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Notes From Underground

OUR GANG spent the entire ride home from the big show dissecting what amounted to a whirlwind goodwill tour of an SPX. It was a very a strange show for us. Secret Acres would appear to be at a crossroads of sorts. Go get some coffee; this is going to be a long one.

Organizationally, SPX was very much as expected. These guys really know what they’re doing. It was crowded, but comfortable. The panels all seemed to work like, well, a clock, even if our very own Eamon Espey and those other guys were too smart for us (Seriously, if you put Espey, Tom K and Kevin H in a dark room and say the word iconography aloud, you better remember your SAT vocab). They found a way to accommodate Kate Beaton‘s line of admirers, which was pretty much everyone at the show, per usual. The Ignatzes were the Ignatzes. The snozberries tasted like snozzberries. And all was right with the world.

Then we found ourselves way back in time. On the aforementioned ride home, we agreed that the smart money would be on Heidi MacDonald feverishly typing up a killer post about the return of the good old days of SPX (No proof of this at typing time). This show was very much that. Last year it seemed to us at the Acres that there was quite a lot of waxing, nostalgic and otherwise, for the newly old guard that didn’t show. Dean Haspiel, Mike Dawson, Gabrielle Bell, Tom Devlin et al had given way to CCC, Sparkplug, Bodega and Buenaventura. The torch had been passed. The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.

It would seem the olde farts took the torch back and set the kids on fire. Haspiel? Shirtless at the Ignatzes presenting to James Sturm, that cutthroat whippersnapper. Dawson? Nominated for everything, bringing home the brick for best webcomic, proving that online comics aren’t just for kids anymore. Bell? Ringing it. Devlin? Not only was he there, but the Fort Thunder geezers were putting up Monster. Not since the Dark Crystal have there been so many Mystics in one room.

Just after the awards, we got a moment with old buddy, and hero/mentor, Tom. Maybe it was the booze, or the Ignatz glow, but our heads were a little messed up for the lack of CCC, Sparkplug, Bodega, Buenaventura. Was this not supposed to be our time? What the hell is SPX without Randy and Dylan? Or Austin? Or Tony Shenton, for that matter?

“It’s weird,” we whined to Tom. “Isn’t it?”

Tom’s response: “The last time I was here, none of that existed. I haven’t been to this show in five years. I’ve never been to this hotel. This is the way it always is.” And so it shall be, so sayeth Tom. Papa Devlin was, as always, being quite generous with us and our peeps, especially compared to some. A fellow old guardian, a very well respected and well read critic, actually came all the way to our little table in Siberia to say hello to Lisa Hanawalt (who, by the way, is the next big thang, minus the next part) and tell her how happy she was that a woman finally won the Ignatz for Best Comic and how she couldn’t wait to read it. Picking up a copy of I Want You and flipping through it, she blanched, told Lisa it wasn’t her bag, and walked off. Maybe Mike Dawson got it right that comics criticism is still in its infancy. Or maybe, as we suspect in our tiny, paranoid brains, she was gloating.

So little Acres was left feeling a bit alone (though we did cuddle up to Chris Pitzer for warmth). We’re a very young, very small company. We’re fairly certain that we were the only publishers confined to a single table (which won’t be the case next year, come hell or Highwater). We’re ten days away from our third anniversary and we’ve only been putting out our own books for two years and change. We miss Randy and Dylan and everybody.

And yet, between our books and the books we distro and our amazing table guest, Ms. Hanawalt, we realized we had seven Ignatz nominations (yes, four noms for the deserving Troop 142, from Mike Dawson – who is not old at all, for crying out loud) and three winners, including the first ever for a book with the Secret Acres logo on it, our very own Eisner-nominated Monsters. Considering that our SPX debut books were both delayed, between those little red Ignatz tags, a couple bricks and some leftover Eisner stickers, we sure as hell had a lot of bling on the table, even if it was mostly just loaners from our pals (Many, deep thanks to new pals Lisa and Mike – and old pal Blaise). And we did okay, with no new books and a table in the middle of nowhere, because we have a lot of pals. So how lonely could we be?

It’s not exactly good news when three indie houses, and our friends therein, don’t make it to SPX, no matter what the reasons. It does make us feel a little more self-conscious, a little more aware that Secret Acres is in the midst of an awkward stage. But we’re doing okay and we’re growing up fast.

After the Ignatzes, while our man Ken Dahl was busy victory tweeting from a toilet stall, Heidi herself came up to us and said, “Hey, Secret Acres! You’re still here!” We’re not exactly sure if she was referring to our absent friends, but we’ll take that as a compliment, thank you very much.

Your Pals,

Barry and Leon

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