention floor closes until midnight.
BB: How'd this all come about? What were the circumstances that lead to the impulse to create this particular show, and who's been involved with making it a reality?
BG: This show was the product of things like high admission costs and the will, as well as the curiosity and drive, to try something different.
See, we had been tossing around the idea of doing our own convention after some troubles we had at another convention, not to mention some of the prices we were paying to be at these conventions as publishers. So, what started as a joke between some of my cohorts and I, ended up turning into what seemed to be a glimmer of a possibility as we found a small place next to a gaming den called Total X-Scape Gaming, which consisted of 32 serial linked Xboxes that people could play by hourly rates and join tournaments etc. Two doors down from that place was another place called Adventurer's Guildhouse, which was a small Mecca for fans of HEROClix, Magic the Gathering and other such games. In between the two was a big vacant room that Total X-Scape had rented and was putting on indy concerts and minor league pro wrestling type events. The Total X-Scape guys were looking for promoters for events and I said, "Hey have you guys ever thought about doing a comic convention?" and they were pretty much up for anything--plus they were willing to give us the venue for free for a percentage of the take of door sales. Since they were already doing indy rock concerts we thought we'd involve that in with the convention.
With all that said, we immediately started pre-planning. This was back in Late July. We wanted to come up with a name for the convention and thought that if we could involve Flint's rep for being kinda rough, along with the rock sub-culture, it would be perfect. We came up with Flint Freak Fest. Well, it turns out that the Machine Shop [a local rock bar] already had done a show with that name, so Randy Zimmerman said, "Why don't we call it X-Scape CON," to go along with the Total X-Scape Gaming name since they were the ones in charge of the venue.
However, they pulled up anchor and left business, so that plan fell through in late August-Early September. And so I started calling some of my would-be guests and letting them know that the convention was cancelled. I got to my business partner, Christine Owens, who runs COM Publishing, and she said, Don't cancel it yet, something might come up!" Me, being very doubtful of this and having already called one of my most famous guests, followed up by not calling anyone else. At that point I had tried, unsuccessfully, for nearly two weeks to get a hold of the only other two venues I wanted to have it at. One of these venues required that I pay for the building for the whole month--this was just to hold a 3-day convention--plus get my own liability insurance. The other I had no idea about, because they were unreachable.
About a week into September, Matt Hufnagle, the manager from that venue, The Birch Run Expo Center, got a hold of me and we chatted about prices. Thankfully, with no small amount of borrowing later, we had ourselves a venue about a month too short to plan the kind of convention we wanted to have. So, basically, we changed the name to Xcape CON so as not to be exactly like the old venue, and I contacted everyone in my phonebook that I had networked with over the last ten years--at least the ones whose numbers I still had --and promised something big was on the horizon. Almost everyone I contacted was overjoyed to do a new show.
So, really the people who helped make this show happen were the other promoters and my finance people, as well as the talent for this show. Friends, and friends of friends, networking together.
BB: So, how radically has the shape of the show changed since the idea for the con was conceived?
BG: Well, originally we had the idea to be a very small convention, a sort of large book signing with a couple of dealers there. The music element was added later, borne of the idea that the original venue was already booking tons of indy bands. Originally when the idea came up, we also wanted to do more with it--have leather and fetish type stuff, fine arts, graphic designers, comic artists, erotica artists, tattoo guys, piercers, graffiti artists and so on. We wanted a mix of all types of artists, weird and so on. I think we've still got a really interesting mix, but the convention changed form to more of the pop-culture type, I think, due in part to the people we knew and the time we had to get things organized. As it was, we had the venue, the website and guests listed in at least a working form on the website within a week of knowing that everything was a for sure go. Which put us near the second week of September somewhere.
BB: What kind of reaction has the mixing of music and comics been amongst the fan community? How about from the comics professionals and the musicians?
BG: So far the reaction has been amazing, to say the least. Everyone has been aching for something like this, and there are tons of people who are coming to the rock show because of the comic show, and vice versa. We expect a really nice turnout and are hoping for more than we expect. We sent out ton's of flyers and free passes, and are hoping to get some radio advertising with some of our promotions.
This convention isn't just a normal convention by any standards. It's news! The time and place that it's hitting make it an historic occasion. We also have a couple of celebrities coming out, which should also make it newsworthy, and we hope to get some T.V. coverage with the local stations. Fat Momma from the Sci-Fi Channel's "Who Wants To Be A Superhero? will be there, along with Jason Carter, an Alumnus from the Babylon 5 series, to name a couple.
BB: So who are some of the different comics creators and publishers who'll be there, and what bands are scheduled to play?
BG: Despite this being our first convention, the guest list is astounding. We have talent from DC, Marvel and Image. We have Bill Messner-Loebs, Eddy Newell, Uko Smith, Mark Bloodworth, Bill Bryan, and the list goes on--it's great! As far as publishers go, of course Dark Elf Designs and COM Publishing will be on hand, but we also have CORE and ColdCore, as well as the veteran company Arrow Comics. Of course, I am sure several of the publishers and creators as well, would love to see more creative people and their portfolios.
Now the bands are another story; we wanted to keep them part of the convention and also going along the same theme. However, seeing that they would clearly clash if the noise level was too high, we decided to keep them somewhat separate at the same time, so we named it THE REFUGE. We have a multitude of pro-am indy rockers from Dorstein and Myth not man, to MCR Electric Otto and American Modifier. Needless to say, people should check out our complete convention guest list on the con site [www.XcapeCON.com], since there are too many too list them all here.
BB: Why hold the show in Flint? Is there something historically significant about the area, regarding comics, for instance, or might it have more to do with pragmatic considerations, such as cost or availability of hotels and the convention site?
BG: Well, there are a lot of reasons, one being that the people of the Flint area need something positive to come into their area. The other is I live in the Flint area and have always believed that Flintites are some of the strongest willed people on the planet. You'll find similar people anywhere on the planet that is economically repressed or depressed. Historically, there has only been one comic book convention in Flint that anyone can remember, and it was over 22 years ago. Also, we just wanted to have something cool going on in this area again. We are actually running the show in Birch Run, which is about 20 minutes north of Flint, so if people were planning on shopping that weekend [November 2nd and 3rd, 2007], it's a perfect stop to pick up unique, one-of-a-kind type gifts while they are shopping the Prime Outlets across the street. Finally, scenic Frankenmuth is just 15 minutes away from the convention center.
With a cover price of only six [$6] bucks to get into either show, you can't go wrong. Heck, fast food is more expensive these days!
We also have a special two-day pass for fifteen [$15] dollars for both shows. That's a savings of nine dollars. It's like your getting in for an extra whole day nearly free.
BB: How exactly are you going to handle the mixing of live music and comics within the space? You said earlier that they'll be playing later in the day, but will it be in the same area the con's happening, or in another part of the con center?
BG: Well, the bands will be playing in the Parlberg Room, which we are setting up as the gaming room and where we might stage contests throughout the day. It's on the first floor of the Expo Center, while the actual comics convention will happen on the Mezzanine. Also THE REFUGE Rock Aftershow is currently just that--an After Show. Part of the idea is that at these other conventions often have aftershow parties that are located elsewhere, and it's after the show and the guests know about them more so than the fans. We thought, "Why not party with the fans and include them in the aftershow party?"
So what we are doing is that the comics convention will be $6 to get in, and then the aftershow THE REFUGE will also be a $6 cover, or $10 to go to both. The music won't start jammin' until just about the time the show is over, and this will accomplish two things: it will either irritate the people who don't want to stay for THE REFUGE, or it will make them want to stay for it. Either way, since the convention floor will be in the process of shutting down, it will be a good fun thing to have going on. Plus, there will be a cash bar afterward. We will be limiting the age group at the rock show to 14 and up.
BB: Now, I know that this isn't your only project. You're also a comics creator and studio head, among other things. So what else have you got going on that you can talk about at this point?
BG: Wow, glad you asked. Of course, I am not sure if there is a short answer, although I will give it my best shot!
Well, I just did the cover for a novel called Legerdemain: The Shattered Mage Saga, which contains iIllustrations by William Messner-Loebs and myself, and a tongue-in-cheek book of anecdotes called Chicken Wings for the Beer Drinker's Soul. I am working on the cover for three more novels, Karma Thief, Dreamers at Infirmities Core, and A Not So Perfect Christmas.
In my project list there are several other things I am working on, including a graphic novel with Jwan Jordan called Circular World: the Ballad of Broken Steel; a graphic novel of my own with heavy Shakespearian overtones called Grimmstone; a follow up to my original MoonShadow # 0; as well as a follow up to my recently released The Gryphon # 0. We also released The Sorrow # 0 anthology at a signing recently, and that will make its convention debut at Xcape CON. We also just set up a deal with a beautiful French Playboy Playmate named Drakaina, and we will possibly be publishing a unique art book of hers toward the end of this year entitled Drakaina: Fantasy of Desires, and we also have two comic books in the works with her as the main character.
The Dark Elf Crew are also working on other stories with and for me including Smoke 'N' G.U.N.N., a post apocalyptic cowboy story with a twist; Chellefire, which is based on the model of the same name--she won a contest and now we are using her likeness as a comic book character, in sort of the Who Wants To Be A Superhero? style. Speaking of that show, we will be working on something with Nell "Fat Momma" Wilson which has something to do with her character from WWTBASH? to benefit childhood illness. Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah, we have DreamWeaver, which is a spin-off story about the origin of the Dreamweaver character in MoonShadow # 0. This will help explain who the DreamWeaver is, how she come into being, and also why she is a bad guy in the MoonShadow books. And then there's Suburbatopia, a sort of "Futurama meets Clerks"-type of comic we are working on with Rudy Farchione. And, beyond that, there is plenty on our to do list. Those are just the projects closest to fruition, so to speak.
BB: Who do you hope this show will appeal to? Are you mainly shooting for the Flint and Detroit Metro suburban hipsters and comic reading crowd, or are you hoping it will pull in a more diverse crowd than that?
BG: Oh yeah, I am definitely hoping for a diverse crowd! That was one of the reasons behind throwing it in Birch Run. Hopefully, the fact that we have live bands going on there at night will bring in new readers and the curious just to see what the show is about. I have always thought if there is a person out there who doesn't or hasn't read comic books, then they just haven't found the right one. Sooooo many people don't realize that, very often, what they are watching on the big screen lately was already a comic book or originally envisioned as a comic book, like The Matrix, Road to Perdition, Sin City, 300, Ultraviolet, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta, Men in Black and the soon-to-be-released 30 Days of Night to name a few. Of course, all of us comic fans are, like, "How could you not know?" but you'd be surprised.
So, yeah, the audience I am trying to reach is a broad array of would-be comic and graphic novel readers that just haven't found their flavor, as well as comic veterans who are sick of having their favorite characters messed over, and people who will enjoy continuity.
BB: What do you want the people attending the show to get from it? How about the comics professionals, the publishers, and the performers?
BG: Well, ultimately I want people to just have a fun time. But it would be nice to introduce some new faces to comic books and art in general, as well as have people walk away with a sense that they had been entertained by something kind of unexpected. As for veteran con-goers--including the guests--I would love for them to leave saying, "Man, this was one of the greatest conventions I have ever been to!" Also, I'd like to give them something to attend that's perhaps a little closer to home, travel-wise.
For the publishers, pros and performers, I want them to feel like they are wanted there, that they had a great time, and that they got something out of it. And, again for both the attendees and guests, I would like for them to feel like they had a great time for a inexpensive price, and for them to go home happy because they didn't spend the normally gratuitously large entrance fee. All that and, "Hey, there's free parking!" [Laughter]
Yes I am a guy who appreciates free parking.
BB: What do you hope to accomplish with this event...and do you see this as an ongoing event, and perhaps even one that could break ground, creating a new kind of cross-over audience for both comics and indy music, or are your aims a little more conservative than that?
BG: Well, I have learned to set my goals high, but be conservative in the steps I take to reach them. I think that is part of why Dark Elf Designs has been very successful in the past, plus we are very down-to-earth as far as what and why we believe we can achieve things that might not normally be considered down-to-earth. With that said, yes, we'd love to be doing this convention again next year, and maybe twice a year, eventually. We also hope it grows to be large enough to take over the entire Expo Center for a day or three. Plus, there are more than just live bands we'd like to institute.
We are, I believe taking that step toward a cross-over audience by including things like that. And you know it has been a logical step for a long time; it's just that no one has taken it before this that I know of, and I have often wondered why. Rock and Roll is even a genre of comics, otherwise there may have never been a Heavy Metal movie. But we will have a couple of the Flint area's best tattoo guys appearing there at the show, as well, and you know I just would like to broaden comics back into the area they started from--get them back into the subcultures that made them famous in the first place. A lot of people think that comics were made originally for kids and then, because of the comics code--which that is a whole different interview with a whole different person--they started to look more like kids books, and then eventually aimed toward kids. In the underground scene of comics, mature readership and mature level books were still going strong. But I digress.
So, yeah, we would love to throw bigger and better shows for years to come.
BB: And what do you, Brian, hope to get from doing Xcape CON, personally or professionally?
BG: Personally, it has been a challenge for myself, just to see if I could do it. Outside of my circle of four, there hasn't been anyone really helping to organize this event or set it up. I would like to thank everyone that has been pushing and/or pulling for this event, including many of our guests who have been giving it tons of word of mouth as well as handing out flyers and so on.
Professionally, other than gaining enough money back to break even and possibly do another show, I would also like to try and get enough in the way of cash to get some personal bills paid off or down. And maybe have enough money to take my wife out to eat once in a while. Yeah, that'd be nice. [General laughter] It would also be great if we had some money for Dark Elf to use toward publishing. But, ultimately, I think I get out of it an experience that you can only get by doing it, and that, in itself, is worth its weight in coin.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to it?
BG: Of Course! We are already planning for the next show, and we are also planning a show for February 23rd  that will be a Rock and Roll, Biker, Tattoo Slinger, Partyin' good time called REFUGE Rock Fest.
Since we are already planning the second Xcape CON, we'd love for you to drop by the website at www.XcapeCON.com and continuously check for updates, as well as check out our Guest and Band Bio's. And by all means, please drop by our MySpace page www.myspace.com/xcapecon and give us feedback, "Friend" us, have your friends "Friend" us and so on. In the meantime, check out The Dark Elf Designs website www.darkelfdesigns.com and sure to check out our galleries; check out the Dark Elf Designs MySpace page at www.myspace.com/darkelfdesigns and add us to your "Friends" list there, too. And, last but not least, feel free to add my MySpace page as well www.myspace.com/briangermain. And for cryin' out loud, go to our cafepress store at www.cafepress.com/darkelfdesigns and buy something cool or give us some feedback on something you'd like to see there!
If you need more information, including directions to the con, you'll find that on the Birch Run Expo Center's webpage at http://www.birchrunexpos.com/.
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