Some things that struck me about SPX:
- The on-site drawing. Table-sitters, when not chatting up passersby, could often be found doodling characters from their work on scraps of paper, perhaps in an effort to pass the time, perhaps to produce little freebies to give away (I walked away with a robot, a turtle in a party hat, a fat cat, and a drunk-looking bird-thing that resembles the Akond of Swat). I appreciated that kind of artistic presence as it was a very visible reminder that art is work and a commodity, but was simultaneously incredibly personal. In addition to the artists at tables, convention-goers were also doing a lot of doodling. In my seating row at Chris Ware’s talk, there were three people sketching him as he spoke.
- Illustrated catalogues. I saw several volumes from different artists in catalogue format. One was a collection of urban legend monsters like the Chupacabra, Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, etc. Another was a collection of absurd ways that people have died in our highly complicated modern world. I found the pairing of text and image here to be an interesting departure from the way that they are paired in traditional comics and in children’s books. How is an artist’s relationship to each individual illustration different when the image is not part of a narrative, rather is given meaning by its place in a totality? I like the idea of the fantastical or absurd being documented in a medium that is traditionally used for reference. Similarly, I saw some alphabet collections.
- Making the morbid cute, and the cute morbid. A collection by one artist who depicted different totalitarian dictators, serial killers, and nightmare figures as wide-eyed babies crying over fallen ice cream or scribbling on the wall in crayon. This I found strangely heartwarming. I also saw an illustration of a friendly-looking puppy with the caption, “One time at the park, before they could take it away from me, I ate half the leg off the corpse of a baby.” The artist was watching me as I read this, waiting for my expression when I got to the punch line, and had a good laugh. My response to this kind of muddling of cute and morbid was at once emotional and humorous.
- Kitty cats. I must’ve talked to at least four artists whose work featured a cat protagonist, and often the feline hero was the artist’s own household pet and was depicted as doing unremarkable (though humorous) cat things like intrepidly exploring the backyard or eating its own vomit. This reminds me of the current internet fascination with all things cat: Henri the French cat with a bad case of ennui, Simon’s Cat, Lolcatz, Review of My Cat, etc. What is it about cats and “low-brow” mediums? I am very interested to see what a couple decades of retrospection will reveal about this generation and our determination to narrate the inner-workings of the cat brain.
- Zombie apocalypse. The prevalence of this theme seems to speak to some generational anxiety about masses and conformity…? A privileging of the lone, enlightened survivor…? I did see one sympathetic portrayal of zombies, but I had trouble wrapping my mind around that concept and got into a friendly argument with the artist. I can imagine sympathetic portrayals of mummies, but zombies seem like a stretch…