The Awesome Fair - a.k.a. The UP! Fair

Posted on by Rob Stenzinger

I should clarify what I mean by using the word awesome, especially with regard to the frequency I use the word awesome.

Let’s take a look at the definition of “awesome” from the new Oxford American dictionary:

awesome |ˈôsəm|; adjective

extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear : the awesome power of the atomic bomb.

  • informal extremely good; excellent : the band is truly awesome!

For the most part I don't mean the scary kind of awesome. I mean the informal, extremely good kind of awesome. So if the extent of your curiosity about the affair is - how was it overall, in one word? Of course that word is awesome. But I'm willing to bet you're curious about more than the one-word summary. Not that we're betting anything of monetary value just a bet of honor.

Let’s breakdown the overall awesomeness into four particular aspects of awesome:

1) Awesome organizers and artists

Thank you Jerzy and Anne Drozd, Brian and Sara Turner, Mark Rudolph, Krishna Sadasivam, Kim Holm, Carrie and Shawn Robare - and Kevin Cross (there in spirit, not in person this year).

2) Awesome vision for the event

Everyone who is a reader of comics also has the ability to participate in creating and sharing comics. The UP! Fair is a place where you can participate with more than just giving money to buy things from creators - the world of independent publishers is an inclusive place where you can also learn along side the creators. You can be and are encouraged to be a creator as well.

3) Awesome venue and city

Lexington, KY and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning was a great place for the event. The area is a wonderful to walk around and the building is beautiful and well-setup for both the expo/fair and workshops.

4) Awesome execution that was thoughtful by great and caring artists

My biggest realization, upon reflection about the UP! Fair, is personal, difficult and awkward to admit/explain here in a blog post. I feel like…

I think the biggest thing I realize what's happened is something that's very personal and hard to admit. I feel like I've been accepted into the community. This amazing creative community. This might sound simple or unimportant. But for me, it's an accomplishment and to be honest with you - it's something that if I dwell on it, I get an an intense feeling that chokes me up a bit. Oh this seems silly to admit it in a blog post (or hell even to say out loud) but it's true.

So let's take a look at how this feeling might have come about from what appears, on the surface, to be an unassuming one day conference that celebrates the independent publisher.

Getting ready

Developing my workshop took a good chunk of time from September through the week before the UP! Fair. My early drafts were over 100 slides and 2 hours of content. I met with Jerzy several times to focus my presentation and pick up presentation pointers. The time Jersey spent with me bouncing ideas and discussing key themes illustrated for me his commitment to making the event meaningful and successful. This was also my first feelings of being part of something awesome.

Once the big week finally arrived I had my presentation trimmed down to 56 slides and 50 minutes of content. Now it was time to pack my merchandise. I brought AGZ guitar picks, buttons, Art Geek Zoo volume 1, and The Baby Adventures of Zoe Zeus volume 1. It really was a puzzle working out the luggage weight restrictions and realizing that I had to check a bag. My main suit case weighed over 75 pounds at one point. Of course checking a bag means higher costs for flying, but having a heavy bag can lead to up to $125 in extra fees (one way!!). So the puzzle continued as I removed items, reduced inventory, and repacked my clothing.

So off I went to the UP! Fair. To learn and to partake in the exchange of knowledge. Personally, I also hoped to learn more about Art Geek Zoo’s audience and to explore what about it resonates (or does not resonate) with the good people of Lexington.


I arrived in Lexington Kentucky around 7 PM Thursday. Things were quiet on the social network front regarding who may be in town for the UP! Fair. I decided to hunker down in my hotel room and brainstorm the next comic user-interface widgets/interactive elements I want to tackle and practiced my workshop for the UP! Fair.

When I woke up Friday I more or less continued the same thing. By late morning, I was getting antsy so I headed out to see if I could be of use at the venue. Perhaps there was set up to do. I also was curious about the exact whereabouts of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. You may not know this - I have a fairly poor sense of direction when I'm not aided with a GPS and/or compass. Thankfully it turned out that the walk was very short - roughly 3 blocks from the hotel.

When I arrived at the Carnegie Center I met the organizers and some other artists already helping with setup. I pitched in for a bit helping put together exhibitor/artist badges. I got to meet and shake hands with quite a few of them - finally putting a face to the voices I've heard on the Art & Story podcasts over the years including and Jerzy and Ann Drozd, Kim Holm, Shawn Robert, Mark Rudolph, Krishna Sadasivam and Justin Stewart.

Gallery Show

Friday night, The UP! Fair was part of recurring gallery walking tour Lexington has in support of its many art galleries. Lots of people came through to check out the art and to chat with the artists attending the event as well. I even recognized a few people from the gallery show the next day during the full-day UP! Fair event. To see my work among so much fantastic comic illustration was both humbling and honoring. It felt great. Their was so much care and intention in how everything was hung up and grouped. Walking through the gallery show you could feel how each section was connected by techniques and styles. There was even punch and snacks and it was an all-around wonderful affair.

Drink and Draw

After the gallery event wrapped up there was an artist reception event, they call it a drink and draw event.

The drink and draw that happened afterward was awesome. As the pictures clearly illustrate, there was a blank wall supplied by a local Lexington marketing business and with Art supplies supplied by Justin Stewart - we drew on the wall. There was food and refreshments supplied by the up fair organizers. The night was filled with lots of great conversation and drawing. The wall quickly became a really fun and wildly varied mural. It was a brilliant idea and great fun to be part of.

The Big Day

Many industries have events that are combinations of expo + conference where one or more tracks of learning go along side an exposition of vendors with products and services that serve a given community. The IT industry is full of such events as are Electronics, VideoGames, Teaching, Libraries, and many other industries are as well.

However, applying this approach to a comics and indie publishing event is quite rare - especially with the emphasis the UP! Fair placed on the workshop aspect of the event. The amount of workshops, the quality, and variety made for what I think is the magical essence of the event.

Magical enough for me to not be at my table for much of the day.

I attended four workshops and facilitated one workshop. The first one I attended was Krishna Sadasivam's character design workshop. It was a lot of fun to experience Krishna's teaching style and techniques for making characters. He addressed both the visual art and supporting ideas used in making interesting characters. He walked us through exercises using shapes to communicate the essence of their nature and how the positioning of facial parts can affect the concept the character conveys visually.

After that I put on my workshop: "Storytelling to Make Your Comics UI Awesome". I thought it went well and it turned out to be both sharing ideas and conversation with the group attending. It was a good mix of people, those who are already publishing web comics and those that are in early stages of thinking about doing a webcomic. I will share more about my workshop in future blog posts.

I ended up missing Mark Rudolph's workshop how to create a zine because after my workshop was complete and was putting away all the gadgetry I used to do the presentation. What gadgetry? I chose to present with Keynote on my Modbook which was connected to the projector. Then I used the Apple keynote remote which was running on my iPad. From there I could see the slides, presenter notes, and control the presentation.

Being slow to teardown my workshop had two effects. First, I missed out on Mark Rudolph's "Zine and Heard" how to make a zine workshop. Second, it gave me 20 to 30 free minutes to be at my table and to hang out after class to answer a few of the folks questions that set into my workshop. Plus it gave me a little window of time to grab a bite to eat - it was fantastically awesome that there was water and coffee available and a very tasty box lunch waiting for me.

The next workshop I attended was Kim Holm presenting regarding Expressionism in art and in comics: “Personal Storytelling: Drawing With Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Coffee”. Kim shared a very interesting breakdown of the the techniques involved in expressing artwork emotionally yet with the elements of intentional communication. It was great to see how he handled what could be such an intangible topic and made it so approachable. He showed how to make art and comics true to the feelings the artist intends to communicate in a way where all of us left class with a good basic vocabulary of what the attendees can do to create expressionist work.

From there, I went to was a workshop on how to put on educational comic workshops led by Jerzy Drozd. It was called “How to Lead a Comics Workshop”. It may have also just as well been called " how to put on an awesome presentation" because there was a lot of great discussion and demonstration of techniques surrounding the idea of presenting engaging material in engaging fashion with an audience that may not feel comfortable in being engaged. The excellent stuff and I plan to do some outreach soon to local libraries to see how I could help in that regard in the Twin Cities, in addition to sharing my "Storytelling to Make Your Comics UI Awesome" locally as well.

The final class I went to was a panel discussion of “Publishing in the POD Era” about print on demand and independent publishing. It was headed by a few of the UP! Fair hosts with Barry and Wayne from They were sharing lots of good tips and ideas for those that are just starting out and those that are about to take a fresh swing at an independent publishing project.

Balancing out what seems like hyperbole - what could go better

If there's anything I could think of the to be something to consider tweaking for next years up there is perhaps somehow staggering the Expo and workshop aspects of the event so that they could compete a little less. I could be wrong about this but I noticed some artists that were conflicted about abandoning their tables to attend the workshops.

The only problem with The UP! Fair being so awesome - is wanting more awesome

The only other problem I think that there is with the upstairs just I wish there was more of the up there. More times per year or more locations across US.

I can understand if this article comes across as a love letter to the people who made UP! Fair happen. That's because it is. Thank you for the UP! Fair Community: Mark, Jono, Brian and Sara Turner - thanks for carting my non-car renting hide around town. And thank you Sara and Brian for mailing me a copy of the UP! Fair poster - it'll be framed soon and hanging in my daughter's room both because it looks cool and for what the event represents. Thanks to Kim Holm for not just putting up with but fully indulging my dumb (in a richly brilliant sort of dumb) jokes. It was great to meet Jim Lujan (Mr. Ghettomation himself)... I know I'm forgetting folks I met... sorry to not include you all on this initial post - feel free to chime in on the comments! And finally it was awesome to see artists from Minnesota there -Joe Combs and Ryan Dow! I had lots of chance to converse with Joe but hadn't as much chance to connect with Ryan. I'll have to catch up with Ryan at the next Cartoonist Conspiracy event in Minneapolis.

Last but not least: Make it and share it…

Make it, share it, encourage others to do the same. After my adventure to the UP! Fair I feel I'm on the right track and am part of a community of artists who are working towards that very same thing. I look forward to being a part of more events like the UP! Fair and hope all who read this feel the same or are at least curious!

PS: More info on the event… other articles and photo galleries

Jerzy and Anne Drozd’s UP! Fair Photos

Shawn and Carrie Robare’s UP! Fair Photos

Brian and Sara Turner’s UP! Fair Photos

Justin Stewart’s UP! Fair Photos

Holly Mahaffey's UP! Fair Photos
Holly was the official photographer of the event and her gallery on Flickr is fantastic with some really beautiful shots from the show and the events surrounding it.

Krishna Sadasivam’s UP! Fair Experience