Friday, September 16, 2011

Small Press Expo 2011

Small Press Expo weekend started with a Roger Langridge signing at the Big Planet Comics in Vienna, Virginia that Friday. For all his zany writing, Langridge is a quiet soft spoken man with a lovely accent. I was able to thank him profusely for the enjoyment I received from Thor: The Mighty Avenger. I also bought a trade of his Muppet Show series from Boom and picked up the Snarked #0 freebie. He added a little Kermit the Frog sketch when he signed the Muppet trade. I also bought a copy of Bendis and Oeming's "Takio" on the recommendation of several friends.

On Saturday, I took the Metro up to Bethesda for the Small Press Expo. I was only going for the one day. Metro had a ton of track maintenance planned for the weekend, which made the commute tricky. So I arrived an hour or so after the show opened, confronted by two long lines. One was for registration and the other I later learned was for a Craig Thompson signing. But the registration line moved swiftly and soon I was joining the throngs in the exhibitors' room. The floor was crowded on Saturday. There were times it was hard to move around, much less stop to look at tables. Some of the aisles seemed narrower than usual. I bought very little this year. I'm still not sure if it's unfamiliarity in the indie comics world or simple buyer's apathy on my part.

I found Fanfare/Ponent Mon's table and bought "Zoo in Winter" by Jiro Taniguchi. Fanfare produces gorgeous editions. The paper they use really makes the black and white illustrations pop. This is the their first hardcover Taniguchi and well worth the money. The story is about an artist becoming an apprentice to a mangaka and the long hours involved. The constant rolling deadlines where you finish one project only to have to start another was very very familiar to me. I was surprised and disappointed to hear that Taniguchi's "Walking Man" had gone out of print. I was glad I had bought a copy at SPX a few years back.

I only managed to get to the "Secret History of Women in Comics" panel with Diane Noomin, Alexa Dickman, Robyn Chapman, and Jessica Abel. Heidi MacDonald moderated the panel. Ed Sizemore recapped the panel in his con report and Maggie Siegel-Berele posted a quirky sketch. What struck me were a few things. None of the cartoonists on the panel cited any particular role models. There was no women they looked to saying "Yes, you can be a cartoonist". That requires a certain amount of confidence and determination to say "I'll do it anyway". Both Abel and Chapman teach cartooning and they're seeing the next generation coming down the pike. While the manga influence has crested a bit, it sounds like their students' interests are even more varied now.

As a Golden Age fan, I enjoyed Alexa Dickman's contributions. She isn't a cartoonist. She's a fan that realized how little information was available on female comics creators and started the Women in Comics wiki project. She also runs the LadiesMakingComics tumblr with regular profiles and market alerts on female comics creators. In the "Ten-Cent Plague", David Hadju lists 800 comics creators that are no longer working in the business after the Wertham scares. Over a hundred of those names are women. A good chunk of them worked for places like Fiction House. Others hid behind other names. Tarpe Mills, the creator of Miss Fury, is actually named June, for instance.

There was also a good deal of friction in the panel. The women seemed to struggle with whether they wanted to be identified as just cartoonists or forever tagged as "female cartoonists". Heidi MacDonald even opened the panel expressing her distate for the need for "women in comics" panels. Jessica Abel commented on the disconnect she saw between the welcoming cons and community she encountered versus the male-dominated anthologies. It's the old question of whether doing projects like "Girl Comics" and "Womanthology" helps or hurts in the long run. I wasn't left with a clearcut answer either.

After the panel, I delved back into the exhibitor hall. The aspect I love about SPX is seeing the breadth of comics, the different formats and shapes. So maybe it's not surprising that the two other things I picked up play on papercraft in some fashion.

H. Lela Graham is a bookbinder and ceramicist by training. Because she hasn’t had access to a ceramics studio, she’s been spending more time on the bookbinding. I spotted her bound books on my first tour around the room and finally stopped to chat/browse later. She had all different sizes from the tiny ones to the larger ones. It was fascinating how a different leather/skin gave the book a different feel. There was one I picked up that was a calfskin that was *so* soft, whereas a darker prettier colored leather had a tougher hide. She’d fashioned some of her small ones as necklaces, so I bought one. This picture shows the necklace opened up.

After catching up with Johanna Draper Carlson and Ed Sizemore (and sampling Johanna's tiramisu), we took one last swing through the dealers' room where I acquired "In the Parlor Room" by Jeremy Sorese. Ed had showed off a copy and I was drawn by the covers and the artwork. I loved the cutout inset inside. The art is very over the top and stylized in places. The table was tucked in one of the back corners, so I must have missed it in my early crawls. I was disappointed to discover later I'd also missed more origami comics from Ken Wong.

SPX has already announced they're expanding next year with 50% more space. I do hope it allows them the opportunity to space the exhibitors better and allow some new people a chance to shine. Hopefully next year I'll be in more of a mindset to take some chances too.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I love the book necklace--how gorgeous! Bookbinding really seems to be making a comeback, which is great. Old-fashioned typesetting (by hand!) seems also to be back in vogue. A woman I used to work with would spend her evenings manually setting type at one of our universities. That's dedication!

Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting