MAYBE we should be rushing this one out, for a couple reasons at least, but we have to beat Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter, to the punch before he steals all our ideas. Or maybe we’re stealing Heidi MacDonald’s, meaning the Beat‘s, ideas? Of course, this may simply mean that we are all thinking alike. Anyhow, we’ll get to our semi-collective major observations of the Small Press Expo landscape in a minute, important as they might to anyone who cares about comics.
First and foremost, we owe Bergen Street Comics a huge thank you for hosting our Iron Bound party. Those guys can seriously throw down, and, sweet Big Baby Jesus, did they kick Brendan Leach‘s big, bad book off to a flying start. The place was packed to the gills from the get until closing. We didn’t bring enough books, not by a long shot. Lucas Gutkowski and the Newark Wanderers cranked up the volume to eleven. If there had been any wiggle room, wiggling surely would have occurred. It was the biggest party of our careers, and one of the biggest Bergen has seen (up there with Xaime, Jeff Smith and Wonder Woman, we were told, but how many people got lucky at those?). If you were a part of it, we extend our deepest thanks to you. If you couldn’t get an Iron Bound, there are more at Bergen now, we swear.
The party was a good omen for us, what with it being Friday, the 13th and Yom Kippur all at once on packing day. Normally, we’re a hot mess getting our asses out the door, but we got our snacks and books fully loaded into our stolen, fully loaded Benz quite nicely and got our booze for the pre-Ignatz pizza party in time for dinner. We’d never been to a liquor store in a Mercedes before, but it turned out okay, too. Also, we went into Bethesda proper for Friday night eats. The last time any of us had seen actual Bethesda was during ye olde SPX days before it moved into the Marriott. It has been completely paved over, rebuilt and glamorized with “new luxury townhomes starting from the several millions.” Seriously. Moby Dick House of Kabob was still there, though. That’s a real thing; we’re not being pervs. We even managed to get up and set up on Saturday before the doors opened for the first time at any show in 2013. We had our act together!
The same can’t totally be said for SPX, though. This is a strictly personal, Secret Acres related thing, because no one else had much to complain about from an organizational perspective. For two SPXes running, something’s been amiss. Last year, our very own Theo Ellsworth drew some stuff for the show and was listed as a Special Guest. Only he wasn’t, in fact, listed as a Special Guest. He didn’t even have a badge. Mike Dawson, whose Troop 142 was up for the Outstanding Graphic Novel Ignatz Award, didn’t get a balloon that all the other nominees got. What kind of person doesn’t give Mike Dawson a balloon? Really. The response was basically to tell us to stop being babies. And this year, after a going without an official SPX tweet leading up to the show, Secret Acres wasn’t even in the program. Yeah, we’re being babies a bit but feelings were hurt. So there’s your institutional whining. We did, however, have a great – no, make that phenomenal spot on the floor. Our whole gang, Rob Sergel, Eamon Espey, Special Guest Jon Allen and SPX table neighbor Secret Acres artists, Sean Ford (with a new comic!) and Joe Lambert all sold lots of books while Brendan sketched out scores of Iron Bound. We had a great show.
It was a very SPX SPX, except it wasn’t. Come with us, back to that first paragraph, as we go over the origins of a thought. Last year’s SPX was commonly thrown out there as the greatest SPX that was or would ever be. Every titanic titan was present. Sales records were shattered. Dylan Williams was memorialized and Tom Spurgeon was born again hottie. For 2013, SPX had hit the wall, and not in a figurative sense. The entire hall was wall to wall SPX. Normally, the show eats most but not all of the space. There was no space left to eat in the Marriott this year. It was the aforementioned Beat, celebrating her 75th year of SPX attendance, who started off our Friday night at the bar, crunching numbers. With all the new tables, she reasoned, there had to be at least 750 individual artists and exhibitors sitting at 280 tables. It was probably closer to a thousand. As Heidi mentioned, you could walk the back wall, or Webcomics Alley, and find a major book at every table.
During the day, we talked to Dan Nadel briefly about a feeling among publishers that sales were soft this year. They weren’t soft at all, for us (or Picturebox, we don’t think). We all sold books and made bank. The soft quality could have been the result of this show following an inarguably hard SPX 2012. We didn’t think that was it. It could have been the trickling in of attendees. Usually, we get to the floor late and freak out, scrambling to get our books on the tables while a line of folks waits sort of patiently for us. Having gotten set up before the doors opened, for once, we jumped behind the table and waited for the opening rush, which didn’t happen. Upon investigation, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, coming in two at a time or so. It was a trickle, but everything filled up. So the soft stuff couldn’t be the result of declining attendance.
Talking to Tom Spurgeon at the bar on Saturday night, we came up with a theory. If the room had hit the space max, with more exhibitors than ever before, the show was simply diffused. It was the LA to last year’s New York. The bigger space made the crowd seem smaller a bit. The huge number of exhibitors gave the crowd more options that it ever had before. The big fish, the Fantagraphics and the Drawn and Quarterlies and the Top Shelves, suddenly didn’t seem that big in such a big pond. You could spend an entire weekend and thousands of dollars at SPX and not feel like you got to it all. Most interesting for us was all the new blood on the show floor. There were hundreds of cartoonists we’d never even heard of, and we’re supposed to know these things, damn it. Like the move to the Marriott back in the day, this is a transitional year for Comics Camp, both in quality and in content. It was a sea change and it was not subtle or sneaky.
SPX is still Comics Camp, though, so don’t get that twisted. Every night, when they throw us all out of On the Rocks, the official(ly racist) bar of the show, there’s a logjam getting out the door because of the hugging. Zak Sally even tried to make out with Noah Van Sciver or something like that. There was no room in any room of our pizza party. We got to cuddle with Annie Koyama, whose Blobby Boys book stayed home. Nate Bulmer brought his lovely wife and she didn’t leave him. Becca Lambert brought her husband, Joe, the bellwether of good men’s hairstyles for indie comics. Ted Bak was in the house, complete with his Island of Memory, a book fourteen years in the making. Mike Dawson was there, we promise, though he never made it to the table (and he didn’t throw up once). Tom Neely made it all the way east, looking great with his new Henry & Glenn Forever. Everyone looked great. Maybe it was just the new kids, but the cuteness index was up a whopping 38% year over year. Plus, can we all stop talking about Anna Bongiovanni already? It’s embarrassing.
So there. Now we’re off to pop our Brooklyn Book Festival cherries. All our big news will be in the wrap up post for that show, because, well, we’re exhausted. We will get a nap or two, so get yourselves over to BBF. Hopefully, we’ll be in that program someplace.
Barry and Leon and Casey