Ed’s Thoughts on SPX 2011

by Ed Sizemore

Cyrano de Bergerac's Ballade minicomic by Ken Wong

Cyrano de Bergerac's Ballade minicomic by Ken Wong

This past Saturday, I headed out for my annual day trip to SPX. I’ve come to love this show, since it allows me to see people experimenting with comics. I never know what I’ll see, and I’m always pleasantly surprised with what I find. The biggest restriction for me is my budget. It’s a testament to the quality of artists at SPX that I can never buy everything I’d like to.

I picked up my press badge and walked into the showroom just as the doors were opened to the public. This allowed me to get in ahead of the big crowd to come. There’s always so much to see, it’s hard to remember to pace yourself. I haven’t figured out a good system to do an initial walk through, note the tables I find most interesting, and then go back to examine them more closely.

In general, I was looking for kids’ comics and books that were craft objects. I’m a sucker for hand-stitched pages, thick cardboard covers, and high-quality paper. If your comic looks like a work of art, then odds are I’ll buy it. I also wanted books that I could share with my nine-year-old nephew. I wasn’t disappointed on either count.

I was really happy to see Ken Wong and excited to get his newest origami comics (reviews forthcoming). I was thrilled to see Stephen Vrattos at the Fanfare booth and pick up their latest two books (review forthcoming). I also got to say “Hi” to Jonathan Baylis, whose recent book I got to review in prep for SPX.

The Secret History of Women in Comics

Ladies Making Comics Tumblr

I went to two panels this year. The first was “The Secret History of Women in Comics”, moderated by Heidi MacDonald. The guests were Jessica Abel, Robyn Chapman, Alexa Dickman, and Diane Noomin. The discussion started with MacDonald asking if each panelist knew about women comic creators when they started their comics. Noomin said she wasn’t that aware, and it wasn’t really a factor in her making comics. She became more aware as she created comics and met other female creators. Chapman’s response was similar. Abel got started just as the Twisted Sisters comics came out, so she was highly aware. Dickman isn’t a comic creator. She’s a comic reader who became aware there were female comic creators and most were being forgotten. This inspired her to start a blog to remember these women and their place in comics history.

Trina Robbins’ books were discussed. The general consensus was that the books were flawed, but they were the only ones available. Abel called for a good integrated history of comics that included women. It would be nice not to need separate books just for women comic creators.

One item that I found interesting was how manga had helped usher in a new generation of women creators. Chapman and Abel teach at colleges and saw a large influx of female students with the manga boom. What’s fascinating is how even after the boom, there is still an increased female presence in comic art programs. Many of the students got into comics through manga but expanded their reading into other comics. That was encouraging to hear.

Stories of Cultural Identity

The second panel I attended was “Stories of Cultural Identity”, moderated by Rob Clough of The Comics Journal. The panelists were Jessica Abel (La Perdida), Marguerite Dabaie (The Hookah Girl), Sarah Glidden (How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less), and G.B. Tran (Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey). The focus of the panel was the issue of cultural identity (ethnic, religious, or national) in comics.

Each of the authors had a fascinating story to tell about what led them to write the comics they did. Dabaie began exploring her cultural heritage after 9/11 when family and relatives told her it was best to hide her Palestinian roots. Tran became interested in his family’s history and how that tied into the Vietnam War. Glidden was also inspired by 9/11 and wanted to know what events could lead up to such an act. Abel wanted to explore how American’s preconceived notions can cause us trouble when we’re in a foreign country.

They discussed how they intentionally made their stories as nuanced as possible, showing both the good and bad within a given culture. This lead to a discussion of how their works were received by their cultural communities. As could be expected, the books were given both criticism and praise. The majority of reactions were positive for each book.

It was a wonderful panel and I hope that Clough will do it again next year. It really brought to light a lot of normally unexamined themes in comics.

Finishing Up

Two highlights of the show for me were meeting Jason Little and Roger Langridge. I got to tell Jason how much I’ve enjoyed his two Bee books, and I picked up a new minicomic he is doing. I was able to get a signed copy of The Show Must Go On from Roger. I also told him I thought his Muppet Show comics were brilliant.

I and my budget were wiped out by about 5:00 PM. I got to spend some downtime with Johanna and our friend Julia. It was great comparing notes about what we found and our overall thoughts for the show. We did one last quick round through the showroom before calling it a day.

My only complaint was how crowded the convention got from about noon on. I was happy to hear that SPX announced they will expand the floor by 50% for next year, so now my only other obstacle is saving up money for next year. Thanks to all the staff and artists that made SPX such a successful and enjoyable experience! I look forward to seeing everyone next year.

2 Responses to “Ed’s Thoughts on SPX 2011”

  1. A Few More Notes on SPX 2011 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] that both Ed and I have given our first thoughts on this year’s Small Press Expo, just passed, a few more […]

  2. Rob Clough Says:


    Thanks for the kind words on the Cultural Identities panel. I mostly just steered and let the panelists take it in some interesting directions. I was extremely happy with the results.




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