Posts Tagged ‘small press expo’

And weigh’st thy words before thou givest them breath


My main attraction to stories is the mythology… I love the worlds that writers can create, and how they choose to populate those worlds. I adore works like Lost and Twin Peaks, and anything Kurt Vonnegut has written. Mystery! Intrigue! Doppelgangers! I don’t want to say I’m attracted to gimmicks, but a rich setting can really hook me on a narrative.

I was talking to Justin Madson at SPX a few weeks ago, and he sold me on his series Breathers almost instantly. I think his exact words were “Something’s happened to the air, and it’s not safe to breath anymore.” And my response was probably “We could have a beautiful life together if you’d run away with me right now.”

What happened to the air? Was it some sort of weapon, some naturally occurring event, or just an accident? How do people deal with that? They have to wear these gas mask things that are pictured on the cover? Like, all the time? What happens when they do breath the air? Do they EXPLODE?! My brain was freaking out, and I bought every issue and read through them almost immediately.

Interestingly enough, this series is really good. Premise, characters, art and writing all deliver, which I’ve found to be quite rare in self-published books. Each issue of Breathers is broken up into several loosely connected vignettes. I think this is what hooked me: each character is exploring a different aspect of the world, so a single issue touches on many different themes. There’s a detective who is addicted to hallucinogenic filters for his breather, a suicidal woman who believes the air is actually safe and the whole mess is just a conspiracy, and a young girl who focuses on escapism with the help of her (partially) imaginary dragon companion. This is the rich stuff One Eyed Willy was talking about!


There’s also a lot of smart people junk going on in this story, but this is Stresslines, where we take everything at face value. That last sentence was probably the nerdiest joke I’ve ever come up with, and if you don’t get it, consider yourself lucky. If you do get it: you’re in too deep. Stop reading comics immediately.

Breathers is allegedly wrapping up with the forthcoming fifth issue. I really recommend checking it out, and not just because it’s self published. This is better than most of the monthlies I read from DC and Vertigo, and I hope that everyone gets a chance to experience it.


It was a classic raccoon-dog-meets-Amazonian-Princess story

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I did a few sweeps of the show floor upon my arrival at SPX (maybe you heard the trumpets) and Neil Jam‘s booth immediately grabbed me. He had all these cute pop art drawings, in frames, for twelve dollars each.

Every place I’ve ever worked at, I’ve gotten shit for not having family pictures on my desk. Probably because I work with old people who have family pictures on their desks. Sorry, dudes, I’m 26 years old, I’m single, and I spend most of my free time reading books. This guy isn’t having a family any time soon. So I’m hoping Wonder Woman and Tanooki Mario can pinch hit for a while. They’re now freaking out everyone who steps into my office.

Fun Fact: right after I bought these, some dude swooped in carrying a baby to get a closer look. The baby started crying. Guy holding him said “Yeah, I know… they all have black eyes. Dead black eyes. It’s a conspiracy!” Then he actually ran towards the nearest exit and left. I was in complete disbelief and just started laughing. I looked around and realized that no one else was laughing. Maybe this dude is a convention regular and everyone knows him?


SPX: The ‘X’ Stands For ‘Expo’

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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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