SPX 2007: Raw Muscle Power

*I don't go to a lot of comics conventions, nor do comics enter into much of my working-day or social life. I've also only attend conventions (expos, whatever) focused on small-press and minicomic productions, foldout tables usually packed with stuff I'd never otherwise have the chance to hold in my hands and flip through.

As a result, I maybe bring a strange set of expectations to these shows. They're basically my only chance to actually meet most of the people I can really discuss comics with. They're also isolated, full-immersion consumerist experiences in pools of works I otherwise can't lay my eyes on. There's always an interplay between the 'marketplace' and 'appreciative' elements of shows like SPX, a megamall flea market aesthetic joined with intellectual consideration of the comics form, each side made all the more vivid from the personal nature of many of the works involved.
So I often find myself trying to catch up with people, while playing catch-up with stuff I haven't had time to locate online. There's eloquent arguments to make in favor of more art, more community, and way less selling things at shows like these. And, even in the short time I've been going to these shows, I have found myself being occupied less with the 'buying' aspect and more with observational and interactive elements. But maybe I'm just a fast shopper; my mother taught me well.

As usual for the day after these things, I find I'm most happy with having been able to see (in the flesh!) people I generally can't. I met up with Sean T. Collins, Marc Singer, Justin J. Fox, Marcos Perez, Douglas Wolk, Gina Gagliano, and many others. I was introduced to Bill Kartalopoulos, who was editor of the fine, defuct Indy Magazine, the archives of which are very much worth perusing. I said hello to a lot of different artists I'd never met, like Becky Cloonan and Gilbert Hernandez. As always, my friend and frequent traveling companion Chris Mautner was with me, and should have some pictures and stuff up at Newsarama's blog pretty soon.

It was a good time. A lot of very good talks and panels, some of which I listed the other day. I'd never been to one of Kim Deitch's talks (he had one at MoCCA this year too), and it was a very nice time. Much of it saw him reading along with panels of his comics via slideshow, performing 'voices' for all of the characters and singing all song lyrics, specifically for this song.

The theme of the talk was how his interest in 'reality' comics (like his death row reportage from Details), fed into the faux-autobiography of his current Alias the Cat, although I found the obligatory q&a session with the audience to be even more interesting, getting into his thoughts on words and pictures (he's currently working in illustrated prose with his brothers), visual appropriation (I hadn't known he'd been asked to collaborate with the Air Pirates back in the day!), and current animation (he loves Hayao Miyazaki, although his favorite Studio Ghibli movie is the Yoshifumi Kondō-directed Whisper of the Heart, which admittedly had heavy Miyazaki involvement).

I also attended the C.F. talk, which interviewer Dan Nadel ran in much the same way as the Brian Chippendale presentation from last year - broad questions on background, approach, and philosophy, allowing for lengthy, rambling answers by the artist. I liked the stories from his Paper Radio days with Ben Jones, as well as an enthusiastic appreciation of Jim Shooter-era Valiant. I picked up his book along with several other cultural blind alleys at the PictureBox table, and it's been an entertaining read so far. You know, I've heard his lettering is deliberately unreadable, but for some odd reason I actually see it as very clear! Except for one page where a character is collapsing and the letters are made scribbly for obvious added effect! Or maybe I'm just a genius. Yeah, that sounds even better!

The comics criticism panel was a good one too, very reserved and thoughtful (I hear the panel on 'novelistic' comics got pretty spirited, but I missed it); even a few jabs at Wizard's old Top 100 list culminated with the aforementioned Mr. Collins, a former Wizard editor, providing some words from the audience on the mechanics of covering a wider range of materials in a forum dedicated to select genres. I do think a partial transcript of the panel may pop up eventually, and I'll link to it when it emerges.

I wasn't paying much attention to what was hot or anything. I did notice that Nicholas Gurewitch of The Perry Bible Fellowship seemed to be mobbed whenever I saw him, and a good number of people were talking about Tom Neely's (excellent) The Blot, which I've heard sold out by the end of the show.

But as I mentioned above, I'm prone to playing catch-up at these shows. For example, I'd heard a lot of good things about Ken Dahl's minicomic series Monsters, issue #1 of which won the Ignatz for Outstanding Minicomic at last year's SPX, so I picked up both extant issues. It's very accomplished work, a funny, squirmy, well-drawn autobiographical work-in-progress about the cruel toll herpes exacts from intimate relationships. Dahl was a 2006 Fellow at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and has been active in comics since the '90s, and his work demonstrates assured visual imagination and a keen grasp of relationship dynamics. Far more info and a billion art samples can be found in this extensive five-part interview conducted by Stephen R. Bissette.

As for artists I already liked a lot, I was glad to pick up the new Brian Chippendale mini, Galactikrap #2, following up a 2005 mini titled Battlestack Galacti-crap. It's a 74-page monster -- including a pair of two-page color silkscreen sequences and some bonus gag pages by Ben Jones -- which sees Chippendale apply his interest in large casts and enveloping/omnious environments toward his most straightforward adventure narrative yet. Each page contains a maximum of two panels, detailing the experiences of varied 'teams' of fighting youth aboard the drifting space city Galacticapital Two. Cupcakes are sold, blood is spilt, outhouses teleport, evil lurks underground, and the dazzling superheroine Raw Star reveals herself! A lot closer to something like The Secret Voice or The Mourning Star than Maggots, though still very much Chippendale. I hope it's available online soon.

PictureBox had a ton of neat stuff sitting around, including no less than two special projects related to Ben Jones' & Frank Santoro's defunct comics series/upcoming graphic novel Cold Heat. There's the newspaper-format Cold Heat Special #1, plotted & laid out by Santoro for Jon Vermilyea's story & art - it's a 16-page chase sequence, executed via a lovely, animation-ready art style, suggesting what a more 'traditional' visual approach might bring to the series. There's also The Chunky Gnars: A Chocolate Gun Tribute, a 16-page minicomic-format dream sequence by Chris Cornwell, which sees heroine Castle menaced by a world-class hipster assassin and musician ("We still have an encore set to play, and I don't start killin'... TILL I'M DONE ROCKIN!!"), in pages that careen from abstract visions to 36-panels-per-page fury.

Other great stuff was around. Probably my favorite random find was BEACH PARADISE!, an imported Japanese children's book by no less than Teruhiko Yumura, aka King Terry, famed illustrator & underground manga artist, and exemplar of the Heta-Uma (clumsy skill) style since the '70s. Tom Kaczynski had Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1, a minicomic collection of his various magazine comics (including lots of stuff from The Drama). I always love the Paping table, and I gleefully picked up the new(ish) Paping #16: The Teachers Edition, which compiles many tales of NYC public school teaching by John Mejias (and others).

So it was a very enjoyable show for me, in that all of my (possibly malformed) expectations were duly caressed. I hope you had a good caressing too.