SPX 2011: Quick Thoughts and Mini Reviews

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From my perspective, the 2011 Small Press Expo has been very busy and crowded. Yesterday, I arrived at 8 AM to help with registering exhibitors. Picture below taken by volunteer coordinator Michael Thomas, who was doing an amazing job. That’s Daniel (who helped me figure out we met at an SPX in 1998, we think it was), Catie Donnelly (who makes webcomics; this was her first SPX!), and me in my antique staff shirt, from when they were trying to call it “The Expo”.

Volunteering at SPX 2011

Once attendees were able to start buying tickets at 11, there were lines to get in for the next several hours, as well as lines to meet such guests as Kate Beaton and Craig Thompson. It was hard to navigate the floor, with so many people blocking the aisles, but there was good energy, and more eyes for the many vendors. I’ve heard reports of some artists selling out of stock already, which is good for them.

I was really glad to be staying in the hotel, since I kept making trips upstairs to drop off purchases. I bought a lot this show, more than usual. Here are the books, many of which will have more detailed reviews on the site in months to come:

  • If Craig Thompson’s Habibi had been widely available, it would have been the book of the show, but as it was, my nominee is the launch of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, collecting many of her comics with author commentary.
  • Also debuting as an instant success, the second Questionable Content book.
  • Hmm, seems like webcomic collections (with their easy samples and built-in audiences) were a trend: add Mike Dawson’s Troop 142 to the list. He had a very cool way of personalizing your purchase, too, sketching and signing a card and then pasting it in as a bookplate. Classy and arts-and-crafty!
  • The only problem with these dynamite books is that, at $20 a pop, they add up FAST! So I was pleased to see an Odori Park collection at half that, even though it included bonus material and behind-the-scenes info.
  • I felt stupid not knowing that Paul Hornschemeier had a book out earlier this year called Life With Mr. Dangerous. I’m intrigued by the plot, too, as he follows a woman with a dead-end job and no boyfriend (but a pressuring mother) who obsesses over a cartoon.
  • It was a pleasure to meet Jennifer Hayden, author of Underwire, in person, and get to see her book in print, as well as hearing about her other upcoming projects, all of which sound nifty.
  • I don’t normally bring a lot of works for authors to sign (because I get tired carrying them around), but I enjoyed these two and wanted to memorialize them. MK Reed and Jonathan Hill were kind enough to sign my copy of their Americus, as Carla Speed McNeil did with her Finder: Voice.
  • The new Octopus Pie book, Listen at Home With, may be just what I need to get into the strip. I love Meredith Gran’s style, but I don’t know enough about the characters yet to follow along. With its longer story groupings and author comments, I suspect this volume will change that.
  • If you bought the first Johnny Wander book, artist Yuko Ota would draw a hat of your choice on the raven inside. I picked a 20s style topper (that she drew well), so I was surprised to later see while wondering the room the same hat on another artist. Comics!

A special thank you to Terry Nantier at NBM. I was ready to buy the manga Stargazing Dog, debuting at the show, when he mentioned they’d just sent me a copy for review. Very kind of him, to help me avoid double-buying (and freed up more money for other things). And of course, as you’d expect from this show, minicomics:

  • It is always cool to see the origami comics of Ken Wong, and he had three new entries. He’s making comics that could be nothing but, and they can’t be digitized, either, since how the reader interacts with the paper is crucial to the experience. Immensely creative.
  • I got to meet Bill Burg again. I have several of his minicomics from 1998, which I enjoyed. It turns out that after a hiatus of several years, he’s put together a new journal comic collection, which I snapped up. He was tabling with local (to me) guy Rob Ullman, always a pleasure to say hi to.
  • Matt Dembicki had two new (to me) issues of Xoc, a well-illustrated story following a shark through the ocean. It won’t be finishing in that format, though, since he had news that it’s been picked up by a larger publisher for next year. It will also reappear in color, which should be gorgeous with all those underwater tones.
  • Bill Roundy and I swapped drink notes. Among his journal comics and a series reviewing Brooklyn bars in comic forms, he’s also put out a bartending guide I’ve found helpful. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail, the sidecar, isn’t in it, but he’s planning a revised edition.
  • Marguerite Dabaie (The Hookah Girl) also had a journal comic I’m looking forward to trying. In the print mini, she’s only collected the best of her daily webcomic, a smart approach, since it provides a dressed-up sampling.
  • I was happy to pick up two more volumes of diary comics by Dustin Harbin, who also gave me a mini-lesson on how he draws himself and why he vaguely resembles a wolfman.
  • Cathy Leamy‘s next issue of Geraniums and Bacon wasn’t ready yet, but she did have “What’s the Word? True Tales of a Woman on the Go”. When I bought it, she asked whether I wanted a monster or a robot sketch in it. I picked robot, which was apparently the popular choice of the day.
  • I’ll be talking more about Jen Vaughn’s Menstruation Station minicomics soon, now that I have the latest. It’s the last taboo subject, you know.
  • Her tablemate, Nomi Kane, had a cute little comic called “Freeloader” about being unemployed. She mentioned that a lot of people said they could relate, which isn’t a great sign, and she hopes that there’s no material in her life for a sequel.
  • Pam Bliss’ work is an old favorite, with her wonderful everyday stories of Indiana life occurring within the framework of “Kekionga MiniWorks” (formerly “Paradise Valley”, which is what her hometown of Valparaiso translates as). She’s been doing this a long time, and her craft shows. They’re comfortable in the best way.
  • I like Kelli Nelson’s flat and spiky art, so I bought her The Horrifically Complete Non-Winner journal comic collection. The only problem is, it’s weirdly elongated in size, so I’m not sure how to get it home safely!

I haven’t yet gone through the various webcomic postcards I wound up with. More on those later, if I like them.

The afternoon flew by in a flash. I was too antsy to sit still for any panels, but I made up for it later by having two dinners. The first was in the bar with Ed and Julia. That was nice because we all talked about what we’d found at the show, and it was early enough that we could go back to the floor and look at what sounded good from everyone else’s stack, since we finished up before the show closed. Also, the meal ended with the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. Julia got the most unusual necklace — it’s a tiny hand-bound book by Lela Graham.

The second (which I didn’t eat at) was with long-timers Pam Bliss, her husband Nick, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Goldman, and local Denise Sudell. We shared stories of notorious comic flakes and pondered generational change at the show. It was wonderful conversation, just the kind of moment that makes coming to shows like this worthwhile.

We didn’t make it to the Ignatz Awards, unfortunately, but the show promptly posted (thank you!) the winners list, while Tom Spurgeon added the nominees and links. The event was shadowed by news that Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams had passed away after being diagnosed with cancer last month. He will be missed.

SPX 2012 will be held September 14-15, 2012, with special guests Dan Clowes and Chris Ware. This year’s was the biggest show yet, and to address the crowd issues, the show is planning to roughly double its floor space next year.


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