As is my wont, I made the one-day (the one day being Saturday) trek to Bethesda, Md., along with Joe "Jog" McCulloch for the annual Small Press Expo. Perhaps the Earth's rotation is spinning ever faster, but this year's show seemed a bit of a blur to me, even by previous years' standards. Before I had a chance to say "Sorry, I'm tapped out and can't buy your mini-comic," it was after 6 p.m. and time to go home. Fortunately I took some pictures to help my fading memory keep the show alive in my tumescent brain. Or at least, I tried to take some pictures.
Joe and I got there about 10 minutes before the official opening, but they let us in anyway, no doubt because of the snazzy VIP badges we scored. There was already a notable crowd that grew considerably as the day wore on. Based on my fleeting observations it seemed to be made up of the usual number of men, women, families, hipsters, young people, middle aged folks with big beards and just plain fans.
What was the book of the show? Was there a book of the show? Hard to say. New books from the larger (relatively speaking), big-name publishers tended to drown out some of the smaller, hand-stapled offerings. Everyone seemed to be eager to get their hands on the newest volume of Acme Novelty Library over at the D&Q table. A couple of folks I talked to said they couldn't wait to pick that up. Likewise, I saw a number of folks walking around with Vanessa Davis' latest book, Make Me a Woman. I also wasn't expecting them to have copies of the new, hardcover bound Palookaville as well. That was a nice surprise.
Elsewhere, Top Shelf finally had copies of their Ax anthology for sale. Picturebox had new graphic novels by Renee French and Julie Doucet, as well as Monster, an anthology of work by former Fort Thunder associates and like-minded individuals. They also had a sample copy of Brian Chippendale's If-n-Oof, a little brick of a book that strongly whetted my appetite for its eventual release.
Over at the Fantagraphics table, Jaime Hernandez had a steady stream of devotees seeking his signature, helped by the fact that the company had the latest and third Love and Rockets volume available. Fanfare/Ponent Mon had finally gotten their long-promised anthology Korea As Viewed by 12 Creators off the presses and on the show floor. AdHouse, meanwhile, seemed to attract a steady stream of customers as it had both a new issue of Paul Pope's THB: Comics from Mars #2 and Adam Hines' Duncan the Wonder Dog, an impressive and massive looking book that seems to be building up a steady buzz.
Frank Santoro was also on hand as usual, over by the PictureBox selling a variety of long-forgotten (Video Jack anybody?) mainstream comics out of his longboxes and raving about their various qualities to anyone who stopped by. Listening to Frank extol the virtues (or lack thereof) of, say, Coyote or Tiger-Man has become a real con highlight for me.
I helped out with two panels, both of which I thought went rather well. The first focused on Market Day author and CCS co-founder James Sturm. Sturm had a slideshow all prepared that delved into his bibliography, the creation of the school, and his recent decision to go offline for a few weeks. All I really had to do was give a general, glowing introduction, ask two relevant questions after he was done and then open the floor to audience questions. Pretty easy on my part and Sturm seemed really happy with the panel, so it was win-win as far as I was concerned.
The second panel I was on was the critics roundtable, which also featured Jog, Gary Groth, Johanna Draper Carlson, Ken Parille, Tim Hodler and Caroline Small. Many jokes were made (several by me) about how fistfights were likely to break out at this year's panel due to an minor Internet kerfuffle between Small and Hodler (among others) Everyone was gracious, polite and thoughtful though, which no doubt depressed and bored some of those in the audience. I think Heidi MacDonald in particular was hoping for blood to be spilled.
Most of the discussion centered on the the question of experience/knowledge versus being naive about certain genres and methodologies, how the wealth of material makes any sort of blanket coverage difficult and academic versus mainstream reviewing. I recorded the panel and will have a transcript and/or downloadable mp3 file available sometime before 2010 ends.
After the panels were over Joe and I grabbed a beer with Comics Comics' Tim Hodler, who had his daughter Ramona in tow, and who has to be one of the best behaved babies I've ever seen. Nothing like talking about Alan Moore and Garth Ennis while drinking Sam Adams and watching an 11-month old play with a paper napkin and go "ba ba ba." Everyone should have that experience.
For me the social aspects of SPX have long since equaled or even overridden the chance to blow a wad of dough on new, exciting comics (although I did that too). Meet people like Dustin Harbin, Zack Soto, Caroline and Ken, as well as say hello to people I haven't seen since MoCCA or the last SPX show. Many other bloggers have already commented on this, but it seems as though half of the primary reason for the show's existence is for people to schmooze with like-minded souls.
Oh, you want to know what I bought? Quickly then: the new Acme, the new Palookaville, Afrodisiac, the Ax anthology, Monster, Julia Wertz's Drinking at the Movies, the new Love and Rockets, Fire and Water (i.e. that Bill Everett book), the lastest Dodgem Logic, Jim Rugg's Rambo 3.5, Kevin Huizenga's The Wild Kingdom, a bunch of old Kyle Baker Shadows, and some other stuff that I'm not remembering right now.
One of the show's best highlights for me, however, was when First Second's Gina Gagliano introduced me to Ben Hatke, whose book, Zita the Spacegirl, will be published by the company early 2011. Hatke was there with his daughter Angelica, who had made her own minicomic, Chicken Adventures, which she had been selling at the show for $2 a pop. She had two copies left and offered to sell me one. "This," I promised her, "will be the first comic I read when I get home."
And it was.