Archive for September 29, 2009

SPX 2009 mini-comics reviews

I actually didn’t buy too many mini-comics this year due to being on a limited budget. Still, I was surprised when I was pulling them out of my bag at how many I still bought.

As always, in no particular order.

American, Eh? Parts 1-3Heather Bryant
American, Eh? tells Bryant’s story of moving to the U.S. to be with her boyfriend. She deals with crappy apartments, the ups and downs of employment and her relationship. It’s a quiet story, and Bryant presents it in an unadorned way. She does a lot with a little — her strong lines capture body language and facial expressions beautifully. I was surprised at how much this affected me.

The Baby is DisappointingIdiots’ Books
Written by Matthew Swanson and illustrated by Robbi Behr, this is less comic and more illustrated mini-book. I picked it up because I loved the presentation — it’s 4 1/2 inches by 5 inches and spiral-bound. One page will state things like “The baby is not agile. It cannot leap or jog or lick a stamp” which is accompanied by an illustration of a photo of an antique baby doll in various situations with objects drawn around it. The joke — babies are trouble — is maybe a little obvious, as is the conclusion — but they’re worth it! — but it works anyway. I adore that this couple is out there making books like this.

Neon Girl #0-1Dennis Pacheco
A fun, irreverent take on the superhero genre, Neon Girl is a sort of everywoman superheroine — capable and confident, but still someone who has to deal with the ins and outs of everyday life. Neon Girl #1 is more of an extended battle between Neon Girl and Atom Girl over the superhero Red Eye, but it’s done with humor. Pacheco is playing with genre motifs here, riffing on typical “fan service” moments. His women are attractive but realistically drawn and the action is first-rate. But even though I liked it, I think these two are enough for me.

Oh No, A MeteorAnthony Clark
This is just silly. That’s a good thing. This is about a chicken (or some other generic bird — I believe it’s a chicken) and a cross between a bear and a potato named, surprisingly enough, Beartato, trying to find away to stop a meteor from destroying the earth. Clark’s art is crude and cartoony, and I loved the goofy, almost innocent nature of his writing — he’s not trying too hard. He’s genuinely weird and funny. Looking at his site makes me almost certain I’ve seen his work before. I’m very happy I bought this.

My Boyfriend is a Space Robot!Abby Denson
I love Abby Denson, so let’s just get it out of the way that I like this. I love the limited color palette she used here — all pinks and blues and purples — and her art has this loose, rock ‘n’ roll quality to it (which is appropriate, because she also makes music. Now is the best time to link to the “Teen Boat” video. You will have that song stuck in your head for days, but that’s a good thing). I like how matter-of-fact she is about the heroine of this comic having muscular dystrophy and being in a wheelchair. There’s no heavy-handed message. This is possibly my favorite mini-comic I picked up at SPX. But then, that’s not really a surprise.

Bad GrammarMarie Condenzio
Maybe this gets better as the story goes along? Michio has moved from Japan, where he meets two strange classmates during his first day at his new high school. There’s something about some odd cross-shaped symbols and a haunted house. Condenzio’s art is a little rough and unpolished — purposefully so, but just not really my thing. I’m kind of intrigued, but probably not enough to seek this out again.

Nine GallonsSusie Cagle
Nine Gallons follows Cagle’s experiences working with Food Not Bombs. While she’s obviously a believe in the group’s mission, she doesn’t present it as being some idyllic, joyful experience either. Her art feels influenced by cartoonists like Daniel Clowes — it’s exaggerated and just one step away from caricature. It suits her story since nothing here is meant to be pretty. I love how she subtly presents her loss of idealism. I really should’ve picked up Cagle’s other comics when I had the chance.

SPX wrap-up

I think it was the beer tickets. Otherwise, I really have no good explanation why everyone at Small Press Expo was in such a good mood all weekend. Or it was just a really great show. Or maybe both.

As you can see from the photo I lovingly stole from the Small Press Expo Facebook page, the drink tickets had “BEER” on them, along with a rather classy clip-art beer mug. (There were also “WINE” tickets, but those lacked clip art.) As exhibitors checked in, they received a beer ticket (which could also be traded in for wine, soda or water — they weren’t just for beer). Everyone was amused by them and they started SPX off on the right note.

That attitude lasted through the weekend — we all had good laughs about the revival in the ballroom next door, which was then replaced by a fancy cocktail party/ball (everyone had to leave out the side doors at close on Friday because of this. Can’t expose people in fancy clothes to scruffy cartoonists!) and then, on Sunday, some teen pageant. Even when the exhibitor hall was freezing on Sunday, complaints were more jokes than anything else.

Attendees were also in a good mood for the most part, even when it got crowded. I saw very few flare-ups (I’m sure they happened) and very little crankiness from anyone. All the volunteers were great with a lot of the same faces (we had cookies and temporary tattoos once again. I am completely serious when I say I’m getting custom tattoos made for next year).

I loved seeing a lot of new exhibitors. Every year, the general feel seems to be a little bit different. Last year, I noticed a lot of children’s comics and more fantasy and manga-inspired comics. This year, there did seem to be a lot of the typical autobiographical/real-life stuff, but I felt like people were reaching a little bit deeper and offering an interesting perspective more than “I am an urban twentysomething cartoonist who isn’t good at relationships.” I, of course, picked up a big bag of stuff and I’m excited to go through it (I would like to thank Rob of Talkin Bout Comics for bringing me a bag after I forgot one. Yes, I know, that was on the list of my recommendations … but you know, do as I say, not as I do. And I was delighted to see that people did bring bags, whether or not I had anything to do with that).

Carol Tyler is awesome (I’m going to keep saying that. I want to make sure everyone knows) and I loved loved loved her Q&A session. She’s such a smart, funny and down-to-earth woman. I want to be her when I grow up. I am so glad I got to see her. Part two of You’ll Never Know isn’t going to be out until late 2010 and I really don’t know what I’m going to do until then.

I don’t know what the final count on attendees is (I know Saturday was a pretty big day and Sunday was pretty crowded when I left) but I do know that two nearby ATMs were cleaned out, so I’m guessing sales were pretty brisk. I think that’s wonderful.

I got home yesterday, exhausted but happy. And I’m already making plans for next year. I feel like there is a ton of things I’m forgetting to write about. We’ll see if they occur to me at some point. I’ll be digging through my purchases in the next few days and writing some reviews.

Off to SPX

Well, this afternoon, anyway. I am volunteering this evening during set-up and check in (and I was actually really happy I was able to do so).

My “official” volunteer schedule (since you really want to know) is:

Today – 6 to 9 p.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Sunday – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

But if previous years are any indication, I will probably gladly work more than just that.

I’m going to be there all weekend — I won’t leave on Sunday until I’m too exhausted (or broke!) to continue.

You can follow me on Twitter and I will be posting from SPX (at least once a day, possibly more). If you find me, please say hi. And did I mention I have buttons?

Where to eat during SPX

You’re now all set to go to SPX, but buying — and selling — comics will make you hungry. So when you wander out of the North Bethesda Marriott in search of food, you’re going to want to know where to go.

And at first glance, there’s not much in the area, but with the help of SPX veteran Rusty Rowley of Full Sanction and SPX steering committee member Michael David Thomas, I’ve compiled a list, that while probably not definitive, will guarantee you won’t starve during your stay at Small Press Expo.

(All Google Maps links are for walking directions — if you have a car, I imagine you can find other places to eat.)

If you ask me, you should just go to The Vegetable Garden (map and directions) and be done with it, but understandably, no matter how good it is, vegetarian Asian food isn’t going to be everyone’s tastes.

The White Flint Mall (map and directions, about a mile away), has a Cheesecake Factory and a Dave & Buster’s among other places. In the opposite direction along Rockville Pike, there is also a Ruby Tuesday’s (map and directions, less than a mile) and a Silver Diner (map and directions, less than a half-mile). Note, though, I’m not recommending these places. I’m just telling you they are there. You will also find a good assortment of fast food restaurants nearby, as well as a 7-Eleven and a few grocery stores.

While I’m sure all the New Yorkers would laugh, Ize’s Deli and Bagelry has provided many a tasty breakfast and lunch to attendees of SPX. (It’s in the same shopping center as Vegetable Garden, map and directions). Regional chain Tara Thai (map and directions, a little more than a half-mile) has also won praise, as has Taipei Tokyo (map and directions, not even a half-mile away).

If you want to get on the Red Line, you can stop in Bethesda to go to former SPX haunts like Tel-Aviv Cafe and The Original Pancake House.

And yes, if you have plenty of time, there are cool places in DC to go. I take all out-of-town guests to Busboys & Poets because it’s a crowd-pleaser. But I also kind of figure if you’re venturing into DC, you can do your own research on where you want to go.

(Still, I think everyone should just go eat at Vegetable Garden.)

A Small Press Expo survival guide

Small Press Expo is, without a doubt, a friendly and comfortable event. You’ll be just fine when you go. But if you want to make the best of it, these are my recommendations.

  • I don’t think I need to say this, but bring cash. A few of the bigger publishers do take credit cards, but mostly, you want cash. There is an ATM on site (the line can get long, though). Smaller bills are the best, overall.
  • You’ll also want to bring a bag. This may seem obvious, but it’s really not — you’ll want something to put your comics in because trying to juggle your purchases as you go through the show isn’t fun. Those snazzy reusable shopping bags are good, as are messenger bags (which is typically what I use). Backpacks are OK, but you’re more likely to hit someone with it if you turn around too quickly.
  • Speaking of that, it does get crowded, so dress appropriately. It’s fall in the DC area and SPX is in a hotel convention center, but it can still get hot. I find wearing a jacket over a T-shirt works the best, but any sort of layering is ideal.
  • Check out the programming. Yes, I know it’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time, but the programming is an under-appreciated part of SPX and something to take advantage of. There is a good line-up this year and it’s definitely worth it.
  • Likewise, check out some of the Ignatz nominees. I don’t think anyone really expects you to buy them all, but there is an impressive selection of nominees this year and even if you decide not to vote, it’s still worth seeing who is on the ballot. You may discover something you really love. (By the way, since a bunch of people ask — I even did one year — the “best debut” category is for a title/issue/etc. that is first released at SPX, whether it is from a newcomer or veteran, a new series or an ongoing series. It’s not a “best new cartoonist” category.)
  • Buy mini-comics. Yes, I know we’re all working with limited budgets these days and graphic novels are really cool. But I do urge you to set aside some portion of your SPX fund to buy a few mini-comics. You get good value for your money — I mean, plenty are only $1-2 and you may find something you really love. Or hate, for that matter. But I think mini-comics are great fun and that’s where I find a lot of the good stuff. They allow you to try out a creator you know nothing about and support them. And really, where else, other than this show (and shows like MoCCA or APE) are you going to be able to buy mini-comics? Take advantage of this opportunity and pick up a few or several.
  • Don’t be afraid to to take a break. The North Besthesda Marriott actually has a lot of nice, comfy places to hang out if you just want to sit and read for a bit (I’ve been known to find a corner in the past). It may allow you to find you really like a creator’s work so you can go back to buy some more. Or it just may allow you to recharge a bit before you go back in to buy more comics.
  • If you had fun, strongly consider volunteering next year. SPX is a labor of love — it’s run completely by volunteers, by people who just love comics and the event. At this point, I don’t think I’m allowed to not volunteer, but I love it. It’s always a good time. You will, at the very least, get free admission to SPX. At the most, you’ll meet a bunch of awesome people who will become your friends and you’ll get to be a part of something really cool. You’ll only be obligated to a three- or four-hour shift, but if you’re like me, you’ll stick around longer because you love it that much. I’m serious.

(And yes, you’ll probably want to eat at some point during SPX. I’m going to get to that on Wednesday.)