So much has already been written and blogged about this year’s SPX that our own report hardly seems necessary, but we’ll play the game. After some moving-in jitters at the new Marriott location last year, this year everything settled down just fine and it seems that everyone had a good-to-great time. Friday afternoon was busy, Saturday started a little slow, but by the afternoon things were hopping. Some folks, like Comics Bakery, had their best SPX ever, the kids beamed as they sold stacks of mini comics, Fletcher Hanks sold out yet again, and it was a happy, prosperous time.
Show director Karon Flage gave the people what they wanted, whether it was table space or chocolate fondue. Programming guy Bill Kartalopoulos (or as our spell checker prefers to call him, Bill K.) put together a slate with something for everyone. Complaints about table placement were little heard. In fact if you check the above link to last year’s report, there was a ton of complaining that was non-existent this year. I guess everyone figured it out, including how to take the metro to a good restaurant. ( This time I got to go to Faryab! Yay!)
After hours, it was party party party, not in a falling down drunk frat house way, but the charming way that young nerds bond and flirt — made up awards shows, karaoke, beer, chocolate fondue. Mmmmm, chocolate fondue — I ate so much I got a tummy ache.
There was an amusing dichotomy between the “old timers” and the “New Faces of ’07” though. When SPX started in 1994 during the “Spirits of Independence” times, many exhibitors were self-publishers, like Jeff Smith, Batton Lash, Dave Sim, Colleen Doran, David Lapham, Tara Tallan. With the “Pig Roast Era” as you might call it in 1998, actual publishers like Top Shelf, Alternative and Highwater made their mark, and Gen Xericers like James Kochalka, Tom Hart, Megan Kelso and Nick Bertozzi (as well as the now-near-iconic Dean Haspiel) dominated the show. This year, Jon Lewis was left to carry the mantle himself.
Now, self-publishing on the floppy level is all but gone. Smith returned as someone who has sold millions of books around the world. Carla Speed McNeill debuted a beautiful 10th Anniversary edition of FINDER, but she says her move to the web has had no impact on her sales.
Instead, publishers like PictureBox, AdHouse, Buenaventura, Bodega and Sparkplug and distributors like Partyka and Global Hobo rule the roost with their dizzying lines of minis and graphic novels. Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and Drawn & Quarterly are still the biggest exhibitors, with Oni arriving a bit late to the party but still having a jolly time. Collectives from SVA, CCS and local groups are also important presences. I think everyone of these groups is run with some degree of idealism, and it is a pleasure to be around.
The programming seemed to go quite well, and you can read good accounts of the most interesting panels in various places on the web. I caught part of the the Rutu Modan panel on Friday (dinner meant I missed Gilbert Hernandez’s talk, although lots and lots of people did attend.) The next day I caught most of Dan Nadel’s interview with the man known as C.F.. I took notes, but sadly lost them on the way home. It was an entertaining talk — C.F. is a zen master who speaks in poetic but lively terms. He also mentioned how his idea of a great story was a guy who has to put his laundry in a garbage bag instead of a laundry bag…I don’t know whose side of the Great Debate that reinforces, but I’ll just leave it to the winds.
After C.F. I was to moderate the Jeff Smith panel. It’s always tricky with this kind of talk with a big star — the room was filled with Smith fans, and they would probably have loved to hear answers to all the same questions that Smith has been asked over and over. I tried to steer towards new subjects, but the audience questions filled in the old standards — someone said I should have turned it over to the audience earlier, but as I say it’s always a balance. (BTW, for the record, I had no idea how Jeff would answer my manga question.) I wanted to go to the criticism panel, but that was the only time I had to cruise the room, so I figured I would read about it online, and I did.
Things went so well, I didn’t miss the picnic. Even as I kept explaining to people how everyone used to hang out on Sunday and eat potato salad, it became clear that the picnic isn’t really needed any more. To be honest, few people remember it, and the convenient and spacious hotel patio where you could sit in the pale autumn sun and enjoy a coffee or beer filled the “outdoor bonding” gap quite nicely.
After the incredible fracturing at San Diego, and built-in cliquishness at MoCCA, where everyone splits at the end of the day to go to their favorite Brooklyn watering hole, it was great to see everyone just hanging out after the Ignatzes. I passed on the karaoke fest, fearing a long trek on my bum ankle, but Jeff Smith went along, and you couldn’t get a better generational mingling than that. A big, diverse crowd hung out at the Ignatz after party, and when all the bars closed, as one everyone who was left moved down the hall to find a hotel room to party in. I hadn’t seen that kind of unity in a long time, and it was nice to see Nick Abadzis, Larry Marder, Austin English, Smith and various other folks yakking it up into the small hours, especially since the beer had already nearly run out.
Talking was really big at SPX. I chatted with Gilbert Hernandez about MIGHTY MIGHTOR and his own changes in storytelling; with Jeff Smith about the process of putting together the Pogo reprints; with Rutu Modan about storytelling and what to wear to the Quills; with Kim Thompson about his favorite untranslated European comics and Gary Groth about his earliest convention memories, to cite just a few conversations that linger at the top of my brain. I talked about distribution with Carla Speed McNeill and POS systems with Randal from Oni. It was a good time.
The move of APE to November has thrown a bit of doubt into the “indie sales circuit.” This is an economy that exists on selling at shows. In the olden days, Diamond’s Bill Schanes would come down on Sunday morning to talk about the state of the industry and answer sometimes angry questions from self publishers. I briefly wondered if this would be a good feature to resurrect, but in reality, Diamond carries only a handful of the books that were on sale at SPX. It’s a world free of economic cynicism, which is both a weakness and a strength. A good gust of wind could blow down this elaborate paper castle in no time, but you just know it would spring up again somewhere else. I suspect that online distributors will become more and more important to this economy, however, and at least one new outfit, Secret Acres, was walking around the show. (More on that in a future post.)
Finally, back to the debate over what to do on Sunday. There many reasons why there is no exhibiting on Sunday, the main one being the idea that it’s a day for small pressers to mingle and exchange ideas. The softball game/picnic isn’t possible in the new venue,so last year an excursion to Dave and Busters was planned, but hardly anyone went, so instead, this year people who wanted to mingle and plot on Sunday morning just went and sat on the patio. It was a smaller group, and an incentive to get more people to hang out a little longer would be nice.
Although logic would seem to dictate that the selling show expand to Sunday now, there are several drawbacks — what to do with the Ignatzes is one (they would in theory have to be moved to Sunday night) but the hotel apparently charges much much more for a Saturday overnight set-up than a Friday one, so that is a real problem. I actually don’t think that a second selling day would make that much difference at this point, but that could change.
Before we go, here are the three biggest hits of the show:
3) PictureBox’s books. Just about everyone was buzzing about something at the table, whether it was Cold Heat or Powr Mastrs or any one of a dizzying array of minis.
2) Nicholas Gurewitch. He had a constant crowd of people at his table, and his performance at the Ignatzes — adlibbing the comments of an award-winning gorilla — was a starmaking turn like Michael Jackson at Motown 25 or McLovin in SUPERBAD. I’ve heard that Gurewitch wants to make movies, and honestly, this guy is the next comics superstar. But as great as he was, he wasn’t greater than
1) Chocolate fondue. After the Ignatzes, a fountain of chocolate and bowls of marshmallows and rice krispie treats awaited lucky attendees. Crowds gathered. I think this was the greatest thing at any convention ever, and if they don’t bring it back next year I will cry.
PS: Big ups to travel pals and helpers Douglas Wolk, Jeff Newalt, Brian Heater and the woman known as Chloe for room and board.