On July 13th, 2019, the BloodMilk Jewelry Store opened its doors to its first ever Art Book Fair. In collaboration with one of Philadelphia’s most beloved comic book shops, Brave New Worlds, BloodMilk fused its Goth identity with comic books and created an event that stands as one of the most successfully synchronized themed shows that I have been to.
The show took place at the Sphinx and Snakeskin located in the Old City area of Philadelphia, some five doors down from Brave New Worlds. The space itself is owned by the BloodMilk jewelry store, which operates online. Part of the store’s earnings are used to pay for the Sphinx and Snakeskin. This is important, because thanks to this business model, BloodMilk was able to offer artist tables for free and allowed creators to keep one hundred percent of the profits. This is huge for comic book and art book creators. It turned the event into a platform for artists that not only celebrated their craft but also allowed BloodMilk to stake a claim in Philadelphia’s comic book scene. Comics has a formidable ally in BloodMilk.
According to Jen Von Haunt, brand director at BloodMilk and event director at the Sphinx and Snakeskin, “bringing comics and goth together is a way to stand out in a crowded goth market.” Von Haunt has been trying to differentiate the BloodMilk brand by developing events that take goth out of its comfort zone without downplaying it.
Other events the store has developed in the Sphinx and Snakeskin space include a Valentine’s Day Jewelry fest called “Lovers and Others Market” and a plant festival called “The Botanical Garden Market.” Von Haunt stated that “comics in the Sphinx and Snakeskin proves just how universal the medium is, and how many people just enjoy reading comics.” The Art Book Fair brought in a lot of fans of goth art and jewelry, but it also attracted a diverse audience that extended their stay once they got to talking to the creators and the other guests.
The fair was very much designed to be taken as a meet up event as well, complete with complimentary drinks—which included the aptly named American Vampire cocktail, a blend of Powers whiskey, ginger beer, and lime that screams Gilded Age America and decadent Vampirism.
Comics giant Becky Cloonan (By Chance or Providence) headlined the guest lineup, along with Katie Skelly, the writer/artist behind My Pretty Vampire (a giallo-styled vampire story in the tradition of the erotic female vampire movies of the 1960s-70s). Each featured work that aligned with the goth sensibilities of the show and were eager to talk horror movies with fans.
Of special note was the local talent, creators with bodies of work that ranged from horror to fantasy along with a healthy dose of homage thrown in for good measure. Their comics stood out as fully realized, but they also felt like parts of a larger voice that is currently growing stronger and becoming more imposing. One of the highlights was Tia Roxae’s Face Fatigue, a body horror story about a girl that steadily falls into obsession over clusters of strange bumps that start taking over her face. The colors make this comic special, giving the story a giallo horror feel that is not often paired up with body horror. Roxae speaks Horror well.
Christine Larsen’s Holy Diver is a fantasy story with no dialogue that is part of her Microcosmic series, which contains stories that stick to the same storytelling format. The comic sees the birth of a god as the end result of intimately painful process that requires loss and sacrifice. The art design is spectacularly dynamic, electric even. It sticks to locations based around water, which gives Larsen more than enough reason to play with colors. Her character and creature designs are something to behold.
Frans Boukas was also present at the fair, displaying original art and selling copies of Bartkira, a fan tribute to The Simpsons and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. The book is basically a sample of the six-volume project of the same name that recreates the Akira manga with Simpsons characters, page by page and volume by volume. Different artists were given five pages each of the manga to work on. Boukas’ contributions are featured in the book and are impressive enough to carve a space of their own within it. His art style is already similar to Otomo’s in terms of the density of artistic detail, which also reminds of Geof Darrow’s work. Boukas’ segments show a genuine love and understanding of the source material.
The first edition of the BloodMilk Art Book Fair was successful in meeting its goal, that of bringing goth and comics together. I believe it was compelling enough to position itself as a new presence in Philadelphia’s comics scene. Von Haunt confirmed the event will be presented annually and all signs point to an even more impressive second year.
Keep this show in your radars. There are not a lot of comics events out there quite like this one.