Attending the Alternative Press Expo (APE) on Saturday, October 8th, in San Jose, CA encapsulated a lot of firsts for me. It was my first independent comics convention, as well as the first comics event that I attended as a member of the press. Thankfully, APE turned out to be all-around the best convention to go to for both of my firsts. It was just the right size and had the right amount and variety of creators.
As someone who is still new to independent comics I had very little idea of what to expect. I guessed that APE would be a smaller, west coast version of the Small Press Expo, maybe the same size of the San Jose Heroes and Villains Fan Fest. APE, however, was its own beast (pun intended). It was held not in the San Jose Convention Center’s Exhibit Hall as I expected, but in its South Hall, a metal-framed structure that resembled more of a hanger than an actual hall. This turned out to be perfect for APE–unlike Heroes and Villains Fan Fest, APE spread out its exhibitors, leaving them with about a foot on each side instead of placing tables end-to-end. The setting was much more intimate and casual than Heroes and Villains, and, when coupled with the lack of a large crowd, encouraged dialogues and gave attendees the opportunity to mill around the booths and flip through a comic or look over the exhibitor’s art. According to veteran exhibitors and other attendees, the con has been getting smaller over the years (one person suggested that this was due to another independent comic fest in Berkeley though perhaps it has more to do with the SF Zine fest), but the size of APE was just right for my first time at an independent publishing expo.
At other conventions I often felt that I had seen the whole thing within my first circuit, but APE was different. There was so much more to learn and explore. There were short story and historical fiction retellings, travel experiences, coming-of-age stories, and more, a much larger variety of narratives than what is offered by the Big Two. Even better, these independent creators or publishers also had backstories to tell about the creation of their work, the collaborative process of producing anthologies, or the social justice movement that gave rise to the finished product. The creators’ excitement was infectious; it was hard not to buy almost everything I saw! I ended picking up Karate Petshop’s retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Rikki Tikki Tavi,” Z2 Comic’s animal apocalypse series Legend, F*ck Off Squad by Dave Baker and Nicole Goux, Repo Creepo by Levi Prewitt, Ghost Thunder Collective’s Coterie, and The Grimwood spin-off story “The Tale of the Amazon” published by Adventure On Books. (Don’t worry, reviews on all are on their way!)
If I had to do anything differently I might have purchased a pass for Sunday (the press pass was limited to Saturday only) to check out some panels and look at some of the art, comic store, and organization booths; however, I definitely feel that my time speaking to the creators was not wasted. Looking at the comics and zines and discussing them with their creators was just about all that I (and my wallet) could handle for a first visit. All in all, APE had just the right amount of cool creators, comics, and zines that was perfect for someone new to independent publishing. I can’t wait to go back next year and explore even more of it.