SPX Recollection

Recently I visited SPX, the Small Press Expo, inBethesdaMaryland. As I was walking through the convention center towards the event I was struck by how small it all seemed, there was just one room with the artists and two auditoriums for the panels. I took only a few steps onto the floor before I revised my opinion. It wasn’t small, it was dense. There were people everywhere and all in a clamor of activity. It struck me almost immediately that I was surrounded by my kind of people, enthusiastic nerdy people. I spent the first thirty minutes just wandering around and trying to get may bearings. I had steeled myself against spending any money, as the cost of breakfast was a bit of a sucker punch (we made some back in purloined novelty honey jars), but I immediately bought a bunch of pins punning on the names of the Beatles. I couldn’t help myself. There were three pins: Pope John Paul, George Washington, and Ringo Star (after all, has there ever been a notable Ringo?). With my will power and self control crumbling around me I fled for the first panel discussion.

The Chris Wear panel explored a variety of topics and questions which were to guide the rest of my explorations of SPX. How does the form of the work help create the meaning that is being conveyed? How does the artist see their relationship with the experimental or avant-garde? How does the artist tackle the practical concerns of their craft? What was it like to be in comics these days anyway? Armed with a renewed sense of purpose and willingness to harass and generally badger the artists I returned to the floor.

While I found many artists whom I was actually previously familiar with from their online work (Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics, Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots, and Jeph Jacques’ Questionable Content) I had trouble finding an artist that thought of their work as experimental. Even Sarah P who I felt was breaking new ground in terms of genre considered her gay space opera to be largely conventional. It was her co-artist, R.M. Rhodes who finally fulfilled my experimental quest.

R.M Rhodes (http://oletheros.com/ ) began our conversation by showing another student and me a little patch he had. It was a small word balloon that said “Bueno.” He said that the Bueno patch totally changed his perception of what a comic could be. Any picture he slapped the patch on suddenly became a single panel comic. It was with this adventurous attitude that he began to see what he could do with comics. He claimed that he could not draw, so instead he looked for new mediums and techniques to work with. He has turned to collage, scrapbooking, layering, computer generation, infographics, and even magnetic poetry. He applies his Bueno principle to mix text with the images he finds compelling. Rejecting the standard pencil drawing and panel structure has served as an incredibly fruitful generative process for him. He sees himself as experimental and believes that these new techniques have allowed him to tell new kinds of stories, and to tell those stories in new ways. In addition to creating interesting work he was emblematic of the kind of folks I met at SPX, smart, quirky, and really pleasant to talk with. I’m not sure if anyone else could quite match his purple suit though.

That experimental impulse was not obviously on display out on the floor, but it was there tucked away in corners and scattered on cluttered tables. This is not to say that the majority of the artists were slavishly following every old comic convention. On the whole SPX represented a departure from the sorts of comics that the big name producers like Marvel and DC Comics churn out. But it was especially exciting to see work likeRhodes’ that was taking comic books in new directions.

SPX 2012 Review

While looking for an experimental artist to interview, Jeff and I passed Sarah P’s “Gay Porn Space Opera!” table to which Jeff said, “Well, that certainly seems experimental.”  We began to talk to Sarah P about her work and eventually asked her how she perceived her relationship with avant-garde and experimental work.  She characterized her relationship as “fake” and explained that she did not really desire to have a relationship with the avant-garde.  She believed her Gay Porn Space Opera was relatively conventional aside from its novel premise.  Sarah P was fun to talk to – she told us that the inspiration beyond her comic was simple.  She made something that she wanted to read herself that didn’t yet exist.  Indeed there is a dearth of Gay Porn Space Operas on the market.  Sarah P then directed us to the artist beside her, R.M. Rhodes, who she believed to be a truly experimental artist.  I think he also collaborated with her on the Gay Space Porn Opera, too!

R.M. Rhodes was the gent with thick sideburns wearing a purple-three piece suit with purple business cards. Rhodes explained first that he doesn’t/can’t draw, so he uses many other methods to present his work.  He took some sort of scrap-booking class at Michael’s and made a scrapbook narrative and has also created a long form metafiction combining photo generated graphics and photographs against a green screen background.  Sometimes he photographed other people to insert into his comics but often used his own image because he explained, he is himself always around to take more pictures if he desired to make any changes to the work.

Rhodes also gave us some information on the business side of being an independent comic artist.  He has a day job and has dedicated the last five years or so to building a career as an artist.  His wife is in marketing, so she gives him advice on how to present himself as an artist(purple suits and purple business cards were apparently her suggestion).  He told us that he has sold more lately than ever before, so he’ll be very happy if, in five years, he makes as much progress as he’s made in the last five.

By far the most fascinating part of our Rhodes interview was when he explained what got him started as an artist.  He got this “Bueno” patch in New York for under a dollar and realized he could place it on any picture to start a story or communicate some sentiment.  Below is the Bueno patch on one of his creations “Emo Galactus.”  His suit doesn’t look very purple in that picture, but oh it was.  Check out R.M. Rhodes website here http://oletheros.com/.  I think he at first thought Jeff and I were more important than we actually were since we interviewed him and wrote down his every word. He even abandoned his table to ask us who we were and what the questions were for.  So definitely give his online blog some hits and check out his review of SPX.



Our comic expert at lunch explained that when you walk into the room, it’s like hundreds of artists look at you hopefully with the intention of making a sale.  This was entirely true.  It was at times awkward to browse through work and not make a purchase; however my best interactions were with some artists that made no effort to sell anything.  Sarah P and R.M. Rhodes were just incredibly fun to talk to/interview.  One artist seemed to be waiting for someone in the crowd to make eye contact with him.  When I came over, he explained in detail how he made his comic and then just asked what I thought about it.  There was another artist around A4 who seemed to ask every passerby if they were awesome, and when they inevitably responded yes, he gave them a free button and a free sample of his upcoming work.  I tried to find him using the SPX Exhibitor site but instead found this really cool artist http://www.artichokepresents.com/ from approximately the same area.

I loved listening to Chris Ware speak – he was so humble and fun to listen to.  His childhood story about his graffitied lunchbox just summed up so much of what I felt as I read The Acme Novelty Library.  It was surprising, funny, and devastating all at once. I definitely look forward to reading Building Stories next month.

Lastly, I also enjoyed the independent Marriott buffet exhibit nextdoor, particularly the bacon and the maple scones.