SPX 2009: The Haul

I love the Small Press Expo. My five-plus-hour drive down to its Bethesda location from Long Island guarantees me an annual 36-hour immersion in the lifeblood of alternative comics, and there's nothing about it I like better than getting back to the hotel room or my library at home and spreading out all the new comics I dredged up from the depths. Here's a look at what I picked up this year.

Ganges #3, New Tales of Old Palomar #3, Reflections #3, Niger #2: On Sunday afternoon, Fantagraphics had a killer "buy one get one free" sale going on for two of its best publishing initiatives, the MOME anthology series and the Ignatz line of deluxe pamphlet-format comics, co-published with Coconino Press. I'm all caught up on MOME (in terms of ownership at least--I'm still a couple volumes behind readingwise), but there were several Ignatz issues that had fallen through the cracks for me. Fortunately I kept a list of the ones I was missing on my laptop, so after quickly running to the car and popping open the computer for consultation, I hustled back and snagged this quartet for a song. The Ganges was a show debut from Kevin Huizenga and the belle of the ball for many attendees, but I'm looking forward to digging into the others--stories from the Love & Rockets universe by Gilbert Hernandez, a multigenerational drama by Marco Corona, and a funny-animals fable by Leila Marzocchi respectively--just as much.

King-Cat: Minicomics legend John Porcellino is somehow still one of comics' best-kept secrets--seriously, mainstream readers, if you've dabbled in alternative comics at all, chances are what you read was influenced in one way or another by John P., whose poetically simple King-Cat minicomic has had a run of Cal Ripken-esque longevity and quality. I tend to be mail-order resistant when it comes to getting individual issues of comics, though, so my main exposure to Porcellino had been through his relatively few book-format collections: Perfect Example from Highwater/Drawn & Quarterly, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man from La Mano, and King-Cat Classics from D&Q. Porcellino made an ultra-rare con appearance at the show to promote his latest perfectbound collection, D&Q's Map of My Heart, but he also debuted King-Cat's 70th (!) issue. I picked that up along with several recent installments--my first proper King-Cat purchases ever!

Mammal #1 & 2 and Daring American Comics #1: Benjamin Marra was on my "New Action" panel about alternative-action comics on the strength of the series he writes and draws himself, Night Business and Gangsta Rap Posse. These books are another part of his publishing empire: Mammal is an art and design showcase featuring Marra and his friends and colleagues, while DAC are comics in his usual B-movie vein written by him and drawn by others. Take-no-prisoners material in any case.

Cold Heat #7/8, Cold Heat Special #6 & 7, and Chimera: Speaking of publishing empires, Frank Santoro was quite well represented at the PictureBox table, as is his wont. Frank debuted three Cold Heat comics--the new double issue of the main series, cowritten by Ben Jones, and two issues of the spinoff series showcasing other artists, featuring Chris Cornwell and Michael DeForge. As veteran Robot 6 readers are aware, Cold Heat's a favorite of mine. I also snapped up Chimera, an earlier tabloid-format comic of Santoro's I'd never actually come across until now.

The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror: Bongo's annual horror-comedy anthology goes altcomix in a big way with this Sammy Harkham-edited issue featuring a galaxy of Kramers Ergot-veteran stars. It's in the vein of Marvel's Strange Tales or DC's Bizarro World, but probably even further out and more free-reined.

Self Indulgence: The Blot author Tom Neely combines the style of early animation with the disconcerting atmosphere and body-horror of Davids Cronenberg and Lynch better than anyone this side of Al Columbia, with a defiant remnant of humanity that Columbia lacks. I've barely yet glanced at this customized minicomic (he'll draw the body part of your choice on the cover!) but I assume it's more of the high-quality same.

Sulk #3 and The Collected Essex County: In general I stay away from book-format comics at small press shows, since I can often get them cheaper, and with less need to lug them around all day, at a store or online when I get home. But there's nothing cheaper than free, and the boys at Top Shelf were good enough to provide me review copies of Jeffrey Brown's latest and Jeff Lemire's biggest. Brown's action-centric Sulk series tapdances over the line between parody and sincerity, while Lemire's Essex County trilogy boasts some truly evocative linework, and I'm psyched to crack into both.

Sleeper Car: New Theo Ellsworth? That's all you have to say.

Crickets #2: Depending on who you talk to, Sammy Harkham's Eightball-style one-man anthology series is/isn't a victim of Diamond's new order-minimum policy; at any rate there won't be any more issues, and this sucker is out of print and hard to find even through publisher Drawn & Quarterly. But PR maestra and booth captain extraordinaire Jessica Campbell actually brought one of the company's few remaining office copies down from their Montreal headquarters to sell to me at the show. Now THAT'S dedication to getting your comics to their audience.

Head to Head: My college buddy and occasional comics collaborator Matt Wiegle created yet another mini to add to his already impressive back catalog for this show; it mostly features various figures of fable, fiction and fantasy facing off, hence the title. I really enjoy the Phantom/Randall Flagg match-up, aka The Ghost-Who-Walks vs. Walkin' Dude Walk-Off.

Archaeology, Schematic Comics, Three Very Small Comics #2 & 3: Printed on cardtock and cut with a saw; boasting a cover that feels like it's been laquered; envelopes containing three-packs of matchbook-sized comics--these minicomics releases from James McShane, Dan Zettwoch, and Tom Gauld respectively, all on sale at the Buenaventura Press table, show just how far beyond Kinko's minicomic production values can go.

Driven by Lemons: Gussied up to look like an exact replica of the sketchbook in which its comics were originally drawn, this new AdHouse release from Skyscrapers of the Midwest's Josh Cotter is emotional, abstract, and accomplished--book of the show, I would say.

Warrior Twenty Seven: Two issues of Christopher Beckett's anthology series were pressed into my hands by Beckett himself following his enthusiastic reception of the New Action panel, after which we were introduced by Frank Santoro. And quite frankly, being handed comics by their enthusiastic creators is one of the best ways in the world to get comics.

Not pictured: Boy's Club #3, Injury #3, I Want You #1, and The Aviatrix #1: I'd managed to secure copies of these damn-the-torpedoes altcomix-pamphlets-ahead Buenaventura Press comics by Matt Furie, Ted May & friends, Lisa Hanawalt, and Eric Haven, along with recent book-format releases Jack Survives by Jerry Moriarty and The Gigantic Robot by Tom Gauld, earlier in the week. But such a nerd am I that I actually brought them down to Bethesda with me so I could flip through them in the hotel along with everyone else who snapped them up at the show.

Anything look intriguing to you?

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