September 20, 2013
A Few Notes On SPX 2013
By Tom Spurgeon
Here are a few notes on Small Press Expo 2013
, which happened last weekend in Rockville, Maryland.
* I thought it was a good show.
* that said, I'm sure for many people it was a great show. I'm sure for a few people it was even a life-changing
show. That is the nature of events like the Small Press Expo.
* one of the great things about going to a show like SPX as you get older, as you sort of rocket past the median age of the room, is that you're reminded that all of the small stuff with which you've grown comfortable if not jaded, remains, for a lot of folks out there, a big, big deal. SPX is a lot of people presenting their work in public for the first time. SPX is creative people interacting with idols and peers and other huge, looming figures in their lives. SPX is meeting someone who's read something you've done, perhaps for the first time, and getting that specific thrill of reaching someone through art. SPX is watching others act from a vantage close of being right up next to them, folks that share your same orientation and sensibilities and values. There are so many people
for whom being asked to do a panel is a thrill not a chore, for whom just feeling included in some way is awesome, folks who are trying to work up the courage to give someone in that room their comic you would never think intimidating, people that are terrified and excited and thrilled and nauseous all at the same time just to be in the same room with a certain someone. Maybe you.
* we should show more respect for those people, for those impulses, for that stage of things.
* so, SPX 2013.
* I don't have a lot of pure travel notes. Travel West to East in the United States remains a thin, unpleasant exercise. I had to get up at 1 AM to catch the only flight from Tucson that would get me to New York City before Midnight, so hooray for that. Everyone on my connecting flight from Dallas to New York was a swaggering, aggressive, New York stereotype, which is always a howl, but other than that all of these trips this year have started to blend together.
* I went to New York first, flying into LaGuardia
. I spent the vast majority of my time near New York over in New Jersey. I used public transportation as much as I could, even though I had money budgeted for a few taxi trips. The New York City transit system has added an express route from LaGuardia to the stop where you pick up the E train into Manhattan, which I didn't know despite reading what I could before I left. That is a huge boon. It sounds silly, but I still talk to people that make their travel plans based on avoiding certain confusing travel options, particularly with New York. They're all not bad if you're relatively unencumbered. I would never recommend a rush hour subway car for anyone with motion sickness, but it got the job done.
* by the way, is motion sickness something that comes back to haunt old people? I never used to be this way at the end of flights and riding on buses.
* while in Jersey, I caught up on some long-range CR
work in the home library of occasional comics podcaster Gil Roth
. He and his wife the photographer Amy Beadle Roth
(that's her photo above, used with permission) have converted their basement into a home library, including a beautiful comics section. I love toys, I really do, but it's nice to see comics in setting other than among action figures. Although in this photo, there is a kind of toy or something back there! I don't say that kind of thing to be mean, but I do think there are so many ways we tend to affiliate a certain way of interacting with comics with the whole of it.
* got into the city for a brief visit. I went to the new location of Forbidden Planet NYC
, which is a bigger place with a better feel to it than the old one, I think, despite losing maybe a half-point on personality and forsaking whatever nostalgic hum you affiliate with comic book shop physical locations. That was a store that had just lost a customer, in an assault in the middle afternoon a week earlier: the story made the Times
. If there's a fundraiser for that customer, I hope to report it on the site. It's a terrible thing to lose a customer. I'm not always with the idea of community in all circumstances, but I love the merchant-customer relationship a great deal, and believe it's an important part of civic life.
* the shop seemed to be doing a pretty solid business in t-shirts when I was there. It seemed well-stocked with comics overall. I did not understand that shelving system. They basically go alphabetical order with the time-since-initial-racking increasing in age as you went downward shelf-wise. So the new comics were up on the top shelf; the recent-but-not-brand-new comics were in the middle; the little less than recent comics were below that. This was pretty headache-inducing to me as a not-regular comics shopper, because I had to go to three different places to find each comic I could think of wanting to see. It's really noticeable now, too, just how fully alternative comic books have abandoned the field. I've been told that one newish publisher that has worked in that format will do so no longer. As for the books in the shop, it took a group of us about 15 minutes to find the new Ulli Lust
, which we basically discovered by walking up an aisle until someone spotted it. The clerks were super-nice, though, and I'd sacrifice a small goat on a raise altar to have a shop 1/10 of good within walking distance of my home.
* for what it's worth, the shop was sold out of the New Avengers
series, the one from Jonathan Hickman
and Steve Epting
where the heroes stand around being buffed-out, crazy-ass super-scientists and do very little more than say portentous things about reality's imminent descent into the cosmic toilet. I have a soft spot for that kind of comic, I really do. My favorite comic when I was a kid was that one Avengers/Marvel Two-In-One annuals crossover
because at one point the Avengers
fly into outer space and they spend a couple of pages sitting around being broody. I was a weird kid, more Council of Elrond than Battle Of Helms Deep. I don't know if it's that so much about childhood is waiting, but I love it when superheroes mull over what's to come.
* I bought some mainstream comics I would hours later leave in an Irish-themed bar, never to be seen again. Someone tell me if Thanos
* I had drinks with someone who is to be a moderator at this week's surprisingly comics-heavy Brooklyn Book Festival
, and dinner with two cartoonists putting their final touches on SPX preparations. Both visits were a blast. On my way out of the city and back to Jersey I stopped by an apartment on the west side to hear a prose author give a few words at an afterparty in support of his book launch (my ride was attending). Questions from the audience at a small party of attractive big-city dwellers in New York are pretty much as self-involved as questions from the audience of people dressed like Adventure Time
characters in a panel at San Diego
. Still, I had a good time, and recommend that all book launches in comics from now on end with catered sushi in folks' personal homes.
* flew from JFK
. In getting to JFK I exercised my mutant power to take the shuttle train route that has to make the most stops to get me to where I'm going.
* one of the great advantages to the SPX experience is being able to fly into Reagan National Airport, which is relatively small and bumps up right next to the metro train. Getting from Reagan to the SPX hotel involves an approximately 40-minute ride with one transfer, eventually dumping you at a station is 200 yards from the hotel's front door. So basically it's possible to go to SPX from a home in northern New Jersey without getting into a car. I think this enormously civilized and super-convenient. The same local train system will also take you to and from Union Station
for Amtrak -- Frankie Santoro
and Dash Shaw
were two cartoonists that left the show that way. Union Station is where you also pick up some of the city-to-city buses. So a lot of folks use that train. I'm sure the shuttle and drive-into-show options are great, too, but I think the proximity to infrastructure is a big deal. Emerald City
benefits the same way, as does Stumptown
. If we're to be expected to do multiple shows per year from now on, and many of these younger cartoonists and industry people might be asked to do that, the ease of the trip is going to be a big concern moving forward.
* I think the physical plant of the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel And Conference Center
is just about perfect for the show as it is currently constituted. Some of that is cleverness on the part of the show's organizers, like using multiple access points to that hall to place publishers likely to do signings that involve line-ups near the doors so that those line-ups can extend out the door rather than cover the front of other tables. It was fun to walk around the place with Michael Kupperman
a bit later on Thursday evening and see what it looks like quiet. The panel rooms are pretty nice, it's an affordable place overall, particularly if you're sharing a room, even the gym is halfway decent. Paying for wireless service in 2013 is sort of galling, but I realize that hotels are locked into all sorts of plans and price points because they were early adopters. It's fun to sit in the lobby on that big, lit table -- aka the "I hate this table when I'm hungover and trying to type" table -- and be social and check things out, too. I always feel like a big brother sitting at that table, doing a little busy work while the activity buzzes all around me. A lifeguard, maybe. If only they'd let me take my shirt off.
* one thing that was fun about coming in a day early is that there were other conferences there. Comics people are definitely nerdier, and bit more disheveled, but the social dynamics of professional conferences look much the same to me as comic cons, the way that certain types tend to gravitate towards one another, the joy people take in bending elbows and gossiping.
* no West Virginia band this weekend. I missed them. They were kind of like a generalist geek control group last year.
* I liked the hotel front desk staff. I have to admit, though, I've been there a couple of years now and I don't find the majority of the staff at that hotel particularly helpful or friendly. I saw some pretty rude shutdowns of behavior -- people being loud in greeting one another, the high crime of finishing one's burger in the lobby -- where the reaction from staff came off to me as if they had caught someone taking a wazz on one of the house plants. I mean, I get it, there are rules, but you wonder after a lighter touch. I either pass as enough of a normal or I'm too dopey-looking to be noticed at all, but I did see what looked like a couple of staff making asides about Expo attendees they were just helping or trying to help. I also got bad directions a couple of times and couldn't get housekeeping to come to my room one day for some unknown reason. This sounds like a lot of complaints! I don't mean it that way. I had a great time. But I did notice this. I thought they were more brusque this year in herding people out of certain areas of the hotel, too -- I'm not sure what changed to keep people out of the outside area at the post-Ignatzes party, for instance. Anyway, there's that. I'm sure most experiences were very different than my own, just like the experiences of the show overall. I've done way too much traveling this year. I have a refined aesthetic for chain hotels now. But I have to say that was my general take. It was more like San Diego in the '90s hotel-staff wise than the friendlier staffs you tend to encounter now, if that makes any sense.
* first comics person I saw upon arrival was Jeff Smith
, who within 45 seconds made an "olds" joke -- probably his last, there wasn't really a lot of that this weekend. Smith and Team Cartoon Books were on their way to a Politics and Prose signing that they feared would feel the impact of a horrific downpour. They were right -- only about a dozen people showed up, and this is after the event was moved to a local auditorium. There's a good ending to this down the page, I swear, but that must have been an odd start to the weekend.
* the rain was definitely a thing. Every person that came out on Thursday was delayed in landing that afternoon. One would spend 11 hours on a plane before disembarking; another eight hours.
* I bought Jeff a glass of wine and myself a draft beer and spent $22 and suddenly I remembered why a lot of people drink in their rooms at this show.
* had dinner and -- as I mentioned -- walked around the hotel a bit with Michael Kupperman, someone I'd seen in Toronto but before that hadn't seen since like the 1998 SPX or something. Kupperman is one of our funniest cartoonists and an interesting comics-maker and I'm glad to see the communities surrounding comics opening up to him a bit. We talked about their not being able to use the terrific "Quinception
" story from Tales Designed To Thrizzle
in the newest Best American Comics
and about life in New York more generally. Smart, funny man.
* Kupperman and I ate at a place Thursday evening to which both of us will be returning for several meals in hell. It had kind of a "prison food" theme going, and we couldn't stop laughing at how deeply unhappy the people in the restaurant seemed to be that we chose to eat there (no one else was there). The upshot? Food isn't great in that immediate neighborhood. As much as the relatively great travel infrastructure is a definite plus, I'd have to say this remains a minus. Not as big a minus as the trains are a plus, though. There is good food within a 30 minute walk, more-than-serviceable food within ten minutes, even, and a bunch
of fine places to chow down a couple of train stops away in Bethesda. Still, it does feel a bit isolated, fairly or unfairly. One funny thing is that I know a few cartoonists from big cities that love to eat chain-restaurant food at cons for the red-state novelty of it, so those people are loving life.
* my eating was great, though. I had good Tex-Mex west of the show, really good Korean north and west of there and fine Ethiopian north and a little east on Sunday night. No complaints. You just have to dig a bit.
* a lot of folks eat carry-away from the Whole Foods. Some dip into McDonald's. Others bring food. One writer about comics told me that he "genuinely loved the hotel food here." He told me this between bites of bread pudding, which did look good. I would say it's above-average for hotel food, which is above-average generally, with a definite ceiling, and like a lot of hotel restaurants sort of pricey for most folks. But it does the job. Like I wrote earlier, the physical plant of this hotel really, really works.
* I don't know if the liquor and beer store in the shopping mall next to the McDonald's was there in previous years, but it sure was handy.
* hit the bar Thursday evening with Mr. Kupperman; Peter Bagge
stormed by before turning around to come back. He said something like, "I didn't see any comics people until I saw you two shlubs out of the corner of my eye and knew it was a couple of comics guys even if I didn't know you." Pete is the best. It was really great to see Peter, and I hope he had a good weekend. I think he's by far the most undervalued of the great 1990s alternative cartoonists at this point, and his new book with Drawn and Quarterly is very, very good
* "weird things people asked me to draw at shows" was this year's "really old inkers from mainstream comics I liked" in terms of recurring, light-hearted conversations.
* we were joined by Smith with tales of rain-out horror, and then Carol Tyler
, briefly, followed by Sam Alden
, and we stayed in that group for a couple of hours. This was kind of cool because we had the older generation's show star -- Smith -- and one of the younger generation's big show stars, Alden, just sitting there going back and forth. Smith is youthful looking, but Alden looks like he just got elected treasurer of the high school drama club. He charmed a lot of people. Smith had a copy of Best American Comics
and it was fun to watch Alden read his contribution in there, and see how well it printed. It was fun in general to see Smith enthused about the younger talents he discovered for himself in guest-editing that book. "I am the world's biggest Kate Beaton
fan," he beamed, hours before welcoming her as a distant relative
* one of the special guests got sick on Thursday night and went to the hospital briefly, but rallied and made it through the whole weekend. I thought the show did a nice job of looking after this person and working with their needs moving forward.
* Friday was fun, and not just because there were more than 10 comics people at the hotel. It's an exciting day, with so many people happy to see one another. As good as any show might be as it unfolds, it rarely matches the one in your head that hasn't happened yet.
* I was lucky enough to be asked to join the Library Of Congress trip, mostly by the tried-and-true method of sitting in the lobby near all the other people going and looking really sad and even making loud hints that if I didn't get to go I would just sit there and write stuff on the site about how I didn't get to go. That was another train trip, which with that many people felt like a school field trip to the zoo or whatever. I kept expecting Warren Bernard
to hand out money for ice cream. I got to meet Jon McNaught
, and reacquaint myself with Jim Rugg
and Chris Pitzer
. Nice to see them all. Heidi MacDonald
was on hand. Gary Groth
. I sat behind Dave Roman
and Raina Telgemeier
on the way over. We ran into José Villarubia
on the train -- he's a local and was just going about his day. One of our number thought he looked like Caddyshack
-era Brian Doyle Murray, and he sort of did.
* people in DC are very blonde compared to people where I live.
* we met Andrew Aydin
, Chris Ross and a small army of LoC librarians at the big solid block of a building -- it reminded me of an academic building on a campus. Ross was the second person on whose name I totally punted this weekend, after Sean Azzopardi
. He wouldn't be the last.
* maybe my favorite moment at the library was watching Jeff Smith taken aback by Gluyas Williams
and making a written note to find more of Williams and to look at more of magazine cartooning generally. I also noticed that Jon McNaught may have been the only person drawing from the originals, in a little notepad. He may have just been taking notes.
* Chris Ross and I talked about digital, which is usually me learning gobs of material even in just the casual sentences while realizing how little I know about that entire expression of comics. We talked about the accounting problems involved. I knew that the pay cycles were different, but I guess there are also some very technical considerations like how some of the columns in a publisher's overall expenditures are organized with a digital component
. I don't know where that ends up, but I think as a group and industry we're finally started down that road in a broader way, and I'm not sure we were as early as a lot of people thought we were.
* they had a lot
of stuff pulled. The two groups of material that most impressed me were some Oliver Harrington
originals from the Pittsburgh period, and some stunning pen and ink illustrations from Harrison Cady
. I'd never seen Harrington originals from that earlier part of his life, before Germany. He worked a lot bigger at that point, and the thought that you could trust a newspaper printing process to pick up any of that detail stuns me. The Cadys were at the bottom of a pile of his Peter Rabbit
work; they were large, about 2 feet by 3 feet, but just magnificent looking things; they had a bunch of us marveling at the chops involved but also at a world where you could be paid an amount of money where making work that meticulous made any sort of business sense. It seriously looked like it was made by an army of stoned faeries. All of it was gorgeous. I was surprised by how modestly-sized the AB Frost
originals were; those look like they'd be really hard to print in terms of how pretty they were at that size.
* the library and its holdings are open to you if you're in that area and make an appointment. You should make the excuse.
* I had a lunch obligation so left before Heidi MacDonald's graphic-novels speech, which later received the ultimate positive review from someone on hand of "It made me less hungry until it was over." Saw a young man at the Metro stop changeover going about his day wearing a Johnny Ryan t-shirt
and very loud pants. People in costume got on the train at one point, too, which made no sense to me but I imagine there must have been an indication of something going on somewhere.
* Friday afternoon at SPX is fun because people start rolling in at about 3 PM and keep showing up all night long. It's like the first day back before college starts back up except with looking at comics promised for the next day as opposed to football two-a-days. A number of people went to the Atomic Books signing in Baltimore -- Peter Bagge tried to get people to share his car, but no one else was ready to head out as early as he was -- but most hung around the hotel, hit the Expo's reception, picked up their badges, and started socializing. My friend Gil Roth showed up earlier that afternoon and taped an interview with the great Roger Langridge
, the quietest of all the super-fun cartoonists on hand that weekend. He was selling original art to die for -- he sells it to move, and move it does. Since it was Yom Kippur
, Gil and I ate before nightfall, but missed our chance to hit a baseball game with Chris Pitzer and Rafer Roberts
* that evening was a swirl of new faces and familiar ones. Kate Beaton was down to hang out rather than exhibit. Barry and Leon from Secret Acre
s seemed to be in a high humor all weekend long, which I think means they've each had a good year. I got to meet Chris Breach from the old TCJ
message board and re-live moments of Fantagraphics historical minutiae -- he's on an around the world tour. Talked to Lisa Hanawalt
and Ryan Sands
at the top of a stairway -- Sands was talking about getting matching tattoos with Michael DeForge and I still can't figure out if by saying so he was screwing with me specifically, screwing with everyone generally, or completely serious. Ken Eppstein from Nix Comics
said "hi" -- super-nice guy and part of a fairly sizable Columbus contingent (Bob Corby
and James Moore were also on hand; Smith and crew; Caitlin McGurk; all traveling separately from the Arch City, but still) at the show. I saw Darryl Ayo Braithwaite. Ran into the foursome of Katie Skelly
, TV Alexander
, Sophia Wiedeman
and Meghan Turbitt
a few times that weekend (the first inset photo of this post is Turbitt and Alexander). Bumped into Ed Piskor
. Dustin Harbin
. Ben Catmull
. Brian Ralph
. Will Dinski
. Jen Vaughn
. Noah Van Sciver
. Totally surprised and pleased to see Ryan Cecil Smith
, who is still in Japan but may be heading back to the LA area. He's a very talented cartoonist.
* I was sad to hear about the passing of Kim Thompson's parents, Aase and John, and all condolences to one-time comics industry regular Mark Thompson on his loss.
* many went to bed at an unreasonable hour; many did not.
* there were more comics-people in that gym on Saturday morning than I'd seen in 20 years of convention-going combined. I'm not kidding. Until that morning I'd seen three people in hotel gyms during comics shows: Kevin Eastman in 1997 in San Diego; Meredith Gran at SPX last year; Jeff Smith the day before this show. There were at least six comics folks in there on the first day of SPX. I was not feeling all there, and when Justin Hall came in and started doing alarming things with pulleys, I quit and stole a bunch of fruit and went back to bed until the show started, weeping softly and watching Johnny Football highlights.
* the show started with a line that took a bit of time to build into show traffic. Then show traffic was crazy in that good way big crowds can be crazy for two, three hours. That tapered into about 80 percent of that for the rest of Saturday and maybe settled a bit down from that, even, maybe another five percent, for the bulk of Sunday. There were not a lot of flow issues.
* one guy stopped me in an aisle about 2 PM and told me he read CR
and was taking my advice to walk around the room and look at everything first but then he figured out the room was too big and my advice was super bad and I sort of agreed with him.
* the room was noticeably huge, with row after row after row of exhibitors, some even stacked two to three over one display space.
* ran into a blur of people over the next few days. Rob Ullman
(picture #1) had an array of his sharp-looking material on display, at multiple price points. He's doing hockey comics now, which I completely missed. The great retailer and one-time DC local Bill Boichel was there. Calvin Reid was on hand to help team write the PW
story on the show. Reid admitted his trips were different to his home area as he got older and certain relatives passed on. Warren Craghead was exhibiting for the first time, despite attending the show off and on for I think 18 years or so. Simon Moreton
exhibited with Craghead. Diana Tamblyn
(picture #2), a veteran that looks like she showed up in comics six months ago, had her first book for sale there, and had been sweating the printing job until a couple of days out. Jonathan Baylis
' latest So Buttons...
had a Jay Lynch
cover. Never saw Lynch on the floor, and caught him briefly in the bar on Sunday evening, after the show ended. Ran into Nick Bertozzi
. The last time I saw Nick I swear he was holding the baby that was now a 12-year-old pulling at his arm. He seemed well, and called the Jerusalem
graphic novel he did art for a physical gauntlet. Saw Chris Staros at a distance. Andrea Tsurumi
, Charles Brownstein. Met Whit Taylor
, who was nice enough to say Hi while standing in line to see Congressman Lewis. Sophie Goldstein
. JT Dockery (picture #3), Colleen Frakes
. Paul Lyons. Ed Kanerva. Annie Koyama
. Keren Katz
. Connie Sun
. Oliver East was Skyping into the Craghead/Moreton table, and it was sort of disgusting, actually, to look down and see his smiling face beaming out of Craghead's abdomen. Nobody do that again. Joe McCulloch was there. Chris Mautner and his young, comics-making daughter, Veronica were on hand, attending panels and doing trades. Tracey Hurren and Julia Pohl-Miranda were manning the D+Q table. Gary Panter and Dan Nadel walked by before Gary wheeled and tracked me down -- I was so flattered I didn't mind he thought I was someone else. Anya Davidson
was there (picture #4, with Dan Nadel). Frank Santoro
was hugging people in the aisle. I saw Tom Scioli briefly. It was like this all day. Lamar Abrams
was about as nice as ever. Dash Shaw I ran into briefly. Charles Forsman
and Melissa Mendes
I saw once, maybe twice and basically never again. All this as I was sort of not stopping to talk. It was a solid, solid room.
* people were sort of nicely dressed, a continuing trend at comics shows but rare for this one because of the laidback nature and youthful breakdown of the room. I saw more than a few ties, and a bunch of nice-looking dresses, what my dad would have called Sunday brunch dresses; something you could wear to Churchill Downs or Pimlico for a big race. Someone mentioned to me that as comics moves in the direction of all this media and constant coverage and shows where a physical presence is required, some sort of media training or at least acknowledgement there are things to learn about how to present oneself to the public is going to become something worth considering. We've come a long, long way on a lot of this stuff. Take programming. If you ever went to a show in the 1980s or early 1990s, even a show with great guests, the panels were usually the kind of low-energy, "hey, you got any questions?" snark-fests that you see rarely these days -- oddly in many cases when you still see them it's from mainstream comics makers with a lot of resources to do a more sophisticated job. Part of this slow change is the comics ethos of wanting to be anti-corporate and never wearing a tie or whatever, but a lot of it is likely that low level of self-hatred involved that seems pretty widespread in this specific arts culture. It's good to see people give some thought to how they might be perceived outside of a very tiny room, in every way that can be applied to every situation where it might be applicable.
* not sure what to say about my general impressions of the material on the floor. Gary Panter said something during the weekend that there's a exceedingly impressive visual culture now, and that it's an amazing thing to compare the kind and level of drawing that exists now to its equivalent from 40 years ago. I think he's onto something there for sure. I'll check in with what gets written about the show moving forward, because maybe someone will nail this, but I failed to detect any sort of new or startling trend in terms of the way stuff looked, the kind of comics being made, the types of stories being told. I don't buy as I've read from some folks that there's a rigidity in the type of material being presented or the art styles on hand. If you're coming from a tradition that favors cinematic storytelling and well-rendered figure drawing, a bunch of what SPX has to offer might look the same. But any time spent acclimating yourself to that material yields a wide variety of approaches, particularly relative to more traditional types of comics-making. In what makes a certain amount of sense given how far along we are in developing the idea of the graphic novel as industry ideal, I think I may have detected a level of treating mini-comics as disposable in deference to more fancily-produced work. That stands in contrast a bit to the kind of approach that, say, the folks at Fort Thunder brought in, where mini-comics became more frequently seen as beautiful objects. I do know that when I talk to other critics that there's a bit of restlessness that there hasn't been a full-bore assault of outright great works from cartoonists under 35, but I'm not sure that means the same thing to those artists that it might to my particular peer group.
* the Congressman John Lewis
signing line in support of March Vol. 1
was long and very steady. People were hitting that line and making the commitment because, at least two people told me, they'd kick themselves if they didn't. That book has done very well for Top Shelf and I have to imagine there's no shortage of Civil Rights Era anniversaries into which they might tie a second volume. All of those involved say that the Congressman is deeply grateful for the attention that the book has brought that part of American history in which he directly participated, and I think this is one of those cases where the cultural trigger of the book's release to get Lewis on the news programs and into feature articles is something worth considering as it own thing. I bet we see that second book as soon as is humanly possible, and if Nate Powell is reading this he should stop and get back to work. This first volume continues to do well on the charts. Something I didn't know or knew and forgot is that Andrew Aydin is working on a graduate degree with a final project on the Martin Luther King, Jr. comic. That sounds like a paper I will want to read. I once wrote about comics during my graduate degree program years but certainly not a full, final thesis/dissertation-level work.
* Jeff Smith was carrying around in his bag a little AF Frost book, first printing 1890. People take the best stuff out of their bags at SPX.
* I went to two panels that first day. Bill Kartalopoulos
interviewed Gary Panter, who was in fine, highly-amused form. He had a great line about the Mary Tyler Moore Show
ending the '60s -- a decade he described as a constant hope for something more interesting and exciting that usually came through -- and had everyone laughing about his pair of acid trips. Panter made the point that he gravitated towards punk because that was a a cultural expression that had room for the kind of art-influenced comics he wanted to make. Panter at one point also spoke in thousand-year-old English. Kartalopoulos is really good at that kind of slideshow-driven presentation; Panter later described Kartalopoulos' moderation as "perfect."
* talked to Seth for his spotlight panel. I thought it went well, particularly in that I wanted to cover his entire career in some fashion -- something along the lines of the TCAF keynote I did with Los Bros Hernandez
-- in case someone in the audience was discovering Seth for the first time. Seth is an articulate, thoughtful public speaker. He said a bunch of interesting stuff. Seth reminded the audience that at one point in the 1990s before the idea of graphic novels really took hold simply doing a 23-page comic seemed like a work of daunting length. He said he can no longer stand to look at It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
although he respects the practical ambition involved in how the younger version of himself tried to put the work together. We talked a bit about the rapid growth he saw in his own work in Wimbledon Green
and George Sprott
, given that the former was a sketchbook comic and the latter was a comic for a major client that was edited a lot from serialization to collection. We talked a bit about his work is less about nostalgia than it is about cultural decay -- there's a preferred aesthetic, but we mostly engage with it in Seth's work as it's fading from view. The new issue of Palooka-Ville
looks terrific -- he said that he feels an increased compulsion to release issues once a year once he turned 50 last year around SPX time -- and we discussed its component parts. Clyde Fans
will negotiate the shifts in style on hand in its serialization by making the chapter breaks really strong -- the style will shift as the story does. I also had him talk a bit about remaining a prolific artist despite not doing comics full-time, something I think a lot of attendees deal with all the time.
* anyway, I like the new Palooka-ville
a lot, and recommend it. I thought he nailed the presentation of it this time out. I carried one around with me all weekend.
* it's always great to see so many of my peers: Rob Clough
, Heidi MacDonald, Michael Cavna
, Chris Mautner, Joe McCulloch, Johanna Draper Carlson
, Tucker Stone
, Matt Seneca
, Hannah Means-Shannon
, Calvin Reid.
* the dumbest conversation I had was with someone who asked me if I thought Kevin Huizenga should run for president. I mean, of course he should. Come on.
* the most necessary conversation I had was with Zak Sally
to apologize for blowing some coverage I'd blown for his very successful Autoptic
show. Talking to Sally and Tom Kaczynski, two of the show's organizers on hand (I'm sure there were more) eliminated all consideration to my mind that there might be a version of the show next year rather than their waiting until 2015.
* saw Matt Dembicki, who told me about the DC Conspiracy crew's outreach via making comics in a museum setting.
* had dinner Saturday evening with the Drawn and Quarterly crew, and watched Lisa Hanawalt and her boyfriend the comedy writer Adam Conover share large amounts of complicated food. I tried to eavesdrop on Seth at one point and instead of something like a discussion of the aesthetic qualities of space heaters heard him talking to his part of the table about the comparative social acceptance of Star Wars
vs. Star Trek
. That must have been some conversation there. Not what I expected. My friend Gil and I agreed the next day is the best part of any conversation that involved Seth talking about his childhood is that you get to imagine him doing whatever dressed in a smaller version of the suits and coats and hats he wears now, even though we know that wasn't the case.
* Brian Ralph was one of the drivers to the Saturday night restaurant; he was to start teaching class down at SCAD this week. Last year Ralph was in a bit of a wild period, which is less appealing in one's late 30s than in one's mid-20s. This year Ralph has a child on the way and a full house of kids due to his current relationship. It's nice to see people go through life changes between these times encountering them. That Reggie-12
work is handsome and fun; you should look at it if you're in a store.
* come to think of it, no one that I can think of was a particular wreck of a person the way two or three people were last year. If there was a slight dimming of enthusiasm and relief and exultation at SPX in 2013, there was a greater sense of health and maturity and perspective. Very few people in that room felt like they'd be easy to shake free of the cartooning body, if that makes any sense. Lot of lifers around.
* I enjoyed the Ignatzes. I sat behind a soon-to-be LA-bound Nate Bulmer and his wife, to the right of Team Mautner and to the left of Cole Closser and his partner. She looked young and wore braces, which was perfect for that room. Closser is from Arkansas, the first cartoonist I can remember being from that beautiful state. Liza Donnelly hosted. There was a quick tribute to Kim Thompson, various stand-and-bows from SPX people, and a sprightly run through a show dominated by female presenters. Rutu Modan had the funniest line of the night when she noted that it was kind of unfair to have to present an award having just lost one 30 seconds earlier. "You should work on that," she humorously admonished. People cheered loudest for Sam Alden. Michael DeForge won three and kind of blew his thank yous on the first walk-up-to-the-podium. He's in a good place right now, that young man, and the Drawn and Quarterly volumes begin very, very soon.
* still don't have any idea why awards lists don't automatically come with phonetic spellings. That would seem easy to do. I'm not sure I'd nail "Lale Westvind" if I'd never seen it before, either. There were multiple presenters working in a second language, too. Maybe they do provide them, I don't know. I always wonder that, with every show in every medium.
* I like the festival feel of those awards, and I think they're a boon. It's fun to vote on them, and I think it's a way to rope a lot more people into the show's general vibe.
* The sponsor speech to close the Ignatzes from Chip Mosher was interesting for a bunch of reasons. One was that comiXology was on hand all weekend in the first place in the form of Mosher and a couple of his colleagues -- not a lot of the general industry apparatus was. I saw maybe one big-mainstream editor, maybe two mid-major representatives and fewer than a half-dozen folks from retail. Another thing that intrigued me about Mosher's speech and sponsorship is that comiXology is killing it right now, adding employees in a time when everyone is cutting and conquering Europe, but Mosher was on hand at SPX making a case for people to use their Submit program despite what is likely no compelling business-survival sense for them to be recruiting aggressively. That says something about that company. My favorite thing about Mosher's little speech, however, was that he was basically introduced as the guy who, when he finished talking, everyone could start drinking and eating from the chocolate fountain, which has to be the most hilarious introduction to any speech ever. "Here is the man keeping you from having a good time. Give him a hand!" I'm surprised people didn't yell "hurry up" right from the audience, even though Mosher spoke quickly.
* I saw Mosher a bunch of times over the weekend. I wasn't aware he was a comics lifer, essentially, and was a teenaged retail employee back in Texas a long time ago. He was one of the people putting bullet holes into comics being sold by Shannon Wheeler, and a lot of the more interesting sort of art/alt projects at Boom! when he was there bear his imprimatur. There was a lot
of talk about comics marketing that weekend, its limits and its possibilities, and Mosher is kind of a walking avatar for those issues in the work he does for the digitally-focused company.
* the Ignatz afterparty seemed to go for a shorter time and without the just-outside area being a way to stay cool and drink outside. We were marshaled from that part of the building with some firmness when the party shut it down. I had a good time talking to a bunch of people I hardly ever see otherwise, including Karen Green and Box Brown. Brown and I got about 10 minutes into our long-overdue, I'm guessing will-be-25-minute discussion of the last 50 years of professional wrestling.
* I spent a good twenty minutes drinking beers with Noah Van Sciver and the top of a slumped-over Sean Ford's head. (Sorry, Sean.)
* for some reason despite punting up to ten names this time out right there on the show floor, I remembered the name of a Syracuse University professor with whom I had drinks once in 1984 (and no I'm not that old, I'm very tall for my age and the drinking age was 19). It's a very small world.
* I love the fact that SPX makes time for people to do things between the show events -- hitting a few strong points as opposed to seeking to please everyone under the sun. We are a "more" sub-culture, so anyone that opts for less is not only likely to succeed in a very specific way if they hit their marks, but they're doing us all favor, besides. In this case, being able to spend nearly all of early Sunday doing interviews and generally catching back up is a godsend
compared to the drumbeat I feel at other shows. There is enough time to go all the way out for dinner in a restaurant a good distance anyway and make it back to the Ignatzes without speeding.
* a lot of these shows really do seem to be about execution. They could do two more panel tracks at this thing and make all of those people happy, but I think the show would suffer overall, at least as currently constituted. I think you're going to start seeing a less is more strategy at a lot of these shows, both generally -- publishers are beginning to wake up to what sells at shows now as compared to five or ten years ago -- and specifically, maybe limiting the number of cartoonists and comics-makers they'll host at any one time.
* Kate Beaton was this year's Charles Burns, someone of major import that as I mentioned earlier just happened to be there as opposed to doing business in a formal way. I'm told that Kate Beaton and Jeff Smith realizing they were distantly related wasn't just weird it was delightful to watch for their enthusiasm in figuring it out. Those are two very nice people. They should sell bottled water from that region of Canada.
* Sunday seemed less stressed to me on the floor. That morning you started to see sell-outs. Yes, some of them were from cartoonists with publishers where some folks' first reaction was that maybe more books should have been brought, but some of them came from cartoonists on their own. Hip Hop Family Tree
sold out, but so did Operation Margarine
#3. Frank Santoro said Sunday night that his Pompeii
was all gone by show's end and he guessed that meant about 120 sold. Jeff Smith and Cartoon Books did an enormous business in RASL
. They sold out of their books and all of the books that didn't sell at Politics and Prose (told you there was a happy ending). Annie Koyama and the Secret Acres people said they had done very well. Benjamin Marra's Blades And Lazers
was a sell-out -- Marra himself was only there the first day.
* Ed Piskor's response to his book being sold out was to aggressively solicit orders for copies to be mailed to patrons from Piskor himself. That book should do very well.
* there seemed a bigger sprawl of people hanging out all over the hotel on Sunday, not just the exhibition hall and the panel rooms. It was a glorious, lazy, genteel and genial afternoon. I tracked down the latest Monster
. I watched Veronica Mautner trade comics with Ryan Cecil Smith. I picked up the new Love And Rockets
* in my orbit, people were talking about the Monster
, the Hellen Jo issue of Frontier
, the new Farel Dalrymple book at AdHouse
(which sold out), the Todd Bak book at Floating World
(also sold out), the comics from the Italian publisher including their anthology, and the comics by Anna Bonngiovanni
and Sophie Goldstein
. More than a few folks enthused at me about the accordion book of Anders Nilsen
. It was a show of solid debuts.
* I got to see the Telegraph Gallery prints for the first time and I wanted to travel back in time and have 15 of these prints up on the walls in my college housing bedroom that confused my fraternity brothers and friends as opposed to that one Jaime Hernandez poster and a couple of Steve Rude portfolio plates.
* I saw about ten minutes of Sam Henderson and Michael Kupperman moderated by Tim Hodler, a panel Gary Panter practically rubbed his hands with glee to get to see. It was disjointed, funny and uncomfortable, not necessarily in that order. Ulli Lust left a few minutes after I did. I don't know why, but what struck me as funniest was when people would try to ask questions about it that hadn't been there. "How did Kupperman do the Val Kilmer hair?" is a sentence that needed to be formed by human mouths long before SPX 2013.
* topics of conversation in the hall were future plans -- a lot of people moving, a few new couples or word of same, people taking jobs -- gender/race issues, generational differences, the state of the industry and the state of the show.
* let's talk about the last of those. I got a lot more negative reports talking to as many people on the floor as I could than I've read the last few days on-line from people reporting on SPX. This includes some of the same people being sunnier now than when I talked to them. Hm. So either they were more pessimistic on the floor, or are more optimistic away from the floor. Perhaps the weekend got better once I had moved along. I couldn't possibly say. But I do have to trust what I was hearing, and how I pursued my sample, and this tells me while some people did super-well a lot of folks did okay or maybe even a little less than okay. One person talked in terms of making gas money, which isn't exactly ambitious. One young woman to whom I spoke was shut out. This wasn't alarming on its own -- most shows are going to have an array of results -- but stood in stark contrast to last year when the only person I talked to that didn't shout back "I did awesome" with their fists thrust over their heads victory-style struck me as so odd I did the Little Rascals bob-chin double take right there and immediately bought something from them. If I had applied a standard of buying something from people that felt they their sales were a little less than they thought they'd be, I would have gone broke.
* there was endless speculation about the difference in sales. Most people targeted the number of people exhibiting, from a variety of standpoints. More people meant more things to buy, even though crowds were generally good throughout. Some folks said that if there had been fewer people exhibiting many of them would have become buyers, which I'm not sure I all the way believe. Some people argued the number of excellent high-ticket items kind of sucked oxygen that in the past might have gone to smaller, handmade items. A couple of folks pointed out that anything that won an award or was otherwise acknowledged in a prominent place even if it was just the Expo's debut books list seemed to do well, which they felt was a sign that people were overwhelmed to the point of hoping for direction. The award winners at the Ignatzes seemed to get a bump. Another theory advanced is that a lot of the handmade work is so expensive now that it's simply harder for people to buy a lot of books at the show.
* my hunch is that convention sales are part of a fragile mechanism that probably did feel the effect in the change in the show's size.The crowds are amazing, so I'm not sure there's a ton more that can be done there in order to attract enough people that everyone gets business. There was a lot of cash being spent, for sure. Warren Bernard was happy to report the ATMs were emptied, which all by itself meant tens of thousands of dollars on the floor. A lot of folks use plastic now, too. Was it enough to cover what might have been 600 people hoping to crush it? Probably not.
* the best line here was from Andrea Tsurumi: "I sold a lot more this year. [pause] I had much better stuff to sell."
* part of what dogged the entire weekend was that after 2011's grief-filled weekend marked by Dylan Williams' death and last year's jubilation at most folks being healthy and getting healthier, not to mention its godly level of marquee talent, this was in comparison more of a solid year that was likely to suffer a bit in comparison no matter how many people Jeff Smith made smile just by his presence, or Carol Tyler made laugh, or Peter Bagge put at ease. Those kinds of years are important; they show off a show's core strength.
* of what's out there in other areas of comics to be read about the show, I liked Whit Taylor's practical advice
, Nick Mullins' comparison of SPX to APE
and Mike Dawson's affecting admission that 2012 was a rough year for him
* Sunday night I hung out a bit with Frank Santoro, Dash Shaw, Sam Alden and Bill Kartalopoulos over dinner and then a wide variety of cartoonists and comics people a bit later on. The differences in opinions on industry issues by generation has been intriguing to track, and should be for several years to come. The biggest difference to my mind from five years ago is that we have a lot of cartoonists in the field now that simply do not give two shits about some longstanding issues of great interest to a comics people older than 35.
* my big worry for the cartoonists that tend to gravitate towards SPX remains industry, or whatever might replace industry, being as effective and useful for the artists as we can make it. We have an enormous number of talented people making comics right now. Not all of them are great, but a significant percentage have something to say, an audience to develop that if given the chance to find that work might be really into them. I'm not sure we have the same level of talent or consistent execution at a high level on the industry side of things. Let's use this site as an example. This site does reasonably well in terms of its overall consideration as a mechanism that covers and allows entry into comics. CR
is generally well-liked, it generates some income, it sometimes gets to be up for awards. At the same time, let's face it: this is a blog, run part-time, at times in haphazard fashion (I frequently don't get a review up; I skip Sundays that should have interviews for lack of time), on equipment that barely works using 2004 software. I love my site, but it's not Building Stories
in terms of its face to the world. The threshold is low for entry into comics but has become higher and higher for becoming a successful cartoonist. I'm not sure that threshold has skyrocketed in similar fashion for those of us not content-makers. It's low and may remain low. God bless us all, but a lot of folks working as non-creatives in comics are better at explaining why we do things the way we do them than ever become better at doing those things. We're heading towards some really interesting conversations about what can be expected and what can be achieved for and by the level of talent we have making comics right now. When someone is getting invited around the world to various festivals and shows, when they see their work the subject of attention in mainstream publications like the New York Times
or on-line where the eyeballs can be counted, when they see other people moving units and receiving accolades that they consider peers, some will understand that's just the way things cultural churn works right now but I bet more and more people are going to ask if there isn't something more that can be done on their behalf. I'm not sure the old models hold true in a lot of areas the way they used to, whether that's an expectation for, say, coherent digital sales strategies or for a certain level of excellence concerning art direction, or some sort of answer to the notion floated that all art is going to have an equal shot at the marketplace.
* we need to have real conversations about where this ends up, if the generation of comics-makers in their primes is an aberration that we'll never see again or a benchmark against which the actual work and reach -- not the perceived promise and arguable exposure -- of cartoonists beginning to do major work right now can reasonably hope to exceed. Then we need to figure out where everyone else may fit in. We need to imagine a better comics industry, or whatever stands in its place, the way that people in the 1970s and 1980s imagined better comics.
* there's a lot to discuss. One interesting side-note is that I think we have more skilled comics-makers who might not end up being published at all were their publishing partner to leave the field tomorrow. While there are alternatives galore, that doesn't mean that they're suited to all comics-makers. I'd rather a field with as many options as possible, not just one aimed at folks with the ability to brand themselves or with friends and family that have enough money to support what they do. I want all the options. That even one of a dozen or so publishers leaving the field could have a drastic impact on the artistic lives of several people in a way that can't be ameliorated suggests a sort of cultural parsimony in terms of basic publishing opportunities. And there's always the financial consideration. We haven't seen a big burn-off yet in terms of talent leaving the field, but we may as a bunch of those born after 1980s get into their late 30s and early 40s. We live in interesting times.
* there were more people around Sunday night in 2013 than in 2012, although the night ended semi-early for me. Noah Van Sciver left my company with the wonderful, "I'm going to go hang with my friends now." Talked to a bunch of people, including Marc Arsenault
, Charles Brownstein
and Caitlin McGurk
. McGurk is back at work looking for donations to the Dylan Williams Collection at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
, and I think that's a vital mission for SPX to support on its floor by letting her do that without getting in her way, the same way that so many journalists and industry folks are left alone to do what they do there. When a show becomes less vital, the lack of attendant business is one of the first signs that it's headed in that direction.
* my apologies to everyone I missed, and I assume it was a lot of you. I'm sorry. I have a hard time remembering things now.
* comics is the best place in the world unless you need something from it. Peak experiences are important, but so is what we do with them. SPX 2013 was a reminder of some of comics' core strengths and its underlying fragility.
* I was glad to get home, not just to get away to comics but to work on them some more, in a different context, away from the eyes of my peers. Those moments are important, too. If 2012 was the year I learned to love comics shows for the first time, 2013 is the year I've learned to love the time in-between those very fun weekends in terms of my involvement with this medium. I hope people came home and got to work. There's a lot to do. There's a lot that can be done.
posted 7:00 am PST
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