September 13, 2013
A Few Isolated Thoughts On Small Press Expo 2013
The Small Press Expo
is this weekend. Here are some last-minute notes about attending this year's show as folks settle in. I've been here since last night. I'll have SPX-oriented publishing announcements all weekend, an Ignatz Awards write-up early Sunday morning, an interview with a first-time exhibitor and formidable cartoonist that day, and a full recap on Monday. Here's to a good time.
1. The real story of SPX may be the audience.
I've written this a bunch of times, but as much as we tend to treat these shows as an experience had by cartoonists and those in the rough conception of what gets called the comics industry, they're frequently as much if not more if not outright
about the audience of fans and buyers that come to these shows every year. SPX has many strengths, but none of them would matter if it weren't for the people that come to the show, pay to get in and greatly enjoy themselves. We're kind of a convention nation now, in that comic cons are something that people know about and do. A small press comics festival is slightly different, but these folks know the score and there's never any weird bleed from one kind of show into another. Let's stop and appreciate the other side of the table.
2. Make sure to use the neighborhood.
SPX is the "Camp Comics" show, in that the vast, vast, majority of what happens at the Expo and after hours is confined to the hotel where the exhibition halls and programming rooms are located, which happens to be the same hotel where the vast majority of attending professionals and hardcore fans are staying. I'm typing from one such room right this moment. That doesn't mean you can't make use of the things that go on outside of the show. Heidi MacDonald is speaking at the Library Of Congress; Peter Bagge will be at the Reason
offices today and leading a bunch of pros up the road to Atomic Books tonight. I am pretty sure there were "Hey, I'm on the East Coast" events in New York last week and that there will be in the week ahead.
The neighborhood is very, very office complexes and chain restaurants, but it has its useful features. I believe there is still a Dunkin Donuts in a strip mall the other side of the McDonalds where the coffee is just as good as that sold by the hotel. There is a 7-11 and a Whole Foods close by for direct purchase of food and drink to be carried back to one's hotel room. Around the corner from that 7-11 is a small beer and wine store. Nearly all of the walk-in restaurants within a half-mile do carry out. And, you know, it's DC. Sneaking out, even down the road, via train to do something can be a great way to catch a breather from the overwhelming comics-ness of the entire weekend, whether or not you take a bunch of folks with you.
3. Always circle the big room before you start buying.
One thing I always suggest to con attendees is that you spend at least five seconds in front of each table in the exhibition hall before buying a darn thing. I'd make an exception for a piece of original art, or something else that might disappear right that second, but the books themselves can almost wait a couple of hours until you see what's out there.
SPX runs a model debut books posting here
; that's a good way to have a few things in mind for which to watch out. Rob Clough
recommended some things here. Paul Karasik, if I remember correctly, eyeballs who is going where and visits the tables that have less traffic than others in search of hidden, idiosyncratic gems. I like so much of it it's hard for me to make a specific recommendation -- it's my job
to look at these comics, at least it's a big part of it, and therefore it's hard for me to generate a level of acquisitive excitement about encountering these works in the wild. I do look at everything, though, and I'm excited this year to see what, for example, Gary Panter might bring to the show. I love original art. There are a lot of good illustrators here this year. I look forward to seeing if Peter Bagge brought anything weird.
A couple of strategies that are useful if you're overwhelmed is to ask the maker of something you like enough to buy what they
like on the show floor -- you might get them recommending a pal, but you also might get something that aligns with your tastes. I also think that the publishers at these shows serve a unique to this context purpose of identifying a few people to whom you might pay attention. Not only do these publishers have debut works they've just published at SPX, but they'll frequently have nearby or even signing right in their booths cartoonists they have recently published or are about
to publish. That doesn't mean your tastes will automaticlly line up with a Annie Koyama or a Chris Pitzer, but I think the person they're eyeballing for a potential long-term publishing relationship would have to be worth a second look. I know that's what I do.
And remember you can also follow up with a lot of these cartoonists and all of the publishers -- get their names and get on-line.
4. SPX features model programming.
Bill Kartalopoulos is really good at putting together a programming slate. He has a taste in comics that is closely aligned to what SPX does well, and he works with the moderators in order to encourage good work out of them -- he doesn't overburden them with a billion different panels, for one, and spreads out what he has going on to a number of voices. Like who doesn't want to see Tim Hodler work one of these things (Sam Henderson + Michael Kupperman, I think)?
At any rate, I think you're going to be in good shape no matter when you decide to take some time off of your feet. Other than the Gary Panter (him again) I'm not sure there's any I've specially targeted, but that's mostly because I'm interested in every one.
5. This could be an interesting year in terms of the mood and spirit of the show.
2011 was marked by the sudden, surprise passing of cartoonist and small-press publishing icon Dylan Williams. 2012 was a year of joy and relief after a period of 12 to 15 months filled with a lot of sadness and struggle in the independent comics and small press communities.
I think 2013 could be a reasonably reflective
year, in addition to the usual high-spirited shenanigans and the social crush of it all. A number of this latest generation of emergent cartoonists -- the Internet and social media-savvy comics creators born after Reagan was shot -- are in their early 30s now. You don't have it all figured out by age 30 but unless you're a completely self-absorbed goober you do notice that certain storylines for your life simply aren't going to happen as you might have hoped and thought they would, even as others may open up. There's a momentum to life that you didn't have at 23.
In addition, a lot of the art comics publishers seem to have settled on groups of two, three, six cartoonists in that 25-35 age range with whom they're going to work on a couple of books. The potential volatility of some of the deals being offered cartoonists has mellowed out a bit as well: I haven't heard someone saying "This person got this" in a way where the deal struck me as aberrant or primal lunacy for years and years now. It's probably never a good thing to assume one knows what to expect -- there's a lot in comics we wouldn't have if conventional wisdom were ever totally accepted -- but there's a sense in the room that a few baseline realities have established themselves. We know what certain deals at certain publishers entail; we know what building success on the Internet yields in many cases.
So I think you're going to hear a lot from cartoonists and publishers who are oriented for the next two to seven years of work in a way that the uncertainty of the marketplace and some of the vague promises out there of what could
happen didn't allow before now. I think that's an exciting place to be, and I hope that great work results, perhaps something announced or even sold on the floor this weekend.
So that's it. I mean, it's a comics show. Come look at the comics and hear people talk about comics. Attend an awards show. Have a cocktail. I hope to see you down there. Travel safely, and enjoy what's about to happen.
posted 6:00 am PST
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