“Grandma. SPX is really great. I think we found ourselves here. We finally got to see all these comics we only know from the internet. We saw some beautiful art here. Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec drawn like a Lego person. A crudely drawn hamburger getting it’s dick sucked. Things we’ll never forget. We got to let loose. God, I can’t believe how many new friends we made. All the long distance bromances, they really exist outside of tumblr and late night DMs. Friends from all over the place. I mean everyone was so sweet here. So warm and friendly. I know we made friends that will last us a lifetime. We met people who are just like us. People who love John Ostrander comics from the 80s the same as Charles Burns. Everyone was just trying to find themselves. It was way more than just comics. We see things different now. More colors, more love, more understanding. I know we have to go back to our shitty jobs, but we’ll always remember this trip. Something so amazing, magical. Something so beautiful. Feels as if the world is perfect. Like it’s never gonna end.”
But it had to end, didn’t it?
“THIS IS THE FUCKIN’ AMERICAN DREAM! THIS MY FUCKIN’ DREAM, Y’ALL! I got…I got fuckin’ mini-comics, every color. I got ZINES. I GOT LISA HANAWALT’S MY DIRTY DUMB EYES, SHE DREW A PUG ON THE INSIDE COVER. I GOT MICHEL FIFFE’S COPRA COM-PEN-DIUM, WE TALKED ABOUT SUICIDE SQUAD. I GOT ALL KINDS OF SHIT.
SPX, man….I’ve been here going on five years. Y’all never gonna find a better place for folks to sell their mini comics, to get their dreams out there. That resin-cast BATMAN pin? That’s ART, someone MADE that. This isn’t, y’know, “COMIC-CON” where you’re gonna line up to talk to Lou Ferrigno or whatever, get pitched a summer event series. No, y’all come here to experience a community. ORIGINAL COMIX AND $7 SAM ADDAMS DRAFTS THAT’S WHAT SMALL PRESS EXPO IS *ABOUT* Y’ALL!
If a life devoted to the consumption and creation of stories has taught me anything, it is that all good things must come to an end. It also taught me other valuable lessons, like, “God loves a working man” and “See a doctor and get rid of it” but I don’t know that either of those are particularly germane to the subject at hand. I’m not a big convention hound, so outside of visiting Baltimore Comic-Con two years ago (where I managed not to cry on Mark Waid while thinking about his first issue of Fantastic Four) and Morrisoncon last year (where I ABSOLUTELY failed at not crying on Grant Morrison after he wished me a happy birthday) I don’t have a lot of experience with navigating the crowds and organizing my time to best hit every table, vendor and creator on my list. Luckily, the Small Press Expo is in such a compact locale (the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center curiously located in Rockville, MD) that all you really have to do is dive right the hell in.
Okay OKAY what’d I get? Let me see…I got KC Green’s GREAT FROG mini comic, that was really funny, kinda sad and INFLECTIVE. I got a bunch of skeleton posters from an Italian artist near the back of the room for $10. I got Michael Kupperman’s Mark Twain Autobiography 1910-2010. I got a pixelated FURBY pin. That’s right, I see you laughin’. Hush. I got Fantagraphics’ THE SECRET HISTORY OF MARVEL COMICS, a hardbound book you could probably kill someone with.
My compatriots and I arrived later in the afternoon than originally planned and split up pretty quickly. Armed only with a labyrinthian map and a pocket full of cash originally earmarked for groceries that was certain to be blown on all sorts of comic goodies, I let myself get lost in SPX. The color coded map and index of creators and vendors was helpful the way a spoon and a lighter might be useful trapped inside a mine. The best strategy, I found, was to wander around aimlessly like a police sketch artist’s approximation of slack jawed awe and pray to God I’d find an artist I recognized or a friend who would have a better sense of direction than I did. Option A was pretty effective, using the first artist I ran into (Michel Fiffe, in this case) as a puzzle piece to crack the rest of the SPX Map Cypher. Thanks, Jake Gyllenhaal in ZODIAC! Fiffe led to me to Zack Soto, who led me to Mike Mitchell, etc, etc.
Let’s see…I went around the show, asked artists to draw PACIFIC RIM-themed sketches in my sketchbook. That was real cool. KC Green hadn’t even seen the movie, he still did one:
One of my favorite things about a convention this size and with this wide an array of talent and attendance, is the sheer multitude of different kinds of books. The art and work on display ran the gamut from ironic hipster solipsism to clever, post-modern genre reinvention to just completely out there abstraction (the aforementioned hamburger fellatio.) Seeing these often self-published works of idiosyncratic expression was beyond inspiring. At a traditional convention, you might run into Matt Fraction and think “Hey, he used to be a poster on Warren Ellis’ message board and now he writes the Fantastic Four!” but nothing compares to looking across the exhibitor table and suddenly becoming aware of the invisible mirror it represents. Standing in front of someone just like you, a regular schmoe who loves comics and went and made some themselves, it really affects you. The low cost paper stock and the irregularly placed staples are like the 16mm celluloid that told the first generation of indie filmmakers, “Hey, you can do this.”
3:07pm, Saturday: Brandon Soderberg and I sit and have drinks. We show each other all the comics we’ve bought, then we talk about how great Sylvester Stallone’s COBRA is (COBRA is really great, you should check that out). Despite being friends and colleagues, SPX is the only time we ever have the chance to hang out.
One of my friends, Kial Dowry, had her own table at SPX. Prior to running into her, I had NO IDEA she made comics. NONE. It was so shocking. If people compare San Diego Comic-Con to Prom, then SPX is like a really sweet garage sale or thrift shop that happens to grown into a modest department store. Icons like Jeff Smith walk around like it’s no big deal, and its fantastic. The number of people who attended this convention and went home and put fingers to keys and pencils to bristol board (or stylus to tablet, whatever) must be staggering.
“HOTEL WAITER: Are they sellin’ shirts in there?
MAX: Yeah. Shirts, comics. Drawings. It’s a big indie comics convention.
HOTEL WAITER: That’s what I thought. I just moved down here from New York, it reminds me of Park Slope in there. You never see that kind of thing in Rockville, man!”
Not unlike Selena Gomez’s semi-protagonist from SPRING BREAKERS, I left the convention early. One day was enough for me. I spent the Ignatz after-party charging my cell phone, gritting my teeth at the idea of charging $8 for a Bud Light and marveling at how artfully a representative from Comixology was tossing around free drink tickets. I also got to see the astonishing, hot pink swoosh of Jen Vaughn’s hair up close and that was worth more than 10,000 panels on Adrian Tomine.
I did both days, Saturday and Sunday. That was the first time I’d done that since I started going to SPX. But everything just felt so huge this year, I’m glad I did. I saw so much cool stuff, so much enthusiasm. The after party, with the chocolate fountain and all the schmoozing? So fun! When I got back to Astoria, I took off my shoe and my TOE was bleeding from all the walking I did. Worth it. So worth it. I wanna go to SPX every year until I die.
COMICS AND FRIENDSHIP THAT’S WHAT LIFE IS ALL *ABOUT*!