SPX is my hometown convention. And I like it because it's relatively small and has a kind of indie vibe to it. There's none of the trappings of a typical comic book convention. No costumes, no spandex, hell there's not really even much manga when you get down to it. It's still mostly "art comics" and mini-comics, but the webcomics crowd has made consistently bigger in-roads into it (I've been going since 2003).
This year's event was at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center – a nicer space then previous years. All of the artist tables were in one big room which made it easier to find everything even if it made it seem more crowded then it probably actually was. Steve Conley, who is often drawing comics at the coffee shop down the block from my house is the Co-Executive of this event (Conley creates comics and owns Comicon.com).
First off, I wasn't able to stay for the Ignatz Awards ceremony on Saturday night, but this year's winner for Best Online Comic is The Perry Bible Fellowship by Nicholas Gurewitch. (A full list of winners is available at The Beat here.) The Ignatz Award nominees are picked by a jury, but the winners are picked by the convention attendees.
This year I brought a slightly better camera then my crappy cellphone, but the resulting photos prove that my new camera-shooting skills are… stoppable, basically. In any event I did take a bunch of photos and you can check them out in gallery form here.
Friday, I only had a couple of hours to spend so I did a quick run-through the place to get my bearings and just to spot what I could. Then I checked out the "Q&A with Jules Feiffer". Political cartoonist Tim Kreider was the moderator and he asked good questions and basically let Feiffer talk as much as he wanted to so… kudos to Tim. Feiffer has such an interesting life story it's clear he's made the most of his time on earth. It was great fun to hear him talk about his time working with Will Eisner, collaborating with Mike Nichols on the movie Carnal Knowledge, writing the screenplay for the movie Popeye, working for the Village Voice and now working on childrens books. So interesting in fact that I noticed Scott McCloud watching as well, hanging on every word.
Much of Feiffer's work can seem cynical about human nature and no surprise… Feiffer himself is pretty cynical about humanity. He riffed that he's glad he's not doing political work anymore since he thinks Americans today want to return to a "pre-New Deal" system and he's better off trying to infiltrate the next generation through his childrens books. Essentially Feiffer didn't seem to think crafting political cartoons was doing much good in the world anymore (and you got the sense that he had his doubts that it ever did).
More directly related to comics were his stories about working for Will Eisner. Feiffer originally wanted to create his own comic strip in the style of the adventure comics popular at that time. While working as an assistant to Eisner, Feiffer relayed how he said to Eisner one day as to why when The Spirit had great art its stories weren't as good as they used to be. Apparently unoffended, Eisner gave Feiffer a chance to write a story for The Spirit, liked it and Feiffer ghost wrote much of the series until he left working for Eisner.
Saturday, I spent a large chunk of my day at SPX. In the morning I attended a panel titled "Graphic Novels: First Authors" with Megan Kelso, Miss Lasko-Gross, Matthias Lehmann and Austin English (who showed up about halfway through the panel). I don't know what I expected from this panel, but it wasn't particularly enlightening – either about the particular first graphic novels of each panelist or about the process of working on your first graphic novel. What I did hear was – no surprise – creating a comic of graphic novel length takes time and you probably should only commit to it if you have a story to tell that you are truly passionate about telling.
I had hoped later to get into Scott McCloud's talk (part of the McClouds Across America Tour) but it was jammed – I couldn't even get close to the doorframe to the room. So I went to the "Political Cartooning" panel with Tim Kreider, Ted Rall, Mikhaela Reid, Jen Sorensen and Rick Veitch, moderated by Mr. CBLDF, Charles Brownstein. All of these folks, except for Veitch, are part of the Cartoonists With Attitude group spun out of the artists Ted Rall has interviewed for his Attitude anthology series. This was an entertaining panel if for no other reason then this is a group used to shouting what's on its mind. A little surprising to me was the general acceptance that political comics don't really change anyone's mind that much. I'll grant that there's a value to reading something you agree with if for no other reason than to know you're not alone, but I still fantasize that we live in a world where speech can inform and persuade each other of the merits of particular ideas. Later on I caught up with Rob Balder (Partially Clips) and Brian McFadden (Big Fat Whale) at the Cartoonists With Attitude table. Balder is a fellow member of Washington Webtoonists and hopefully you've all checked out his clip art-driven comic Partially Clips (If not go! We'll wait here for you). I'm also partial to McFadden's work which is funny and doesn't always cover political topics.
Out on the floor I was pretty excited about meeting creators and buying some books and swag. First off, I was pretty happy to meet Jeph Jacques, creator of Questionable Content who is (as we used to say back in Northern California) a hella good guy. There's no QC book yet (although Jacques said he wanted to do one and he was getting closer to making that a reality) so I went with swag and picked up a very cool Math Is Delicious t-shirt. I also got a sketch of his characters Faye and Dora (I usually go for sketches of more obscure characters – I was initially thinking Pizza Girl)
Right next to Jacques was David Malki who does the cool clip-art comic Wondermark. It's actually scanned in art from works in the public domain so clip-art comic is not an entirely accurate term. This was a table for the Playground Ghosts collective which includes the creators of Acid Keg, Alien Loves Predator, Fluff in Brooklyn, Pixel, and Reprographics in addition to Malki's Wondermark. Besides Malki I also met Colleen AF Venable who does Fluff in Brooklyn which to me at least is a great blend of cute and strange. It's a photo-comic featuring characters like a hamster, a microscope and a frog as well as the creator and her friends. In any event I bought her "Attack of the Tadpole Fanclub" book which came in a stitched plastic cover.
Which brings up a point. Comics on paper range from slickly published work to not-so slick published work. Many folks like the D.I.Y. approach of hitting Kinkos and making comics. But with the explosion in books from digital on-demand printers like Lulu and Comixpress (both of which were there) it tends to make the home-made comics look even more amateur. Which for me only made me more aware of the difference between a crappily thrown together home-made job (sadly the vast majority of these at SPX) and someone really taking advantage of the freedom that a home-made job allows. I loved Venable's cover (it helped that the printing/xeroxing inside was cleanly done) – I wish I'd seen more of that.
Not much later on, I met Danielle Corsetto who does the excellent series Girls With Slingshots. She is uber-talented and I've already read the book I bought from her table. Drawn by Corsetto, but written by Jim Dougan, Crazy Papers is amazingly good for a 50 page comic. Corsetto has a style already which she uses to great effect in this tale of slapstick and wit, twists and terrible sing-alongs to a particular metal band from New Jersey. Dougan is also great – this is a complete story in the best sense – it moves with rapid pace and effortlessly incorporates evocative details while careeming through an adventurous couple of days.
Much later on but still one of my favorite artists I caught up with Drew Weing who was sharing a table with Eleanor Davis and Antar Ellis. I bought Bugbear which includes work from Drew and Eleanor. Weing may still be best known for the autobiographical work, The Journal Comic but his current project Set To Sea is a wonderful, Segar-esque adventure story that Drew indicated he would be bringing to print when it's finished. While I encourage everyone to go check out Set To Sea during it's serialization on the web – I think when it hits print it will be an even bigger deal. I think it's that good.
Alex Robinson was an amiable guy who – while I may be the last person to read his work (but I bought Tricked and I'm going to dive into it soon) – agreed to let me take his picture for a website he'd never heard of. Carla Speed McNeil (Finder) was a bit busy – as was Barton Lash (Supernatural Law) at the next table. I caught up with Matt Wood, one of the co-writers of The Dada Detective. I also bought the latest Neil Jam mini-comics from Neil Fitzpatrick. I chatted a bit with Craig Taillefer who does Wahoo Morris. Very soon new installments of WM should be hitting the web. Last but not least members of the defunct Bag of Chips collective were there: Ian Jones-Quartey (RPG World), David McGuire, and Meredith Gran.
I actually spotted Meredith at the same time I saw Rich Stevens when he slipped in towards the end of the afternoon. Dumbrella wasn't there, but Stevens stopped by to check out comics. Rich took a picture of me while I was sporting my Boy On A Stick And Slither t-shirt (for which I got a "cute shirt" comment earlier in the day – so Steven Cloud at least one woman at SPX liked your t-shirt even if she'd never heard of your comic…) Too bad by that time of the day my brain was rapidly deteriorating and it wasn't much longer before I left. As usual though I bought a ton of books, hopefully most of which will be awesome and I'll get to blab about on the site at a later date.