There is no gatekeeping at Small Press Expo. This might seem counter to the hipster attitude stereotype that comes with SPX’s crowd, which is defined by undercuts, plaid, and thick-rimmed glasses. I can say that because I am a woman into comics who has an undercut, loves plaid, and wears thick-rimmed glasses. Also, as a comics critic, I am guilty of outward skepticism and snooty taste when it comes to things people love, like almost every comic to hit the best-selling charts of the past year.
However, the comics at SPX don’t look like the comics that sell best in corporate capitalist publishing and the people who attend the convention don’t act like the record-playing college students you imagine live in Williamsburg. Instead, SPX had everything comics should have. You want abstract, confusing images aligned with words that clarify none of it? You got it. You want fangirl stuff, like Sherlock fancomics and Hannibal fanthologies and Stucky zines? You got it. You want a hefty supply of comics about mommy issues, musings about breasts and puberty, and penis-filled porn comics? Hell yeah, you got that too!
There really is something for everyone, and because of that, enthusiasm is impossible to contain. It helps, too, that SPX is by far the most comfortable con I’ve ever attended. The show takes place in the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel ballroom, meaning that unless you’re one of my bizarrely many friends who have family in the area, in all likelihood you’re staying at the event’s location overnight. This allows easy access to not on only the show floor, but the bar several feet from the ballroom with great cocktails and decent food (if poor service to the point where you nearly have to serve yourself), as well as the Ignatz Awards and the post-ceremony party. The last of which set off the hotel smoke alarms due to its brand new, as of this year, fog machine. Good thing it was a nice night outside, because the party just shifted to the balcony and carried on as normal.
It was in that hotel that I had what will probably be some of my fondest memories of 2016. After the smoke alarm incident, I laughed with my friends with my SPX prom date at my side (if you read my Flame Con diary, she’s the woman I decided to ask out—yes, we are absolutely adorable), until my heels made my feet go numb. Earlier that day, I ate waffles at a mall food court with Comics Bulletin editors Daniel Elkin, Joe Schmidt, and J.A. Micheline that turned out to be way better than anyone would have expected. Sometime in between, JAM and I laid in our respective beds, on our laptops and flipping through comics, singing “Cotton Eyed Joe.”
None of those memories are necessarily about comics or SPX, but on the other hand they’re all about comics and SPX. Without comics, I would have never met any of those people. Without SPX, we would not have all had the urge to gather—some of us flying cross-country—and finally meet each other in person, but with the deep history of intellectual conversations, personal confessions, and sharing of love carrying through from the internet.
Comics is a niche medium and in the mainstream it has associations that make many shy away from them. However, in SPX, comics are what they’re supposed to be. They are a celebration of art as well as a conversation of human life. They are big and small, simple and innovative, shallow and deep. They’re for me and for you.