Thoughts on SPX

On Sunday, September 16th our English class took a field trip to the Small Press Expo, or SPX, in Bethesda, Maryland. Prior to arriving I had no idea what to expect, but was generally imagining something in between an art fair and comic-con. I was immediately overwhelmed by how crowded it was, and how many booths there were, and felt very shy about approaching any of the booths or asking anyone any questions. However, I found that all of the artists were extremely friendly and more than enthusiastic to talk about their work.

What I found as a trend at this expo was a diaspora between the traditional, Japanese-graphic-novel inspired comics and a newer, simpler design of comics, with a few mixes in between. I found myself most drawn to comics featuring cute characters, ones with big eyes and tiny smiles that gave characterization to cats, unicorns, manatees, or cupcakes. These comics seem to be pretty popular on the internet these days.

It was interesting to see how the internet had made a difference in the way graphic novels and comics were presented at this expo. Some booths had iPads featuring their internet shorts for passerbys to watch. One thing I noticed about these artists was that their creativity knew no bounds. Many of them seemed very interested in experimenting with form and showed their originality not only through their comics, but the way they presented their comics as well. One artist built a paper model of a skyscraper and set each panel of his comic as a floor in the building, complete with moveable slots that allowed the panels to change as the scene changed. Another artist used photographs of tiny clay figurines in her comics and presented those clay figurines on a cake stand at her booth. Another artist made complex puzzles out of his work. I was not expecting artists to sell things other than paper copies of their comics, but many of the artists were extremely talented in other art forms as well and sold other crafts and things at their booths. I learned from the expo that being a comic book artist is more than just being good at drawing or printing; to succeed in the comics world it helps if one is a well-rounded artist in other mediums as well.

We also got the opportunity at the expo to hear an interview with Chris Ware given by our professor, Dave Ball. I found this interview fascinating as I was a huge fan of Chris Ware’s book we read for our class, The ACME Novelty Library Report. One of the things I found very interesting in the ACME report was Ware’s use of color and how that color could contribute to the story in a subliminal way. Chris Ware said in his interview that he felt a story could be told through color just as much as it could be told through words or pictures, and I think it is this detail that gives his works such artistic depth.

Overall I was very impressed by all of the artists at SPX and their ability to combine both their artistic talent and creative mindsets to create works that were all so uniquely different from one another.  It definitely broadened the definition for “experimental fiction” for me and helped me to better appreciate the artistry behind the world of comics.

image courtesy of Jason Viola,