The annual Small Press Expo started yesterday, out in Bethesda. This isn’t your 1980s comic convention, where the attendees were just happy that they could look down on Trekkies. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend bringing children at all in hopes of finding stuff just for them. While there undoubtedly juvenile material, the vast majority of the material is adult, often with a capital A. (Walking in to one door brought me face to face with a t-shirt proclaiming “I’d rather be masterbating”.) But this is also adult material as in mature (and sometimes not so mature), interesting stories with beautiful artwork.
The entire show was sold out this year, with probably about 150 different exhibitors. The largest were probably Fantagraphics or Top Shelf, while the smallest included quite a few people sitting at their booths, folding their photocopied books as they sold them. There was nary a “X” in sight. And if you don’t know what that means, you’re probably better off. It was a mixed group of exhibitors in all, but more than a few or them could learn a bit about salesmanship. At a convention for independents, unless you have a cult following, no one is likely to come over and gush. I pass several tables where the people seems lodged behind their table in a post-meal coma. I suppose it’s contradictory really. You have to be reclusive and obsessive to manage to publish your own comics, but you also need be outgoing and out-of-doors to promote them. As I said, though, it was a mixed group. I had great discussions with several creators, including Danielle Corsetto (who’s excellent new online strip Girls With Slingshots starts this weekend) and Jennie Breeden (starving artist whose business card reads “It’s not satanic porn… honest!”).
My friend Kier came along with me this year. We had to take two or three spins around the entire show before he started buying anything. He just kept muttering in a low moan, “I am going to have to spend soooooo much money”. (Kier recently recovered from a long job search and apartment hunt which have not left much in the way of financial resources). I take this to mean he loved almost everything he saw. I think in the end, the only thing that stopped him from buying more was the inability to lift his bag.
In a brief period of lucidity between tours of the show floor, Kier also mentioned that he suddenly felt incredibly inadequate. Visit this show, and you know it’s a very easy feeling to have. Many, if not most, of the exhibitors are people who could never get a contract with a major comic publisher. But they have such a need to express themselves, they went ahead anyway, and create, promote, and sell their own work. More than one successful company has been founded for just that reason.
Other companies that stood out include Mad Yak Press who had a table full of incredibly beautiful books, every one of which I wanted, (though I restrained myself to just Texarkana and 2 issues of Black Eyed Susan); and John Gallagher, creator of Buzz Boy, who told some very talented local high school students that if they put together something in time for the show, he would sell it from his booth.
(Side note to these student’s art teacher, who apparently tells them they are wasting their time with comics: Shut the fuck up. Who ever told you that the best way to encourage a child is to trash the artistic endeavor they enjoy most, regardless of what you think of the medium?)
Overall, I loved the show. Despite having a much smaller budget myself this year, I came away with some very good stuff:
- The Devil’s Panties (Summer 2004) by Jennie Breeden
- An original sketch by Jennie Breeden
- Texarkana by Neighly, Hadiwidjaja, and Horne
- A Girls with Slingshots promo book by Danielle Corsetto
- Issues 1 and 2 of Black Eyed Susan, by Patrick Neighly and Donny Hadiwidjaja
- BOMAD 2 by Rebecca Sugar
And from the free table: