Small Press Expo Memories
Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on October 1, 2005 - 23:12
The Small Press Expo is all about the art of the comics medium. Comics from every type of genre, style and format. It's the face of the comics medium without the distortion of the obsessive focus on the superhero genre most comic conventions would give you.
Plus, it's been well infiltrated by webcomics creators.
I spent all of Saturday at the convention this year and at times the floor was fairly crowded. Unfortunately since then I've been away in the Golden State and just didn't have a chance to write up a proper feature on it. So consider this a bit of a rambling remembrance of people, moments and most importantly, comics.
(And there's a lot of pictures after the jump so it'll take more than a second for the full page to load.)
I met several webcomics creators who do political and topical humor in the work. August Pollak, who is a political blogger and a cartoonist, started off on the right foot by quoting me in a promo sheet he was giving away.
...as much a blog as it is a webcomic. But perhaps that is one way to make the web a more integral part of a political comic. Pollack has a cartoony style, but is no less harsh in his approach to poltics and news... If anything, the simply, slightly goofy art style lulls you a bit before you read the punchline.
Pollak's website and webcomic is called XQUZYPHYR & Overboard and his self-published book, "Monkeys Flinging Poo and Other Proud Moments in Media Punditry" was pretty good. It includes probably my favorite all-time Pollak comic: "But What Does Some Guy With A Website Think?"
As we talked, Pollak seemed very focused on raising his profile as a cartoonist. He apparently had a random breakfast with famed comics-writer Harvey Pekar (who was the guest of honor at SPXPO this year) and he wrote a bit about it here. In it he mentions seeing Pekar leave with a big box of comics from the show. He wasn't kidding, I saw him carrying it out too.
I also talked briefly with Mikhaela B. Reid who has another self-published book out entitled "Good News!". Reid has had a long-time web presence, but is also published in several big city weekly papers. Way back in October of 2004, I reviewed her work on Comixpedia and she continues to shine in her latest collection. She wrote a bit about SPXPO on her blog.
I also talked a bit with Rob Balder of Partially Clips fame who was sharing a table with Brian McFadden, the creator of Big Fat Whale and Matt Bors. I've also reviewed BFW which is a little like Reuben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug, but entirely funny and sharp in its own right. McFadden had several BFW collections he was selling and I picked up "Sea Anomie" which I think was self-published (and if so is one of the more well-done self publishing jobs I saw this year). Phil Kahn also wrote about BFW recently so check that out for more commentary.
Rob Balder is local to the Washington DC area so I do see him from time to time outside of conventions. Besides writing some great features for Comixpedia, Balder's webcomic Partially Clips is a well-received and fairly popular piece of topical satire. PC makes use of clip art and therefore live and dies on the strength of Balder's writing. A read of the first PC collection "Suffering For My Clip Art" will convince you that Balder is really funny. I still wish sometimes he experimented with the art (even varying the clip art from panel to panel) to mix up the look of the strip but regardless I'm a regular reader.
So shifting gears a bit, the entire Dumbrella team was there. SPXPO isn't entirely their crowd but their table did get plenty crowded at times. I was happy to meet John Allison who was a nice enough fellow and drew a cute lil panda in one of the many books I bought from him. Allison not only does amazing work online, all of his books are basically polished gems. The man has very high standards. I followed up with him a bit on the deck of Scary Go Round cards he had been working on. It is a bit expensive to get that kind of a project off the ground as Allison described it - I remember suggesting sarcastically that if only he had pitched it as a "fighting system" card deck it would have worked out.
I also talked briefly with Andrew Bell and Jeff Rowland. Rowland really does worry about dying (or he just loves riffing on that if he's joking) and showed off his slightly less-horrific scar from the crazy spider bite he had last year. Rowland is probably the most Kaufmanesque of the webtoonists I've met. If he wasn't doing comics, he could probably do avant garde standup comedy without missing a beat.
Jon Rosenberg was there along with his partner in Goats Phillp. Rosenberg looks more and more like a character out of his webcomic every year. R Stevens was also there but I didn't get a chance to talk to him. I did talk for a bit with the newest Dumbrellista, Steven Cloud, who does Boy On A Stick and Slither (BOASAS). That is a great webcomic and Cloud is an awesome dude. Hopefully the Dumbrella membership helps bring him more attention. He didn't have books this year, but I did pick up a cool Slither t-shirt.
There were a few folks there holding up the Modern Tales banner including T Campbell, Alexander Danner and Bryant Paul Johnson. Let me start by declaring that Teaching Baby Paranoia is one of my favorite webcomics. I suspect that Johnson's webcomic is one of the best webcomics that really deserves a wider audience than it seems to have. I am constantly finding people who should already love this webcomic unaware of Johnson's brillance. It was fantastic to meet him (I wound up chatting over dinner later with him, T Campbell, Alexander Danner and his wife Brandy). It was also great to meet Danner in person - he's been a great contributor to Comixpedia over the years and has gotten some well-deserved attention this year for his webcomic work, including winning a WCCA award. Danner also wrote a few entries in his blog about his SPXPO experience.
I also met some new folks (at least new to me) and enjoyed their comics. Bosch Fawstin has a praised comic called "Table For One" (The book has a very nice quote from Joe Zabel among others). No webcomic work to speak of although Fawstin was aware of Modern Tales and didn't seem entirely opposed the notion of pursuing a web project at some point. ("Table For One" would certainly feel right at home on MT) I really enjoyed the comic upon reading it - the artwork creates the proper atmosphere and the dialogue and characters generally are convincing. I was a little less then taken with the simple plot and the largely unlikeable main character, but that's more than forgiveable.
I also liked a project called "Lackluster World" which although it's up to book 3, I only bought the first book. Eric Adams has an almost creepy, cartoony style (when I first saw it reminded me of Ornery Boy) and has set up a world filled with the typical slackers and cynics of many comics. His central character, however, is truly scornful of almost everything which is nicely contrasted by his aggressively religious siblings who make great supporting characters. The first book is mostly establishing characters although there is a wacky, yet uneasy birthday party that takes place. It's entirely possibly I'll be disappointed by the direction Adams is taking the story based on the apparently supernatural event on the last page, but there was so much energy in this first issue I'm hopeful I'll find something to like. Here of course, though is a very offbeat story with decidedly non-superhero characters where Adams is trying to publish only in comic books. This story is perfect for a webcomic, even if it's something updated on a less frequent basis like monthly. I don't even think Adams would have to change the format or pace of the tale much to move it to the web. I'm not sure Adams would actually make more or less money in the short term from putting this on the web but in the long term it's hard to imaging him getting more attention from a comic book versus the web. Over time, especially for the newcomer, I think the web wins hands down.
Next, I also liked "Broken" by Lonny Chant and Brian Erzen. Good story, clean art and a nice publishing job by ComiXpress on the book. Broken is pitched as a six issue mini-series. Again, this just seems to me to be something that needs to be on the web. Chant and Erzen are talented enough - they need to build an audience for the stories they want to tell. At least they have some preview pages on their website but we're at an inflection point where it's reasonable to argue whether one sells more or less books because of serializing it on the web. Again, for a work this good, I'd argue that Chant and Erzen need to put it on the web to build an audience for the stories they want to tell. The web is a better vehicle for that then a comic book alone.
I haven't even gotten a chance to read everything I bought this year so let me apologize in advance for books I haven't gotten to, websites I haven't browsed yet and witty conversations that have already slipped my brain this week. I met A LOT of interesting people this year and I suspect I'll be writing about some of them later in 2005.
I saw Neil Fitzpatrick this year who does Neil Jam. Fitzpatrick seems most comfortable with the minicomic and although in past years has made a push to publish on the web, seems not to be focused on that this year. Fitzpatrick did have easily the cleverest package at SPXPO this year - a "boxed set" of his minicomics which I think was $20 bucks for a lot of comics. (Look at the picture of Neil and he's holding the boxed set up.)
I also saw newly engaged couple Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier. Roman is working on Astronaut Elementary and Telgemeier is working on various projects including a comic version of popular novel series "The Babysitters Club" for Scholastic. If the book is treated with the same care and feeding Scholastic is providing for Jeff Smith's Bone then Telgemeier is going from promising newcomer to comic giant in a relative short time.
I also chatted briefly with Kean Soo who did one of my favorite Comixpedia covers back in 2004. Soo wrote about his SPXPO trip here. Right next to Soo were David Hellman and Dale Beran of A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible. ALILBTDII is one of the best webcomic going and it was great to talk with both of them. They were selling really nice poster versions of several of their comics. I bought the "yeti" episode. That is going to freak some people out at work :)
I also talked to Ryan North a bit. North of course creates the hilarious webcomic Dinosaur Comics. He is also the tallest working webcomic creator. Taller even then Jeph Jacques. I have got to figure out a way to have Jacques and North on some kind of "Giants of Webcomics" thing.
Met David McGuire who was selling books next to Meredith Gran and had comics from the Bag of Chips crew as well as his own. I picked up an Evil Circus book. I think I was tired at this point - it was obvious McGuire was, so no great insights into BoC plans for next year. But later on reading Evil Circus I was really impressed. It's a bit (just a bit) in the Dave Kelly school (which really isn't Kelly's school so much as he brought it to the web) but McGuire's art is surprisingly effective and he doesn't skimp on backgrounds. And more importantly the book is funny. Silly, absurd and funny. I'm looking forward to checking out his main webcomic project Fox and Apple.
Last but not least I talked for awhile with Benjamin Birdie and Mike Rosenzweig who had a table together. Birdie has just kicked off I-Pass which is a new website that allows him to post something new everyday. It means more Genre City as well which is great as that continues to be one of my favorite series. It also includes a new webcomic called Kings of Pop which is worth checking out. Rosenzweig had books collecting his Everything Jake - Senior Year: Highschool. Those books looked nice.