The Best Bethesda Has To Offer: SPX Wrap Up

Not every convention has a cash bar on the convention floor. The Small Press Expo does. Granted, it also has a couple of hundred of the finest independent creators around, including but not limited to Harvey Pekar of "American Splendor" fame, but it wasn't the talent this weekend that nearly killed me.

The 2005 Small Press Expo, SPX, held in Bethesda from September 23-25, is the eleventh installment of one of the biggest small press conventions in America. It attracts comic creators from around the world, like Ø, Runde from Norway, as well as premier independent publishers like Top Shelf and Oni Press.


This year SPX, which takes place in the Washington DC area, had to contend with a number of problems; high gas prices in the aftermath of Katrina and expectation of Rita, a major protest in DC, and Neil Gaiman's appearance at the National Book Festival. In spite of all this, SPX sold out all it's exhibitor spots and managed to be a bustling event for fans and exhibitors alike.

Friday's show was slightly slow, as exhibitors made their way to the show and fans started to trickle in. The highlight of Friday's show was the Spotlight On Harvey Pekar. Pekar spoke for more than hour on his decades spanning career in comics, a career that lead him from working with legendary underground artist R. Crumb to appearing on the David Letterman show to having a movie based on his life and work open to wide acclaim, all while working as a file clerk at a VA hospital in Cleveland.


Pekar's most recent work is the forthcoming "Quitter," published by DC Comics as a hardcover original with art by fellow expo attendee Dean Haspiel. Pekar was also the keynote speaker at Saturday night's Ignataz Awards, which honor the best and the brightest of alternative comics.

The Saturday show was a much livelier affair, with a number of panels, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund auction, the Ignataz Awards, a healthy crowd with lots of money to burn, and that cash bar.

Panels included Crafting a Graphic Novel, moderated by The Beat's slightly under the weather Heidi McDonald and featuring Alex Robinson, creator of "Box Office Poison" and the brand new graphic novel "Tricked," Andy Runton, creator of "Owly," and Aaron Renier, creator of "Spiral Bound," talking about the joys and perils of creating a graphic novel.


Another popular panel was Visualizing American Splendor, featuring Harvey Pekar and some of his collaboraters, such as Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld and Ed Piskor, as they discussed Pekar's working methods and the experience of working with someone whose time in comics spans the history of alternative comics.

Saturday was a brisk day for exhibitors, with lots of exhibitors selling well, and in several cases, selling out their entire stock of comics, and several comics generated a huge buzz during the weekend.

Elizabeth Genco sold out of her mini "Weird Sister," a book of stories about a young witch in the city and her giant ghost dog written by relative newcomer Genco with art by veterans like Leland Purvis of "Pubo" fame and Dash Shaw.

"Bone Sharps, Cowboys, And Thunder Lizards" by Jim Ottaviani and Big Time Attic, a book about, well, cowboys and dinosaurs, sold out early on Saturday, completely blowing past Ottviani's expectations. He rallied by selling fans "futures" in the book, taking their names and addresses down to send them a copy of the book as soon as he got home from SPX.

"Peng," the new book from Corey Lewis, creator of the hit "Sharkknife," sold like gangbusters from the Oni Press table, as did copies of Bryan Lee O'Malley's "Scott Pilgrim," helped by having O'Malley himself at the con. O'Malley's wife Hope Larson has also having a nice run on her new book "Salamander Dream."

"Street Angel's" Jim Rugg brought copies of the trades and some brand new prints to the con, and sold every single one of them.

"Action Philosophers" by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy, was one of the more talked about books of the show. The Xeric Award winning comic features the lives and thoughts of some of history's greatest thinker retold in a funny, thought provoking way.

Neil Kleid was selling copies of his Xeric Award winner, "Ninety Candles," but the real draw was a binder full of preview pages from his upcoming graphic novel "Brownsville," featuring art by Jake Allen and telling the tale of Jewish gangsters in the thirties.

The massive and deeply, wonderfully, strange "Six Hundred And Seventy Six Apparitions Of Killoffer," a European import from creator Killoffer, wowed everyone who looked at it with it's bizarre tale of a man haunted by himself, lots and lots of himself, drinking and generally rampaging across Europe.

"Finder," Carla Speed McNeil's self described aboriginal sci-fi, made brisk sales and snagged an Ignatz, while McNeil announced that after issue 38 the series would switch over from single issues to a free web comic format. The comic will continue to be collected in trades every July as it has been since the late '90s. "Finder" has recently been cited as an example of the kind of high quality/low sales comic that might be hurt by Diamond Distribution's new benchmark policy, but McNeil assured her readers that this change has nothing to do with the new policy.

Jane Irwin gave out copies of "Vogelein," her "fairies in the dumpster" modern fantasy comic, and the trade seemed to be moving well. Little Vogelein stickers could be seen here and there all weekend.

Saturday also saw the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's annual charity auction, where fans could buy sketches, prints, and books to help support the CLDF's fight to preserve free speech in comics. This year's auction raised more than eleven thousand dollars for the fund.

The highlight of Saturday's show was this year's presentation of the Ignatz Awards. Hosted by Keith Knight, these awards celebrate the best of the independent comics in world in categories ranging from Anthologies to Online comics.

Keith's fast funny presentation kept the show moving, as did the shot of tequila award winners were asked to take, although volunteers from the audience such as Dean Haspiel managed to take shots for those who weren't inclined to drink in front of an audience.

The Ignatz rundown:

  • OUTSTANDING ARTIST -- David B., "Epileptic" (Pantheon), "Babel" (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • OUTSTANDING ANTHOLOGY OR COLLECTION -- "Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man," John Porcellino (La Mano)
  • OUTSTANDING GRAPHIC NOVEL -- "Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return," Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon)
  • OUTSTANDING STORY -- "Dogs and Water," Anders Nilsen (Drawn and Quarterly)
  • PROMISING NEW TALENT -- Andy Runton, "Owly" (Top Shelf Productions)
  • OUTSTANDING SERIES -- "Finder," Carla Speed McNeil (Lightspeed Press)
  • OUTSTANDING COMIC -- "Or Else" #1, Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)
  • OUTSTANDING MINICOMIC -- "Phase 7," Alec Longstreth (Self-published)
  • OUTSTANDING ONLINE COMIC -- "The Perry Bible Fellowship," Nicholas Gurewitch
  • OUTSTANDING DEBUT NOMINEES -- "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet The Bed?", Liz Prince, Top Shelf Productions

Sunday was the last day of the show, and was the creator's summit, a day of panels geared to helping creators and aspiring creators hone their craft. The day was laid back and relaxed as people prepared to go home and recovered from the previous day, but the panels were well attended.

The Washington DC Area creator's group, The DC Conspiracy, led a panel introducing themselves and talked about the value of networking with other creators in your own local area to help get your work out there.

Carla Speed McNeil, along with "Plastic Farm" creator Rafer Roberts, "Dog & Pony Show" creator Pam Bliss, and Matt Feazell, creator of "Cynicalman," led the Self Publishing 101 panel. Subjects ranged from what size your comics should be to what the best options for printing are for the small press creator.

Jesse Reklaw of distributor Global Hobo joined Dylan Williams, publisher for Sparkplug and Puppytoss alum, to discuss distributing and selling small press comics. Left without a moderator, Reklaw and Williams let the crowd vote on what to discuss, leading the conversation to focus on mini comics distribution.

After the creator's summit, and after some confusion with the map to the park, was the annual softball game and picnic. Every year a number of creators from SPX join together to take out their frustrations at Diamond by playing the diamond team in a softball game.

This year's creators team included Josh Neufield, Rafer Roberts, Dean Haspiel and , pitching for them, "The King" creator Rich Koslowski. The creator's team put a good fight, but ultimately went down swinging as the Diamond team racked up score after score.

For everyone else, the picnic provided some time for relaxation in the pleasant fall weather, as well as some good, and most importantly free, food, and a chance to watch some of independent comics greatest slide around in the dirt.

As in softball, so in life.

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