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  • Writer's pictureJoe Sikoryak

Panic! at the Distro-Bistro



Third stop on the 2024 Trekkies Tour


I confess, even though I’d actually visited San Bernadino (briefly) once before, I didn’t really know where it’s located. I’d placed it somewhere south between LA and San Diego, when in fact it’s 60 miles east of Burbank, in California’s Inland Empire. And all I knew about that region I’d inferred from the David Lynch movie of the same name. So last weekend I was determined to fill in some of the gaps.


More to the point, I was all in for a local music and arts fest sponsored by Birdcage Comics Cafe, the brainchild of Daniel Whitfield and Camille Alaras, proprietors of the aforementioned distro-bistro. As the name suggests, they sell comics as well as coffee. And yeah, they sell When We Were Trekkies too. So off to SB I went!


The Cafe was launched in July of 2022, after Daniel and Camille assumed ownership of Birdcage Bottom Books, the formerly NYC-based comics distributor. Selling small-press comics and zines may be a noble pursuit, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the previous owner and wisely, D and C decided to make their day jobs part of the mix. And so far, it’s working quite well—they do a brisk breakfast and lunch business on weekdays and a bit more on Saturday afternoons.



I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised—it’s a cool space, worthy of a hipper coastal location. The front counter is festooned with drawings and hand-lettered signage amid the appetizing baked goods, and the bathroom hallway is papered floor-to ceiling with comic pages. In the artistically arid Inland Empire, amid vast tracts of suburbia and corporate farms, the Birdcage is a genuine creative oasis. So I had high hopes for Scarfffest, their two-day tribute to the venerable non-profit comix newspaper.


If you’re unfamiliar with Scarfff, you can check it out here—or look for always-free copies at your local comics emporium.


The artist vendors were scheduled for the afternoon and early evening shift, from 2pm to 8pm and the bands would start around dusk and play ’til midnight. I pulled up with ten minutes to spare, only to find the tents and tables still being set up in the parking lot. It didn’t take long to spot my host—a perpetually grinning, tall drink of water with a backwards baseball cap—unfolding a giant white canopy. Daniel (@LifeofaWhitfield) gave me a big warm welcome and directed my attention to a half-filled table. “I thought you could share space with Mark.” I smiled at the tall fellow standing behind a mound of “Kram Comix” and said “Sure.”



Business was slow on Friday afternoon, with uncharacteristic stormy skies and even occasional drizzle. We vendors had ample time to get to know each other, and while a handful of folks had traveled an hour or more from the LA region, most everyone else was local. I had probably come the furthest, but I was more interested in getting to know my distributors better, and in that regard the trip was a smashing success. Camille (@CamilleKaze) was sharing a table next to me so we had plenty of time to talk when she wasn’t relieving the cafe staff for breaks. She shared details of the bistro, the distro, and the neighborhood. I feel great being in business with these folks.


Saturday was all sunny skies and smiles—the turnout built slowly over the afternoon, and while my sales were modest, it was a fun day. I really bonded with Andrew Oh (@dayandagecomic), an auto-bio diarist with two years of his life collected in weekly strips and another in the works. He’s also published a graphic medicine memoir, with parallels to projects that I have in the works—and he’s a frustrated filmmaker, so we had that to talk about as well.



I also returned a few times to the corner where Philip Quick (@philip_quick_art) and Jevin Loop (@JevinLoopArt) had set up shop. We clicked from the start, and swapped ideas for success in the artist alley. While they both produce narrative comics, their bread-and-butter at shows is fan art, drawing familiar characters in humorous or unconventional portraits. I admit I hadn’t really considered this before, but if I’m going to tackle any more mainstream shows, it’s worth considering. We promised to meet up at Galaxy Con in San Jose, where I will debut some posters and prints of my own.


By 9pm the fest was kicking into high gear with bands playing on three stages, and I was ready to call it quits. After a round of so-long-selfies, I retired to my AirBnB for a well-deserved rest. Wouldn't you know I'd run into my host, whose teenage daughter is circling around comics as a hobby/avocation, so I took a few minutes to assure him that there are far worse things—and that they should visit the cafe.


I said goodbye to San Bernadino on Sunday morning and took a big swing through LA to visit a couple of friends and hit a few new and old stores in Glendale, on Melrose, and back in Burbank. The experience confirmed that it's tough to break in with a completed series—I’ll have to try Secret Headquarters and Golden Apple Comics next time that I'm selling a first issue, rather than the last—but House of Secrets was all too happy to restock some single issues and a few bundles. I wrapped up the trip with a few tasty slices at Dino’s Pizza (thanks to Patreon supporter Ed!) where we bonded over Star Trek and movie memorabilia.


Not a bad way to spend a weekend—now it’s time to get back to work. Oh, and save the date for my next event on June 8 in San Francisco… more to come on that!


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