SPX (Small Press Expo): Longer, Tasteer, and Uncut!
by Jay Laird
Of the 'cons I've attended, SPX is probably my favorite. Don't get me wrong -- I love the sheer magnitude of San Diego ComiCon, and the geek overload of the Toronto Expos, but when I'm at SPX, I feel like I'm among my people. Yeah, at SPX we're still all geeks, and yeah, many of us (at least secretly) hope to make it big, but there's a different feel to it.
SPX provides a small pond that makes us small creators feel like bigger fish -- but at the same time, the pond's big enough that we can all school around together. Overextended metaphors aside, small press creators big and small (or perhaps small and smaller?) mingle at SPX, trading everything from ashcan editions to printer resource information, sending fans to each others' tables, and generally making the world of publishing seem a little more familial.
Unlike my recent Toronto experience, there's no real story to report on the journey to SPX. Well, at least none involving illegal scissors and transportation of lubricant across international borders.
At 5:30am on Friday, I met up with Tim Fish, my sometimes partner-in-comics and the editor of PopImage's Young Bottoms in Love. Tim only recently returned to Boston after a year of living as a migrant comics artist -- so recently, in fact, that his moving truck had only arrived the night before we left for Washington, DC. But, dedicated artist/writer/editor that he is, Tim was ready to go, and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.
After very little hassle, and a short flight, we landed in DC and hopped the Metro out to the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, MD, the site of SPX. Since we were hours early, too early to even check into a room, we headed out to find lunch. To my surprise and delight, The Tastee Diner, which had been closed due to fire damage the previous year, had re-opened in all its greasy glory. If you're a diner fan, this one has old booths, mini-jukeboxes, narrow aisles between the tables, and friendly but harried waitresses -- everything you'd expect in a diner, plus gravy.
We arrived back at SPX all greased up and ready for action. Oh wait, that sounds far worse than it is. We arrived back at the hotel after our filling lunch to find the rest of our crew -- PopImage editor Ed Mathews, "Young Bottoms" co-editor Brett "Hoppy" Hopkins, and "Young Bottoms" contributor Richard Ruane -- already there, having made good time on the trip from New York City. No sooner did we get Tim and Brett's table set up than it was time for the expo to begin.
Unlike Toronto, my mission for this expo was pretty much set from the beginning: to find the small, underrepresented creators and give them a chance to tell us about their work. On the other hand, it's hard to pick out "small" when you're at an expo with "small" in its name. At SPX, there's not an easy division of "mainstream" versus "indie" because everyone is, to some extent, an indie creator.
Within a few minutes, I had discarded my map with my carefully plotted route of small creators that I wanted to speak with, and instead I went for my scattershot approach that worked quite well in Toronto. With no set agenda, I once again ended up with a diverse and interesting set of creator interviews.
Juan Lapaix and David Arroyo (http://www.dreamgrafixs.com)
Writer/artist Juan Lapaix and writer David Arroyo came to SPX as their first of what they hope will be many 'cons. Residents of Puerto Rico, they find it's hard to connect with a fan base back home. Juan says that "most of the [comics] stuff back home is for a younger audience." David adds that, compared to the States, Puerto Rican comics culture "feels about 5 to 10 years behind."
David and Juan and their collaborators hope to change that, bringing intricately plotted and adult-themed comics to the island as well as trying to gain a U.S. mainland audience.
Juan is the writer/artist on two serial projects: Faire, and Esoteric Hunters. "Faire" is the story of a fairy princess who exchanges bodies with a human so that the human can gain magical powers and the princess can experience a normal human life -- but things, of course, don't go as planned. "Sometimes people are blessed with things that they don't want," says Juan of the story's theme. "Esoteric Hunters" is something like a Puerto Rican male version of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but with werewolves and bigger guns.
David Arroyo writes Reality Rocks, a semi autobiographical title about college life and "generally goofy stuff" in Puerto Rico. Juan also draws this title. The two also collaborate on an online comic called FanBoyz.
Although I interviewed David and Juan in their first hour at SPX, they already seemed quite happy with the attention they were receiving. Juan says that back home they've gotten all too familiar with the feeling of showing their work to other comics folks and having them just set it down, since it doesn't fit in with the mainstream superhero genre that they've come to expect, so SPX is a great change for them. David adds, "Yeah we expected a certain amount of that 'Please like me!' syndrome, like everyone feels in high school, but really, it's great just having people come up and look at our titles without us having to beg."
John Stephens (http://www.beardedbaby.net)
The Silent Pulse
I know John Stephens has a beard. I believe John Stephens has a kid. I'm not sure if these things are what come together to create Bearded Baby Publications, but you can learn more about bearded babies by visiting the web site. However, hairy youth seem to only be a sideline for John Stephens, whose main project, The Silent Pulse, was nominated for an Ignatz award at last year's SPX.
"The Silent Pulse" is the story of a group of friends living in San Francisco who are drawn into a fantastic otherworld when a friend starts having visions. The work is heavily inspired by Joseph Campbell and the Jungian approach to myth, with elements of Herman Hesse's Journey to the East. "There are tributes to all that," says John, "but it's also just inspired by the urban folklore of living in San Francisco. In SF, you get the feeling that anything can disappear at any minute..."
John's upcoming planned projects extend his love of "forgotten mythologies", taking us into the realm of alternative fairy tales and the unheard tales of Johnny Appleseed.
A preview of the third issue of The Silent Pulse is available on-line, where all the comics can be purchased as well. However, John encourages everyone to support their local independent comics retailers, so ask for it at your local store!
John also had a fun spiff at his table: business cards attached to rings (I'm wearing mine as I type this) with fortunes written on the back of the cards. The gimmick was that when you take a business card with a fortune on it, you fill out one of the blank business cards with your own fortune idea -- so that your fortune gets passed on to someone else's. The fortune I received? "You will have many children, some of them by your future spouse". In response, I left the fortune: "Your profile will be reprinted on a scandalous web site."
Craig Bostick (http://www.aquaboy.net)
I met Craig Bostick last year at SPX, and since he lives nearby, I meant to stay in touch, but somehow I didn't end up seeing him again until this year's SPX. Craig's a really fun, really nice guy with a great sense of humor and a fun web site. In Craig's latest comic, Fuschia Galactica, he plays with comic book cliches and cartoonisms as a universal language -- throwing in all the thing we recognize from comics in a new context. "It's kind of like Archie, but with smoking and drinking," Craig explains.
Craig's bestselling comic is a shot biographical piece called Crash Some of Craig's other short comics, including No One Believes I'm Gay! (reprinted recently in Young Bottoms in Love, vol. 3), have been among the more memorable pieces of the gay teen oriented XY magazine.
Craig is also an accomplished illustrator, painter, and pinmaker. In his other life, he's in a band called Spoilsport. For more info, check out http://www.spoilsport.net. Later this month, Craig will be taking his band back to his hometown of St. Louis for a gig at the WayOut club, coinciding with his appearance at the St. Louis Comics Festival. Look for a CD coming from the group soon -- with cover art by Craig, of course!
I have to take a moment to commend Craig for his patience here, as well, as he was the one person I attempted to interview while using a Tablet PC and handwriting recognition. Some day I may post what the Tablet PC thought I was writing as we talked... it was a very different interview!
Dan Moynihan (http://www.mreow.com)
Sharing the table with Craig Bostick is Dan Moynihan. Dan is a freelance illustrator who writes and draws all sorts of things. The books at his table include one on his love of bugs, one on origami creatures come to life, and one on catching the moon, among others. It's all cute, quirky, and quite fun, reflecting a breadth of experience that has included scientific illustration, children's book illustration, and even some animation.
Dan did his first comic about 10 years ago and sent it out to a few friends. Based on the positive feedback, he started sending them out to more friends, and suddenly he had a decent sized audience. Dan now extends his audience by doing the occasional expo. This year he's done MOCCA, Cambridge Comics, Beantown Zinetown, and of course, SPX. Dan has also done some comics work for Nickelodeon magazine.
Friday Night: Big Gay Dinner #1
As always, I didn't really sleep the night before the 'con, and tossed and turned while thinking about such important life questions as: What did happen to the other two pages of a story I wrote (I never wrote 'em)? Do I remember where the closest Starbucks is to the hotel? (yes)? Can one bring a magazine rack on an airplane without it being considered a potential weapon (yes, at least for now)? So I was pretty tired and happy to get the chance to leave the first evening of SPX a bit early.
On the way back to the hotel room, I was amused to notice a Green Lantern tee shirt. At the last 'con that I covered, I finally decided the Green Lantern tee shirt trend was over, and I stopped counting, yet here was one, at a 'con that doesn't usually spark a lot of mainstream comics references. However, it was the only one I spotted all weekend.
However, a nap wasn't in the cards. Instead we headed over to Rock Bottom Brewery for the second annual Big Gay Dinner. In the interest of disclaimers, I should point out that only maybe half of the folks at the Big Gay Dinner are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. We just attract a fun crowd. In fact, we ended up with 30 people at this one, and got an entire section of the restaurant to ourselves. Then it was back to the hotel for drinking and schmoozing, although at some point in there, fatigue finally set in hard, so me and the Young Bottoms in Love crew headed back to our shared hotel room.
So what happens when you put a bunch of cute gay comics creators in one room? Lots of snoring. You've been watching too much Queer as Folk if you had a different answer.
After a quick foraging for breakfast for Tim and Brett who were already diligently manning their table while I got in a few extra winks of sleep, it was back to the interview circuit for me.
Harris O'Malley (http://www.studiounderhill.com)
Between the Cracks
Harris O'Malley is my kind of tech head. He was one of the only creators to not look strangely at my note-taking setup (a Treo combination cellphone and Palm computer), but instead to trump me with his own setup: a Palm W and full-sized collapsible keyboard.
Harris was formerly an animator working mostly in 3d (as the covers to his comics attest), but he found it difficult to get jobs in that market, even in the game-industry heavy Austin, Texas. Now he lives in San Antonio and has been working as a professional illustrator for about 2 years.
Harris recently completed Between the Cracks, a graphic novel which he started as a series of mini-comics. The story is a dark urban fantasy revolving around the mythology of the city of Abbot -- except all the urban legends of Abbot are true.
Harris cites older Charles DeLint work as one of his primary influences. If you want to check him out, you can either get the "single" version of his book (the minicomic), or the "album version" (the graphic novel).
Howard August and Joda Thayer (http://www.achipmunkandalizard.com)
A Chipmunk and a Lizard
Howard and Joda started their daily web strip on a Monday, which seemed like a good day, and April Fool's Day, which seemed appropriate to them. In their strip, A Chipmunk and a Lizard, small animals sit on a rock and talk about eating and dying and everything in between.
Additionally, Joda has a web project that he's been running since 1995, called Few and Far Between. Over time, it's evolved from being a daily four-panel strip to being longer stories. "I wanted to use the characters for more than just short gags," explains Joda. The stories are fantasy-humor-adventure tales for all ages, or as Joda describes them, "Fanciful fables featuring an octopus, an android, an amazon, and more!" The work can now be found on serializer.net.
Thien Pham (http://www.e-zcheese.com)
Thien Pham has been doing minicomics for about three years. The comic he shows me is called Air, a fun 1980s movie homage. "It's about love, life, and air hockey," he explains. The comic he doesn't show me, because it already sold out, is about love, life, and ninjas. I ask him about the pattern. "Yeah, all of my projects are about life, love, and something or other," he says.
A high school art teacher, Thien's work often consists of hand-silkscreened mini books. This year, he decided to take advantage of having the summer off and see how many 'cons he could do. With SPX, he's racked up 10 for the summer, and now it's about time to go back and face his day job again.
If you want to help him to prolong the magic, check out his web site, or email him directly at email@example.com to get copies of his quirky, fun work.
Sharing Thien Pham's table was Lark Pien, creator of Mr. Boombha and Long Tail Kitty. Unfortunately, Lark was on her way out when I reached the table, so I never got to ask her about her work or her renowned world travels. But you can check her out for yourself at http://www.qdcomic.com/artists/pien.htm. Really, you should. Thien says so, and I agree.
Tyler Page (http://www.stylishvittles.com)
Tyler Page was one of my table neighbors at the first 'con I attended as an exhibitor. At that point he'd just graduated from art school and had put out the first volume of Stylish Vittles, which he'd started as his senior project. Since then, Tyler's put out the second volume of the series and he's been nominated for an Eisner award for "Best New Talent".
Tyler's girlfriend, Corrinne, now accompanies him on most of his convention appearances, which is nice, since sitting alone at a booth for several days (which is what he was doing when I met him in San Diego) can get quite boring. On the other hand, they often get put in the awkward position of having to explain that Corrinne isn't the girl from the books -- which, I guess, sort of gives away the ending to the series. However, Tyler's books are certainly about a lot more than just the buildup of his relationship with Nanette (the character in the book) -- and, true to the series title, they're quite stylishly done.
Corrinne says that yeah, sometimes it's a little weird having Tyler spend long evenings along writing and drawing away about his ex, but she's cool with it, and she likes the story enough to want to see Tyler complete it. Plus, Corrinne is an artist in her own right, so she understands the sometimes weird world of the creative process.
Since the Eisner award nomination, Tyler's been busy with the convention circuit, attending an average of one a month. He's also gotten a distributor to put him in bookstores, and the success of the book has caused him to have a lot more business duties associated with his creation.
As a result, he hasn't had as much time to write as he's wanted this summer, but he's also been happy with the chance to go back and reconsider what he wants to do in the third volume of the Stylish Vittles series. The first two volumes were scripted together as his original project proposal, although he only finished one volume for his college project. After the first volume, he basically had to force himself to slog through drawing the second volume as written so that he could keep the story going. Now he's got the business momentum but he's eager to get the momentum of the story going again.
Saturday Lunch Break
Young Bottoms in Love contributor Richard Ruane and I went out to grab lunch for the rest of the YBIL crew who were busy managing the table. In between trying to cajole each other into having gelato for lunch instead of a decent sandwich, we discovered that we have more in common than being Brett Hopkins' pet writers. I'm sure the story will come out eventually in some collaboration, but let's just say the gay comics world is smaller and more incestuous than even I imagined.
After lunch, and a bit of a linger at the free stuff table (which could be an entire article in of itself), I returned to the interviews.
Steven Goldman (Styx Taxi)
Steven Goldman had been kicking around projects with his brother Dan for a few years, pitching them to various publishers, but not getting any bites. When Dan moved off to Miami to do his own graphic novel, Steven decided he didn't want to wait any longer to get a book out.
Steven posted an ad on craigslist and found his artist, Jeremy Arambulo. Although he looked at several artists' portfolios, Stephen says that the minute he saw Jeremy's style, he knew it was what he wanted for his book. "It was very Charles Burns, and just what I was looking for, even though I didn't know it until I saw it," Steven says.
Steven's a great guy who really respects his collaborators. Rather than trying to get an artist to work on spec, Steven immediately hired Jeremy to do the art for the book. He got what he paid for, "and more", he says -- they managed to finish the book in under half a year (actual production time was only three months!) and premiered it at the San Diego ComiCon. Since ComiCon, the book has enjoyed good distributorship, and Steven's eager to get to work on the next volume. In the meantime, he's temping in New York and continuing to work on pitching more fantastical supernatural projects with his brother Dan. Steven points out that not all of their projects have a supernatural bent; those just seem to be the projects "that are hitting right now."
So what's the book about? Styx Taxi is a modern reinterpretation of the story of Charon and the crossing of the river Styx. In Steven's world, the entity is called Dispatch. The spirits of the underworld inhabit cabbies to pick up their "fares" to the underworld, but they also have a two hour window in which they can win redemption for the recently deceased. Think "Dead Like Me," but with a more coherent plotline. To introduce the concepts of his urban landscape, Steven builds the first story around a Glengarry Glen Ross style of competition: the spirit who collects the most souls receives 12 hours of freedom, and the spirit who collects the least is damned forever.
Erik Van Buren, The Baton Rouge Cartoonist Society (http://www.thebrcs.com)
Erik Van Buren has been drawing children's books and comics for about ten years. Three years ago, he decided he wanted to see if anyone else enjoyed the same things he did, so he started the Baton Rouge Cartoonist Society. The group has monthly meetings and this year has put out its first annual anthology. "The group tries to cater to its current membership," Erik says. More than just a support group for comics artists, the BRCS also holds regular workshops for beginning and advanced cartoonists, which are planned based on what current members know and what they want to learn. Even if you're not in the Baton Rouge area, check them out!
Josh Sullivan (http://www.joshcomics.com)
The Best of Josh Sullivan Comics
Josh Sullivan is a human South Park character. To the untrained eye, he looks about 13 years old and as innocent as all get-out -- but get him talking or look in his comic books, and you'll see that he's using his youthful looks to stealthy advantage. There's a lot more shock value in some of the stuff he comes up with when you assume you're talking to a precocious kid instead of the 21-year-old that he in fact is.
To give you an idea of Josh's sense of humor, his one-page stories include such efforts as "I peed out of my butt" and "Steal from an old person, they won't be needing it any longer." So yeah, ok, he could be 13. But he pulls it off with an edge that most 13 year olds couldn't manage.
I first noticed Josh because he appeared to be the youngest Ignatz nominee ever (I assumed he was in his late teens), up for an award for "Outstanding Mini Comic". Getting a chance to interview Josh took a while, as he seemed to have plenty of fans coming by, and on every comic he signed, he was coming up with an original joke or a random song quote to put on it. In watching him work, though, it's easy to see how the kid's managed to pump out 115 "Josh Comic Books" over the last 7 years.
Josh went to his first ComiCon in Detroit when he was 14 years old. He picked up a minicomic and thought "Hell, I can do this!".. and so he did. He started going to every 'con that came to Detroit, and started sending out his work randomly -- literally randomly, to people all over the world from various mailing lists and random sources of addresses that he'd find. His main goal was to see what kind of a reaction he'd get, and he's gotten plenty, including a fan-created version of Chauncy, the emo pigdog hamster (see photograph), and of course, his Ignatz nomination, which caused him to change plans to visit his family in Detroit to come to SPX instead.
As a side note, Josh isn't content to be a stealthy teenage-looking adult; he takes it a step further with his Chauncy character, who is allegedly drawn by Gerry Fried, age 8 (or sometimes 10). Josh says that when he first drew Chauncy, he was embarrassed by how stupid the character looked, so he invented a fake 8 year old to take the rap for him. Now Gerry has grown into a character in his own right, though the stories that he tells in Josh's comics.
Josh's artwork and storylines show a heavy zinester influence, an influence which Josh is now bringing to others in Tampa, Florida, where he now lives. He's doing a 200-page "megazine" to be launched at the first annual Tampa Zine Fest, which he's also organizing at the coffeeshop where he works. The youngest person involved in Josh's project is 10 (really 10) and the oldest is 65. "It's pretty amazing," Josh says. "The whole idea came together in about 10 minutes, and we're expecting 185 people already. And the 'zines almost full, too." More details on the Zine Fest can be found on Josh's web site; the event is planned for December, around the 7 year anniversary of Josh's entry into comics.
Josh's far-reaching plans? He hopes to eventually combine his experience in comics (which includes three years working in a comic book store) and coffee slinging somehow. "Maybe I'll open a comics-coffeeshop," he speculates. If so, Josh, I'll see you there.
George Tautkus (http://www.geocities.com/yarnicnoff)
Last year, George Tautkus didn't even have a table, but he was still one of the most talked about creators at SPX. His secret? George dressed up in something halfway between a band uniform and a wooden soldier's costume and walked around SPX as a quirky and slightly disturbing character. As I've mentioned, SPX isn't the typical dress-up-and-pretend kind of event, so the dressup alone would have made George stand out -- but it was the wide-eyed and innocent, if slightly slow-seeming character that he created to sell his comic books that got people talking. It worked on me: I bought only a handful of books at last year's event, but KRUNK was among them.
This year, when I catch up with George Tautkus, he's sitting at his table, wearing the cap from his character, but he's conversing normally with a fan. He still comes off as wide-eyed and sweet, but he's not at all disturbed (or disturbing) when he's out of character. In fact, he's a really interesting and friendly guy. George explains that he originally developed his alternative persona in order to sell comic books on the streets of Richmond. He's also played the character at various art fests and expos.
Since last year, George has done four more KRUNK quarterlies. He says it's very easy for him to stay on schedule, doing at least a page a day, and that still gives him plenty of extra time to do mini projects in addition to the KRUNK series. "I could do a lot more [with Krunk], but I don't want to overglut stores or overpromote it," George says.
George is a part-time librarian, so with a six hour a day job he has plenty of spare time to get his other ideas down on paper. This last year, he did an art-o-mat project, creating a very thick, very small comic book that could be served out of vending machines. His comic can now be found in vending machines across the Midwest as well in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. "Art-o-mat actually makes money," George says. "It's a great way for artists to put their work out their in small form and small quantity." With the encouragement of the art-o-mat creators, George hopes to have another comic in vending machines soon.
George is also doing a weekly version of Krunk for newspapers in his hometown of Richmond, VA, among other places. So what is Krunk, exactly? George explains that he always carries around a mini idea book, and he crams everything he comes up with into the Krunk storylines. So far the stories have all been single-issue-length or less, but George plans to start expanding into a longer series with the next issue.
With Punchline, the paper which originally carried Krunk, no longer in existence, George has had to find alternative means to get his work out to a broader audience. He does a comic strip on the web, with the "super secret web link" emailed out to subscribers each week. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to join in on the fun.
George's work can also be found in Big Dumb Fun, an anthology from Odd God Press (www.oddgodpress.com).
Tristan Crane (http://www.howloathsome.com)
Before SPX, people were telling me I had to meet Tristan Crane. At SPX, more people told me I had to meet him. So I went to meet Tristan, whose comic How Loathsome (drawn by Ted Naifeh) is drawing quite a following with its gritty urban writing. Of the plot, Tristan says, "It's the queer tranny Sex and the City, but funnier and more sarcastic... or that's what people tell me."
Tristan grew up in Stockton, CA, and moved to San Francisco when he was 18 to go to SF State. While working at a comics store, Tristan saw a need for current gay comics to move beyond queer delineated boundaries. He and Ted co-created their diverse cast of characters to reflect the world they see around them. Tristan does the writing and collaborates with Ted on the covers, the photography, and the text layout. The story arc has an anime influence to it, with each issue being a set piece but with a limited overflow into the next issues.
With the success of his first writing effort, are there more upcoming projects in the works? "Yes," says Tristan, and leaves it at that.
Saturday Evening: Big Gay Panel and Big Gay Dinner #2
Right after my interview with Tristan, it's time to go to the Queer Comix panel, featuring the lovely and talented Josť Villarubia, the lovely and talented Justin Hall, the lovely and talented Tim Fish, the lovely and talented Denise Sudeil, the lovely and talented Laurenn McCubbin, the lovely and talented Tristan Crane, the very lovely and talented Ed Mathews (hey, who put that very in there?!), and the lovely and talented Brett Hopkins. Oh yes, and me. It was such a big panel, I almost forgot that I was on it!
The topic of discussion was mainstream versus indie representations of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) characters in comics. The idea for the panel came from dissatisfaction on the parts of some audience members who attended the "Gays in Comics" panels at the San Diego ComiCon this year. Apparently some people felt there was too much attention paid to the minimal attention that mainstream gay characters could receive (such as the recent Green Lantern story arc) and not enough attention paid to pushing the boundaries of gay representation in comics.
The lively discussion among the panelists and then the audience took up well more than our allotted hour; we finally ended just before 7pm as the Expo was ending for the night. The conclusion among the mainstream and indie creators and the comics press on the panel was that comics audiences need to be more assertive in asking for what they want in their comics. There seemed to be plenty of willingness on the panel to write more diverse and deep gay characters; we just need publishers in both the small and large press markets to recognize that there's a huge audience for these works.
After the panel, most of us adjourned to a Thai restaurant across the street. I wish I'd gotten the name of the restaurant, as they were very accomodating, managing to seat 20 of us in a matter of minutes. Although it wasn't planned, suddenly we had Big Gay Dinner #2 on our hands.
David Gallaher (http://www.davidgallaher.com)
Again, however, not all of the folks at the BGD were LGBT. Among the exceptions were David Gallaher from Baltimore, who bravely came out as heterosexual among us. David writes the comic adaptation of Vampire: The Masquerade and Johnny Dollar. We didn't have much time for an impromptu interview at dinner, so the bullet points were: He's a volunteer at SPX, and a swell guy. He'll be more fully displaying (his work I mean!) at the Baltimore ComiCon later in the month. He's good at pointing at thiings, and he likes theater and swimsuit modeling. He also asked me not to put in that last sentence, as he was just kidding, but there you have it. Check out what he's really like at his web site.
After a long evening of room-hopping to various spontaneous comics parties, we slept in as best we could in the morning, except for Tim, who was up and drawing at 7am. After a quick breakfast run with Richard, in which we discovered more disturbing coincidences building up, I headed in to see what interviews I could get done in my last hour at SPX before catching my plane home.
Smut Peddler (http://www.saucygoosepress.com)
After a number of missed connections, I finally caught up with the Smut Peddler crew having a free moment at their table. This anthology had caught my eye because of its presence at a number of artists' tables, and I wanted to find out what was up. It turns out to be a uniquely organized project that could start a mini comics revolution.
The project started on the Sequential Tart message boards when people began discussing the lack of smart erotic comics porn. Writers and artists started talking about the porn they'd like to create, and suddenly there was a project just waiting for someone to take the reins.
Fortunately, the reins fell into the very able hands of Carla Speed McNeil (creator of Finder, and the "Queen of Indie Comics") who organized the project's unique "shared printing" scheme in which each artist and writer takes care of duplicating his own copies of the comic. Of the scheme, Carla says, "It was an idea I'd had kicking around for a while, and this project seemed like the perfect place to develop it."
The idea evolved from the realization that laser printer paper is generally better than the average stock that people get their comics printed on, and that high quality covers are the real barrier to low-cost magazine distribution. For Smut Peddler, each writer and artist paid in a small share of money to cover the cost of the color cover printing. In return, each artist received a PDF of the entire magazine along with their share of the covers. This meant that all they had to do was print out the book and staple it together, and then they could distribute it any way they wanted and keep the profits.
Trisha L Sebastian, a perky woman who gives great hugs, is the "general purpose lackey and managing editor". She says that the project's worked out wonderfully in terms of distribution, but also in terms of preventing burnout. "Carla's been great at keeping the project leased," she says.
Part of the effort to keep the project modest in scope is the practical consideration of making sure the book remains staple-able. However, a broader goal is to ensur that the anthologies can keep going. "So many anthologies die after an issue or two because so many fortunes ride on the one book -- there isn't enough profit to go around and make it worthwhile under traditional publishing schemes," explains Carla.
Sean Bieri, referred to by Trisha as "the King of Minicomix" contributed his layout skills to the operation, compiling the diverse works into the 48 page anthology. "I'm an ad designer in my daily life," Sean says, "so this isn't something I normally would get to do. It's a hell of a lot better than doing another mailer for your local cable company."
One of the contributors, David Stanley, made his comic book debut doing his porn story for the collection. "Yeah, I felt intimidated by the prospect of putting myself out there with porn, but I went ahead and did it anyway," he says.
Everyone working on the book is excited about how well the model has worked out, and they hope to see more books follow their pattern. Although for now Saucy Goose Press is going to focus on their smut peddling, Carla and Trisha say they're willing to advise others on getting similar collaborative projects off the ground.
SPX: Longer and Uncut
Unfortunately we didn't know about this when we got our airline tickets, but SPX is now a full two and a half days instead of its former day and a half. This was also to be the year that SPX merged partially with the Baltimore ComiCon, but the organizers decided to keep the event separate for at least the next couple of years. On the one hand, the combination of events might draw more mainstream readers into the small press fold, but on the other hand, it would dilute the intimate independent feel of the expo as it now exists.
Either way, Tim and I had to head back to Boston, so I ran out, snapping a few last-minute pictures of creators and handing out business cards in order to conduct some extra virtual interviews. Following are the interviews that only sort-of happened, which prove that, despite the old saying, sometimes fiction is stranger than truth!
Gina Kamentsky (http://www.t-gina.com)
When I came up to her table Ms. Kamentsky was managing to sign copy after copy of her comics while eating a super bean and cheese burrito, somehow downing every morsel between sensuous lips without getting a drop of salsa on her pristine white Ann Taylor blouse. I was in awe of her vermillion green eyes which could easily have stopped a charging rhino at 30 feet.
This year, Gina's done three conventions: SPX, APE, and Beantown Zinetown. Currently she has released two issues of her comic "T-Gina", the tale of a fabulous Transgendered gal and her search for validation and a decent cup of coffee. Gina started doing the project back in 1995 for various print and on-line publications, and it ultimately took off in 2000 as a long-form comic book. Of her reception at SPX, she says: "It's been really good. I'm amazed how many people had been reading T-gina on-line. The creative energy here is totally infectious."
About Gina: Born in New Jersey, she's a post-op transsexual Jewish gal who can cook a whole fish in black bean sauce, has a zany Siamese cat, drinks decaf after lunch, and who invented Chicken Limbo.
Right now she's trying to come up with the next "Tickle Me Elmo", getting started on an animated film project, and planning a motorcycle trip where she'll be drawing a page a day as she goes.
What's the best way for new fans to get their hands on her work? "Sometimes on the third date.. or go to my site and buy a copy!"
Justin Hall (http://www.allthumbspress.com)
I met Justin when I came up to his table and pressed the button titled "PUSH ME," and he came down from the heavens on a silver cloud with a beatific look on my face and comics in my hands.
Justin's works include A Sacred Text, which won the Xeric Award grant, and was his first comic. It's based on the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. His next two books are part of a True Travel Tales series, which collects real-life travel adventures of Justin and his "no-good friends". Justin also had on hand a hand-made art book called Mary Ellen's Melons, which tells the surreal story of the battle for Miss Watermelon USA.
Currently Justin is working on the next True Travel Tales. Number 3, "La Rubia Loca", will feature "an amazing story" told to him by a friend about driving a schizophrenic Swiss German woman down into Mexico, and then having to smuggle her out of the country after she's had a psychotic break. Unlike TTT #1 and #2, which were anthologies of shorter pieces, for this one, "the story is long and wonderful enough" that it will fill the entire issue.
Justin is also at work on a gay porn comic featuring Mexican wrestlers and pirates, which he says is proving quite fun to illustrate! Also, he's doing more Glamazonia, a sequel of sorts to Mary Ellen's Melons, and hopefully something for Young Bottoms in Love as well.
Of his reception as a first-time exhibitor at SPX, Justin says "SPX definitely represents my market. People understand the auto-bio/travel genre here, aren't generally afraid of queer material, and get the concept of hand-crafted art books. That's not as true in the comic book 'mainstream.'"
Justin also wants you to know that his favorite vegetable is broccoli and that his comics are available from his web site or from your local comic book store -- or if they're not, they should be, so nag them!
Monica Gallagher (http://www.eatyourlipstick.com)
Gods and Undergrads
I kept hearing my friends talk about this Monica Gallagher person, but I kept mishearing "Monica Geller", so I was looking around for a special guest appearance by Courtney Cox Arquette. That would have been nifty, although very un SPX-like, but when I finally cleared up the confusion and cleaned out my ears, meeting Monica Gallagher turned out to be much cooler anyway. Let's compare: Monica Geller, compulsive neatfreak; Monica Gallagher, "eat your lipstick".
Monica's own observations on SPX: "I have only ever exhibited at one convention, this very one! Woo SPX 2003! I went to SPX last year, but I didn't exhibit, and barely talked to anyone, I was so intimidated. Stupid, yes. But I was still glad I went."
Of course, I can identify with this completely, since if I hadn't had the power of the press thrust upon me, I'd probably have been shyly walking around, too, and would have never met so many cool people.
Monica continues: "SPX is amazing -- the atmosphere, the friendliness of the people around, and the variety of work being exhibited. I haven't been to many other conventions, but I suppose because it's so intimate, SPX just feels more comfortable and enriching. Also, you know all the people exhibiting are extremely dedicated, hard-workers who are doing this all out of love. What could be better than that?"
But that didn't stop her from encountering a bit of bizarreness: "So I was at my table, handing out free stickers and postcards, offering my comics up for perusal. One woman perused my table and announced, 'I have no TIME for webcomics'. Another woman said, 'I wouldn't know WHAT to do with a sticker.' I had no response to either of these. The oddest thing, I thought, was when people would barge up to MY table and try to get me to buy their stuff in a forceful way. Enough cute people passed by that it eventually evened out."
Of her current and future work, Monica says, " Well it's fairly obvious I'm obsessed with Greek Mythology. I'm primarily dedicated to story. I think comics and people who do them are wonderful. I'm dedicated to getting some more strong, powerful female characters out there. (Without sacrificing obligatory cute boy characters) Currently, I try to update Gods & Undergrads as often as possible, while still getting out and mingling once in a while!"
Bill Roundy (http://www.billroundy.com)
This year, Bill attended SPX and MOCCA as a nomadic comics writer. As he describes it, "I didn't have a booth, so I didn't have a display - I was just roaming the floors, haunting the panels, and thrusting my mini-comics into people's hands. 'Here, have a mini-comic. Please like me.'"
More about Bill's work, as described by Bill: "I have a journal comic, The Amazing Adventures of Bill, at my website. I collected some of my favorites from the last six months and put them into a 16-page mincomic, though it's not very mini - it's on 11x17 paper. I also have a 4-page mini-comic, Bill and the Monster Under the Bed, which I distributed at MOCCA. It's also a true story.
"I also had some preview pages of SuperPower of Attorney, a new series I'm writing about lawyers who represent superheroes (and supervillains). Yes, Wonder Woman's lasso does violate the Fifth Amendment. My friend Nick Manske is doing the art on that, because he can actually draw. We'd hoped to have an 8-page preview, but it just didn't happen in time."
More about Bill: "I'm single and I give excellent backrubs. I'm allergic to sunlight. I have an international fanclub. I've written a bartending guide. I drew my first cartoon ever 13 months ago. I don't really know how to draw, but if I waited until I was good at it, I'd never get anything done. I need a job. I used to review gay bars for the Queer New York City travel guide."
Bill also provided me with an excerpt from his mysteriously never published Rolling Stone interview, but due to space considerations, we'll have to save that for another article.
Jonathan Rosenberg & Phillip Karlsson (http://www.goats.com)
Jon's description of our meeting, which may or may not be at all true: "Ohmigod, it was so crazy, like, Jay totally came over to the table and said hello, and I totally said hello back to him, and then, like, James Kochalka came by and tried to steal all our stuff with his Laser Vision and his Thighs of Doom and his other crazy elf-powers but we totally fought him off like some sort of super-team with our amazing powers, which were pretty cool."
At any rate, I've liked Jon's work since it was first slipped repeatedly into my hands last year at San Diego ComiCon, where his overflowing table of merchandise and his steady flock of fans kept threatening to eclipse my table entirely. But we drew up new boundary lines, treaties were negotiated, and overall I think he's a nice guy with a great product.
Speaking of product: Goats is about two hapless antisocialites and their search for love and beer. They're plagued by a satanic chicken named Diablo, a womanizing goat named Toothgnip, and various bartenders, psychotic programmers, oversexed aliens, platypii, and a large assortment of villains.
Says Jon, the writer and artist, "We like to think of Goats as stupid comics for smart people."
The Goats teamup is one of the few times I've ever seen equal division of credit among the tech and business guy (Phillip) and the writer/artist -- and as a part time web designer, I think it's great. Of course, since the main characters of the series are two guys named "Jon" and "Phillip", one might guess that Phillip's contributions may be inspirational as well as technical.
About the convention circuit: "Ummm... lessee. We've done a handful of conventions this year including I-CON, Comic-Con, SPX, MoCCA, the Big Apple Anime Fest, and probably a handful of others that my small mind is incapable of retaining the memories
for. Overall, I'd say we've done about a bajillion cons. This is our first SPX, and it's nice -- small and intimate, and no freaky ladies dressed as tigers."
About displaying at cons: "In a sense, we only have the one project, and it's not on display. One of the interesting quagmires about creating an online comic strip is that the
thing you're really promoting isn't something you can display at most conventions. Our goal is to get people to stop by the website, get hooked, and send us all their cash. One way we do that is by passing out groovy full-color flyers with the URL emblazoned across the top. That seems to be a good way to introduce folks to a small sample of what we have on the site proper.
"The other way is to compile the strips into books, which are nice and tangible. Although we've been doing the strip for over 6 years, we've only gotten around to publishing years three and four (Evil Chickens Don't Kiss and Behold The Power Of Ignorance, respectively), which we have here. Why did we publish in reverse order, starting from the middle? That's an excellent question, and scientists are still working on finding the answers.
"I'm currently working on putting together the next book, which should be a combination of Volumes I and II, just to keep things interesting. It'll be called Tasty, Yet Morally Ambiguous and should be available for Christmas if all goes well.
"I'm also working on a full-color mini-book with all new material for the subscribers to our Goats Premium service, as well as producing all the other goodies for their End-of-Year package." You'll have to become a Goats Premium subscriber to learn more.
"Finally, we have our top-secret projects, like the animated short, which I can't tell you anything about, because it's top-secret."
More on the SPX experience: " I'd say that there's definitely more of a focus on traditional print comics here than at other events we've been to; in a way, webcomics are the bastard children of alternative comics. They spawned us, but they don't want to acknowledge their parentage because we're juvenile slackers who are only interested in having a good time. I just never got into the whole glam hipster sadness deal that most of the alternative comics crowd digs. We're just too gleeful for our own good.
"That said, we've had a lot of fans show up and it seems that we've made quite a few new ones. Once we force-feed the strip to people, they generally groove on it and come back for seconds."
What else should we know about Jon? "I have Hermann Goering's liver in a jar of formaldehyde. It whispers to me while I'm sleeping."
Any last words? "Just check out the site: http://www.goats.com/ and take a spin through the complete archives. Over 1400 strips, buddy. Take a week off from work. Oh,
and buy our books. Yeah."
And with that, my SPX experiences, both virtual and real, concluded.
Jay Laird is a writer, artist, and game designer. He also teaches at Northeastern University, where he tries to instill a sense of geek pride in his students. When that fails, he forces them to read comics anyway. Check out some of his work at http://www.jaylaird.com.
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