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September 25, 2009

All Eyes Towards North Bethesda

This weekend is Small Press Expo (SPX) at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center in North Bethesda, Maryland. SPX has an interesting past in that -- and I'm working from memory -- it arose out of one of the Dave Sim tours, had a fruitful decade or so at a Holiday Inn Select of the kind geezer cartoonists will one future day bore you with tales concerning, fairly galvanized the post-alternative class of 1994 into its own strong comics faction, had an educational component, shared space and a semi-combined mission with the academically-oriented ICAF for a few years, and even for a while gave the exhibition hall the Sunday off in favor of a softball game and cookout. But the show also has an interesting present as an American comics show split between festival and small press showcase sensibilities, the longtime host of the Ignatz Awards, one of the three or four most important stops on the convention calendar for a wide swath of cartoonists, a chance for the class of 1994 to pass the baton to the next generation, and an increasingly ambitious programming schedule.

I think what's amazing about SPX is that it could have become quite horrible at many times during its history but remains a favorite if not absolute favorite for scores of pros and fans. So God bless it, and god bless all of you in attendance. Here's some advice if you're going but you're not quite sure what to expect:
image 1) Do a full circuit of the entire room and pay close attention to what's being offered before buying anything -- it's really easy to skip over stuff or to buy something on impulse ahead of something you'd rather have that you see two hours later. You will feel better by show's room having gotten a sense of the room and the snapshot of comics that comes with it than if you skip this step.

2) Buy something homemade or original: leave with something that's unique rather than simply shift around the time and place of something you would eventually buy anyway.

3) Pay attention to the bigger publishers, too. Although the heart of the show is the single cartoonist sitting behind an array of their wares, places like D&Q, PictureBox Inc. and Fantagraphics treat this show with a lot of respect. This means a lot of brand-new material, authors on hand in support of such material, and even special signing periods assembling groups of people together.

4) Do some programming. Like I said, it looks strong this year. Vegas tells me the over/under on uttered words from Joe McCulloch at the critics' roundtable is 27.

5) Go see John Porcellino. I can't boil down as many great cartoonists as are going to be on hand to a list of a dozen like Rob Clough has -- and it is a great group that will be in the building, including folks like Jerry Moriarty, Richard Thompson, Al Columbia and Carol Tyler -- but I do know that John Porcellino almost never goes to such things, he's a great cartoonist, he's a significant cartoonist, and his work is a sterling example of everything you'd like to believe about the kind of cartoonists that exhibit at SPX. Buy his latest King-Cat -- it's good -- or an advance copy of his latest collection (pictured) or just thank him, I don't know. Dive into meeting and buying work from and hearing stories from every cartoonist in which you have the least bit of interest on the premises, but make some Porcellino time.
I hope everyone has a great weekend and drives carefully. For more information, check out Chris Mautner's guide, which includes a list of books that he's anticipating.
posted 1:10 am PST | Permalink

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