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October 7, 2008

A Dozen Thoughts about SPX 2008

imageBy Sean T. Collins
Special To The Comics Reporter

1) Maybe it's because unlike last year I did SPX in one day -- carpooling down from New York on Friday night, arriving after midnight, sleeping for a few hours, doing the show on Saturday, returning to New York that night -- but Chris Mautner appears to agree: This show felt like a whirlwind. Maybe I got used to the epic length of a day at San Diego and found an 11 AM-7 PM time frame for the SPX floor constricting, I don't know.

2) Or maybe it was because the show was hella crowded. We arrived at the venue maybe ten minutes after 11 and the joint was already jumping -- one of my friends peeked in and literally did a double take. The retailers and creators I spoke with all seemed pretty thrilled with the crowds and the sales (not always directly correlated phenomena). Now that I think of it, people seemed very happy in general. I was warmly greeted by cartoonists and publishers who are really way too cool to warmly greet me, and all the friends and fellow writers-on-comics I bumped into seemed absolutely delighted.

image3) So maybe the overload came from the sheer volume of appealing new comics available and the feeling that one really ought to check all of them out. By way of a for instance, there were not one, not two, not three, but four new Kevin Huizenga comics debuting at the show! That is like a year's worth of Kevin Huizenga in one day! It took Dan Nadel so long to show me all the new things at PictureBox it was almost like he was kidding; the new Powr Mastrs and Cold Heat Special were just the tip of the iceberg. Plus this was a lot of people's first chance to pick up previously available books like Boy's Club #2 or Cryptic Wit, which I'm told sold out in a couple hours. It was a little dizzying.

4) Since it was dizzying, I was kind of happy to only be there for one day. My fellow road-trippers actually conked out around 6:30 PM, spending the last half hour of the show in the lobby recuperating, in fact. Of course, the one-day stricture may have contributed to our stress level in the first place -- this was a show that took a long time simply to circumnavigate during your initial walk-through, much less shop, interact, browse, eat, attend panels and so on. But I certainly enjoyed a good night's sleep in my own bed after I made it home, and obviously that's how a lot of people do this show.

5) In an entire convention report consisting solely of anecdotal observations this will be the most anecdotal of the lot, but I gathered that more people were setting and sticking to budgets than usual. Normally my convention shopping sees a few book-format works sprinkled in among the floppies and minis, but this year I was very strict about not buying anything I could order on Amazon once I got home. I felt a little bad not directly shopping from companies like Drawn & Quarterly or PictureBox in that regard, but times are tough all over, I suppose, and I didn't hold back on the aforementioned pamphlet-format comics, so there was that.

image6) Well-advertised guests Ben Katchor and Joost Swarte were essentially impossible to find on the show floor Saturday. I don't know if Swarte ever made it there, and Katchor just walked around and browsed; I remember seeing one of them listed on the CBLDF's signing schedule after the fact but I don't remember hearing that that was going to be their primary mode of interaction with the attendees. Swarte even had a table he was supposed to sit at, but I think I spent more time there chatting with Lilli Carre as she relentlessly undersold her sketch in my Bowie sketchbook than Swarte did. It is totally these individuals' prerogative to do the show however they want -- what am I gonna do, begrudge the creator of Julius Knipl and the guy who invented the term "clear line"? -- but it was a little frustrating for people who wanted them for their David Bowie sketchbooks admirers of their work.

7) I went to two panels, Comics Criticism and Kramers Ergot 7. In both cases the size of the panels (four people plus host and seven people plus host respectively) made back-and-forth difficult and ate up a lot of time. Bill Kartalopolous puts hella more thought into his panels than your average mid-level Big Two editor at a Wizard World show does -- he's also the master of using follow-ups to stick with fruitful lines of discussion -- but I could stand for things to be a little more free-wheeling, particularly given that this generation of art-comics creators and aficionados is not exactly known for their outsize personalities.

image8) One way to accomplish this might be to give Gary Groth a solo panel and be done with it. Even though he's actually quite circumspect and doesn't eat up any more time or energy in the Comics Criticism panels than anyone else, his outlook and experience are just so far removed from those of, say, Joe McCulloch that including him in group panels like this just gets that "one of these things is not like the others" songs stuck in my head. He says a lot of things that need to be unpacked in ways they can't in a group panel without dominating the discussion: If we shouldn't judge a work "on its own terms" because that leads to relativism, how do we account for differences in genre or form? Can we really generalize what it means for a publisher or a comic to have "corporate values," or is that simply being used interchangeably with "shitty"? Is there any point bemoaning the lack of a big-famous critic writing about comics and culture for a general audience in a publication with the words New and York somewhere in the title when everything in the world is narrowcasted nowadays? Gary himself admitted he hardly does criticism anymore; he's an odd fit now, not to mention a major historical figure, and I'd rather see him solo.

9) That being said, that's two more panels than I've ever been to at MoCCA, and I've gone to MoCCA every year since its inception. These were things I wanted to hear talked about and I left happy to have done so.

image10) Speaking of which, holy moses, Kramers Ergot 7. Preorder it now. Go ahead, I'll wait. Back? Okay, it's just really really lovely looking stuff -- the Kevin Huizenga page is a knockout, and even cartoonists I'm not necessarily crazy about appear to have done the best work of their careers for it. And as Chris Mautner pointed out, I'm sure David Heatley and Johnny Ryan ought to have a lot to discuss. That being said I totally understand that the book may be outside the price range of some people, or the line-up may not be a must-buy for them, and those people shouldn't buy it.

11) I said it once before but it bears repeating: SPX has a good-looking crowd. I think the cartoonists are even getting better-looking. As my friend Rickey Purdin put it as we left on Saturday, "There's gonna be a lot of indie-comics sex mistakes being made in that hotel tonight." Remember kids, it's only very rarely a mistake while it's happening! Point is, if you are a single person who is interested in alternative comics, this thing is like without that creepy Dr. Neil Clark Warren guy.

12) I didn't stay for Sunday so correct me if I'm wrong, but the Saturday kickoff at least appeared to indicate that the move to a two-weekend-day show, instead of the Friday/Saturday split that kept holy the Sabbath so that we could collectively ponder the glory of Dean Haspiel with his shirt off at a pig roast ten years ago, was a big success. Good! SPX is a great show with a strong identity that people really enjoy. I know I do.


Sean T. Collins has written for a variety of comics publications, including this one. He has also written comics, including this one. His on-line headquarters can be found here.

posted 8:15 am PST | Permalink

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