The sixteenth annual Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) took place last weekend, July 18-19, at the Northland Performing Arts Center in Columbus, OH. I attended the expo and most of the accompanying events. Here’s a smattering of thoughts, recollections and observations in no particular order.
- While this year’s SPACE took place on the muggiest weekend of the summer, the show is typically held in mid-April. Unfortunately, the closure of Columbus Ramada, SPACE’s home for the last several years, pushed this year’s show to the middle of the summer. I say “unfortunately” because I know SPACE organizer Bob Corby scrambled to quickly reschedule the event and inform exhibitors about the change and I’m sure it caused him a lot of stress. The move went without any noticeable consternation, and Corby did a very admirable job retooling the show for the new space in a short amount of time.
- Personally, the onetime move of SPACE to the summer worked out for me. I was having a kid the weekend SPACE was originally scheduled. I joked to Corby that he moved SPACE just so all my small press friends could meet the newest Hoffer. I don’t know if he appreciated the joke.
- SPACE’s new home is the Northland Performing Arts Center, a four year old events center located on the northeast side of town. It’s an upgrade in every conceivable fashion to the Columbus Ramada. The space is huge (about 35,000 square feet), which meant for more tables, wider aisles, and more space behind the tables. The main room also had sound dampening panels, which meant that I actually could hear people over the din of the crowd. Northland will be the home for SPACE for the foreseeable future and I’m excited to watch the show grow into the venue.
- One of the benefits to moving to Northland was additional space for exhibitors, and I believe 200 exhibitors attended the show. This was the most diverse SPACE I can remember, both in terms of exhibitor demographics and types of comics on display. Small press shows usually have plenty of comics to choose from, but this year was particularly tough.
- I heard from secondhand sources that attendance was up for at least a second straight year at SPACE, but a few exhibitors felt that traffic and sales were a bit slower throughout the two days. I’d guess that there was just more competition for sales due to the increased number of exhibitors.
- The Laughing Ogre kicked off SPACE with their annual “Blast Off” meet and greet Friday night. The out of towners were, as usual, impressed by the Ogre’s layout and their deep stock of books. Most of the Columbus comics scene stopped by at some point and it was nice to be reminded of how much the community has grown over the last four years. We have so many creators in Columbus and more move in every month. Honestly, seeing everyone was a bit overwhelming and I basically hid in a corner for about an hour not knowing what to do. The fact that I’m having anxiety at local comics events is probably the biggest testament to how large the scene has grown.
- I arrived at SPACE proper Saturday around 1 PM, just in time to see the annual SPACE Prizes get awarded. There were lots of worthy winners, including my friends James Moore and Joel Jackson who won a 3rd Prize in the General category for their work on Radio Free Gahanna. They’ve been working on that series for at least five years and I was very happy to see them get recognition for their hard work.
- Other winners include Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman’s Persia Blues, Brian Canani’s Fear of Flying, Ryan Claytor’s Autobiographical Conversations, Black Heart by Chris Charlton and David Hollenbach, Amiculus by Travis Horseman and Giancarlo Caracuzzo, I’m Lost by M.R. Fehskens, Birds in a Sluddle by Pam Bliss, Blindspot by Joseph Remnant, Limp Wrist by Scout Wolfcave and Penina Gal, and the webcomics Black Rose, Sucker Street and Ineffables: Face of the Monster.
- I also attended a panel featuring Joyce Brabner, the writer of Second Avenue Caper, a comic about a New York drug ring that supplied antivirals to early AIDS victims. Brabner is the widow of Harvey Pekar and it was a little intimidating listening to her just casually mention Pekar while discussing her life. She opened the panel by discussing Second Avenue Caper before moving on to discussing Pekar’s legacy and the various memorials that have gone up in Cleveland since his death. She mentioned that someone had complained about a park being named after Pekar due to his name sounding like a euphemism for male genitals. Only Cleveland, I swear.
- Some of the other bigger names at the show included John Porcellino, Nate Powell and Noah Van Sciver. I think I gushed a little too much to Porcellino about The Hospital Suite, which I consider to be one of the three best comics published last year. Van Sciver was very laid back and personable and I impressed him by correctly pronouncing his last name. He laughed when I told him that I only knew how to say it because of the Blade TV show from a decade ago, which featured a villain named after Noah’s older brother.
- Sitting across from Nate Powell was Lauren McCallister, a local comics artist who works for the Laughing Ogre. McCallister’s comics are deeply personal and honest, with a sardonic wit that’s equal parts cynical and self-depreciating. Her new comic, Bad Sex, is a brutally hilarious recounting of some of her more infamous sexual encounters. It was a bit odd to read an autobiographical comic about bad sexual experiences written and drawn by a friend, but I came away from Bad Sex with a deeper appreciation of Lauren, her artistic talents and her very funny and honest wit.
- Some other very nice creators I met were Sophie Goldstein and Carl Antonowicz. Goldstein and Antonowicz are CCS grads currently living in Pittsburgh and are both uniquely talented creators. Goldstein has a very unique and captivating style, and Adhouse recently published her comic The Oven
which was amazingly good. [Editor’s note: Co-sign!] My wife adored The Oven and we ended up purchasing several of her other comics at the end of the show. Antonowicz’s comics are on the darker side but are equally enjoyable to read. I purchased his new comic The Pestle, which is a dark comics version of a morality play. The Pestle not only had very fascinating art, it was also uniquely composed, with a wax seal that had to be cut to read the comic. Sophie and Carl were among the nicest people I met at SPACE and I’m sure both of them will find success as they’re both supremely talented. I hope to see them again at some show or event in the near future.
I also ran into Alex Hoffman, the writer of Sequential State, a comics blog that focuses exclusively on indie and small press books. Hoffman is a VERY good writer, probably one of the best new writing about comics talent around, and I’m very happy to have made his acquaintance. Hoffman was selling/giving away copies of a review zine about comics being sold at SPACE. I saw on Twitter that he distributed over 100 copies of the zine. That’s really damn impressive.
- Hoffman was tabling with Nick Dutro, the writer of Multi-, a kids friendly sci-fi type comic about two kids searching the multiverse for their parents. I purchased both issues of Multi- as I liked the premise and I think we need more comics that hit that balance of being kids friendly without being dumbed down significantly. Dutro was also very nice to talk to.
- I also spoke with Ken Eppstein, the grand poobah of Nix Comics. Ken is basically a Columbus comics institution at this point and does a lot for the scene and his collaborators. [Full disclosure: Ken has published work of mine in the past, so I am biased]. Ken had a two table set up, which I think is a necessity for him at this point. Ken had an early print run of his new Jim Shepard: Negotiate Nothing book at the show, which will be available to his many subscribers in the not so distant future.
- Saturday night was the annual SPACE After-Party at the Kafe Kerouac, organized by Billy Ireland Cartoon Library curator Caitlin McGurk. McGurk is a comics powerhouse both in Columbus and abroad and all her events are always fun to attend. Caitlin does so, so much for the community and I heard she housed six or seven creators over the weekend. There’s only a few people who do as much for comics in Columbus as Caitlin. She’s a treasure and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think the world of her.
- The event kicked off with a wide range of live comics readings from a number of SPACE and non-SPACE exhibitors. Among the creators who performed were Nate Powell, Lauren McCallister, Tom Hart, Adam Buttrick, Sophie Goldstein and Carl Antonowicz, Stu Rase, Noah Van Sciver, Eric Blair, Alissa Sallah, Hannah Ross and Shea Beagle. I enjoyed all the performances, but some of the standouts were Sophie and Carl’s reading from The Oven (which featured Carl’s masterful sound effects), a heartwrenching reading from Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning and a reading from Lauren McCallister’s Bad Sex about a bleeding penis.
- If you ever get a chance to organize/watch a live comics reading, you should really do so. It’s really interesting listening to creators lend their voice to their comics and it usually shows off the performing chops and personalities of creators.
- The show ended with a performance from Mummula, a self-described “horror punk/surf freak out band” that arrived on stage with faces wrapped like mummies. I left halfway through the performance due to family commitments, but I absolutely loved the music that I heard.
- I arrived to SPACE on Sunday around 3 PM with my wife and a freshly baptized child. The show wrapped up around 5 PM, so I was rushed and totally forgot to take pictures of the event and the exhibitors. I am not very good at remembering to take pictures.
- One of the cooler comics I grabbed on Sunday was Spitball, a comics anthology produced by Columbus College for Art and Design (CCAD). Spitball is really unique in that it features comics written by established pros like Matt Fraction, Noelle Stevenson and Jan Van Meter and drawn by several talented CCAD students. The anthology should be available for purchase soon and I think it’s something that should enjoy some level of mainstream success depending on how they distribute it. I plan to interview Laurenn McCubbin, who helped organize Spitball, about how this all came together. I’m sure it’ll be a fascinating story.
- I spent my brief time at SPACE on Sunday chatting up new friends and catching up with established ones. I found out that the organizers of The Circle, a local reading group for female and nonbinary fans of comics, has a new reading library. I plan on making a sizable donation to the organization in the near future. I encourage all Columbus comics readers to do the same. They’re a great group of people.
- I also bought a sketch of Batgirl from Joe Hunter, the illustrator of Radical Guardian Skater. I’ve seen Hunter’s work on a few comics blogs (I know he did a cool illustration of the staff of the Multiversity Comics site) and I was happy to get my hands on some of his work. I love Hunter’s style and it reminds me that comics can and should be fun most of the time.
- So, that was SPACE. I hope it served as a nice showcase for the Columbus comics scene. I pitched moving to Columbus to at least five or six and I hope that a few of them at least consider it. Columbus is a great comics scene and I think it’ll just get better over the next couple of years.
- Thanks again to Bob Corby and all the other people who made SPACE happen. I had a wonderful time.