Baltimore Comic Con and SPX (the Small Press Expo) are about 40 miles apart, as the crow flies, and aren’t supposed to be held the same weekend, but in 2023, they were. SPX is a popular event at its host venue, the North Bethesda Marriott, and has a steady date the second or third weekend in September.

BCC is more at the mercy of the Baltimore Convention Center, and tends to move around in September and October, avoiding the NYCC 800 lb gorilla. For whatever reason, this year they could only get dates opposite SPX and so it goes.

This really didn’t cause too much of a problem, as both shows have very different constituents and guests. A few folks had to split table time, (Bill Griffith did SPX instead of BCC) but some locals took the opportunity to visit one show for a day each. Or if you were an enterprising comics journalist, you did Baltimore on Friday and then trained it to Bethesda on Saturday to take in the Ignatz Awards.

I really enjoy doing both shows, but the double did save on transportation costs, and provided a fast, immersive look at the joys and anxieties besetting two sides of the comics industry at this chaotic and disruptive time.

Baltimore Comic Con is a very comfy show. Many of the same guests appear year after year, including many older creators from the Bronze Age, mixed in with enough contemporary luminaries to draw crowds. In this case, the ilk of Scott Snyder, Tom King, Brian Michael Bendis, and Art Adams. Legends Walt and Louise Simonson and Howard Chaykin are their own category. I’m leaving out a lot of folks – everyone from Don Rosa to Leanne M Krecik.  It’s an unhurried atmosphere, drawing mostly superhero fans dragging longboxes of comics to be signed.

Since my time was limited, I tried to do Baltimore the way normal folks do, walking up and down every aisle in an orderly fashion. I decided it was a good time to just take photos of people  – I could stop and say hi, perhaps stop for some in depth conversation as the need arose, and get a nice file photo for future use. I ended up getting a lot of photos (some of which you’ll see below) and having some interesting conversations for sure.

The main focus of BCC is nostalgia. Remembering old times with old friends, reigniting a youthful fandom by connecting with creators, finding back issues in a bin. Many current cartoonists and creators also set up, and many do well, but I get the impression that people save most of their money for the big guests who are so approachable.

There was a special spotlight on First Comics at this particular edition, with founding creators Chaykin, Steve Rude, Joe Staton, Jim Starlin and Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel among those in attendance. First Comics had a brief but influential run from 1983 to 1991, an one of the first independent comics publishers, with titles like American Flagg!, Mars, Badger, Nexus, Jon Sable, and Whisper. There were a lot of lawsuits and industry meltdowns along the way, with much of the material locked down behind a rights battle for decades after the company shut down. First reappeared in 2011 with a mix of reprints and some new projects that never really landed in the market.

I know, I know, I’m skimming over a LOT of history, but it’s a tale for another time. At any rate, I kept thinking about First Comics as I talked with folks about the current comics “Slump” or whatever you want to call it. Most industry folks agree that the pandemic era publishers who were built on the “Netflix Era” of comics publishing flooded the market with new periodical series that aren’t necessarily finding an audience. There are just too many.

The reason I kept thinking of First is that when they launched they had a handful of titles, which were very different, from the sharp edged SF satire of American Flagg to the cartoony SF of Mars to the hardboiled men’s adventure of Jon Sable. Of course, we were all younger and there was no real competition from home entertainment, let alone streaming and video games, so things stood out more. It’s really impossible to make a comparison.

Still, the range of art from Joe Staton to Steve Rude seems like a sharper demarcation than today’s launches which all have an eye on the elevator pitch for possible media development. “A comic by Howard Chaykin” is one particular pitch. “It’s Stranger Things meets the Kardashians!” is another.

There weren’t a lot of comics publishers at BCC 2023 – last year it was the site of the Diamond Retailer Summit so everyone was there, and several have faded away in just 12 months, including Aftershock and Valiant. This year, Mad Cave and Abrams were set up, but publishers from Bad Idea to AWA to Rocketship, were mostly hanging out and supporting their creators. It’s very expensive to ship books and feed and house staffers these days – insanely expensive – and people have cut way back.

So the time passed in chit chat and fellowship. I had a few powerful moments though. I found the booth of Kim Weston, who is basically the living apostle for the work of Carl Barks, with a booth full of indexes, monographs and prints. Now, Carl Barks is my original love in comics and I’ll argue with anyone that he’s one of the greatest (and most influential) cartoonists that ever lived. His work has fallen into some disfavor these days. His tales of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge are rooted in capitalism and colonialism, with a dash of racism that was typical for the time. Fantagraphics has been reprinting his work, but future editions will have fewer stories, as Disney finds that some have to be withdrawn entirely.

Still, I was stunned to see a piece of original Barks art hanging in the booth. How many original pages of Barks work exist, I asked Weston.

“About 250 pages,” he told me. The rest – thousands of pages of flawless imagination and beauty – were burned up, like so much original art from 40s and 50s. This fact never fails to make me sick to my stomach.


I looked at the page more closely and saw, in the corner, the black figure of the Phantom of Notre Duck from Uncle Scrooge #60. It is possible that this was the first comic book I ever read. (The oldest one that survived my childhood was US #66, albeit in tattered coverless form.) It might have been a later reprint that I picked up (I would have been a very tiny tot when it was published) but it didn’t matter.

Here was a direct connection to the magical moment I discovered comics – from a printed story purchased at the newsstand that fueled my imagination to the actual paper, touched by the hand of the creator. I felt a little overwhelmed, to be honest. I tried to get a picture of me in front of the art, but for whatever reason, the result was hazy and blurred, like memory itself.


I have a slightly better photo of me standing in front of a page from Tezuka’s Jungle Tatei, taken in Angouleme in 2018. You can view movie props or get a signature from your favorite author, but there’s something about seeing a page of comics art that changed your life in person. The connection is so direct and personal.


Later that day there was a comic book dinner, organized by the legend, Amy Chu, and I found myself sitting near Art Adams and Chris Claremont. I’ve worked with/interviewed both many times over the years, but to be discussing what desserts to order with the artist of Gumby’s Summer Fun Special and the co-creator of the new X-Men is something I would never have imagined when I was a 15 year old X-men fan.


It was a blustery night, with dramatic lightning flashes across the inner harbor, and gusts of wind sending leaves spiraling across the street. As we walked back to the hotel, perhaps my inner fangirl took over and I started talking to Claremont. “X-men #102 was the Marvel comic that made me a Marvel fan,” I told him. “I read it so many times.”

“Well, thank you,” he said.

“No, thank YOU,” I said, closing that circle of my life.

One of the reasons that X-Men #102 obsessed me so was that it seemed to be the middle of a story, and I was desperate to know more. “You didn’t intend that issue to be a jumping on point for anyone,” I observed.

“No, but Stan said every issue had to be a jumping on point,” he said.

The lightning continued and drops of rain began to fall. I brought up another moment that my path had crossed with Claremont, one I’ve mentioned many times that stuck in my memory, a panel with him, Walt and Weezie, where they said their most famous work at Marvel was all made under the supposition that the comics industry would be dead in two years. I can’t recount the conversation n this blustery night verbatim, but he confirmed the sense of doom that hung over an industry that was rapidly shrinking as newsstands disappeared. But they made the best of it, he said. “If we weren’t having fun, how could the readers be having fun?”

As we returned to the hotel bar, those twin thoughts of jumping on points and creators having fun remained stuck in my brain. We arrived to an assemblage of many current comics makers enjoying the wide ranging BarCon that BCC provides, and I quoted Claremont’s statement regarding fun to them. “Are you having fun?” I’d ask. The answer was always yes, but maybe then some memories of non fun moments would creep in.

Or maybe I’m making too much of it. I’m sure Chris, Walt and Weezie had many non fun moments making the Marvel magic that Gen X grew up on. No one expects the third issue of a six issue mini series made to be collected into a graphic novel to be a jumping on point. Now we have collections and complete stories and very satisfying chunks. Nothing is the same.

x-men 102.jpeg

I’m sure making comics for Warner Bros and Disney is less fun than when the characters weren’t tentpoles of multi-billion dollar franchises, especially with content much more editorially driven than even in 1980, when Marvel Editor in Chief Jim Shooter decided that Phoenix had to die as a sort of moral reckoning for her crimes. I’m equally sure the folks who make comics in 2023 are doing their best and giving their all to try make readers have as much fun as the system will allow.

But it’s a shaky system, as some of my conversation this past weekend showed. No one thinks the comics industry will die, but everyone thinks some parts of it are circling the drain.

The next morning I made another round to the BCC show floor to tie up loose ends, then hopped on a train to DC and then the metro to North Bethesda. The station next to the SPX has confusingly been renamed from White Flint to North Bethesda, but I managed to figure it out. Total cost was $6 for the train and $2 for the metro.

As previously recounted, I was frozen out of the HQ hotel but got an economical room at the nearby Canopy Hilton. Lemme tell ya, this is a nice hotel! The Canopy brand is a semi-luxury hotel in most other places, and the very modern room included concrete floors, a walk in shower, and a Nespresso machine. Staying at the main hotel reinforces the “Camp Comics” vibe of the weekend, but this is a fine alternative and a mere five minutes (I timed it) walk to the main hotel.

After drinks with Johanna Draper Carlson, who was at the show for the day, I walked over to SPX proper get my badge and make dinner plans. The world of SPX couldn’t have been more different from BCC. Instead of the gentle warm blanket of memories and comic books, everyone was hustling!

And it was young. So young, full of hopes and dreams of things to come, and in all genders and colors and genres. Because of my brief time I couldn’t attend any panels, and my photo taking plan was curtailed because everyone, and I mean everyone, was wearing a mask. I took some photos and a few folks dropped masks but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do, so photos of masked people will be the sign it was a pandemic era SPX.

SPX wasn’t without anxieties. Silver Sprocket’s entire shipment of comics was being held in a warehouse, and they had flown in cartoonists from around the world, so losing sales would be a huge economic hit for them.

I managed to connect with Leon Avelino of Secret Acres to join their dinner party – a reservation of 10 ended up being 16 in true convention fashion, but we went to a nearby Chinese restaurant I didn’t know existed and had a blast ordering way too much food before heading back to the Ignatz Awards, the only comics award that’s SRO.

I tried to live tweet (Live X?) the Ignatzes but the phone signal in the room where it takes place was just too slow and awful. You can find the highlights in Meg Lemke’s excellent report for PW. Or you can just watch it on YouTube which I recommend:


Ngozi Ukazu and Francesca Lyn and some bricks

I did take some notes though, and here’s some highlights:

Ngozi Ukazu is the keynote speaker, and reminds everyone of her first SPX and how times have changed. A Gen Zer came up to her table and said of Check Please “This is cute. It reminds of something, have you ever heard of Heartstopper?”

“Industry’s change. Y’all it’s hot labor summer. If comics had union we’d all be striking now.”

Ngozi is killing it, with jokes about the Zootopia anti-abortion comics, French comics, unions, KC Green, working for DC comics and everything you watched on the Live stream “There are a lot of conventions but there’s no place like SPX. It’s the only place where talent meets community.  Comics are more powerful than ever and more than ever they are under attack.

“Rooms like these are where we makes things right. We know that comics are powerful because anyone can pick up a pencil and make one. And to some people that’s terrifying. By creating art, you rebel. Tomorrow, amplify.  Spend money and lift them up. Do the opposite of banning see how far you can spread that story.”

I never really saw Ngozi give a speech like this and she is, as they say, the total package, just charismatic as hell, and wicked funny.

First award presented by Ngozi is Outstanding Story which goes to Wash Day Diaries “Ride or Die” Robyn Smith comes up to accept, in tears. It was a hard year for both her and Jamilla, and the room rewards here with many many cheers.

Outstanding Mini Comics, presented by Caroline Cash, goes to Death Bloom by Yasmeen Abediford

Outstanding Collection presented by Regan Buchanon. The winner is Who Will Makes the Pancakes by Megan Kelso.

A surprising number of presenters learn onstage that they must announce the nominees and winners.

Outstanding Anthology is up and presented by Whit Taylor. And the winner is Shades of Fear by Allison O’Toole and Ashanti Fortson which literally send the crowd wild. “Let’s make comics and let’s take care of each other,” says Fortson, talking about the difficulties of making comics financially and sustainably.

Outstanding Series presented by Alex Robbins who recalls scaring everyone last year after they won by jumping off the table holding the brick. The winner is Tales of Old Snake Creek by Drew Lerman. ‘When I started it five years ago I was really making it to cheer myself up, but a few of you paid attention and I felt that I had a place in the world, which is all I wanted. Comics forever!”

Outstanding Online Comic presented by Kevin Budnik. Winner is The God of Arepo by Reimena Yee.

Promising New Talent, presented by Daryl Seichik. The winner is Deb JJ Lee, whose In Limbo came out from First Second. They are also crying and the crowd supports them. “Comics is largely a solo practice but community is really what made it stronger. Its what brought us here so let’s continue to support each other and be transparent with rates and work against giant corporations.” They told an anecdote about confronting the teachers whose bad behavior the book is about and “I got the closure I was always looking for!”

Outstanding Comics is presented by Kriota Willberg. The winner is Gordita: Built like This by Daisy Ruiz. Robyn Smith is back to present and “I’m feeling better now. “Black Josei Press or die!”

Outstanding Graphic Novel presented by Jonathan Bayliss. Ducks by Kate Beaton is the winner…of course. Warren Bernard accepts the award and recalls her first SPX where she sold so many comics.

Outstanding Artist presented by Ronald Wimberly. And the Ignatz goes to Olivia Stephens Darlin and her Other Names, a hugely popular win. “It remains a completely honor and profound miracle to move someone with my work.” This speech is so good…just watch it.

If you were here you would be swept away by the love of comics and community and a new surge of purpose over fighting injustice and fighting for economic security. These kids are alright.

The Ignatzes were held opposite the Ringo Awards which you can also watch:

The Ringos are a lot longer than the Ignatzes (although they stretched on to an HOUR this year!) but nothing in comics packs as much emotional punch as The Ignatz Awards. Several winners were crying when they came up, and the crowd would clap louder, and the winner would cry harder and the crowd would clap even louder…it was a feedback loop of love and support. SPX is where the much reviled “Team Comics” term was born, but I think it’s stood the test of time.

This year’s shift to talk of unions and economic justice was also very on brand – and to me, a telling signal that these cartoonists aren’t just drawing in their room and hoping for the best. #ComicsBrokeMe wasn’t just hardship tales but the acknowledgment that we need to build a better system. Somehow.

After the awards I ran into Eddie Campbell, a veteran of many SPXes dating back to what I call the “Simian Era” a time when solo self publishers were trying to make a go of it –  only to learn that then, as now, the most important tool for indie comics makers is to have a spouse with a steady job and health insurance – at least until Kickstarter came along.

The next day I just ran around, my photo plan scuttled, as noted. Silver Sprocket’s books arrived at 1:30 and they seemed to have a lot of customers whenever I walked by, so I hope that worked out.

The day before at BCC I’d noticed that “Stamp rallies” were a thing, and it seemed a very cool thing. You get a bingo card with a bunch of tables on it and get everyone to stamp or sign it and then get prizes when you complete it. I’d noticed several stamp rallies going on at SPX, and decided that it would be a fun thing to do and a chance to meet new people. Because I don’t know nearly enough cartoonists. It was a little hard to reconcile the tables numbers with a map and I had to back track a lot but I managed to finished TWO of the rallies. I didn’t have time to get all the prizes but I did score this beautiful little sticker:


Edit: It was Rachel Dukes. I’m not sure who made it, but maybe someone can shout it out in the comments. From Carl Barks to a tiny sticker: that’s my story right there.

One of the stamp rallies was organized by Cartoonist Coop, which sprang up before #ComicsBrokeMe but has become one of the leading movements coming out of it. I spoke with a bunch of the members and co-organizer Sloane Leong. The idea is based on the classic co-op premise, with cartoonists helping each other out and promoting each other’s work. The group is still in its early stages, but they have a great website which recommends a lot of great work, and I’m eager to see where they go from here – it certainly seems to be a more pragmatic evolution of the Team Comics concept.

At one point I ran into Mike Rhode someone (things are getting fuzzy) and asked what the “Book of the show” was. “I don’t think that’s a thing any more,” they said. In years past there might be a breakout like Blankets or Hark a Vagrant! but now the love is spread so far and wide. Mariko and Jillian Tamaki arrived for their book tour to sign Roaming, and that might have been the book of the show, but I think in today’s world it’s more about creators. I spoke briefly with SPX showrunner Warren Bernard who pointed out how SPX has been the launching pad for creators like Kate Beaton and Rebecca Sugar and many more. SPX is a warm fuzzy place to spread your wings and leave the nest.

There were a lot more storylines, but I think Meg hit them in her report – Uncivilized taking over the AdHouse Space for one. Matt Bors and the entire crew from The Nib were there to take their flowers, one of the most powerful platforms of the last decade. The Nib may be gone but the spirit lives on and just as the alternative newspaper era rose and fell, a new era will spring up, surprising us all.

One other note: a lot of people at both shows talked about the death of Twitter. This isn’t just a tech era disaster, it’s a direct blow to people’s bottom lines.  Twitter was a powerful platform for promotion and none of the alternatives are the same. I have yet to hear a single person say “Oh yeah, I heard about that on Mastodon.”

By now it was time to catch the bus home, and I’m sure you’ve just about had it with this ramble. Despite the sweltering heat, and distant lightning, it was an amazing weekend of friendship and comics.

A few pictures – yes I was fooling around with Hipstamatic again.


How are there so many Sean van Gormans?


Scott Dunbier


Mad Cave’s Christina Harrington


My fellow long suffering Mets fan Ron Marzbcc-spx-2023-09

Abby Denson and her spectacular purse


Emily S. Whitten


Adam Hughesbcc-spx-2023-12

Louise Simonson


Kim Weston and the Barks boothbcc-spx-2023-01

Cam Marshall and their new bookbcc-spx-2023-02

The display for Soggy Landing was really spectacular! The book is published by Oni – Check it out. 


People who let their hair grow during the pandemic: Eddie Campbell, me and Gil Roth


Someone whose name I didn’t catch is trying to find the artist behind this Underground era button. Can you help


MS Harkness

…I have dozens more but that’s it for now. Thank you if you read this far! Team comics!



  1. I miss being on the east coast and attending both these cons, so I appreciate this wonderful write-up! I especially appreciated the personal touches. One day I shall return!

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