Back from SPX

September 28, 2009

spxgahanwilsonposterfullSome random thoughts from this year’s Small Press Expo:

I really wanted to adhere to Tom Spurgeon’s suggestion to do a full circuit of the floor before buying anything, but Fanfare/Ponent Mon was right there by the main entrance. I’m not made of stone. After that, I did get back on the Spurgeon track. By the time I got back to the NBM table, the last copy of Miss Don’t Touch Me was gone. I think that was my punishment for ignoring Tom’s advice… or trying to follow it.

I did pretty well resisting the urge to buy books just because the creator was there signing them. I bought books I meant to get eventually because the creator was there signing, which feels different. And I refrained from buying new copies of books I already had because the creator was there, though the temptation was strong. And I think I seemed less stalker-y and creepy when complimenting these people than I have in the past. (Feel free to correct me in the comments!)

signatureAnyway, the exception I made was for R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics (Drawn & Quarterly), which looks great. And he drew a great cockroach in a Charlie Brown sweater for me.

Speaking of Sikoryak, he was putting his coat on when I asked him to sign my book on Sunday, so I thought he was about to take a break and offered to come back, but he was just freezing cold. Apparently, the Miss Maryland Pageant event in the next hall asked to keep the air conditioning on the frosty side so nothing essential melted and slid off. Now, it’s fair enough to ask, but many cartoonists are on the anemic side, and they were suffering for their neighbors’ freshness. (The pageant event was sponsored by a “tanning system.” I’m assuming this is necessary if they require climates roughly akin to a florist’s case and want to avoid the damaging heat of the sun’s rays.)

minisI bought lots of neat mini-comics about things like baking, menstruation, sharks… you know, the usual. But my favorite had to be Hairyola by Tom Batten and Patrick Godfrey of Coldcock Comics. It’s a moving story about professional jealousy among independent cartoonists complicated by malevolent, sentient nipple hair. I only made it through a third of Blankets, so I thought it was hilarious.

My second-favorite mini-comic was Bill Roundy’s really charming piece of what I can only describe as gay super-hero doujinshi where a well-known mutant speedster tries to ditch last night’s trick so he can make his brunch date with his sleek, reformed-villainess colleague.

There was some interesting discussion in the “Future of the Comic Book” panel on Sunday. (There was also an avalanche of “ums” and “likes,” to be totally honest.) It featured a group of creators and a publisher who are committed to pamphlet comics as worthy objects in spite of distribution woes and the lure of digital opportunities. It’s weird and kind of sad that this has become a quixotic endeavor. And, yes, current options for widespread distribution make things worse, though Diamond has apparently tried to work with small presses up to a point. (I don’t know if this was ironic or not, but someone brought her two young daughters to the panel, and they were perfectly content to sit there and read their new copies of Raina Telgemeier’s adaptations of The Baby-Sitters Club books.)

The critics panel wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought it would be more of a round-up of some of the year’s best books, but it was actually a lively discussion of being a comic critic. It was really nice to meet Jog, Chris Mautner, and Tucker Stone in person. And for those of you who were wondering, Tucker isn’t adopting a persona for his reviews. He talks like he writes, and he’s hilarious. At one point, he kind of eviscerated the idea of the need for a shared critical discourse on books of import, which was awesome. Alas, he did not get the opportunity to respond to another panelist’s disdain for snark, though I sensed the audience shift towards the edge of their seats in anticipation of such a rejoinder. Alas, it will have to live in our imaginations.

I sat next to Johanna Draper Carlson at the panel, and it was nice to catch up with her. She’s probably hard at work on a fuller write-up of the critics’ panel and posted a photo of me from the convention, taken during the three or four minutes when I actually had any responsibility of any kind. (Update: Her panel wrap-up is here.)

Aside from being an interesting panelist and a very accomplished comics critic, Douglas Wolk has amazingly floppy hair. It’s like it was styled by a shôjo manga-ka.

I finally had the pleasure of meeting First Second’s Gina Gagliano in person, though we’ve been e-mailing back and forth for ages. She’s a delight, and I was so happy that she didn’t like Hero either. Adding luster to the encounter was the fact that I also met Bully and his handlers at the same time. This all took place at the Oni Press booth, where everyone was busy selling books, signing books, and doing sketches. They were all so bustling and good-natured that I now suspect the publisher doesn’t have an office so much as a magical, hollowed-out elm tree.

Having grown up in a place without a subway system, much less one as good as the District of Columbia’s Metro, I always take nerdy, hick-ish glee in riding around on such systems when I have the chance. I feel like a muggle being allowed to travel by Floo Powder. That said, the Bethesda station was a sauna. Add a few skylights, and you could raise artisanal mushrooms in there.

My overall impression of the convention, which admittedly comes without much of a point of reference, is that it’s “just right.” Not too big, too hot, or too hard. I liked the layout, with larger publishers sprinkled around the floor and giving everyone a reason to visit the whole layout. The staff and volunteers were all enthusiastic and helpful, and the experience in general seemed professionally run but not rigid. The crowds were healthy both days – not dauntingly mobbed but full — and seemed pretty diverse in just about every way. The variety of books was amazing, from polished productions to cleverly crafted homemade pieces, with a great range of subjects and approaches on display.

And last but not least, I’m proud of myself for refraining from complimenting anyone on their Scott Pilgrim cosplay. If I’d started, I might never have stopped.