SPX: Baby's First Impressions

The image of cartoonist after cartoonist sitting at folding tables selling comic books is truly a pathetic one. From talking with cartoonists, I get the sense that most of them find it debilitating, too. It's hard, often dreary work. It can be ego-crushing when no one comes to buy anything. I would hate to do it myself.”

- Bart Beaty, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the show, from his Conversational Eurocomics column on what SPX could learn from some European conventions

I really enjoyed myself at SPX, that delightsome Bethesda megamall of rare and exclusive purchases and the men and women who brought the wares about. Don’t sweat it, that’s just my perception: I traveled the hour and a half trip down on Saturday with American Hero Chris Mautner (he attained that storied status by agreeing to drive), arrived a half-hour after the doors opened, stayed until 5:30, then went right back home. That means I didn’t see the Ignatz Awards, didn’t partake of any post-show gatherings, and missed a big chunk of panels.

My SPX, in other words, was full of shopping and stalking the aisles. Commerce! Show debuts! I met an awful lot of fine creators, but I hated taking up much of their table time; heaven knows by the afternoon there’s a swarm of people waiting to trudge through the byways between tables, and one thousand distractions to attend to. I’d never been to a comics show in my life, so I’d not known any SPX other than what was presented to me there: a pretty swank hotel, a table to pay at in the hall outside, and big ballroom with everyone selling everything inside, and a bunch of other rooms to have educational and informative events in, though all of those were down the hall, around the bend, and down an escalator. There were no signs to direct you to the panels or whatnot, though it wasn’t hard to find someone to ask direction of.

Still, the separation-by-floor carried a certain symbolism for me when coupled with the atmosphere; upstairs was the carnival of monies and tables, downstairs were the talks and trophies. Upstairs there were masses of shoppers with bags and backpacks and totes, cookies and candies and muffins on certain tables to attract attention, and even a pair of folks operating hand puppets to entice a stray passerby. Downstairs there were hushed people crouched before open doors, the portals leading to capacity talks. There was some sort of bizarre crystal bridge hanging by strings above the escalator, and it certainly did feel like you were crossing into a different, segmented zone of the convention.

All of it in a building off the highway, malls and fences and the whipping metal sea of vehicles all around it. To say there was no color at all would be misleading, since it was a nice day and there were a number of trees and things, but I did not detect any local pulse at all. It was a hotel, on a road.

I went out for lunch with Chris and Gina Gagliano of First Second; food became curiously hard to find within hiking distance (in the interests of full disclosure, my mastery of direction also had us walking the wrong way for a good while). After we passed by a large parking lot promising a furniture blowout sale, as well as a haunted attraction and possibly ponies or something in the back, we decided to turn around and stop at a little diner we’d passed on the way. It was decent food, Gina got us very enthused about some of First Second’s upcoming releases involving Eddie Campbell, Gipi, and the ever-prolific Joann Sfar, Chris blinked a lot in the direction of his sandwich since he hadn’t been to sleep since October 2nd, and I told Gina the secret of why there are no pictures on this site (I was bullied by a JPEG in high school).

But we didn’t hang around. We hurried back from the gray highway to the center of comics and people, followed close behind by haunted ponies who’d just bought cheap Barcaloungers for their ghost stable and were now jonesing for independent comics.

Oh, but don’t presume that I’m somehow upset at the purchase-happy nature of the show’s afternoon - far from it! I love walking around for things to buy, and traveling less than two hours to arrive at the comics spread of my dreams won’t raise too many personal hackles, let me tell you. I also made it a point to say hello to everyone there with whom I’d ever communicated on the internet, though I couldn’t find anyone matching Johanna Draper Carlson’s description and I totally missed Douglas Wolk. But I saw a lot of good people, and finally put some faces to names. I’m also really glad I had Chris with me, since he knew a lot of faces that I didn’t; he made a fine guide, though one of us would occasionally wander away from the other in the vein of the old NES version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, though I’m unsure as to which one of us was Bob Hoskins.

Actually, I think maybe the best thing about SPX is how everyone is kind of pressed together, comics placed near one another seemingly without much concern for subject matter coherency (I heard it was a bit different in prior years, with multiple selling rooms and all); if the creators in attendance and the books on display weren’t a comprehensive picture of English-language non-superhero comics, there was at least enough diversity to manage the illusion of comprehensiveness. A diverse audience too, everything from young to old, from old-school nerds to stylish-looking folk, from aged hippies to teenage Goths. To look only at this crowd, you’d imagine that there was no question as to the diversity of the comics-reading audience.

I went to two panels, Scott McCloud's and Brian Chippendale's. There was nowhere to sit in the former, since I got there late, so I sort of drifted in and out of hearing distance. At one point, McCloud began vigorously drawing a chart to illustrate different types of artists, all the while telling stories of the message board clashes between forces on places like the Comics Journal board. Someone behind me turned to someone else and whispered "It's just like Civil War." Afterward (a solid half-hour afterward, I believe), McCloud could be seen out in the hallway, taking questions from anyone who happened to want to talk to him away from the bustle of his table upstairs. The Chippendale talk was different, a highly entertaining, digression-prone ramble by the artist through his history and procedure, moderated by Dan Nadel and with extra bonus contributions from Brian Ralph, who was seated in the back of the room. Nobody was particularly brusque at SPX, at least from among the artists, but I found Chippendale to be consistently the most emphatic and friendly creator around.

And I bought a good deal of stuff too. I tried to follow Tom's rule of not buying anything on my first trip around the room, but that didn't quite hold. I managed to get through the whole show without finding anything I really wanted sold out, however, and I only had to stand in the Line of Shame at the ATM once.


Abraxas and the Earthman by Rick Veitch (debuted at the show, a collection of the Epic Illustrated serial; an additional collection of Veitch’s short comics from the same venue is coming soon)

Awakening Comics #1-2 by Steve Peters & friends (I reviewed his The Origin of Sparky a few weeks ago; having walked away from the table, and indeed the entire convention, I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten to actually tell Steve Peters who I was - another triumph of intellect!)

Cinema Sewer #19 edited by Robin Bougie (new issue of the funny, comics-heavy pamphlet-format magazine devoted entirely to the finest in exploitation and pornographic film - a creator’s personality-powered publication, and I assure you that Robin Bougie is in real life exactly the way he portrays himself in the mag)

Cold Heat #1-2 (of 12) by Ben Jones & Frank Santoro (#2 debuted at the show; the odd, semi-abstract fantasy/action book that Diamond initially disliked a while back, complaining of its format despite the fact that it’s 100% a serialized pamphlet-format comic)

Comics Comics #1-2 edited by Timothy Hodler & Dan Nadel (I mentioned this yesterday, but didn’t note that I also got a hard copy of issue #1)

Dave K. Greatest Hits 1999-2004 by Dave Kiersh (snapped up from the Bodega Distribution table, a collection of work from a prominent minicomics fellow; Kiersh was actually sitting right in front of my the whole time and I had no idea who he was, and when the guy I was paying mentioned that “Dave” was here to see if I wanted it signed, I kind of stared at him dully before getting what was going on - I also totally forgot to buy Leif Goldberg’s National Waste #6 and say hi to Heidi MacDonald who was standing next to me at the table a bit earlier, so it was a real hat trick of inattentive triumph)

Ed the Happy Clown #2 (of 9) by Chester Brown (the one I was missing - who says you can’t score back-issues at these things?!)

Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville #4 (of 5) by Ted Stearn (surely I can’t be the only fan of the mighty Fuzz & Pluck; still, I’ve never seen this in a store, though Fantagraphics had it at their table)

House of Twelve, at the movies Vol. 2 #1: Heavy Metal by various (from House of Twelve, a free giveaway show debut, parodying the original movie version of the magazine)

Krayons Ego by various (very nice 2006 minicomic anthology spoofing Kramers Ergot, though it’s most highly reminiscent of Kurt Wolfgang’s old Lo-Jinx; a semi-heated, semi-affectionate lampoon of various contemporary independent comics names, Paper Rad or members thereof apparently the most popular target, though the Jeffrey Brown stuff is maybe the nastiest - Chris really liked it when I showed it to him, but then it was all sold out when he went back for a copy of his own)

New Tales of Old Palomar #1 (of 3) by Gilbert Hernandez (new miniseries of stand-alone tales, presented in the Ignatz format, debuting at a show featuring the Ignatz Awards; I remember when this was first released I heard it was going to be titled simply ‘New Palomar’ like it was New X-Men)

Ninja by Brian Chippendale (debuted at the show, probably the book of the show, and I’ve gushed enough already; when I went to Rick Veitch's table, he became momentarily transfixed with the transfixed and murmured "I want to make a book like this!")

Paping #11 by various (older issue of a deluxe anthology by some interesting-looking creators; the real showpiece was issue #14, with its solid wood covers and impressive prints ‘n comics mishmash interior, the whole thing bound by red shoelaces; I just didn’t have the roughly $30 needed to spend on it by that point in the show, though)

Project: Romantic by various (debuted at the show, the newest in AdHouse’s Project series of anthologies, this one strictly devoted to romance comics)

Pulphope.A by Paul Pope (a show exclusive, I think; not the full Pope art book coming soon from AdHouse, but a 200 copy ashcan with some exclusive stuff)

R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” Starring Batman (Abridged) by K. Thor Jensen (a reenactment of the continuing American epic, with members of the Batman cast playing each role)

Sermons #2 by Kevin Huizenga (found at the Buenaventura Press table, debuted at the show I think; another installment of Huizenga’s interesting sketchbook minicomic concept, dedicated wholly to drawings made and notes taken during church services - it’s "KH Book #9" in Huizenga’s numbering scheme, if you’re keeping track)

Service Industry by t. edward bak (much-recommended and indeed very impressive 2005 minicomic by bak, who’s set to appear in Fantagraphics’ MOME at some point in the future; a potent mix of autobiography, fantasy, subconscious yearning, and personal philosophy, all in 28 b&w and color pages)

Shadowland by Kim Deitch (the big new Fantagraphics collection of some of my personal favorite underground-era cartoonist’s less-seen works, all of it concerning the affairs of an ill-fated family; debuted at the show, and I bought the last copy, so if you couldn’t find it you might as well blame me)

So it was a nice trip. A lot of good things to have, and good hands to shake. I hope to do it again, and add on a few more convention experience points. I'm not leveled up yet, no sir.