Retreat Report

October 4th, 2008 by Colin Tedford · No Comments

Plotting the future of Trees & Hills

Wondering just what went on at the Planning & Camping Retreat we had back in August? Well, wonder no more! In short: we wrote a mission statement, discussed how we should define our audience and membership (particularly concerning the age spectrum), and determined to work out our “official” values and a list of current and future activities. We also made music, ate delicious food, laughed, and walked in the moonlight. For more details and how to help determine the future of Trees & Hills, read on!

At this retreat, we wanted to work out Trees & Hills’ Mission, Values, and Vision. The Mission is a concise statement of purpose, Values are the guiding principles important to us, and the Vision is how we see ourselves carrying out the Mission – essentially a list of what we do, or would like to do.

1. Mission Statement: After much discussion Saturday evening, we settled on the following mission statement: “Trees & Hills brings together cartoonists in Vermont, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts to produce, publish, and promote comics, share resources, and build creative connections in our diverse communities.” You can see the statement as a comic on our current flyer on the About page.

2. Discussed our stance on “all-ages” material: how do we deal with the fact that we may have children reading our comics, contributing to our anthologies, and visiting our website, while still serving our members who create art that is clearly not for kids? We decided that we wanted to be accessible to as wide an audience (in age and other dimensions) and as wide a range of cartoonists as possible. Proposed and agreed: We will use a rating system on our anthologies, and ask artists to provide a rating for distro’ed material. Dan volunteered to research the legality of using the MPAA rating system (which is instantly recognizable, but probably proprietary); if we can’t use it, we will devise our own. Trees & Hills anthologies will stick to a “PG-13″ or so publishing threshold; the distro will stay full spectrum. We will probably found an offshoot group to publish more adult-oriented anthologies (the name “Offshore Comics” was suggested and received a favorable reaction).

3. Values: Other than a fun musical exercise loosely related to the subject, we tabled the Values discussion for later due to time constraints. However, it will be our very first online discussion at our Google Group (see “So what next?” below), so feel free to join in!

4. Vision: Sunday morning some went on a blueberry-picking expedition, and later we did a quick “visioning” inventory, making a list of activities we do and would maybe like to do to further our mission. Here is the list (items with a plus sign are possible future activities):

- Social events (drawing parties, schmoozes, release parties, etc.)
- Promotional events (convention appearances, release parties, etc.)
- Publications (monthly TWIG, 2 anthos / yr, + books, “Offshore comics”)
- Website (news & blogwatch, resources, calendar, comics, distro, forum)
- Newsletter
- Distro
- Press releases
+ Mailing review packets
+ Workshops
+ Organizing our own conventions / bookmobile / traveling roadshow
+ T-shirts & other merch
+ Anthos to raise funds for other community groups
+ Regional newspaper syndicate
+ Skill-share events (how to work a convention table, etc.)
+ “How-to” minicomic handbooks (conventioning, assembling minicomics, starting a regional comics group, etc.); comics to document our meetings
- Accounting / + reporting (annual report?)
+ Fundraising / development (auction, grants; dues and/or fees for services (like website space)?)

5. Miscellaneous: At some point it was proposed and seemed agreeable that we might have 3 planning sessions each year (one for each season except slippery-road winter – also one for each state). It was also proposed that T&H planning be done by consensus, and that some work be allotted to “committees”. We have been wanting to do a small (business-card-size, or a little bigger) “Intro to T&H” promo mini, and I volunteered to draw that once we have our Values & Vision in place.

I think that basically captures the ‘formal” discussions. There was a fair amount of less-formal discussion, often between pairs & trios, so I’m sure I’ve missed some of that here. You can see photos of the Retreat here, courtesy of Matt Young (who of course also took the photo atop this article).

So what next?

We will be conducting our discussions in a public forum for transparency, accessibility and recordkeeping; to this end I’ve set up a T&H Google Group, which is like a combo forum / email ring with search. Head on over and sign up to participate in the discussions and help shape the future of Trees & Hills!

Although things have a way of interrelating, we are going to try to tackle these discussions one at a time:
1. Figure out our Values
2. Polish the Vision list (list all we do, dream up the things we want to do)
3. More all-ages discussion: Devise rating system, discuss details of offshoot publishing group (which will get its own discussion area).
4. Discuss organization/housekeeping – How do we make decisions & who gets to make them? How do we divide the group’s responsibilities? I think it might be good to establish some “standard procedures” or guidelines for some tasks (ie accounting, distro dealings, etc – some of this is done already but it’d be nice to be clear with everyone about how it all works).
5. Plan out the next year and get started on all our awesome projects!
6. It has been suggested that we collect stories of inspirational (not necessarily comics) groups, for motivation and ideas.

Though normally our “3 planning sessions a year” would be more spread out, we might want to consider trying to squeeze in another one or two before the year ends, to get our foundations down.

Whew! Is that enough for you? We are a-movin’ and a-shakin’!

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