Small Press Expo, held on Sept. 13-14 in Bethesda, Maryland, is the convention for independent and self-published comics on the East Coast. This was only my second time at SPX (accompanied by buddy and WWAC guest contributor Rebecca Heneley) but it’s already one of my favorite events of the year. Here are some highlights from our SPX adventures.
We arrived around noon—one of the great things about SPX is that you don’t have to stress out about waiting in line to register. With my press pass happily around my neck, we set foot into the exhibitor hall. Immediately I had an ecstatic sense of sensory overload. So many comics! Comics everywhere! I took a long break from conventions after going to Otakon for years; though it can be overwhelming at first, the general atmosphere is very friendly and open. SPX is a convention that very much feels like a community. It was fun to talk briefly with Raina Telgemeier about seeing her at the National Book Festival, or seeing the little sketch of Rose by Jillian Tamaki in my copy of This One Summer. (The one semi-negative interaction I had was with a guy who aggressively explained his Wizard of Oz parody comic to me, but that was just awkward.) SPX is still much smaller than behemoth conventions like SDCC, but it was still a packed house and very easy to bump into someone else’s backpack or run into congestion around some of the more popular artists’ tables.
Rebecca and I actually—gasp!—dared to venture outside the hotel for dinner, and had a fantastic meal at the Moa Korean Restaurant in Bethedsa. As we were leaving, Spike Trotman and Carla Speed McNeil snagged our table. Comic artists! They’re just like us!
On Saturday night SPX hosted the 18th annual Ignatz Awards, co-hosted by James Sturm and Sasha Velour (the drag persona of Stonewall artist Sasha Steinberg). This was my first time attending a major comics awards ceremony, and while it was a pretty lively show, it was hard not to feel a bit like an impostor when I’d only read one of the nominated books. What was I doing there, when I hadn’t read Demon or House of Women or Wicked Chicken Queen? If nothing else, SPX is a tremendous inspiration that makes me want to read anything I can get my hands on, and I have new books and artists to look for. (I also sat behind I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! editor Paul Karasik in one of many “Hey! I know that artist! Cool!” moments.)
The complete list of Ignatz nominees and winners can be read here. The most memorable acceptance speech came from Promising New Talent winner Cathy G. Johnson, who spoke about stopping the harassment many women experience in the industry. It was also entertaining to see the artists hefting around the big brown brick that is literally the Ignatz Award. The awards ceremony was immediately followed by a wedding ceremony for artist Simon Hanselmann and “Comics,” complete with gown, a live band, and a wedding cake. If that wasn’t enough to celebrate, Saturday night also had the SPX Prom, which is exactly what it sounds like. But, having realized we’ve been at the convention for twelve hours, it was time to go home and collapse.
Sadly I didn’t catch many panels this year, but I really enjoyed the first panel on Sunday morning: “Stories of Girlhood” with artists Jillian Tamaki, Aisha Franz (who came to SPX all the way from Berlin!), and Melissa Mendes. The three artists talked about their work, creating stories about young women, the art of collaboration, and how their work was marketed by their publishers. It was especially interesting to hear about Jillian Tamaki’s work on This One Summer, which won the Ignatz for Outstanding Graphic Novel the previous night (and it’s a really fantastic book, I highly recommend it.) Overall, it was a fascinating and thought-provoking panel that stressed the importance of women in the comics industry.
We then took another walk around the exhibitor hall—there’s no way we could have seen everything the first time around. I ended up buying less original art than I did last year, though I did walk away with David Bowie stickers by Jess Fink and a framed print of a collage made from an old romance comic cover.
And finally, my total haul from SPX 2014:
Now let’s all go read and make some comics, ok?