The 21st Small Press Expo was held last weekend in Bethesda, Maryland. Deadshirters Dom Griffin, Kayleigh Hearn and Max Robinson were in attendance and wrote about the best books they picked up at the show.
BUTTS 2 BUTTS
by Laura D. Graves
The thing I love about SPX is the omnipresence of young, new voices just trying stuff out. Comics is such a wide open medium in which there are so many directions to go, whether you’re into more traditional cape and cowl stuff, or autobiography, fantasy, whatever the hell. There’s a kind of experimentation you see in webcomics that’s encouraged on the internet but harder to find in print locally. SPX brings all these diverse voices and their self-printed wares right to you. You can actually see new talents finding their voice.
I bought this minicomic from Laura Graves because it had butts on the cover and I’m twelve, but I was pleasantly surprised at the interiors. It’s a simple enough exercise, a short story about a couple who decides to sleep BUTT 2 BUTT for warmth purposes and inadvertently open a dimension to the gates of Hell? You know, typical slice-of-life shit. What stirred me was Graves’s very natural ability for character acting and humorous pacing. Graves has a quirky line, but a sharp eye for mixing wild imagery with earthy comedy. The coda says this is the first comic she’s ever created, but the potential is there to do great things in the future. It’s always a pleasure to get in on the ground floor. You can read it digitally here.
– Dom Griffin
by Sophie Goldstein
The 2015 Ignatz Award winner for Outstanding Comic and Outstanding Graphic Novel, Sophie Goldstein’s The Oven is a finely crafted story about hope, sex, drugs, and family, set in an achingly familiar future. After the depletion of the Ozone layer, most people live in domed cities where the government regulates which couples can and cannot have children. Eric and Syd leave their domed city for the Oven, a hot, poverty-stricken no man’s land, in the hopes of having a baby. (The reason Eric was forbidden to have children—acne—is a wonderfully sad detail.) Taken in by the fertile Maggie and her family, Eric and Syd struggle to adjust to the new freedom of the Oven, and they discover the price of getting what they wanted may be too high.
At 80 pages, The Oven is a taut drama without a single wasted panel. Goldstein’s worldbuilding is subtle and effective; the Oven isn’t a Mad Max-style apocalyptic wasteland, but rather full of recognizable details like battered trailers, tattered American flags, and broken beer bottles. (Only on closer inspection do you realize that many of the background dwellings are repurposed space capsules and rocketships.) The book is colored in orange, black, and brown tones, giving a sense of the immense heat under which the optimistic Syd flourishes but Eric wilts. (“Ah,” I murmured to myself, upon remembering that “oven” is also slang for the womb.) Sophie Goldstein’s The Oven is a quiet, thoughtful meditation on fertility and the differences between men and women—differences that can be hidden, for a time, when you have to cover your face from the unforgiving heat of the sun.
– Kayleigh Hearn
Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection
by Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to call Kate Beaton the best cartoonist in comics right now, and her second hardcover collection of strips is one hell of an Exhibit B. Step Aside, Pops is a fantastic sampling of Beaton’s work over the last handful of years, and there is honestly something in here for just about everyone.
In her introduction, Beaton explains that Hark! A Vagrant tends to center around whatever she happens to be interested in at the moment, whether it’s semi-obscure Canadian historical figures, Janet Jackson’s music video for “Nasty,” or Black Canary. They’re all pretty straightforward gag comics, but what makes them Great rather than just “reference humor” is how Beaton’s very distinct wit shines through. Beaton’s skill as an artist means she can nail subtle punchlines that hinge on a vacant stare or a scrunched face. I was somewhat disappointed to see a few semi-expanded strips from previous collections included here except that, like, they’re still really fucking funny.
Beyond Beaton’s amusingly esoteric choice of subjects, SA,P highlights how she’s grown as a satirist with recurring characters like the boogieman-esque The Straw Feminists and hardcore absurd action babe squad Strong Female Characters (the end-result of a contest to create the worst character ever between Beaton and two other artists). These are probably the best, most pointed series of comics in the entire 160-page collection, and they’re hysterical. It’d be easy to pigeonhole Hark! A Vagrant material as “comics for English majors,” but that’d be a disservice to Beaton’s manic weirdness and ingenuity.
– Max Robinson
What’d YOU get at SPX? Let us know in the comments below!