Thoughts on SPX

SPX was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I could tell from the time I pulled up in the parking lot across from a man in a purple three piece suit unloading his wares that this was going to be new and different for me. I sneaked a peak into the exhibition room on my way to lunch, and was instantly amped up for what was to come. I found lunch to continue this process as I was able to share my excitement for all things literary and English major-esque with the scholars that joined us as well as my peers. The anticipation was building and I was too excited to get in to the middle of the expo to see what it was all about.

Following lunch, we braced ourselves outside of the exhibition hall before diving in. It was a disorienting dive to say the least, because with just a few steps into the hall I hit sensory overload. There were more booths than I had imagined, all covered in publications that the people manning the booths were very eager to sell. In talking with a few of the artists I found it extremely refreshing how proud they were of their works. Now, I know my classmates have hinted at having a very different experience, but perhaps this was the nature of the type of comics I gravitated toward throughout the day. I didn’t really spend much time around the dark and violent looking comics. I tended to be drawn in by simplicity and often by the artists who were playing with letters or words. This may simply speak to my eternal optimism and rejection of the doom and gloom in many of the artists’ works, but in the more cheerful and playful comics I observed, there was still plenty of room for the experimental.

One booth I particularly enjoyed was called Cuddles and Rage, “a disturbingly cute comic.” Most of their work was lighthearted and cute, but what made it experimental to me was the use of clay in constructing their images. It was almost like comics doing Claymation in the style of Wallace and Grommit. Some were not the most cheerful figures, but the style just made me think it was all perpetually cute. I proceeded in asking the artists if they considered their work experimental, and they agreed with me that the multi-media aspect of the clay and still image led it to be classified as experimental.

Another interesting experience I had at the expo was encountering comics collectors and discussing their passions with them. While I was waiting in line to get my book signed by Chris Ware I met a man who had all of Ware’s published works. I found his passion also extremely refreshing and enjoyed helping him get a good handful of the works signed by Ware himself.

Overall it was an extremely enriching day. I got to meet people I would have never have met otherwise, and I allowed myself to push outside of my comfort zone and chat with everyone I could possibly chat with! I realized how nice people can be when you are genuinely interested in what they are doing, and I was happy to ask questions as I found most of their content intriguing. When it comes down to it, the only phrase I can use to explain what went on at SPX was extreme nerding out. That’s all there is to it.

SPX Review

SPX was the first comic book convention that I have ever experienced, so I had no idea what to expect. Naturally, upon entering the main room I couldn’t help but feel wholly consumed by what appeared to be an explosion of pamphlets, small, handmade flip books, buttons, stickers, and the rare, professionally bound comic book. As I took my first lap around the expo floor, I found myself sifting through this plethora of material without actually absorbing any of the images or text that I encountered. Slowly, I realized that my sensory overload was causing this instinctual rejection of the material before me, so I decided to change my approach the environment in order to make it more familiar. I imagined the room as the Sunday Brooklyn Flea Market.

My second lap around the room proved to be much more fruitful and telling than my first. I was able to pay more attention to the actual content of the artwork, narratives, and inventions that I was sorting through and subsequently found a few strains of common themes that all seemed to be rooted in human failure and nostalgia.

Most of the comics and simple strips that I came across dealt with re-purposing classic characters (Pippi Longstocking, Goliath, Wonder Woman, Superman, Hulk, Rapunzel, Liz Taylor, and King Kong, to name several) and making them into antiheroes that ultimately fall short of their capabilities as super-humans. Furthermore, there were many representations of future dystopian societies, dissatisfaction, identity crises, labyrinths that don’t seem to lead anywhere tangible, and incomplete lives and characters. One comic in particular resonated with me and seemed to encapsulate this distinct theme of dejection: Herman the Manatee by Jason Viola. In four hand bound books, Viola depicts a rotund, pathetic looking manatee doing various activities that eventually lead to his demise via motorboat crash.  I returned to this booth several times throughout the day and in every single instance I left feeling inexplicably attached and deeply sorry for Herman. Towards the end of the day, I began to realize the profound effect that all of these characters had on me. Maybe it was because this was my first experience spending a considerable amount of time with so many different comics (outside of Marvel superheroes), but the vast amount of depictions of these characters began to function as a mirror for my inherent failures as a human being.

Specifically, focusing on the creators of these comics, I noticed their willingness to call themselves experimental, but their reluctance to refer to themselves as avant-garde, as if they weren’t yet prepared to take on a distinction that so obviously deviates from literary norms. Additionally, many vendors and artists used illusive terms like “hybrid-fiction” and “active narrative” to describe their work, and introduced themselves on their business cards as “designers” and “illustrators.” All of these attributions are accurate, but seem to strategically veer away from the classification of “graphic novelist,” “cartoonist,” or comic artist.

I do realize that this post has a morose tone, but that does not necessarily reflect my entire experience of, and feelings toward SPX. Like the Brooklyn Flea Market that I frequently visited this past summer, the majority of the people whom I encountered were incredibly supportive of their fellow artist and vendor; they embraced their communal creativity, endeavors and success. I left SPX with deep respect for these “designers” and “illustrators,” optimistic that their small press publications would eventually become pervasive in popular culture.

 

 

Michael Mason’s Thoughts on SPX

(Since this catagory has been replaced by the “SPX blog post”, I’m just putting this here to make sure.)

 

The Small Press Expo, or “SPX” for short, is the first ever “comic convention” that I’ve ever actually attended. I’ve seen videos from some of the larger, fancier, more mainstream conventions such as San Diego Comi-Con, New York Comi-Con, and even happened to be in Baltimore one year for their own Comi-Con, but it’s quite different to actually be inside, on the floor.

 

One thing that struck me as I entered the room was how packed together everything was. It sometimes seemed like the artists behind each table were packing together everything that they could on a single small space, stacking things on top of another in an effort to maximize space. It really made for each table to be a smorgasbord of information about the artists involved and the types of art styles and stories they used.

 

The artists ranged from the removed from the mainstream but relatively more well-known webcomics (Specifically under the Topatoco brand which featured the brilliantly written and highly experimental series Dinosaur Comics, A Softer World Homestuck, and Problem Sleuth, bu) to the much less well-known and independent, though still very good, such as The Draw Box (an artist/writer duo) and Shelli Paroline (an independent artist who has worked on various titles throughout her career). The sheer range of notability between the artists did a lot to help promote the goals of SPX; to showcase comics and artwork that are different from the mainstream works a person might find in the average comic or book store.

 

What actually surprised me was some of the trends that a lot of the artwork shared. When I had thought of “experimental” works, I assumed that there would be artwork along the lines of artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, or even Marcel Duchamp, who frequently used works that could be called bizarre and strange, with nearly unrecognizable caricatures of people, animals, and places to demonstrate emotions. Instead, several of the artists actually used very realistic depictions of human characters in their works (or humanoid, depending on the genre). While not necessarily being photo-realistic, a lot of art showed that a great attention to physical detail was taken, particularly with faces. While there were some more cartoonish and “traditionally experimental” comics out on the floor, most notably those under the “Blue Deliquanti” publishing table, a majority of the works at SPX demonstrated a more realistic feel to them.

 

The entire SPX experience was very interesting, mostly from a learning standpoint on my part. I had never actually considered how much of a narrow slice of comics were represented by what is considered “mainstream”. Even comic book publishers that I considered to be more independent, such as Image, Top Cow, Dark Horse, and IDW frequently use extremely similar styles and methods of storytelling and artwork to appeal to a broader audience. For those at the SPX, they were able to experiment and find an audience with what they had created, and each artist used a unique style to help promote their own abilities and to tell the story they wanted to tell. And even with those in attendance, it only represented a smaller part of a greater world of independent comic makers who each use an art and story style that could be radically different from anything I would be used to. SPX has really, if nothing else, made me want to go out and learn more about these artists and support their work.

 

(Note: If you’re interested in the three webcomics I mentioned, you can find Dinosaur Comics here: www.qwantz.com

And Homestuck and Problem Sleuth here: www.mspaintadventures.com

I will guarantee that you’ll like them)