December 26, 2014
Everything I Still Remember About Small Press Expo 2014
These are my notes and observations from the weekend of Small Press Expo (SPX) 2014
. They are very late.
A couple of months before attending this show I accepted a position as Festival Director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus
, a show starting in 2016 with a launch event in 2015. Please read the following in the light of that knowledge, and come to whatever conclusion you like.
* like this year's Comic-Con International
, I thought SPX 2014 was a fine show with a few surpassing, memorable elements as opposed to it being a comics festival for the ages. Having said that, I fully realize there are those that had the most amazing weekend of their lives last September and those that made the decision they will never come back. And so it goes.
* that does make SPX 2014 a fine show to kind of take the temperature of that whole scene, though, as much as one is ever able to do that.
* here's how the memory goes: while I can remember several things about the Small Press Expo weekend, I don't remember what exactly I was doing in Columbus, Ohio the week before
Small Press Expo. Sorry, Columbus.
* I do remember that this was the trip where all the traveling I've been doing began to take its toll. I got really, really exhausted in the second half of 2014; frequently so. It could not have helped for me to keep taking trips of 7-10 days with multiple stops. I've written about this a bunch, but when I moved to New Mexico the travel expectations for the comics part of my life is that I'd probably go to San Diego Con -- I could even drive -- and then every other year I'd maybe do SPX or another show somewhere. This is 2002. The idea that I'd have any desire at all to travel to 7-10 shows a year or
that I'd be able to use them professionally or
that they might become a requirement for figuring out comics, never occurred to me.
* so getting picked up at Jeff Smith
's house by Caitlin McGurk
to make a morning flight, a whole 15 minute drive to the airport, as an isolated part of my travel? Easy as pie. McGurk was heading to the show as well only from a different (better) terminal, and she'd be spending the first part of that weekend returning art to that lovely man Richard Thompson
from the Billy Ireland show
earlier this year. That was one of the great things of comics this year, that Billy Ireland Watterson/Thompson show
* travel tip one: for SPX I fly into Reagan National Airport
when at all possible. It's a smaller airport, it doesn't seem to cost any more than BWI
(both Delta and America run frequent short flights from JFK
), and the train that runs 100 yards out the door is the same one, with a single transfer, that drops you off 200 yards from the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
where SPX takes place.. I've known people to come in to the other airports and they either have a semi-laborious time hopping trains and buses to get to the SPX hotel or they say "screw it" and take a reasonably expensive cab. I generally like public transportation for comics show when it's convenient for its sort of relentless ordinariiness -- I feel like I'll get to my destination because of all these people
looking certain they'll get to theirs.
* I had an easy time in. I had an easy time out after the show, too, fewer than three people ahead of me in the security line. In 2013 I discovered that I had a bunch of bottle beer in my baggage and drank two in the men's bathroom across from security, leaving another three for whoever cleaned up. So that airport and I, we're pals.
* drinking in the airport bathroom: totally SPX.
* travel tip two: sign up for Marriott
points and orient yourself to SPX as your reward weekend. If you go to Toronto
and maybe one or two other shows and stick to the Marriotts, it's pretty easy to earn one or two nights of your stay for free every year. With access to the site for points members, you can also snag a room early on within a few bucks of the convention rate.
* there was actually a really tight clamp-down on rooms this year, which still makes little sense to me considering that two years ago the Expo shared the place with the University of West Virginia band
(on their way to Maryland
for a football game) and people still got rooms. I don't think the show is that much bigger in terms of overnight stays, but I guess it could be. But this time out, rooms were actually sold out about three weeks away from the show. A few of my pals took what I'm going to assume will be the spillover hotel moving forward: the Hilton one train stop up
, a very similarly-sized hotel with similar conveniences, just not in the heart of it all.
* the first person I saw Thursday night was Simon Hanselmann
, who communicated travel horrors including a skipped day where he was initially without a hotel room. He introduced himself to me, but I had recognized him from the Brooklyn show he attended in 2013: he has very intense eyes. Haneselmann would go on to have a big weekend, and I think he knew what was coming. One thing that strikes me about Hanselmann that I'm not sure I all the way understood before SPX weekend is that both there and in Brooklyn he seemed to know everyone and their work -- the way a true believer would, someone who's invested in the world of alt-comics. It sounds dumb, because why wouldn't you know about comics or about your professional peer group, but not everyone approaches it that way.
* almost no one shows up to SPX an evening early. Everyone who does show up is pretty cool, though, mostly the older special guests and those with friends and family in the area. It's a good night to do your "visit DC friends" activities.
* Thursday night dinner with Chip Mosher from comiXology
, who -- let's be honest, Chip -- wasn't really up to the technology in the car he rented. Buttons and light displays, and poor Chip is looking for the mechanical gauge that tells him where the key goes.
* Mosher was there promoting their Submit program
and to my eyes kind of figuring out what that big digital company might be able to do at shows other than SPX. I had fun talking to people all weekend about using that option. Most seemed amenable, and were just slow coming around to trying it. The general feeling in the room seemed to be that Amazon-owned either didn't matter, was actually another positive, or was something that the cartoonists were wary of but resigned to just as they're wary of and resigned to working with gigantic media companies in a lot of other ways. My general take is you should try to get your comics into as many places as possible barring horrific creators rights abuses, so the opinions expressed by most of the cartoonists make sense to me.
* there is literally nothing better in comics than sitting at that big, lit-up lobby table on Friday morning and watch the special guests assemble for Warren Bernard's field trip to the Library of Congress. They really do look like a bunch of kids off to the zoo. That's a great trip, though, if you ever get a chance to take it.
* all hail that table, generally, come to think of it.
* hunt out, lifted, worked and said hi to people as they rolled into the lobby. Had a long conversation with Brigid Alverson
, which was a super-pleasure. She and I have northern Indiana in common: me Lake Wawasee
, her the general Notre Dame area
* the gym was less used, it seemed, this time out than the two years before. We may have reached peak health. I have no idea why that might be the case. I did see people come into the room just for the fruit, which can't be what the Marriott intends. I'm told this is the biggest weekend of the year from them, though, so it's not likely we'll hear many complaints. In fact, I thought the general policing was a bit more relaxed this year, both people eating in the lobby and people drinking a private drink or two within the orbit of the hotel's bar. I'm told checking around this wasn't an observation shared by a lot of my pals, but there you go.
* one funny incident -- at least to me -- was very early on walking with a couple of cartoonists and one housecleaner looking to another housecleaner inquisitively. The other lady looks up and says "SPX," and the first lady nodded.
* it was a weird show in that it has become just big enough you might miss people or basically
miss a few people for the entire weekend, which isn't something I think of as an SPX experience. For instance, I saw Julia Wertz -- who had returned to SPX after a year away that likely felt like 10, and has a new book out and everything -- for like five seconds as the doors of an elevator closed. Some of this is younger cartoonists replacing older ones, and older ones having more rigorous sleep schedules, but it really did seem to move just 10 percent from "everyone" to "everyone plus one." A small college to a small division one university.
* I shared a room with the great Frankie Santoro
-- who showed up with a cold/flu he very generously shared -- and my brother Whit
, who had never been. Whit turned 50 this year, so we planned to meet up at SPX and then head to New Orleans for a couple of days and a birthday dinner or three. (It was a great time.) Also, I needed photos.
* having Whit around at shows is great because his presence reminds me of things about shows that I'd forgotten. For instance, Whit told me a couple of months afterwards that SPX felt colder to him than shows he'd be to like San Diego and Charlotte
, and you know what? Of course it does: SPX is ridiculously friendly, but it's also a hardcore cartoonists' show as opposed to the broader convention experience you find at some of the more mainstream cons. When Whit and I go out to dinner in San Diego, there are usually significant others and friends of comics-people at the table; at SPX, it's all cartoonists and comics-people all the time
. This is a strength. But you tend to forget how that might look to someone not in that circle where you're burrowed in with four or five of your pals, talking about people only 75 other people in the world may know.
* Friday is SPX Reacquaintance Day, fun for its sometime-awkwardness. Afternoon drinks; people clustered around the lobby. Trips to the package store. Anger about the bed situation. Ritual-Friday drinks and appetizers at Chili's. It was great to see everyone. Here Josh Cotter
, Chris Pitzer
and Andrew Neal
ease themselves into the weekend. Someone in comics should find something for Andrew Neal to do; I get the feeling he'd like to stay in the comics space in some way less wholly involved than running a well-regarded shop, and he did that very well which indicates a lot of talent.
* speaking of beer, they really need to start putting beer prices on the 12-packs and cases at that little store in the shopping mall past McDonald's. Travel tip three: remember to buy a bottle opener if you don't have one; and if you buy one don't count on bringing it back with you on the plane.
* one person in particular I hadn't seen in a while is the aforementioned Josh Cotter, right in the middle of making a gigantic comic
which we'll hopefully see sooner rather than later. He strikes me as way more grounded than the very young man I met in Chicago some years ago. Only in comics is that surprising; we have a lot of Peter Pans.
* the day moved on. For some reason I had two conversations about Quakerism.
* picked up my badges. I had a press badge, which had a joke on it and art from Shannon Wheeler
. I can't remember if the joke was that press peoople are leeches whose response is disproportionate to the art or if it's that they're disdainful but secretly fanboys. It was something like that, though. Sorry, Shannon. Some of my press peers rolled their eyes at this because it seems weird to give some of your people a badge that insults them, but it wasn't a big deal, just an odd one; I think it came up in conversation twice.
* there was a mostly informal reception after registration, with a small amount of food served. This was actually fairly hopping, and seemed to skew older -- I'm thinking of younger cartoonists getting together in rooms and for dinner out as the older folks and con regulars took advantage of Warren's hospitality. It could be that people were getting things ready with the show, too, I'm not certain.
* the alpha in that room was Lynda Barry
* I had a slight fanboy freakout when I realized that Bill Kartalopoulos
had worked with the show in a way that Yvan Alagbé
was in attendance. I think that guy's one of the top 15 active cartoonists in the world. He had actually attended a couple of shows over here, bu this was before I'd made a mission of reading Negres Jaunes
. The other guest from the French-language market was Dominique Goblet
, another really accomplished artist with whose work I'm less familiar. The European cartoonist tie for SPX goes back to the old days of SPX/ICAF crossover and actual embassy engagments, believe it or not. What a great thing for a show to feature, though. I don't know how popular their material was -- I think they sold ahead of expectations -- but there was not a better exhibitor at that show book to book to book.
* we lost James Sturm
to some quality Lynda Barry time -- they were having an intense conversation about teaching -- so I wandered out to dinner with a bunch of comics-people and my brother: a 20 minute walk away. Travel tip four: spend ten minutes finding a restaurant. Although its reputation is the opposite, that area does actually have a few places that are just fine eating, double that if you want to short hop in car, and an infinite amount if you're willing to drive a little further or hop on the train. Work within your bouandaries, but don't just give up and start tromping around the neighborhood. Make a choice and go for it.
* late Friday night the Marriott starts to come together. Some people have signings -- the Atomic Books one
being the regular occasion -- so the bulk of young cartoonists don't gather into one place until midnight or so Friday into Saturday.
* Saturday morning is also fun to hang out. You see who goes out for local coffee together. You see who works out -- even the one or two people that run. You see people carrying oddly-shaped things. You see the bemused look on the faces of other people staying there.
* I did this interview with Renee French
that morning. And then I didn't see her again for the entire weekend. We had breakfast in her room like two old acquaintances, which is of course what we are. There was cackling.
* I also made her late to her first signing. Sorry, Annie. By the way, Renee French had as good a 2014 as any working cartoonist between her books at Yam Books
and Koyama Pres
s, and she is ignored way too frequently.
* the show was pretty hopping the entire weekend, crowds-wise; it was definitely 2013 levels of audience engagement rather than the crazed atmosphere of the slightly smaller and star-studded 2012, but all that means is that instead of nearly everybody doing well a significant proportion did well, with many do extremely well. It seemed there was a definite advantage to having good-looking new work out, another advantage if you're the kind of personality that makes selling material easier, and I think maybe an advantage being of an age somewhere between being old enough to have been to a few Expos but young enough you're still within the relative mean of that big room. The first sell-outs I heard of were from Lynda Barry, although by the end of the weekend it seemed a lot of people had moved a lot of material to near or actual sell-outs. The first line for signing where someone came up to me and said, "Hey did you see the line for -- " was Hanselmann.
* one thing that seemed true this year that I hadn't noticed before is that there was a definite advantage to certain locations claimed by some cartoonists, particularly Saturday, and some people complaining about their location within the room itself. That seems like it would be a thing every year, but this is the first time I recalled hearing it directly since the old Holiday Inn.
* the programming was once again excellent. That's a real advantage for them. Bill Kartalopoulos is the best person in North America and maybe the world when it comes to putting together sophisticated, high-quality programming within any parameters he's given. He's a really good moderater himself, maybe the best at that, too. James Sturm did a nice job keeping the impossibly stuffed alt-newspaper cartoonists panel hopping and giving everyone a chance to be funny and insightful. Katie Skelly
moderated a panel with Meghan Turbitt
, Julia Gfrörer
and Eleanor Davis
that was super-fascinating in terms of providing insight into each cartoonist's work (Davis in particular seems to approach those panels as open and as raw as anyone I've ever seen do them; every single thing she said on a panel that whole weekend was interesting). I jumped in an out of panels all day. They were all well-attended; I asked after but did not hear about a stinker, although some people commented on the looseness of the Inkstuds panel compared to a lot of the more focused presentations throughout the day. Because of Kartalopoulos, I think, SPX is the only show where I've heard those in attendance describe doing them aspirationally
, like it's really exciting to be on a panel or to moderate one. I think the culture of the panels, the seriousness with which they're taken, drives a lot about what makes them good across the board.
* a couple of people suggested to me that maybe the big panels could go on a little longer, but I think SPX already has its hands full in terms of providing a panel opportunity for all the major guests in attendance; it seems to me it would be extraordinarily difficult to do a two-hour programming track in addition to everything else and still keep the quality across the board, but I guess there's a chance they might play with the basic formula a bit in the next few years. It should also be interesting to see how those panels develop as the show's big names change over time.
* I thought RAV 1st Collection by Mickey Zachilli
was the book of the show. I might get pushback on that one, but I'm right, they're wrong.
* I thought "Bon-Bon From Katie Skelly
" (from SEIBEI) was the t-shirt of the show. Not even close. I got a Humans
t-shirt that was as cool as can be, and I'm sure there were other great shirts there. But I saw 10 people wearing this shirt at the show
, which I don't know I've ever seen before.
* there was more than a bit of talk on the show floor still about Fantagraphics
publishing Fukitor, the Jason Karns book
, as the first effort in its non-bookstore, limited run oriented FU Press
. I believe the book had just been announced. I didn't have a whole lot to offer those conversations, for a range of reasons including the fact my astonishingly high level of privilege almost certainly occludes my reasoning. I need to write a full essay about it, which will likely disappoint a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. Basically, though, I have hard time seeing art as having qualities of its own, and I have an even harder time seeing art as as an endorsement of something separate from what its author intends -- not because I think it's impossible for art to exist in that space, but because I think it's rare. Also, while I grant that every reaction to art has its own validity, I'm interested in the more considered ones due to my own biases as a critic. The end result is I don't know that I can think of art as violent, but I can think of art as pro-violence, and I can get at that notion in a variety of ways.
* most art that falls into the realm of promoting the aberrant is usually so shit-stupid that that
is what becomes the dominant characteristic, and the way I feel I best understand it. That makes me more likely to see something that upsets me in art that's crafted using awfulness as a inducement, or art, usually made for commercial means, that has little personal expression involved in its existence and thus very little point at all in relation to what it depicts. I'm also a bit of a monster in that I'll frequently find value in art that embraces awful ideas, like the Jack T. Chick Crusaders
comics and their deranged, feverish anti-Catholicism or some of the off-the-hook depravities depicted in a few underground comics and successors like the Mike Diana books. I don't mean I find in them just enough value -- perhaps in the abstract -- that they should be protected, but enough that it holds my interest and becomes something from which I learn, just like art that directly affirms some of my hard-won values and beliefs. I know that my ability to go there with some works of art is almost certainly a privilege of my birth, background, position, education and orientation, and I don't insist anyone else go anywhere I can the same way I'll ask folks to understand if I can't be in the room for other kinds of art. Art's complicated.
* for what it's worth, I also don't really sense that Fantagraphics thinks it's being rascally and transgressive; I don't detect a gauntlet being thrown that way except by people arguing about this, or people stammering to articulate someone's else motivations, or maybe in the general sense that every published book is a gauntlet thrown somewhere. I imagine that a few people there -- and it's a big company -- like the energy and the fuck-it qualities of the work and are willing to extend to the cartoonist the idea he does not intend to demean individuals in the way people might very logically feel demeaned by elements of the material. I also imagine that this material was ready to go, and while I don't think Fantagraphics picks fights because they're too busy to think that way that's not a company that tends to finesse things, either, same reason.
* I do hope there's an opportunity to re-examine the choice to publish Fukitor
when we have three to four years worth of work in that line for context. Context could radically change how we see that choice, one direction or the other.
* so there's that. My apologies for every way that was poorly expressed.
* I did think it was interesting that a lot of the argumentation I heard about Fukitor
treated Fantagraphics as a monolithic voice and as kind of cabal of clueless old men. It was a big weekend for young Fantagraphics, and they've been pretty good since at least the mid-1990s about letting people there have a run at stuff that's personally meaningful to them and manifests some of the things they believe in or would like to see publish, whether that's editors at the company, author/editors with whom they work, and even TCJ
* they had a real strong middle- to late-summer, by the way, the bulk of what they kickstarted to get themselves back and humming again. Their CCI table was loaded
; most of that stuff was here as well and then the con debuts. There are retailers that are going to kill me for this, because they fight to sell comics book to book, but I do think it's an overall good when publishers have material at shows that aren't available in the stores yet. I get the downside. I do think it should either be generally known or specifically known what sales plans are, though.
* so Saturday night my friend Gil Roth and I drove Kartalopoulos, Goblet and Alagbé up the road for dinner. Gil and I were going to slip into a Persian restaurant up there for dinner, but as it was busy and we had more people than our reservation claimed, we ended up in a rowdy, family-oriented Tex-Mex place next door at the request of our guests. I think the America-ness of the place was greatly appreciated by the cartoonists: the drink glasses in the shape of cactii, the giant portions, sour cream everywhere. That was really fun, and I got a rough idea of their lives as artists. To be honest, with five tired people over 35 replacing necessary blood sugars the level of conversation was more goofy than erudite. I was still freaked out by chatting with Alagbé.
* one of the stories Gil tells about that weekend was the surprise the artists exhibited that he was there for a little bit of podcasting but mostly as a fan, a reader of comics, instead of a maker of them.
* That's Gil in the photo at left. Gil did at least the Porcellino podcast this weekend -- I think he also did a follow-up with the Friedmans. This is the weekend I realized Gil has better reach into certain corners of comics than I have, and I'm all for it.
* while we ate, back at the hotel Gary Groth kissed Simon Hanselmann and a fun Ignatz time was had by all. That was something to see, something all those in the same room will be happy they were ten years from now. I had a couple of people ask me straight up why SPX gave that time over to Fantagraphics, but it was a really
good promotional move (they were smart to include folks outside the company) and people will remember that as the
thing from this year. I think that's a funny, super-interesting book.
* the Ignatz winners were really young. They always are. Congratulations to them and to the nominees. That so many cartoonists are actively pining for that specific recognition speaks well to the potential longevity of that program. The conventional wisdom for this year's nominees and winners is that it was a strong group across the board, although one prominent cartoonist -- not known for a negative outlook -- told me the next day she thought they nominees weren't close to the best the art form has to offer, even the art form as represented by the cartoonists that tend to exhibit at SPX. Something I've been hearing all year long, from cartoonists old and very, very young, is some confusion as to why more young cartoonists haven't distinguished themselves from the very good the way it happened in the past generation. That's a gigantic can of worms even if you agree with the premise. But it's definitely on some folks' minds, that we're beginning to see a generation taking shape with an astonishing number of very good cartoonists but with very few great ones.
* one reason I like SPX is that it's lighthearted and happy and everything's awesome and then BOOM! you get people wondering after entire generations of comics-makers or asking out loud if they or any of their friends can continue doing comics into their 30s.
* I didn't go to the prom.
* I like dancing, I swear to God -- invite me to your wedding, you'll see. Here's me in high school
. It's just never occurred to me that's something I'd want to do at a comics show. But that's great; everything doesn't have to be about me, and there's a very, very good argument most things shouldn't. Doubly so at SPX. I'm told a lot of people enjoyed themselves, and that R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg are our representatives if aliens land in front of the hotel and challenge our champion dancers for the fate of the planet.
* any time you have a planned social activity you're going to have some pushback, so I admire SPX for going full-bore in the direction suggested by the youth of their exhibitor and attendee base. To be honest, I didn't hear a lot of anger or resentment about that planned activity. There was some confusion. "Are they really doing this?" But little disagreement, even from the grumpiest of the devoted sit-at-a-table-and-drink crowd.
* two things I think the prom did do. The first is it changed the physical state of the late-night Saturday night from a core location with some satellite activities to at least two "central" locations (the hotel bar, the dance space), the satellite locations of people hanging out in rooms either to give up or to throw small parties (I'm talking early evening only), and then this kind of spread of people from one end of the hotel to another. Those are enough places where people were hanging and doing things to make wherver you were feel like it was maybe not the exact place to be, or at least everyone wasn't there with you. I imagine that idea that everyone in the entire show hangs out together was always a myth, but prom night you just couldn't sustain it.
* the second thing the prom did, and this is way more delicate and complicated, was provided just enough of a step-back moment to throw the spotlight on a lot of the simmering issues underlying that community right now. A lot of people kept asking me about the "weird mood" at the show or "the dark cloud." And I agree with these folks there was something going on. But it wasn't really specific to SPX, and has little to do with anything they did. Pestering about three to four dozen people about this over the weekend, another dozen since, and thinking over their answers, what I heard from people about SPX and the general mood came back to a few, definite things, as follows.
1) Burnout. There was an idea expressed that SPX 2014 was another show -- a good show -- in a long line of shows, a part of this sort of mad dash of quality shows people have been doing four to five times a year for three or four years now. If you're trying to come out with new material at every appearance you make, that is a tremendous time commitment -- doubly so for the lack of a permanent sales infrastructure for a lot of that work which might make gettings something into another feeder system a goal. In other words, I don't know anyone that gets something out at SPX in order to also
hit back to school at comics shops, or Christmas catalogs, or whatever. As I mentioned above, there used to be 1.5 shows that anyone I knew would do, and even that schedule could be exhausting. Most of the good shows are heady, peak experiences now, which makes them settle into the calendar year with force and impact outside of the actual days they're held.
2) Cycles. As good as the last two Small Press Expos have been -- as good as most shows generally have been -- there was a run of shows including the 2012 SPX that included a lot of the current generation's art heroes and provided an emotional release after the passing of Dylan Williams in 2011. Williams was the first major figure in the first SPX generation to pass away. There were some pretty giddy shows there for a while, and I imagine this latest run of them might feel different for that, particularly if you allow the usual qualifiers about what was likely dozens of people have the greatest weekend of their lives.
3) Generational Shift. There were not a lot of people my age, there. In fact, my old and dear comics pal Chris Oarr, a founder of the show, was on hand, and he recognized almost no one from his time running the event (Oarr looked remarkably the same). I mention that to underline that the core SPX crowd the last few years has been this significant group of 26 to 33 year-olds, many of whom went to school together, many of whom entered comics at a promising time in terms of some potential commerical avenues (that haven't all the way worked out) and certainly with an apparatus for public recognition in place (which may make the lack of reward that much more difficult to explain). That's a group of cartoonists and comics-people that are starting to bring work into established publishers, that are starting their own imprints, that are getting great jobs and seeing their comics on end-of-year lists. It's also a generation that as it's their time at bat are struggling with some of the realities of comics in terms of the ruthlessly low pay or meager similar reward for backbreaking, life-altering work. Most people just look at themselves differently on either side of 30 than they did at 23. The potential you carry around with you when you're 23 years old is a lot more difficult to envision as a real thing when you're 32. You become a person who did this or that; you're no longer just a person who will do this or that. A peak experience like an SPX is an amazing thing, but what I heard from a lot of pros on hand, particularly pros in that age group, is that they're more and more worried about the day to day aspects of how they're choosing to live life and pursue art than they are delighted that they get to blow out the doors every couple of months.
* so my hunch is the prom just made a certain subset of people feel for a few seconds that they might not belong, or force them to confront how
they belong. That's not how things usually proceed at a giddy experience like SPX. This pause caused a few folks within that subset to stop and brood about a few things over which many were already thinking about, if only at the back of their minds. Basically: "What's the point?" and "Is this for me?" and "How do I do this?" So it was different. But I think an SPX is a appropriate place to have those thoughts. If nothing else, we do kind of have to figure out why cons like SPX work so well and maybe use that information to figure out why the time between the cons works much, much less effectively.
* anyone that feels more like dancing should continue to dance, of course. There is never anything wrong with dancing.
* Sunday? Pretty blurry. Some of Sunday at SPX is "More Saturday." I know that I had brunch with MK Reed, that nice lady from Brooklyn Book Fair, my brother, Robin McConnell and Brandon Graham. It was good to see Brandon operating in the art-comics space for a weekend, and I think there's a chance he could be a pivotal figure in developing markets for cartoonist that share some degree of his skills. I processed that there were so many people there eating breakfast as a significant positive for how people did money-wise the day before. I also had an epic conversation at the lit table with a bunch of different artists, none of whom I could imagine naturally hanging out in another space.
* I got to do the Eleanor Davis panel. She's an artist I admire very much, and I also came to feel very strongly about how open and raw and present she was on her panels, both in San Diego and in Bethesda. My understanding of Davis is she's not particularly comfortable -- or hasn't been particularly comfortable -- with the public aspects of the work she does, so to be really unflinching in terms of how she engages with questions and inquiries and just people coming up to her is awesome. I've done a few panels where I could tell the audience was super-taken with the artist and their work, and that was top three. I hope she has a long career and does whatever the hell she wants to maximum happiness.
* if you get a chance to see Davis do that particular presentation -- if she's ever doing it again -- please do.
* I assured John Porcellino that the Bears were going to beat the 49ers that evening. I was right.
* I'm not sure that I got a consensus in terms of material on the floor. Paul Karasik
sent me over to buy a mini-comic he liked called Maleficium
, but I don't remember anyone else being that specific. The Alagbé/Goblet table was full of great books and even stapled comics work, which you almost never get to see. I was happy to see David Plunkert
had a new Heroical
out. Some people told me they headed straight for the new Noah Van Sciver
. The comics from El Globoscopio
, a Colombian collective, were amazing-looking and probably the most asked-after track-down item in my direct peer group. I believe I got Lose #6
there; that was good. I remember wanting to find but not being able to find the James Romberger/Josh Simmons team-up Daddy
. Romberger apparently got one to me personally -- something I don't remember -- so it's all good. A bunch of folks were agog over the comics of Kate Lacour
. That show's strength isn't on the top end but more of its extended quality offerings of interest across the board, so I'm sure I missed out onlike 745 good comics, and the one that I noticed would be a completely different group for another, just as interested con-goer.
* here's Paul Karasik telling a long story about being overseas teaching comics and biking around having adventures. That's one of my favorite things about SPX, too, that it attracts a lot of cartoonists with interesting ins and side-jobs related to books. They're all broke, or at least the comics part doesn't pay really well, but the stories are great.
* I mentioned earlier that Lynda Barry was the show's biggest players in terms of the force of her presence there, and I think that's true: you could feel the room change when she walked into one. People collected encounters with her like precious gems, which of course they are. Jules Feiffer -- that's him signing -- was the show's elder statesman, and those of us in my generation and older spent the whole weekend just staring at him, watching him. We were just as intense as any fan base at the show, we were just a smaller, older group. Someone -- I don't remember who -- reported back to me they watched him read the Sunday newspaper comics and realized that was a really cool experience to have, as Feiffer is of course a gigantic figure in the regard and study of comics as well as a key maker.
* I tagged along with Gil Roth when he interviewed Feiffer a couple of months later, and he seemed really taken by his SPX experience -- even noting the difference between the level of enthusiasm and number of comics-makers now and when he had attended one of the early versions.
* Sunday wound down pretty spectacularly -- a lot of tired souls at SPX this year. A lot more people than usual seemed to be taking to the bar mid-day, taking longer-than-usual breaks. I had a nice talk with Sean T. Collins and got to catch up with Meghan Turbitt. I think that was when I had a longish chat with Chris Ross and a bunch of other folks, but that might have been in the morning. I talked to three different cartoonists who had "that weekend" -- they made more money than they had ever made at a con before and the attention struck them in a way that was powerful and affecting. One of them teared up. We sometimes forget in all of the incremental random bullshit that goes with an arts culture that the desire to make something and have people react to it drives a lot of us to do a lot of things that we might not otherwise do with our lives. I'm glad for everyone that makes comics work for them.
* I'm always grateful to the people that stop me on the floor to talk. I'm thank this year for every single reader.
* had dinner that night with Team Koyama Press, and it was as lovely as it sounds. My brother kiled at the table by going through all of his photos and assigning random, weird, George W. Bush-style nicknames to each person as they came up. We talked about the business, traded old stories. They seemd to be doing pretty well. One thing I like about working with Annie and Ed in particular as a press person is that they don't make any of the same missteps twice. There's really no manual for comics, particularly not anymore, so some sort of inner discipline to kind of hold things together is ten time more necessary than it was a generation ago.
* ran into Shannon Wheeler and Keith Knight, who are same-age peers, sitting at a table inside near the bar. Once you're around for multiple decades you have this thing where you make the time to talk to your fellow-travelers whenever you can, even if that wasn't a part of what you did 20 years ago. Both of those cartoonists have a lot to teach younger cartoonists about making opportunities and managing a career in comics. I like them both personally, too. We traded Ed Brubaker stories. Knight's was by far the best; mine was the lamest. At one point, Wheeler threw out the notion in the telling of anecdote the idea that as a young man he was basically treating comics shops in towns he wasn't from as a combination embassy/frequent fliers lounge -- he spoke as if he was pretty certain as a young man that he could leave his suitcases at a store and make some phone calls to find lodging. This is, of course, the greatest idea in the history of comics, and if we could somehow build on this, nothing would make me happier.
* surreal experience on the front porch late at night. I started at one end, with familiar faces, and ended up walking the entire expanse. It pretty quickly ended up being a bunch of people I have yet to meet: it's the majority of that show now. Frank Santoro and I spent twenty minutes in the hotel room earlier that evening looking at my brother's photos and between us we knew maybe 30 percent. It's humbling and exciting.
* I found a seat next to Dustin Harbin, who just turned 40. He had this look on his face of people that just turned 40: "Everything about just turning 40 seems to be all right except the fact that I just turned 40." It was probably gas, but I like to make up stories. We sat and talked. It was that moment that comes at every SPX, and comes at Comic-Con and Emerald City, and all the really good shows, where you just think you could sit right there in that spot, surrounded by those people, having those conversations, for a thousand years. That's when you know it's time to go to bed.
* the next day I was in New Orleans.
* hey, let's look some extra photos:
There's a story I tell about comics' changing guard where in 2012 I asked someone to go to Sunday night dinner with us and they said, "We're going with Fanta." So I turn around and expect to see Kim and Gary and instead I see Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen. They are Fantagraphics now. This is the Drawn and Quarterly version right here, Tracy Hurren and Julia Pohl-Miranda representing D+Q at SPX right after repping them at Comic-Con and there's no difference, just different people. This probably sounds incredibly trite, but you get used to the same people, particularly with these younger entities (as opposed to like DC Comics), but people making their presence known at the companies is a great thing and SPX is a perfect place for it. Also kudos to Hurren for sporting that Seth-drawn rollerderby t-shirt.
SPX is still a very deep show, talent-wise. The three cartoonist to whom I talked that made more than they ever have at a comics show? Only of them is mentioned by name or work in this report. A bunch of people aren't going to get named here that were the center of a lot of things. That's just the way it is. It's still great to wander the show and routinely run into fun comics-makers like Andrea Tsurumi or Nick Abadzis or Colleen Frakes or Nate Powell or Sophia Wiedeman, pictured above.
Here's a nice foursome to show SPX's range. I just like that Ben Katchor picture, and it was nice to get to speak to him a few times. Maybe our most consistently under-appreciated great (and prolific!) cartoonists, and that's a hell of a strong category for the comics medium. That's Kevin Kalluagher aka KAL in picture #2. He's reasonably local to the show, and a very enthusiastic, friendly presence when he comes out. I like that he attended in the same way I used to love it when Richard Thompson attended -- the DC sign is a fascinating and vital one in terms of the medium's development. The Economist
cartoons are where to start with KAL, although if you see him in person just talk about whatever -- he's fun to talk to. The young folks are Spike Trotman and Ryan Cecil Smith; those are also just great pictures. Trotman I'd love to interview some day; she's had a really interesting career. Anyway, that's a show's worth of talent right there, from four different worlds.
Finally, it was great to see a bunch of photo of friends and peers, hanging out. I'm happy that Tom Scioli
and Ed Piskor
had strong professional years; they're nice men and devoted comics makers. I don't even know if Ben Katchor
and Drew Friedman
are close, but I enjoyed see Drew at the show and hadn't run a picture of him yet. I like to think of these two reminiscing about being younger than young cartoonists together at an imaginary SPX from 1978. It's also pretty extraordinary what SPX does with the thoroughness of their guest list. The Josh Neufeld
and Dean Haspiel
one, that one makes me happy. My first comics show back in the '90s as a representative of TCJ
was their first comics show as a pair of cartoonists sharing a comic book, and we took a photo of them there. That one is lost to the TCJ vaults, unfortunately, but I like both of these guys and I'm glad they're both still around making comics. Not everyone is.
all photos by Whit Spurgeon. Thanks, Whit. Everything should be in context or pretty self-explanatory.
posted 8:00 am PST
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