How Staple! Is Turning the Page Toward a New Future

Austin’s indie media expo returns and it’s all because of one email

Just because you can’t see an alligator doesn’t mean it’s not lurking under the surface. Same goes for the Staplegator, the mascot of Staple! The Independent Media Expo: Just because the celebration of graphic arts has been absent for the last five years doesn’t mean it wasn’t just waiting for the right time to emerge. That time is now, as the mini-con celebrating independent comics, zines, games, and digital creatives makes its debut on the St. Edward’s University campus the weekend of April 13-14.

The wiry powerhouse behind Staple! is Chris Nicholas, better known as Uncle Staple. The uncle part is right: He’s been a huge influence on, supporter of, and cheerleader for indie media in the city. For 15 years he made Staple! a must-attend event for collectors and creators, but it’s never been just a once-a-year convention. It’s a community, one that continued even without the annual event. Like so many in-person events, 2019 was the last time that community came together under the happy gaze of Uncle Staple, and the intervening years made it seem less and less likely that the show would ever happen again. Rising prices, a lack of suitable venues, and the sheer challenge of putting a show of this size together were all factors. At the same time, Uncle Staple was dealing with a lot of regular life issues and, he explained, “I was kind of over it.”

And then early in 2023, he got an unexpected email from Jeremy Johnson, an assistant professor of video game development at St. Edward’s. “He said, 'Hey, I’m a fan of your show,’” Uncle Staple recalled. “'I miss it, and we have space over here. Do you want to take a look at it?’”

When he saw the space, Uncle Staple had a realization. “I missed doing it,” he said. “I think it’s worthwhile to do and no one else is doing it, and we need it.” So he spent the summer creating a nonprofit umbrella organization to give Staple! a new future. “I’m gittin’ older,” he giggled in an “old geezer” tone, “and I don’t know how long I can keep doing this myself, so this creates a structure where someone else could do it.”

For the moment, it’s still his passion project – wrangling spreadsheets, organizing vendors, and booking guests. Now the worry was simple: Would anyone show up after five years off? That question was answered when Uncle Staple opened applications for vendor tables. In under 18 hours, every one of the 75 available vendor tables was booked. Within two days, he had to even shut off the standby list. “That was both delightful and frightening,” he said, “because now it was, well, they really wanted this so now I have to do it the best I can, and the best I can is to get as many people to show up as possible.”

But Staple! isn’t just a market. It’s also an opportunity for fans and fellow creators to hear their peers discuss the state of the art and the industry. Balancing that programming “is more of an art than a science,” Uncle Staple said, crediting the show’s sponsors at Rogues Gallery Comics + Games and Austin Books for helping him keep his finger on the pulse. Over time, webcomics have become a larger part of the schedule: This year Austin artists Star Prichard (TheStarFishFace) and Chesca Hause (Litterbox Comics) join The Nib Associate Editor Mattie Lubchansky (Boys Weekend) for an online publishing roundtable on Saturday, while Prichard will be back Sunday to present an in-person version of her book, How to Webcomic, in Webcomics 101. At the same, Staple! has always provided a clear-eyed view of the state of the industry in panels like “Don’t Panic” – Surviving Layoffs and Managing Your Career as a Digital Creative, which tackles the seemingly never-ending cuts in the gaming industry.

However, physical media is a key component of Staple! “Print’s not dead,” Uncle Staple said. He noted that it’s not simply that indie comics remain vital, but that there’s also been a real resurgence in zine culture. At the end of the day, that’s part of what makes an in-person event like Staple! so important. “It gives an avenue for people who still want to make print books and print comics,” Uncle Staple said. “That’s what it’s always been.”


Saturday 13-Sunday 14, Mabee Ballroom @ St. Edward’s University

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Staple!, Staple! The Independent Media Expo, St. Edward’s University, Chris Nicholas, Uncle Staple

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