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.