BEST EVER is a bold statement, yes, but there’s a lot to back up the claims that this was the year to beat for the Small Press Expo. However, before we go there, we need to give folks many thanks for showing up on a school night for Theo Ellsworth‘s signing party at ye olde Bergen Street Comics. Not that Bergen Street is in any way old, but when you know them as well as we do, it’s hard to remember what life was like before we had a pull list. It was a swell crowd, with lots of Acres represented. Of course, we have no evidence of this, because we forgot our cameras, and worse, we forgot the Cubeecraft paper pals that Theo went to all that trouble to draw. They’re very cute. Luckily for us, everyone else seemed too wrapped up in the glow of Theo and The Understanding Monster (and the awesome Theo-drawn Bergen tote bags), that they seemed to forget about them, too.
We went into the weekend fairly hobbled, with multiple, simultaneous and unrelated personal apocalypses rocking our worlds, so it’s no surprise that we forgot our cameras again when we were packing up for the ride down. We didn’t even remember a sales sheet. To be fair, we did stop to fill a decent Diamond order on the way, and we got Theo and Sean Ford to Bethesda without getting lost and in obscenely good time. Not that it made any difference, since on arrival we were surprised to discover that each of our rooms only had a single king bed in them, for six people. At least one of us is good at pitching an epic fit about stuff like this, but we had to make do because the place was truly booked all the way.
When we registered, it turned out Theo had no badge and wasn’t listed in the program, but was somehow considered a VIP. At least Gabby Schulz (aka Ken Dahl), Eamon Espey and Mike Dawson made it to the show in one piece. Stress relief was provided via an enormous bar bill (like more than our rooms cost us kind of enormous) on Friday night, which left most of our crew hung over heading into Saturday. The cherry on the cake was that all Ignatz nominees got a little balloon to tie to their tables so people would know where to find their books – all except Mike, whose Troop 142 was nominated for Outstanding Graphic Novel. But, hey, even we forgot to mention this via anything before we hit the road. Long story short: we got off to a shitty start.
Then all hell broke loose. Someone decided to open the doors and let people in. After that, it all becomes a blur. There are vague memories of us all happily picking at the Acres snack bag, which was stocked with some serious goodies in anticipation of Snack Wars with our friends and neighbors, Koyama Press and AdHouse. We wandered over to be the first people to get a copy of Noah Van Sciver‘s the Hypo (because everyone loves Noah (and we should have bought that Little Heart fundraiser date with him to stare into his pretty, little eyes)). There was whining about the balloon. Then there was bedlam.
Normally, there’s a rhythm to the show. While it didn’t have the assaultive, sudden crowds of years past, there were no lulls at all, ever, the whole time. It was almost a relief to head down to our panel, Publishing During the Apocalypse, the title of which couldn’t possibly have been more absurd. We were hosted by Heidi MacDonald and sat there with Annie Koyama, Box Brown and John Porcellino, while upstairs there were people like Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, both Hernandezes, Michael DeForge and, well, everyone. There was a moment when two people came to the table to pick up some books and those two people were Renee French and Charles Burns (who purchased several copies of Wayward Girls, much to our delight), and it was no big deal. Renee and Charles are gods to us, but we’d grown numb to it all so quickly.
So what about the apocalypse, exactly? This show was proof of the fact that comics has never been stronger, which was what we all said to a standing-room only audience. Yeah, we said some semi-provocative things (no offense to Diamond/Amazon/TopatoCo), but remember Secret Acres is a hive mind. If you want the whole story, you need us both in front of the mic. Plus that way, one of us can tell the other to STFU.
Our annual traditions at SPX include a pizza and Old Fashioned party in our rooms for all the Ignatz nominees on Saturday. Generally, everybody who shows up wins. This would include our pal, Brendan Leach, who ran off with a brick for Outstanding Comic. The doors were open wide to our little room and we had most of the Sparkplug, Adhouse and Koyama gangs squeezed in there, too. Chris Pitzer and Annie and those guys are family to us, but even that was overwhelming in a way. Usually, it’s a nice contemplative moment between the floor and the awards. This year could have been a reunion barbecue. It was better, sure, but it was way bigger. Also, since we all crashed on top of leftover pizza and open beer bottles, three men in the bed, one on the floor,the stench of dude on Sunday was so powerful that if there’s any truth to pheromones, all creatures possessed of a uterus within a fifty foot radius probably started ovulating on the spot.
Yes, we’re miffed that Mike Dawson didn’t get to cry over an(other) Ignatz for Troop 142, but the Hernandez brothers pretty much won everything, which felt like a moment far too long in coming. There’s no good way to describe the impact these guys have had on us, our friends, generations of cartoonists and readers. There will likely never be a better SPX, so if los Bros were going to clean up, it should’ve been this year and at these Ignatz Awards. That said, we had no idea who any of the presenters were. They were very strange. This, of course, excludes Tom Spurgeon, breaking out the first ever Golden Brick for Richard Thompson. Poor Tom would be assaulted with love and praise by our shockingly drunk crew the minute the ceremony was over. It’s true, Tom, we all love you. If what you said was true, that moments before our drunken proclamations someone had come up and said lousy things to you, just give us a name. We prefer to think you were being modest.
As wondrous as this SPX was, we got to see almost none of it. We managed to get over to PictureBox to pick up Bjornstrand and giggle while Dan Nadel looked over our copy of SP7 with what appeared to be approval. Other than that, we saw nothing of that half of the room. We missed Eleanor Davis‘ zine. We didn’t get to hang out with Eric Reynolds or Alec Longstreth or Kevin Czap. We never got a copy of Blacklung. There was nothing left of Drawn and Quarterly. While we did get to see Drawing Energy (the superpanel with Theo, Michael DeForge, Hellen Jo and Katie Skelly, moderated so smoothly by Jim Rugg you’d think he was running for office) we completely missed Mike’s panel. Supposedly, Derf Backderf was there someplace. We hardly saw Joe, as in Joseph Lambert, our guy, and he was at the table next to us.
And what about sales, you ask? We made more money on Sunday at SPX than we had at any entire show ever. We made way more money on Saturday than we did on Sunday. We took home maybe a dozen books, a ton of cash and Lisa Hanawalt. It was a relief to bring Lisa back to Brooklyn, because we adore her and we got to spend time with her, whether she liked it or not.
There was too much of everything and we missed more. And we missed Dylan Williams. It’s been a year since we lost him. We overheard someone talking about him and how they keep reaching for the phone now and then to call him, because they can never remember that he won’t pick up. Can you imagine what Dylan would have thought of this show? He was right all along. There are a lot of us comics weirdos out there and we can take care of each other. There’s no need to look for proof anymore. We may be back home, overcome by separation anxiety and back to licking our emotional wounds, but this comics thing is huge, beautiful and here to stay.
Barry and Leon
P.S. - So we didn’t have cameras, because we’re a hot mess, but we borrowed images from Yumcha Studios, Chris Pitzer’s flickr and the Comics Reporter. Sorry, guys. We’re desperate, but if you want them taken down, just holler at us. Thanks!