Arts Desk

Meet a Local Con Organizer: A Chat with Onezumi Hartstein of Intervention

Intervention, a new webcomics convention, is starting up in town in a week. Organized by Onezumi Hartstein, this is the first convention she's produced. The con's website notes that "Web developer James Harknell and I wanted to put together an event that would compliment the existing print-centric conventions—we wanted to showcase the creators who use the Internet as their primary publishing method.  I went to conventions for years to promote my webcomic, and was always treated well, but felt that Web creators needed their own space. We’re giving them that with Intervention.” Hartstein's answered some questions about the con for us.

Washington City Paper: What's the theme of Intervention?

Onezumi Hartstein: We are "Your Online Life, In Person." Imagine a comicon where the focus is  on webcomics and other independent creators like bloggers, podcasters, musicians, and artists. We are about the fans and the creators who use the Internet as their primary method of publication and interaction.

WCP: How is it different than a standard comics con?

OH: We are like a cyborg comicom! I love traditional comicons, but they have always focused on print media as opposed to technology. Print media is awesome, but it isn't the whole story. I believe that the Internet has changed how artists can market their work, so I created an event that reflected my personal experience as a creator.

In addition to the fun stuff you would expect from a fan con, we also are moving toward offering low cost educational options as bonus material on top of the con. This year we have WordPress/ComicPress intensive courses taught by ComicPress developer Frumph.

WCP: How’d you get into comics?

OH: Hmm, probably through my brother who he bought me Peter Porker: Spider Ham when I was 6. Eventually I ended up reading nearly every Marvel and DC book I could afford and attending cons almost every month.

WCP: How and why did you start the con?

OH: Ah, the "why" is primary. The reason I feel so strongly about this is because I grew up in absolute poverty. So many times I had given up on the idea of ever making my way out of what was a hellish childhood. Cons and comics were always there for me no matter how hard things became.

Conventions and the support of other artists motivated me to turn my life around in what could have been a hopeless situation. Creativity transcended into every part of my life and motivated me to not be angry about my circumstances. If I can do it, anyone can. Just don't give up!

Unfortunately, so many creative outlets and art programs have been shut down. I believe so strongly in giving back to the scene that helped me that I can't not do this con. I hear often from people of all ages that my work has inspired them to keep going. All of the long hours are worth it to me.

How I got this up and running stems from all my experiences. I had been staffing cons for years, so I was lucky enough to meet a lot of other experienced staffers that I could bring onto this project. Cons have been so nice to provide space for Webcomics and other Internet personalities, but we were never the focus. We were often the first group cut out of some of the conventions or deemed "not important enough."

It makes sense, though. An Anime con is about Anime. A Sci Fi con is about Sci Fi. Traditional comicons tend to skew toward big publishers or movie stars. Still, the Webcomic and Internet Culture scene kept growing. I just felt it was time to create a friendly place for us. There sure are a lot of us!

WCP: How many people are you expecting?

OH: I won't know until after the con since this is our first year. Our hotel's capacity is about 1750. Judging from the buzz and brisk pre-registrations I am planning for close to that.

WCP: How come you and the Small Press Expo are on the same weekend? Do you think the shows will help each others audience, cannibalize each other, or not matter?

OH: Yeah, neither con intended for that to happen. It appears we both signed contracts with our venues at the same time. At first we were very concerned, but it does appear that both shows are benefitting, so that makes me happy. A lot of people are doing both since we are in walking distance from each other. SPX seems to focus more on print and close around 5 or 6pm. We are all Internet and have huge events running until at least 3 AM. It's almost like the yin and yang of comics. Some fans have nicknamed this weekend, "Comicspalooza".

WCP: Is there anything special you'd like to mention about the con?

OH: Noted science fiction writer Ben Bova, Rob Balder, and Bill Holbrook are premiering their new webcomic at our show. Molly Crabapple is speaking and holding a Dr.Sketchy's Anti Art School burlesque life drawing event. Super Art Fight and Cosplay Burlesque are on Saturday, we have 2 nights of goth/industrial/geek dance parties courtesy of DJ Subvert from NYC, and our charity auction for the EFF is on Sunday.

WCP: Any cartoonists you are particularly proud of having come?

OH: As I told you last month when I first found out, Fred Gallagher is a major guest. It's the first con he has done in this area for at least 5 years so everyone who knows about it so far is freaking out in a good way. His Megatokyo is one of the biggest webcomics on the web.  He has about 1.5 million unique readers per month, and hasn't been touring since 2006. Generally when he does there is a line around the entire room to get to his table. The fact that we got him is kind of mind-blowing, since he is very particular on what events he does.

I'm pretty darn proud of my entire guest list. They all believe in what we are doing and are super nice! I'm happy that they are committed to doing great programming and also about our special events. We have people who have been doing this  for a very long time and newer people so that we can get all sorts of perspectives in the mix.

WCP: How fast did the tables sell out? Are you sold out?

OH: Yep! We sold out almost immediately. It's been a matter of trying to fit everyone in. We may need a bigger venue next year.

WCP: Do you think webcomics are different from other types of cartooning? If so, how so?

OH: Professional web and print comics are essentially the same, but I think that going it alone online requires one to have to truly engage with their readers in order to stay relevant. Publishers traditionally deliver comics to the readers for a creator, but if it's just you, you need to be active in a different way. Both fields are difficult and rewarding, they just come from slightly different perspectives. It's the same as if you were a band on a major label vs. an independent band.

WCP: People can buy tickets and get more information at?

OH: Http:// is our main website. Http:// goes to our registration system.

Intervention runs from noon on Sept. 10 Sept. 12 at the Hilton Washington D.C./Rockville, 1750 Rockville Pike in Rockville, Md. Programming runs from 1 p.m. on Friday to 3 p.m. on Sunday. $15-$45.

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