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Published on October 6th, 2012 | by Mark Schiffer


Small Press Expo 2012

“Total Fucking Asshole Nerds!”

With these words spoken by Gilbert Hernandez, referring to the Comic Buyers Guide in the 1970s, the line was drawn. They were spoken at a panel titled “Life After Alt Comics,” which included both of the Brothers Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), and Daniel Clowes (Eightball). In so many words, Gilbert was saying, “We are the ones producing quality work, while they are the ones mistaking postmodernism and ‘grittiness’ for humanism and thematic depth.”

This attitude drives the work of what has become an incredibly large field, for the better. Indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to find any of the negative excesses of contemporary mainstream comics at Small Press Expo 2012, held September 15-16 at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. While the lineup included its share of rockstar guest appearances, including those present at the already described panel but also encompassing such luminaries as Chris Ware (Acme Novelty Catalog, Jimmy Corrigan) and Francoise Mouly (Raw), the focus for the most part seemed to be on the artist-fan relationship. Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were happy to scribble sketches for fans who had been waiting in line for autographs, and there appeared to be little to no cynicism or opportunism on the part of the organizers. Indeed, they seemed as excited about the potential expansion of the worthwhile subsections of the medium as the attendees, as such organizers should be.

While somewhat lacking in the realm of crate-digging, the expo floor was otherwise occupied with booths set up by artists and publishers. The goal was to get the work of creators into the hands of fans, with the potential for networking and friendship sparking up along the way. Ignatz balloons were set up at the stands of those nominated for the prestigious indie-award, the winners of which were announced the evening of the 15th.

Although the panel listing sounded intriguing, with Q & A’s for many of the attending guests including Chris Ware, Los Bros Hernandez, and Sammy Harkham, and discussions on topics ranging from perversity in form to micro-publishing, I was mainly there to pick up signatures and explore the floor. However, I did find time to sit on a few of these panels, all of which contained their own moments of joy. “Drawing Out Childhood: Summoning Childhood Experience” was a fascinating examination of memoir comics, led by Julia Wertz (Fart Party), Derf Backderf (Ignatz nominee My Friend Dahmer), Marinaomi (Kiss and Tell), and John Porcellino (King Cat). I was unfortunately somewhat late for this incredibly enjoyable study of self-examination and method, but what I was able to catch was quite moving.

However, even with great panels and rockstar guest appearances, what undoubtedly mattered the most about this weekend was the sheer accessibility of these artists to their fans. There were few if any of the countless unsatisfied faces you’d find at any mainstream comic con. Instead, attendees and artists alike were walking around the floor with beaming smiles forever slapped on their faces, myself included. The level of happiness, quite rankly, was simply higher here than it has been at any other con I have attended.

Even those who were standing in line for upwards of 30 minutes for autographs were overwhelmed by excitement and anticipation, quite unlike the frustrated masses I saw at Baltimore Comic Con last year. Personally, I was able to get autographs and conversation from Julia Wertz, Liz Prince (Will You Still Love Me…?), Chris Ware, Los Bros Hernandez, John Porcellino (King Cat), Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole), Michael Bracco (Novo, The Creators), and the new-to-me Kurt Dinse (creator of the hilarious black metal comedy of One Year in Indiana), Gary Paul Bonesteel (creator of the stripped-down horror comedy of Jason), and Morgan Pielli (creator of the masterfully Twilight Zone-ish Indestructible Universe).

I wrote this rather lengthy list not simply to brag – ok, maybe a little – but also to point out the sheer range of accessible artists. Both the rockstars and the semi-scrappy and comers were as available as they could possibly be. It felt like the headliners (Chris Ware, Los Bros Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Francoise Mouly) had scheduled signing times only because of their panels. The extended lines seemed to have little effect on their dispositions, and they remained as warm as they could possibly be. Meanwhile, the new discoveries I found on the xpo floor were alternately funny, entertaining, and smart. Not only were Kurt, Gary, and Morgan incredibly willing to talk about their artistic processes, personal tastes in comics, and horror movies, their works fully delivered on their promise. I fully intend to continue reading these guys’ work!

On behalf of Squarepop, I would like to thank the SPX organizers for inviting us this year. Truly, it was an incredible time, and I will look forward to making more comic book nerd dreams come true in 2013.

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About the Author

Mark is a college graduate media addict who currently lives at his parent's house in Columbia, MD. Although he spent his undergrad period studying Film and Russian Literature, he currently spends much of his time watching Netflix, reading indie comic runs from beginning to end, and playing video games for their narrative content. He also plays tenor saxophone.

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