Sunday, September 27, 2009

Small Press Expo

So Saturday I spent part of the day at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland.

I had all the best of intentions getting over there really early. Metro had other ideas. Everyone was on the Orange Line heading into town for the National Book Festival. Then I went in the opposite direction I needed on the Red Line. That was just the way my day was going.

The North Bethesda Marriott & Convention Center was very easy to find from the Metro. I actually followed a crew with their set of boxes and anime messenger bags. I suspected I was in the right place. Registration line was nearly non-existent an hour after they opened, the pluses of going to a smaller con.

One thing I was determined to do when I arrived was to find the Fanfare/Ponent Mon table. For those outside the manga reading sphere, they're a smaller publisher that prints "quieter" and arty manga in gorgeous editions. They've published a lot of Jiro Taniguchi, including "Walking Man", "A Distant Neighborhood", "Summit of the Gods" and "Quest for the Missing Girl". They've also published Hideo Azuma's autobiographical "Disappearance Diary". Having found said table, I had to decide what I wanted, a rather tough and daunting decision. I went with "Walking Man" and the two volumes of "Distant Neighborhood". Alas I couldn't afford the entire selection, as tempting as it was.

After my first tour through the exhibitor hall, I also managed to lose my badge/lanyard. I'm still not sure if it fell off in the dealers' room and what exactly. Thankfully the registration people took pity on me. It wasn't like it was a horribly expensive con, but still was a mite embarrassing.

I only attended one panel while I was there, the "Comic Strips: Online and in Print" panel, which featured R. Stevens, Kate Beaton, Erika Moen and Julia Wertz. They talked about the challenges of creating webcomics and then publishing them in print formats, any adjustments they made and how the audiences are different. They also addressed technological issues with RGB/CMYK conversions. They addressed the more basic issues of merchandising and "why publish it in hard format at all?" Moen & Stevens provided the most useful information in the panel, both technical and just outright enthusiasm. Moen published hers as a book because she loved books, not necessarily because her audience demanded it. She had compiled a collection over a three year period, so while she left most of her line art intact, she had gone in and corrected the colors and Photoshop errors. When discussing pirating issues, Stevens admitted one way he got around it was merchandising pixel socks, certainly a unique item in the Exhibitor Hall. And they were cute socks, I have to say. Kate Beaton was utterly mobbed at her table.

By going around the con with other people, I stopped at tables I wouldn't ordinarily notice. The "Let's Be Friends Again" guys had some hysterically funny (and very politically incorrect at times) cartoons. I might not have looked at Dresden Codak if a friend wasn't such a fan. I'd heard about Owly for Free Comic Book Day, but nothing prepared me for the cute little baby hats or Owly sketches. Super Spy's Matt Kindt sat at Top Shelf's table doing commissions in water colors, putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous Marvelman/Miracleman commission.

On my last tour of the exhibitors hall, I acquired the noirish "You Have Killed Me" by Jaime Rich & Joelle Jones from the Oni table and the Finder trade "King of Cats" from Carla "Speed" McNeil. I'd last seen her in 2005 when my writers group helped sponsor a graphic novel event at the local Barnes & Noble. That crowd would have been perfectly comfortable at SPX.

That comfort level is something I'm not sure I could ever manage. I'll be flat out honest. I am a mainstream comic book girl. I like my superheroes and my four color goodness. Small Press Expo catered to a very different crowd and a very different mindset. That said I was surprised how friendly and outgoing everyone was. I didn't feel odd or unusual as a girl.

What I appreciated was their enthusiasm for their work and the sheer variety out there. I liked seeing all the different formats from Dresden Codak's massive posters to the little "Sundays" books. Being so used to things in floppies or trades, it was nice to see comics imagined in other ways. On the whole, I enjoyed the experience and perhaps next year I'll try to spend more time there.

I do think you need to go to SPX willing to open your mind and take a few chances. See what strikes your fancy, whether art style or format or colors. There was something for nearly everyone.

No comments: