As promised, here are some thoughts on this year's SPX, along with some sorta short reviews of some of the more notable comics I picked up at the show (that I've read thus far.
1. It was a really big show. Like seriously, literally big. Like, perhaps the biggest comic convention that didn't have a Marvel or DC booth I've ever been to (and no, I've yet to go to San Diego). After all the problems they had with online registration this year, the show organizers decided to increase the floor show space by a third, so there were about 280 tables at the show this year. I think my jaw actually did drop when I first walked in the door. I'm not sure I realized there were that many small press cartoonists out there.
2. Perhaps too big? The show was so large that, despite the helpful map handed out to attendees, it was tough at times to figure out where people were or get an overall sense of the room. I realized old method of walking up and down each aisle and then back again was clearly unworkable when I first walked in. As a result, there were a lot of cartoonists, books and acquaintances that I simply didn't see and didn't realize were there until after it was all over.
There's also a question of economics, as in: Are there enough fans of small press comics to justify the size of a show like this. At first glance, the answer seemed to be "yes." The aisles seemed packed with people on both Saturday and Sunday. Still, many exhibitors I talked to said they had a good show, but not a stellar one. Was last year's SPX simply so awesome (remember, it had the incredible trifecta of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and the Hernandez brothers) that this year's falls short in comparison? Were there simply so many exhibitors at the show that the dollars were spread out a bit thinner than before? I suspect it might be the latter question that ends up being the correct one, though we'll have to wait until the final totals are made. My own query is whether the small press audience can continue to not only sustain a show like this in the coming years but even grow. Have we now hit a ceiling for shows like this?
3. There was a lot of great comics there. As more than one person pointed out to me, it seems like just about everybody had a notable book out this year. D&Q had the new Palookaville. Picturebox had Frank Santoro's new book, Pompeii, and some awesome manga. Fantagraphics had the new Jim Woodring book and seemed to have a lot of attention for Ulli Lust, who won an Ignatz for her graphic novel, Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life. The Top Shelf booth drew a really large crowd for Rep. John Lewis, who was promoting March Vol. 1 with artist Nate Powell. Jeff Smith sold out of copies of the collected RASL on Sunday, Chuck Forsman's Oily Comics had a bunch of
4. I didn't come alone. Part of the reason my shopping was curtailed this year was because I did something very different this time around and took my 11 (now 12) year-old daughter, Veronica, with me. She had made a comic over the past year and I thought she might get something out of the experience of trying to sell copies out of her backpack, not to mention get the chance to meet two of her biggest cartooning idols, Jeff Smith and Raina Telgemeier. Did she have a good time? I think so. It's hard to say. She seemed happy but also had her head in her iPad half the time. I understood though. SPX can be exhausting for a grown adult, never mind a tween, and I frequently had to stop and make sure she wasn't too tired, hungry, thirsty or just plain worn out. After attending the SAW/CCS workshop, however, she told me she wants to make a whole bunch of mini-comics over the next year so she can have a table at SPX 2014. So yeah, I think it's safe to say the show made an impression on her.
5. The panels were really great. We spent most of Saturday checking out the panels actually. SPX really has a high-quality line-up of informative and entertaining panels and that's largely due to the hard work of Bill Kartalopoulos. My panel, a free-ranging discussion between Gene Yang and Raina Telgemeier, seemed to go well. It was nice to see the first two rows thronged with kids eagerly clutching their copies of Smile and Drama. Jeff Smith's panel was also well attended with a nice mix of young and old. The aforementioned SAW/CCS workshop panel was a really great idea, with attendees making a quick mini simply by folding a sheet of paper. I don't know if that panel's a regular occurrence at the show, but it should be. I was only able to duck in a little bit into Joe McCulloch's panel, Paying Tribute: Traditions of Style, but it sounded fascinating and lively.
So in all, I deem SPX 2013 a success, at least for me and mine. And now for some short reviews:
Copra Compendium #1 by Michel Fiffe. I haven't read everything I got at the show yet, but this is my favorite read so far. How have I avoided this incredibly awesome comic up 'til now? I mean, I know Fiffe and I know people who like this comic a bunch, but even so I wasn't prepared for how just utterly fantastic Copra is. This comic is sooooooooo good you guys.I am kicking myself very hard for not buying the second Compendium at the show.
But Suddenly An Octopus by Andrea Tsurumi. A really charming children's comic (really almost more of a storybook) about a version of Little Red Riding Hood that keeps getting altered by the children listening to the story. The page where Hood gets run over by a posse of robots, ponies and dinosaurs made me laugh. Some enterprising children's publisher should snap this up.
Eel Mansions #1-3 by Derek Van Gieson. Nothing that I've read of Van Gieson's previous comics – certainly not the WWII story he did for Mome – prepared me for this delightfully weird, silly and occasionally genuinely creepy comic. Like the worst ADD-addled student, the comic zips between storylines involving a former leader of a satanic cult reduced to selling cars, an alcoholic cartoonist who likes to buck cherished beliefs about 20th century music in her comics, a lizard woman hiding out in her hotel, a uber-green secret service agent and really I'm just scratching the surface here. I detect the strong influence of early Eightball, particularly Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, but as influences go that's not a bad one to have. This is a deliciously goofy, occasionally deranged comic and I'm eager to see how Van Gieson will tie all these various threads together. Assuming he plans to that is.
Men's Feelings by Ted May. All the positive things you've heard about this book so far are true. It's really great. Go get it. What's especially interesting here is May segues from his usual wisenheimer comedy in the final story to offer a genuinely sincere and touching moment of insight and solitude and it works really well. Guy's kicking things up a notch.
Picnic Ruined by Roman Muradov. I'm in love with Muradov's lush, highly stylized art, which calls to mind such great cartoonists as Jean-Jacques Sempe, Lorenzo Mattotti and other Europeans. I was less taken with the dialogue, which has a weird stop/start rhythm to it that I found difficult to come to grips with. The comic itself is a (I surmise) semi-autobiographical tale of an artist wandering around San Francisco attempting to shake off feelings of depression and low self-worth and blaming everything on Belle & Sebastian. In a larger sense the comic is about finding singular, transcendental moments in life and the futility of trying to recapture those lost times in art and writing. But even if the text didn't quite captivate me, the art is striking and rich enough for me to be on the lookout for more of his comics in the near future.
Blades and Lazers by Benjamin Marra. He won the Galactic Surefirer Contest at the Obsidian Area. His (silent) brother is a 24th degree Blade Master. Together they battle demonic monsters from outer space. If that plot summation doesn't appeal to you then you had best stay far away from Ben Marra's latest tongue-in-cheek genre mash-up. All others, however, would be well advised to check out this hilarious ode to grade-z genre comics (the laser guy says "bro" a lot because of course he does). The hot pink color tone is a nice touch.
Polis Ample by Warren Craghead. One of the high points of the show this year for me was getting to meet Warren Craghead. Warren's one of the most original and interesting cartoonists around these days, combining a sort of concrete poetry and comics to great effect. This was one of his debut books at SPX. Attempting to describe it would be difficult; I'm still wrapping my head around it. I just know that I like it a whole lot.