SPX: The ‘X’ Stands For ‘Expo’

2009-09-26 12.32.34

Last weekend I took a trip to the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. SPX is where all the cool kids go to talk about comics and art and how much they hate Walmart. I’ve spent the last seven years living in various far away lands, so I was excited to be able to attend this year. I packed my best five dollar blazer, a DSi for flipnotin’ on the go, and three porkroll sandwiches (consumed before I made it out of Philly). I did forget a few things, however:

1. My digital camera, which is why the only picture I have from the expo is the blurry cellphone shot above.
2. My self control, which is why I spent thousands of dollars on books.

The expo has apparently become much more popular since my last visit, which was probably a decade ago. Every booth was occupied, which made my goal of talking to each artist a bit of a pain. Still, I did it, and it only took about three hours. I found that there was an obvious conversational trend.

“Uh… hi.”
“My name’s Zachary! Really nice to meet you. Can you tell me what your work is about?”

I’m going to make this plea to any illustrator reading this blog: please, learn to talk about your work. Why did you create it? What was your inspiration? What’s the central theme? Why does it exist? I know you’re a shy art kid, but this is an expo. There are people walking around with money to spend, and they are looking for new and interesting experiences. Maybe your work is a new and interesting experience! Maybe they want to give you money! If you can explain, confidently, why your work is worthwhile, they will most likely consider it. Just try to put a little more effort into it than a shoulder shrug and some mumbling. At the very least look up from your sketchbook long enough to make eye contact.

Part of the problem is that I love comics for the storytelling rather than the art. SPX has a heavy focus on the visual component, so I might have freaked a few people out by ignoring their wares and jumping straight into asking for details. Hell, the Ignatz Awards — sort of like the Eisner, but for indies — has an “outstanding artist” category but nothing for “outstanding writer.” Which is fine; there are many different rhetorical modes of discourse to engage your audience with. Maybe I’m just a strange critic because I don’t care what your work looks like, I want to know what it has to say, and how the visuals work to communicate that.


One nice surprise at the show was seeing Emily Flake, whom I have been totally crushing on for a while now. She has a fantastic strip called Lulu Eightball that runs in the Baltimore City Paper every week… the premise is sort of feminist ideals juxtaposed with completely absurd situations. It’s very good. I tried to think up something really clever and funny to say to her, but all I could manage was “So, do I need to read volume one to understand what’s going on in volume two?” Which I guess is sort of funny, because the strips are mostly unrelated to one another. Alas, all I got was an “are you serious?” eyebrow raise. I was hoping for a “you are so funny and are exactly what I’m looking for in a friend and/or partner!” smile, but I’ll take what I can get. I bought a copy of Lulu Eightball Volume Two and then ran to the parking lot to chain smoke for a few hours.

I purchased many other books, and I’ll be making little posts as I read them (assuming they’re worth recommending).

Of course, the true evidence that this year’s Small Press Expo was a success: this weekend I am stuck in bed with H1N1. Again. I’ve always said that it’s not a party without a pandemic.

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  1. Yes indeed, as any comics convention junkie will tell you; you may spend hundreds of dollars on comics, but the ensuing virus is free of charge.

    I hope you had fun, but I must say I’m jealous you were able to go this year. I haven’t been to a convention since April, and this is what I’m trying to do for a goddamn living!

  2. It was very fun! I grabbed a copy of You Ain’t No Dancer Vol 3 (as well as the first two; I think I left those in Tucson) and enjoyed it very much. I also totally name dropped you at the New Reliable booth.

    I think being able to attend the Stumptown Comics Fest every year is a pretty fair trade off for missing SPX. Stumptown has those fancy “portfolio reviews” that I hear so much about.

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