I recently had the pleasure of appearing at my first Small Press Expo (SPX) which happened to be the star-studded 15th anniversary show featuring some of the best living cartoonists in independent comics. A lot of people have been talking and writing about it in seemingly hyperbolic terms like “the best con ever” but being fairly new to the comic convention scene, I’m not qualified to say anything along those lines. I did think it was a pretty great experience though.
This was my fourth major comics convention and the first that wasn’t a HeroesCon. I often wrestle with my love/hate relationship with conventions when I write one of these reports. On the one hand, sitting at a table and selling your wares is a tiring and usually financially unsatisfactory way to spend a day (or in most cases a weekend) away from your family. On the other hand, it helps exercise whatever muscle it is that you use to personally connect with strangers walking nearby in order to convince them to buy whatever it is you’re selling. That’s a handy skill to have in life and if you ever want to see a master of this in action try to get yourself seated next to Dustin Harbin at a comics show sometime. But, also, just being at a convention is creatively rewarding. How can it not when you’re surrounded by smart, creative people and the amazing comics they make?
Anyway, I felt pretty good about comics and comic conventions after SPX as I suspect a lot of the exhibitors and attendees probably did.
Here’s how the show went for me:
• What made SPX so spectacular was undoubtedly the star-power of the headline guests: Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, The Hernandez Brothers, Adrian Tomine. For an indie comics fan and cartoonist like myself, this was like being an indie rock musician and playing at the same show as Michael Stipe, Stephen Malkmus and Jack White.
Now, I never actually got to meet any of these guys because one problem with exhibiting at a show is that it is really hard to spare the time away from your table to stand on line for any of the big guests. BUT, these guys were everywhere and I was constantly walking past them in the hallways, the bathroom, the hotel lobby. We had breakfast before the show and Clowes and Tomine were eating together at the table next to us. At the meet and greet the night before the show I literally almost walked into Chris Ware while texting on my phone just like one of the smart-phone addicted parents in his New Yorker covers. So, even though I never took the time to stammer “I’m a big fan” to any of them, it was a real trip just seeing them in person. Hey, did I mention Charles Burns was there too? Just hanging out and walking around?
• I did really well at this show. I sold 3x what I’ve sold at my best previous show. Now, this is a little bit of an “apples to oranges” comparison though. I had a lot of different products to sell this time than I had at my last convention appearance a few months ago. I had a new edition of Nathan Sorry Vol. 1 and the first ever edition of Nathan Sorry Vol 2. And I had my AlphaBeasts postcards which was my big seller by far. In fact, I sold every single postcard set I had there by about 3pm on Sunday. But, I’ll have to wait until my next show (most likely next summer’s HeroesCon) when I’m selling the same batch of stuff to compare numbers to know if SPX was an unusually good show for me or not.
• This show seemed incredibly well organized – and my only frame of reference is the also incredibly well organized HeroesCon. My only real dealings with any of the organizers – being a pretty unimportant guest in the grand scheme of things – was with Michael Thomas who runs SPX’s online promotions. He was incredibly nice and helpful, even checking in on me a couple of times to see how it was going for me.
• One more inevitable comparison to make with HeroesCon was how different the crowd was here. That’s not a shocker, of course. HeroesCon is more of a mainstream show even with Indie Island, its own little SPX, set right in the center of the floor. SPX is way more of a show for art comics people. Being neither a mainstream genre comics maker nor an experimental art comics maker I wonder where I fit in the scheme of things and what kind of show I would do best at.
• I had a blast hanging out with my table mates, Henry Eudy and Christian Sager as well as getting to meet a number of my fellow Alphabet Press cartoonists who were manning a separate table organized by Ben Towle with all of our alphabet related projects. This was another situation with this show that makes it hard for me to compare numbers with other shows. I sold a good amount of postcards and Animal Alphabet flash cards from this separate table that I never had to operate myself. Thanks to Ben for organizing that. People really like the alphabet.
• It’s always cool to meet people IRL that you’ve interacted with online. In fact, after the show I got together with some online friends that I’ve known for years now but whom I’d never actually met. But at the show it was great to be able to say hi to Twitter acquaintances like Box Brown, Sean Ford, Mike Dawson, Warren Craghead, Isaac Cates, Sam Wolk, and Annie Koyama (who was as nice and as generous as I’d heard, giving me a stack of kids-friendly comics to bring home to my daughters). Since I’m one of the few cartoonists that actually uses a real photo of myself on Twitter rather than a drawing it was easy for people to recognize me. It totally made my day when one of my favorite illustrators Kali Ciesemieractually recognized ME from Twitter and stopped by to say hi.
• Nathan Sorry Vol. 1 is now in the Library of Congress!I somehow didn’t know that SPX was partnering with the Library to make it possible to donate books from the show into their archives therefore I was very skeptical of the poor woman who approached me about donating one of my books but thankfully I ended up trusting her. I’m a little fuzzy on what this means but I guess you could conceivably go to the Library of Congress in DC and ask permission to read my book there if you wanted.
• I got a lot of great compliments and feedback on my work. Especially about the AlphaBeasts which people really seemed to love. But I met a number of Nathan Sorry readers too which is always great and hopefully I picked up a few new ones, too. I met a college student who was inspired by Nathan Sorry to make her own webcomic. I was also interviewed a couple of times, one by The Dollar Bin which you can listen to here and another video interview that hasn’t gone up yet as far as I know.
• I always end these shows with some regrets usually about who I didn’t go see, what I didn’t buy and what panel I didn’t go too. I had a ton of those kinds of regrets with this show but it was just so busy it was hard to get away from the table. I really hope SPX recorded and posts the panels they held because they sounded like they were amazing. Here’s a snapshot of the books that I managed to pick up but I really wish I had bought more. There were a couple of people I wanted to meet and buy books from that I literally forgot were there and never sought them out. Oh, well.
As far as my experience as an exhibitor though I have no regrets whatsoever. It really was an inspiring show to be a part of and it made me feel good about the work that I do and excited about the work I have yet to do and should really be working on right now.
(Some of the photos here are courtesy of Heather Peagler and Shawn Daughhetee)