Small Press Expo 2013 was held on Sep. 14-15. For a first-time attendee like moi, SPX was an amazing experience, an intense gathering of passionate creators and fans, and contained more comics than the human mind was ever made to comprehend. (Remember the Honest Ed’s scene in Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness? It was kind of like that, but with comics.) Here are just a few of my favorite new books and fanzines of SPX 2013.
Picture This Press
Matt Baker has been hailed as a master of “Good Girl” art of the 1940s and 50s, but Canteen Kate was one of his few recurring characters. The first in a projected three-volume series collecting Matt Baker’s “lost” comic book work, The Complete Canteen Kate collects 22 stories originally serialized in 1950s war comics such as Fightin’ Marines. Canteen Kate is a spunky, leggy redhead whose screwball antics at her army base (including cross-dressing and games of mistaken identity) often earn the ire of cranky Major Herringbone—think Lucy Ricardo dropped into an episode of M*A*S*H. Baker’s art is beautiful and charming, and Kate herself is an unjustly forgotten comic book leading lady. The biggest strike against these stories is that they sometimes use their setting—a Korean War-era army base in Japan—for cringeworthy, racial-stereotype based humor. The Complete Canteen Kate is clearly a labor of love from Picture This Press’s Lost Art Books, and I’m looking forward to The Lost Art of Matt Baker volume 2.
Tavi Gevinson, ed.
Drawn & Quarterly
The second print edition of the online magazine, Rookie: Yearbook Two is a survival kit for today’s Tumblr-savvy teenage girl. Along with colorful fashion spreads, interviews with celebrities like Emma Watson and Mindy Kaling, and instructive “Life Skills 101” articles, Rookie is a multimedia experience loaded with stickers, tarot cards, and playlists for dozens of themes and moods. But what holds the book together is its authenticity. Rookie knows better than to talk down to teenage girls as if they’re one giant Bieber-loving pink monolith, and the contributors write frankly about topics such as sex, self-harm, and racism. With honesty and charm, Rookie captures that feeling of being 17-years-old, hanging out with your friends and realizing that the Smashing Pumpkins are your first favorite band, the band that really belongs to you. If I had I sister in high school, I’d give her this book.
RuPaul’s Best Friend Race Zine
A Letter to Sharon Needles
Has any reality show had as large a presence at SPX as RuPaul’s Drag Race? I came away from the expo happily surprised by my little stack of books dedicated to television’s favorite drag queens. Chad Sell Does 50 Queens is a full-color booklet of season 5’s most outrageous looks transformed into stylish, angular pin-ups. (With the top four contestants, Jinkx Monsoon and the members of Rolaskatox, getting the most page time—sorry, Jade Jolie fans.) Sell’s Drag Race art has developed a large fanbase online, even being featured on an episode of the show and the official iPhone game Dragopolis, but it’s still immensely fabulous to hold the artbook in your hands.
RuPaul’s Best Friend Race (Lety RZ, ed.) is a 12-page zine that takes its title from former contestant Lashauwn Beyond’s instantly-giffable exclamation, “This is not RuPaul’s Best Friend Race!” But the artists spin that negative into a positive and celebrate the creativity and humor of their favorite drag queens in several memorable pin-ups, including an imaginary battle between Team Rujubee vs. Team Rolaskatox (if that makes no sense to you, go watch the show RIGHT NOW) by Vicki Nerino, or Emily Huff’s rendition of best frenemies (or just enemies) Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O’Hara at an anime convention. It’s an Eleganza Extravaganza!
A Letter to Sharon Needles is exactly what it sounds like, a fan letter/fanzine dedicated to RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4 winner Sharon Needles. Artist Claire Folkman thanks Sharon for a 2012 drag show performance that was made bittersweet by real life events, and illustrates a moment of connection between the idol and her fan that is powerful for both its kindness and strength. A Letter to Sharon Needles is probably the most touching mini-comic ever to end with “Hail Satan!” and it’s an example of fanzines in their purest form.
A digest-sized anthology printed in purple ink (nice touch!), Queerotica is a strong collection of short stories and pinups about LGBTQ sex and sexuality. The stories cover a wide range of moods and genres, from a young woman overcoming her nervousness to have sex with her girlfriend for the first time, to the sensual adventures of a fisherman and a merman. The standout comic is Fyodar Pavlov’s “Gentleman’s Gentleman,” about a wealthy young man and his manservant that is elegant and lovely and reminiscent of the classic art of J.C. Lyendecker (but with the homoeroticism, obviously, much more explicit). SPX is a fantastic show to attend if you’re looking to discover independent queer comics, and Queerotica is a great anthology to start with.
I love comics and (being a person on the internet) love cats, so comics about cats are a no-brainer. Sarah Sobole’s Doctor Cat is the humorous chronicle of–spoiler alert–a cat who is also a doctor, and he delivers the most adorable medical diagnoses ever (“It’s terminal!”). But when Lawyer Cat causes Doctor Cat to lose his medical license, Doctor Cat has to fight to get it back. (Or maybe he’s not destined to be a Doctor Cat after all, and is a fast food-working Burger Cat instead?) Like its protagonist, Doctor Cat is cute and fluffy, a briskly-paced read loaded with sight gags and more entertainment than the last season of Grey’s Anatomy. Doctor Cat is prescribed to anyone who likes comics about animals wearing little suits and performing open heart surgery.