Thursday, September 23, 2010

Small Press Expo 2010

I've already talked some about my experience at the Small Press Expo on the Manga Out Loud podcast, but I thought I'd add in a few details I invariably forgot to mention.

Last year I wound up going in the wrong direction on Metro. This year my luck continued with the wrong train in the right direction. The Grosvenor train ends a stop before the White Flint station. Fortunately all I had to do was wait for the next train and resume my journey. I boarded the Shady Grove train only to find Ed Sizemore on his way to SPX. The North Bethesda Marriott & Convention Center was only a block or two away from the Metro station, so it's a perfect location for locals.

The registration line was long but it moved briskly. The exhibitor's room was quite packed this year. I found it quite crowded; there was only one double wide aisle you could easily move through. Most of the bigger publishers like Top Shelf and Fantagraphics were given corners or endcaps, so they were able to spread out their wares. Some of the more popular webcomics artists were all in the same far right aisle together, so it was difficult to browse or move. Someone had wisely opened up a side door for Kate Beaton's line; she was signing and sketching throughout the day.

This year I was only looking specifically for one thing: NBM's The Broadcast. I've always been fascinated by Orson Welles' infamous "panic broadcast" of the "War of the Worlds", so the idea of a story using that as a backdrop fascinated me. The cover artwork is by Franscesco Francavilla, but the interiors are a sketchier ink-washed style by Noel Tuazon. Eric Hobbs' NBM blog includes sample artwork of Tuazon's style.

I was grateful for my various friends at this con. As mainstream as I tend to be, I'm really unfamiliar with most of the indie comics crowd. I recognized a few names from last year or if they've had some online recognition. I love people pointing me to new stuff I might have ignored otherwise.

I'd seen some of Carolyn Belefski's sketches on twitter after Baltimore Comic Con, so I was delighted when I discovered she was at SPX. She was working on a Wizard of Oz sketch while I chatted with Joe Carabeo, her partner-in-crime. The Legettes was described as burlesque dancers as spies; from a slight skim, it reminds me a little of Charlie's Angels maybe from Bosley's perspective. But I wound up buying both The Legettes and their new Carnival anthology. Right after the con, Carolyn Belefski was nominated for a 2010 Lulu in the Kim Yale Award for Most Talented Newcomer.

The unique thing about SPX is the diversity of formats. SPX had everything from tiny mini comics to hardbound graphic novels and everything in between. Everyone is trying new and different things with the comics medium. In that vein, I discovered Ken Wong's origami comics. He's found a nifty way to turn little mini comics into three-dimensional objects, mixing traditional sequential art with papercraft. What's neat is he picks the right shape for the right story, whether it's Pandora's box or a 2D for a D&D story. I bought the Schrodinger's Cat, which is one of those old "fortune-teller" folding games I remember from when I was younger. When you unfold it, he's included all the different cats from comics. We wound up talking about other kids' games like Cat's Cradle and how each generation seems to reinvent the wheel only to discover their parents and grandparents played the same games when they were younger.

I didn't buy all that much. I was coming off my heavy spending at Baltimore Comic Con, so I tended to hold back a bit. I do regret not stopping by Roger Landridge's table if only to tell him how much I'm enjoying Thor: The Mighty Avenger. I also regretted not stopping by Rob Ullman's Atom-Bomb Bikini table; as a sports fan, I like his pinup sweater girls. Unfortunately I root for completely the wrong hockey team (go Caps!), so it might have been an awkward encounter.

I also attended two panels. The first one was the "How We Judge" critic's panel. I didn't attend the one last year, so I was curious how this one would turn out. With seven panelists on board, it was quite a challenge to get everyone's viewpoint in, especially with only a few microphones. I tended to disagree vehemently with the more literary approach to comics criticism. Even when reading Girl-Wonder's bloggers, I sometimes zoned out when they included lengthy discussions on feminist or gender theories. I guess I tend to take a more narrow view of what constitutes canon – how a story fits comics as a whole, historically, yes, but more how it relates to that particular character/team/creator. I don't tend to factor in larger literary ideas. I don't think I'll ever be high brow enough for that crowd.

One topic that has cropped more recently is the newcomer/outsider reviews. With graphic novels becoming more and more mainstream, they're getting reviewed in different places, some by people with little or no knowledge of comics. Even for regular comics reviewers, it's nigh on impossible to read or cover everything. Reviewers have specialized and sub-specialized; even manga reviewers tend to stick to their niche. So when reviewers venture outside that niche, it's a risk. Chris Mautner had just reviewed Fantagraphics' release of Hagio Moto's collection A Drunken Dream in a tone that smacked a lot of regular manga readers the wrong way. Johanna Draper Carlson still sees the value in those newcomer reviews. I think there are ways to approach the subject that are respectful of both current and non-comics readers.

Near the end of the day, I went to the "Comics for Younger Readers" panel moderated by Johanna Draper Carlson. The early part of the panel talked the technical approach: how to work with educators and libraries, what constituted kid friendly art styles and so on, while the end included some reading recommendations. The panel split on how consciously they intended to marketing to kids. Aaron Reiner tended to just let the story come out, whereas the Metaphrog couple tended to strongly gear their books towards children. I loved hearing their perspective. Their experiences teaching comics in Scotland was fascinating. Libraries and schools there tend to be stuck in the "comics are for kids" mentality. Also they mentioned that teen books there are fairly patronizing and condescending. They saw more problems inherent in coddling children from difficult subjects. Americans tend to be protective of younger reading habits. But as was pointed out, it's much easier to flip through a graphic novel and find objectionable pictures than it is to sit and read say a 400 page Harry Potter novel.

Raina Telgemeier talked about the challenges of working with Scholastic. The book market was much closely tied in with age demographic, so if she's writing about middle school protagonists, she's writing for that market, no exceptions. She's had to adjust her new work from being set in high school, because of those publisher expectations. Both Raina & Metaphrog actually had positive things to say about working with some editorial control/oversight, rather than the indie comics model of "Oh, I'll write whatever I want to". There was a different challenge inherent in working within those strictures.

The convention was double booked with a medical conference. A wedding reception was also setting up for Saturday night, so there were all these glamorous gowns contrasted with our jeans and t-shirts. At least our group wasn't dressed in costumes.

Would I go back to SPX? On the double plus side, the con is local and inexpensive. The day passes make the con very attractive to newcomers, too. On the minus, small publishers don't always publish as quickly as others, so finding new material is sometimes a challenge. Changing the con to October may also help me, assuming Baltimore Con stays in August again.

On the whole, I enjoyed the experience and having the chance to hang around my friends and talk about different comics for a change.

1 comment:

Wallace said...

I love The Legettes cover.. will be curious to see if you like the plot! If so, I might have to give it a go.