LET US BEGIN by thanking the organizers and volunteers at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival for continuing to run the best oiled ship in the sea. We seem to go out of our way to screw up our TCAF plans, year in and year out, but they just won’t let us fail. For the prime digs, the easing of international border crossing and the constant attention to, and anticipation of, our every need, we offer you our sincere gratitude. We promise to earn it in the future.
We breathed a great sigh of relief looking at both Gabby and Sick sitting at the Secret Acres TCAF table, next to Rob and SPACE. As you know, this moment took years to materialize. Though he held genuine and reasonable worries that people might line up at the table to scorn him, Gabby was wrong as usual. He had his chance and he blew it. Bless you, all you forgiving folks, Canadian and otherwise, who greeted us and Gabby with your smiles and your strange, plastic money. We did sell a bunch of Sick and SPACE and pretty much every other book we had, after deliberating whether or not to adjust prices for the exchange rate (which we decided was stupid).
The flagging Canadian dollar certainly contributed to our own ludicrous haul, but who needed an excuse when there were new books from Noah Van Sciver, Matt Furie, Andy Burkholder, Mickey Z, Brian Chippendale (BRIAN CHIPPENDALE TALKED TO US), Rokudenashiko, Powerpaola, Cathy G. Johnson, Joann Sfar, etc? All of those people hung around all weekend. We got to meet Nicholas Gurewitch (NICK GUREWITCH TALKED TO US). He gave us prints. Like presents. Special thanks to Max Weiss, for delivering unto us our favorite submission (of sorts) of the weekend, PAPA TIME. Perhaps the strangest absence was new work from Michael Deforge. That’s never happened before. Think about how crazy that is. Want to know what sucks about TCAF? Though we did find Alex Hoffman and the new Ink Brick, we know we missed a ton of stuff, no matter how many rounds we made.
We missed our neighbors of the past few years, Conundrum Press, but they boasted flagship status for hitting a giant milestone, their 20th anniversary. Conundrum celebrated this with a pretty damn great history/anthology, 20×20, and an even more impressive catalog, which included the likes of: Michel Rabagliati, Chihoi, Simon Bossé, Pascal Girard, Dakota McFadzean, Nina Bunjevac, Jillian Tamaki and Joe Ollmann, the Lord of the DILFs, to name a few. Congratulations, guys!
We lucked out with new neighbors in our old pals, Aaron Costain, who finally, finally finished Entropy (and we knew you could do it, Aaron!) the omnipresent John Martz, the even more omnipresent Dustin Harbin and the good ship Uncivilized Books, manned by none other than Jordan Shiveley. Our own MK Reed hid somewhere in the upper stratosphere of the library, but that didn’t stop her from coming all the way down to chill with us. You should’ve been our mule, MK. That’ll learn ya.
Within an hour of Aaron telling us about Toronto phenomenon, Zanta, we were treated to an actual TCAF Zanta appearance. Zanta was escorted out of the library, but not before doing some impressive push-ups, tearing off his shirt and screaming, “I’m Zanta! Google me!” To be fair, it did snow on Sunday, so Zanta’s appearance was not wholly unwarranted. We Googled him.
Speaking of Dustin, we call bullshit on Dustin hosting the Dougies, or as they are known in Canada, the Doug Wright Awards, which engages in discriminatory practices by only honoring Canadian cartoonists – but it’s okay for Dustin to host? Really? In protest, we skipped the Dougies for our annual poutine sports bar with Annie Koyama and a little bit of Chris Pitzer. But just as it hung over the Dougies, the shadow of Darwyn Cooke‘s sudden death fell over our Blue Hawaiian cocktails. We knew Darwyn a bit from our days at the Distinguished Competition. We’re sitting on some stories about that man which would knock your teeth out, but what a terrible loss for comics. No, we’re not going to gossip. Unless we’re drunk and talking to Heidi in the lobby of the Marriott while trying not to stare at Tom Devlin’s track jacket and ponytail combo and wondering how he convinced Peggy that outfit was okay.
For the first time in forever, we brought enough of a gang to sneak out to some panels. The winner, by far, was the little panel on artists “In the Studio,” with our idol, Bendik Kaltenborn, our mancrush, Brecht Evens, our bro, Kevin Czap, and the obviously bonkers but wonderfully talented MariNaomi. MariNaomi, by way of telling us all how she compulsively buys up pens for fear of running out of them, somehow leapfrogged to sharing her obsession with Chuck Berry’s habit of eating shit, literally, and how he was caught videotaping women customers defecating in the bathroom of his restaurant, Blueberry Hill. Of course, this derailed the panel completely, with MariNaomi exclaiming, in her best Chuck Berry voice, “COME TO PAPA… …yeeeaaah.” We left the table for that and we were glad. Also, now, MariNaomi, someone might stumble upon this mention of Chuck Berry’s sexual habits in their internet searches. PAPA TIME indeed!
On that note, we’re pooped. We have a lot of reading to do now that Gabby is safely returned to Chicago and Rob to Cambridge. We’ll be heading to Chicago, too, since CAKE, the Chicago Alternative (K)omics Expo is on deck. See you in a few.
Leon and Barry
TRIGGER WARNING: this post may contain painful, embarrassing truths and mentions of Gabby Schulz, the artist formerly known as Ken Dahl. Thanks for hanging out and continuing to read, the beautiful few of you who are left. This weekend, we at Secret Acres drop Sick on the formerly suspecting, but now likely unsuspecting, horde of the world’s biggest indie comics show, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, aka TCAF.
Those blessed with a freakish memory and a long history of reading this blog, may remember that, in 2011, we went to our first TCAF and partied way, way too hard. Someone brought pills, others gave us free pot, we washed it all down with booze. On TCAF Sunday, like, while the show was happening, we searched frantically to find at least one of our gang trashed in the garage across the street. We knew no better at the time, so we drove home, across the border and back to New York, USA, right after the doors closed. The last line of our TCAF 2001 blog wrap up reads that we were all “literally feverish.” Two of us fell violently ill. One of us went to the ER. Gabby decided to tough it out. For weeks. This birthed Sick.
Stating that Gabby decided to tough it out qualifies as an understatement. Like millions of Americans, Gabby took his chances with no insurance. He’d argue that he was left to die, friendless. To our recollection, though Gabby violently disputes this, all of Brooklyn was begging to drag him to a hospital. We could probably prove it if we had the kind of chops to storify Twitter. If you enjoyed Gabby’s graphic novel Monsters, and bless the many of you who have, you know a little bit about him. He chooses darkness, or truth, as he would say. As his publishers, we’re aware that Gabby creates only in the bleakest hours of his life. It’s a dilemma: do we want him to be happy or do we want him to make some comics? No surprise, Gabby returned from the dead with Sick, the Ignatz nominated webcomic, documenting his illness/madness.
We announced the completed and collected Sick would be coming to TCAF in 2013. We announced the completed and collected Sick would be coming to TCAF in 2014. Last year, we stopped announcing Sick. This failed to stop folks at TCAF from asking if Sick was out, or if Gabby was at the show. If you asked, you might wonder what the hell Gabby was doing the past couple of years. He moved. Thrice. He accompanied us down some terrible paths in our Wilderness Moments. He cycled through three different, equally hostile and infamous Twitter handles before quitting the scene. Believing he had successfully alienated everyone, but not us, never us, he took over our own Edie Fake‘s spot at the legendary Quimby’s. He freaked out because, shocker, the webcomic Sick needed to be redrawn, top to bottom, to fit in a book. He decided it would be easier and faster to watercolor the whole thing, which, amazingly, turned out not to be true at all. He suffered some serious nerve damage that completely killed his drawing arm when he was a couple pages shy of finishing. He was knocked out of action for months. He finally finished Sick, five years after getting sick.
Secret Acres is proud to announce that Gabby Schulz’s Sick is debuting at this weekend’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Keep it away from the kids and the delicate in nature. We tried to encourage Gabby to complete his magnificently rendered and watercolored masterwork, Sick, by allowing his perennial classic, Monsters, to disappear from print until it could be reissued in a special edition next to Sick. We keep our promises in these parts: we are pleased to announce the return of Gabby Schulz’s perennial classic, Monsters, written as Ken Dahl, now in a special, deluxe, flexibound edition. Christ almighty, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Meanwhile, since we last appeared on this blog, Hillary Brown over at Paste, wrote up Robert Sergel‘s SPACE: An Eschew Collection. In this age of people constantly wringing their hands over the state of comics journalism and comics criticism, count on Hillary. She understands comics, she’s incredibly thoughtful and even better, she can really write. Thank you, Hillary for all the kind words for our latest. Hillary has company in Rob Kirby, who picked SPACE as his pick of the week, and in Alex Hoffman, whose Sequential State discussed SPACE on their podcast. Who says comics criticism is dead? What better way to celebrate all this love than to bring Rob and SPACE with us to TCAF. Yes, we love you all.
Alas, MK Reed continues to shirk her sacred duties as our TCAF comics mule, but she will be at the show, Palefire in hand, so no complaints there. If you can’t make it up to Toronto, you can still get Sick (and SPACE and Palefire) in our Emporium. If you just want to sit around listening to more podcasts, you can check out Mike Dawson and Theo Ellsworth on Comics Alternative. If you need more Theo in your life, and we all do, really, there’s some lovely thoughts on his latest, The Understanding Monster – Book Three, over at Foreword. It’s so nice, they hit it twice.
See you on the other side, and back here in a bit…
Barry and Leon
FIRST THINGS FIRST, we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit over our first weekend of Comics Season. It all began, of course, with the VIP opening ceremony for the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art Festival, aka MoCCA. Held at the Society of Illustrators itself, Friday night was a celebration of ten years of the Center for Cartoon Studies, aka CCS. We share a lot of history with CCS, including three CCS grads and a CCS fellow that we’ve published. So for us, the MoCCA Fest started with a reunion. The CCS exhibit is running for a bit, so if you skipped the opening night and complementary bubbly, make your way to the Society and check out the CCS fellows’ original art. At the very least, it provides ample evidence that Alec Longstreth suffers from some kind of graphomania because no reasonable person drew those Basewood pages.
Rob Sergel enjoys much better mental health despite all the rampant social anxiety contained in his SPACE. Our MoCCA debut for 2016, SPACE launched without too much of a hitch. Thank you, beautiful people for coming all the way upstairs and getting yours. A rainy Saturday morning left us yawning into the afternoon, however. Imagine our surprise to find a crowd downstairs when we snuck out for lunch. Our shitty real estate failed to keep us from a strong half day, but we got a lot folks telling us they didn’t know the second floor was open. Everyone appeared to like the Metropolitan West nonetheless. MoCCA’s moved three years in a row, which alone might make it the most New York of shows. We skipped every panel and every Saturday night party to grab some secret Mexican food because we were wiped out and selfish for Rob time.
We loved spending these intimate Mexican moments with Rob, selfish or not, but man, we felt cheated by the absence of Koyama Press, AdHouse, Hic n’ Hoc, etc. Minus the usual suspects, MoCCA seemed like a dress rehearsal. A comics vet, whom we refuse to name, said she thought there was a little fatigue in the air, which, maybe? You’d never know it from the volunteers, who have been consistently awesome for the near decade of MoCCA shows we’ve done. Ditto the lines around the block for the panels that we skipped. We talked to one of the MoCCA Prize judges, who judged the floor to be more of an artist’s alley than indie comics show. We latched on to that one, but that’s probably because we’re more on the IDGAF end of the spectrum when it comes to cartoons on TV.
As someone once pointedly paraphrased: if the scene sucks, it’s because you suck. The MoCCA scene did not suck, to be sure. Plenty of superstars roamed the floor, we found some new comics crushes at the MICA table and in Natalie Andrewson and Kate LaCour in particular, and the majority of folks bringing us their comics were not lunatics. We even got a shot of James Sturm reading Gabby Schulz‘s Sick. It was James who said (paraphrasing again) that MoCCA might not be the Big Gun show we want it to be, but it’s not a disappointment. We agree on both counts, more or less. Good enough is good enough. Plus we hung out with Rob all weekend and dropped a bunch of SPACE. What suck there was rests on us for sure; we need to be more active steerers if we’re still on the Society’s steering committee for 2017. We hope we are, if only to hang with the Society folks some more. They feed us even.
Don’t whine if you missed Rob at MoCCA, because he and SPACE are heading up north with us for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, aka TCAF. Rob joins none other than the aforementioned Gabby Schulz, aka Ken Dahl, who at long last will have Sick with him. See the pic above? The book exists for real; we swear to you. Yes, we promised you Gabby and Sick back in 2013. We believe it’s better late than never, and Sick is better for the wait. Gabby’s got his new, special edition of Monsters coming as well. MK Reed, alas, decided to abandon her post as the Secret Acres border crossing comics mule this year, but she will be at the show with her (and Farel Dalrymple’s) Palefire and Rob and Gabby and Sick and Monsters and SPACE. Not bad, huh?
Until then, and before we forget, there’s a fun profile of Edie Fake and his Marlborough Chelsea show over on Vice. The show itself is hanging at Marlborough until the 23rd. Don’t miss it. Don’t miss us too much, either. TCAF’s right around the corner and we’ll be back here before you know it with all the dirt on Sick.
Barry and Leon
ONCE upon a time, back in 2008, we sat on our very first panel. It happened at the Small Press Expo. The night before, we had celebrated the impending glory of our first SPX at the unfortunately-named “SPX-plosion” at Atomic Books in Baltimore. Atomic hosted the debut bash of Daybreak 3, Goddess of War, Boy’s Club 2, the Hot Breath of War and Capacity, a rogue’s gallery of indie comics’ finest from Bodega Distribution, Picturebox, Buenaventura Press, Sparkplug Comic Books and, of course, us.
At the panel, we sat with Randy Chang, Dylan Williams and Alvin Buenaventura for a Publisher’s Roundtable. Secret Acres leaned heavily on the expertise of Randy and Dylan when we started out, so we knew them well, but it was our first time getting to hang out with Alvin. We found him a little inscrutable, scary smart and weird beyond reason. The four of us ignored the large crowd assembled to hear us gab, and ended up gushing over each others’ books and bitching about distro issues the entire time. It felt to us that the future had arrived.
These days, that convivial panel feels like it happened a thousand years ago. Since then, Randy’s closed the shop and moved on to bigger and better things, ditto for Dan. We’ve already dropped plenty of words here about losing Dylan, and now, five years later, Sparkplug itself. Alvin shuttered Buenaventura, returned with Pigeon Press and has now left everyone behind with a pile of great comics and stunning art prints. Whatever era it was that began back in 2008 is inarguably over. Rather than lie, we’ll cop to being just a little terrified. For us, time tends to pass without notice, but, boy, did this past winter drive home the fact that Secret Acres has lived through a distinct comics lifecycle.
When we say we’ve missed you, you beautiful people reading this, we mean it. Here’s to the start of the 2016 comics season.
It is fitting that our first book of the year comes from Robert Sergel. Welcome to SPACE: an Eschew Collection. Allow us some nostalgic musings here: when we read Eschew the first time and realized that we desperately wanted to publish Rob Sergel’s work, it turned out that Dylan was already working with Rob. Of course, Dylan had read Eschew first and said it was his favorite comic and that it would be our favorite comic, and he was right.
Now, Eschew can be your favorite comic, too. Rob worked hard polishing up the old Eschew stories for SPACE, and shoring up a ton of stuff you haven’t seen before. Nobody nails life’s awkward and absurd moments like Rob Sergel. If you wish you could forget the anxiety-filled stupidity of the things you’ve done to get from there to here, Rob’s comics will have you cuddling your inner child – just try not to laugh in its face.
Freaks like us count the seasons by their comics shows. Rob and SPACE will be coming to the Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art Festival this weekend. Come by the table and try tricking Rob into drawing something for you. We expect great things from him.
We’re flying blind for MoCCA, though. While we remain on the steering committee with the fine folks at the Society of Illustrators. While life showered us with many blessings in the year that was 2015, it didn’t leave us too much time to help out with the steering. We did check out the Metropolitan West building and it’s gorgeous. We failed to get a look at Ink48, but with a name like that, it has to be damn fine. Between our pair of new day jobs, one new marriage, a toddler, a new home, some health scares and all that, well, in the Society we trust. Hey, we love an adventure, too.
Speaking of big news and adventures, Edie Fake’s solo show at the Marlborough Chelsea is up until April 23rd. When you come out to MoCCA, you need to walk the High Line from Marlborough. Feel free to kick the tourists out of your way, but check out Edie’s show because it’s killer, like everything Edie. We squeezed through the crowd to get to opening night, which rocked and amazed us. We’ve spent a good decade watching Edie, and what looks like peaking is always just another step on the way up for him. No doubts allowed, we are the most proud of Edie and his prodigious talents!
If attending MoCCA requires crossing an ocean for you, or presents other logistical horrors, you can pick up SPACE in our Emporium, of course. You can even pre-order the new and improved, special edition of Ken Dahl’s Monsters. You can even pre-order Sick, by Gabby Schulz, the artist formerly known as Ken Dahl. You imagine correctly that there’s a story behind that one, but it’s a story for another time.
We’ll return with our post-show rundown of all things MoCCA next week! Come say hello to Rob and SPACE at MoCCA this weekend and be part of the great comics lifecycle that we’re all living right now.
Barry and Leon
UNARMED and abandoned, we walked into Comic Arts Brooklyn. All of our artists ditched us at once, albeit with plenty of warning and with a plethora of reasons, but still. Can you blame us for our feels? At the very least, two of our gang showed up at the Mt. Carmel Gymnasium, namely Sean Ford and Brendan Leach. However, Brendan split early, called away on business, and Sean set up shop at his own digs, downstairs from us. Piling on, come the middle of the day, a billionaire summoned one half of us, the Secret Acres duo, to his billionaire’s lair. Biting the hand that feeds usually bites you in the ass, so for the majority of the day at CAB, Secret Acres was a total solo operation. A couple of years ago, in the days of the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, we boasted a record (for us) ten folks behind two tables at the Mt. Carmel gym. Our circumstances for CAB 2015 looked absolutely disastrous on paper. And yet…
Somehow, we sold more books than we did last year. An interesting note: in terms of the number of sales, we ended up slightly behind. The saving grace was that fewer people bought more books. Allowing for the tiny sample size of us, this is a trend for 2015. Do we blame, or rather, thank, income inequality? Surely, Milton Griepp will tell us.
Despite one moment of panic, it turned out okay, going solo behind the table. Then again, CAB blessed us with the finest of neighbors in Koyama Press‘ Ed Kanerva (how we love you, Ed) and Annie herself. We bow to you, Annie! Meanwhile, Sean took away half our copies of Only Skin en route to a big day ditching all his copies of Shadow Hills. Brendan’s depature hurt sales of his Iron Bound not at all. We joked about making table while we packed up. Other than the lack of shopping time for us, CAB kinda killed it again. And yet…
We’re tempted to tell people to toughen up. Like last year’s CAB, some folks, who shall remain nameless because we’re not like that, panicked early. Come to Williamsburg and see the empty streets on a Sunday morning. Everyone knows the beautiful people sleep in. Enough with the hand-wringing already. CAB delivers a seriously inside crowd. People sold our books to each other. They’re so plugged in, in fact, that, for us, listening to them recommend the books on our table to each other remains the highlight of the show, maybe even our year. One woman quoted Rob Sergel’s Eschew to her friends. More than a few asked after Joe Lambert before foisting every last copy we had of I Will Bite You! onto their gangs. We dissappointed some folks who were asking if there was a new Curio Cabinet. We ran out of everything Corinne Mucha, largely because one customer kept brining others to the table all day. Allow us to retweet Sean:
Forgive us, but we’re old and we skipped the party to have a fancy dinner with some out of towners from Canada who were in town for the show. We were, nonetheless, roped into the Beat‘s (forthcoming) podcast, mostly talking mini-comics storage. Kevin H himself expressed mini-comics storage concerns earlier, which gave us a leg up for Heidi. So, for you mini maniacs out there, we recommend nesting tables. Get some. Trust us. Surely, Heidi’s podcast offers every conceivable solution, too, but nesting tables.
Anyhow, this is where we get off, show-wise, for the year. You can still follow Farel Dalrymple and MK Reed on their international Palefire tour. Farel will be deep in the Leeds at Thought Bubble UK (that’s in England) this weekend, lucky bastard. MK will be joining him in the City of Angels for Comic Arts Los Angeles on December 5th. Even before all that, catch Edie Fake and some Memory Palaces action at the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s Imaginary Worlds this very Friday. We’ll keep you abrest of all this on our Twitter and tumblr and Facebook, and we’ll be back here again for a very special look ahead to 2016. We promise big news for that one.
Barry and Leon
ONE LAST RIDE for us in 2015 to Comic Arts Brooklyn, our hometown hoedown! CAB makes us feel like Supermen every year. Every year we make the cut means we’re doing something right.
Brooklyn’s lost a lot of its comics scene, with rents and the lure of animation lucre leading cartoonists out west like it’s the Gold Rush. Adding injury to injury, we lost Bergen Street Comics this year, too. Mercifully, Desert Island‘s Gabe Fowler is keeping the flame. Rising from the ashes of ye olde Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in 2013, Comic Arts Brooklyn didn’t miss a beat. For round three, CAB comes out swinging. Really, look at the programming for 2015. Look at it.
Speaking of hometown heroes, our very own Brendan Leach makes his first pit stop of 2015 at the Secret Acres table. Although Farel Dalrymple raised the bar for show sketches at SPX, Brendan has some real chops when it comes to making his Iron Bound look extra pretty. Fellow Brooklynite Sean Ford, of Only Skin fame, will be in the room, slinging his latest issue of his current series, Shadow Hills. Of course, all three volumes of Theo Ellsworth‘s Understanding Monster and the brand new edition of Capacity, complete with limited edition, signed and numbered posters and prints, will greet you with a smile. Just to mess with you, the new, fancier, bigger and typo-corrected Monsters, the classic graphic novel from Ken Dahl aka Gabby Schulz, could be hiding at our table, too. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
If you’re one the Brooklyn defectors, and the west coast has you in its clutches, fear not. Tomorrow night, haul ass to Portland, Oregon and see the Palefire kids, Farel Dalrymple and MK Reed, face off with Brandon Graham. AGAIN. What is it with you guys? The incredible Floating World Comics hosts the terrible trio and their host of cohorts, Simon Roy, Amy Clare, Tessa Black, Robin Bougie and Robin McConnell. Sounds like quite a throwdown in Bridgetown.
Alas, we’ll miss that one because we’re stalking Annie Koyama. In case you missed it, Annie is celebrating ten years of health of happiness, so read all about it. We’re heathens, yeah, but Annie’s friendship is one of life’s great blessings and this milestone of hers deserves fudge. Also, in the ICYMI files, Palefire got the good news from mental_floss and Slate. MK even did the illustrations for the month’s Slate Book Review. If you just need more provocation in your reviews, check out nudes reading comics and their take on Theo’s magnum opus, Capacity.
We’ll be back with the post show post in a few…
Barry and Leon
WE KNOW you want the Small Press Expo Butt Touching Competitiion update that’ll put the butt back in Scuttlebutt, but first things first. Before we hit the road for SPX, we threw down at Brooklyn’s Grumpy Bert with Theo Ellsworth’s the Understanding Monster – Book Three. The place looked like someone had gone wild safari hunting down Sesame Street. Talk about setting the mood. The thing you need to know about Theo Ellsworth is that he is KVLT. People traveled from up and down the east coast to hang with him. Seeing these familiar faces joining in the cutest, most awkward convsersation of all time really warmed the cockles of our hearts. What strange feels indeed, releasing the end of the Understanding Monster, but there could be no better hands to hold Book Three. Many deep thanks to Albert and Remy for getting us off on the right foot. We promise to bring more carrots for you next time, Remy.
We were so well prepped for the road to Camp Comics that we made time for a pit stop at the American Visionary Art Museum. You might know this, and if you didn’t, you could guess, but AVAM was hugely inspiring for us when we started this here Secret Acres. A decade ago, we raided their gift shop (typically filled to the brim with actual, handmade art) and our haul very much informed our aesthetic. Returning to the scene of the crime with Theo, who had his big debut with Capacity for our first ever SPX back in 2008, while hauling the new edition of Capacity back to SPX in 2015, was a real treat for us. Plus Barry found the man or cat of his dreams in the men’s room. What a stall stalker.
Friday night found firebugs at Fantom Comics. Our very own Farel Dalrymple and our lady of the evening, MK Reed, dropped Palefire like napalm on an Orc army of the finest nerds our nation’s capitol could muster. We love you, nerds! Big boy Brandon Graham squared off with our power couple on the other end of the Fantom floor for what turned out to be an all-nighter. No surprise there, despite the absence of Brandon’s better half – and wither Robin, anyway? Congratulations to you little sellouts, and all hail Fantom Comics for hosting the SPX Eve pregaming extavaganza. We’ll just have to crash your party next year.
We didn’t wait up for them. Instead, we hit our secret steakhouse, grabbed our badges and wobbled over to the Marriott patio while the ever responsible Annie Koyama picked the lock on the ballroom to get set up before everyone else, even Chris Pitzer, who took his whole gang to the Nats game, naturally. We played catchup with the Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, over an intense, excited, hour long conversation about Big Media, pop culture, comics and women. It seemed to us that women had effectively taken center stage in pretty much everything, comics included. About twenty-four hours later, Heidi looked like a prophet. Occasionally, comics shows like SPX stumble into a theme, and this show was just such an occasion.
We admit the Secret Acres theme was decidedly less ambitious: be prepared. Believe it or not, we were set up before the doors opened. We blame Farel and his love of breakfast foods. The butt touching started early, too. We got to six, including going stealth butt to butt with Dustin Harbin and John Martz, before losing count. Our snack game on point, we waved goodbye to enough of Palefire, the Understanding Monster – Book Three and the new Capacity to set our new single day SPX sales record. Theo’s Special Guest status helped keep ‘em coming. We owe you one, Warren. Farel raised the bar on sketches to Angoulême levels, practically giving us a free art class. MK took a ton of Palefire away from us and kept coming back for more. Ditto for our man Sean Ford and his big fat book, Only Skin. Ditto for Corinne Mucha, and her little number, Get Over It! Caught up in comics fever, we lost mid triple digit dollars to the floor, too. We’d expected that, with books from the likes of Kevin Hooyman, Bendik Kaltenborn, Cole Closser, Kate Beaton, Dakota McFadzean, Frederik Peeters, Maggie Umber, Derf, Rune Ryberg, Meags Fitzgerald, Simon Moreton, Anna Erhlemark and so on and so on and so on and so much for all our money. Our gang recovered over Dark and Stormies and American Ninja Warrior: Las Vegas.
Returning to the ladies, folks were taking bets with the adorably and inchoherently exhausted Comics Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon. During his job interview with us at the bar Saturday night, he postulated that this year, 2015, would see every single Ignatz Award go to a woman. He was right as rain on that one. Think about that for a second. Way back in 2010, with both of our SPX books, I Will Bite You! and Gaylord Phoenix, delayed, we received one helluva consolation prize having Lisa Hanawalt as Special Guest of the Secret Acres table. That very year, Lisa would be the first woman ever to win the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Comic. That was five years ago. If you don’t find that kind of progress exhilarating, go eat a dick. Considering some of the (nowhere near subtle enough) fit pitching from Kevin Smith era leftover men cartoonists after the awards ceremony, there remain a few steps to take to leave them in the dust for good. To quote Eleanor Davis, Ignatz Award winner for Outstanding Anthology or Collection, “Ready to watch the boys flee comics now that it’s ‘a girl thing.’ good fucking riddance <3″ and we’d like to add: good fucking going, Eleanor!
On the way home, we found some extra outsider art at the rest stop, which was holding a Name That Teddy competition. Beauty finds us everywhere. Speaking of everywhere, you can find MK and Farel on their intercontinental tour for Palefire. We say intercontinental because Farel is making us all jealous by heading out to Leeds for Thought Bubble UK. Head’s up, England! All the details of said tour are sitting right at the end of this post.
There’s another ending requiring your attention: after six years, countless gallons of beer and bubbly and one wonderful community building exercise, our hometown Bergen Street Comics is turning off the lights. Bergen Street Comics brought back the pull list, gave us our beloved Casey, drew Tucker into our lives and launched a half dozen of our books. Heartbreak hurts, but this Saturday, they’re having the party to end them all. Join us for the big sendoff because the more shoulders to cry on, the better. We’ll pop up on the social medias to remind you of all this, and we’ll back for the run-up to the capper of the comics year, Comic Arts Brooklyn. Thank you, all you thousands of weird people who showed up at SPX. We love everybody.
Barry and Leon
PREPARE the way for some big time revelations. We’re set to release three books into the wild, or your hands, this very SPX weekend. Pre-gaming rolls out with a couple of events in our beloved Brooklyn and in our nation’s capitol. The big three books include Palefire, by long suffering Secret Acres comics mule, MK Reed, and world beater, Farel Dalrymple. The man who built our house, Theo Ellsworth, drops a deuce with both the Understanding Monster – Book Three, and Capacity, returning to glorious, extra fancy print. Our guns are loaded.
The fun starts with a triumphant return to Brooklyn’s own Grumpy Bert this Thursday at 7PM. Come witness the conclusion of Theo’s psychedelic epic, the Understanding Monster, and get your mitts on Book Three, which delivers a satisfying, oddball sucker punch of an ending. Hang out for the treats and cop a feel of the new Capacity in all its textures. Grumpy Bert stocks that place with must have curiosities on the regular, too, so expect an enchanted evening.
Wait twenty-four hours – and then find Farel and MK at Fantom Comics in the District of Columbia! Palefire burns down the house on Friday as part of Fantom’s Pre-SPX party. Let the high school noir romance that is Palefire mess with your head and you can tell all your pals that you got there first. If that twisted tale gets you in the mood for more surprises, Fantom has you covered, with none other than the extremely tall and talented Brandon Graham tagteaming with MK and Farel all night. Sounds filthy, no?
After all that, go ahead and do the walk of shame to SPX Saturday morning. Words are wasted in talking about how the Small Press Expo works, being the constant that it is, but: with the whole world marooned on Bethesda Marriott Island for a couple days, even massive con sales take a backseat to catching up with the medium and the community that are comics. As the San Diego Comic-con International serves transmedia properties, so SPX serves actual comics. For those of us who mark our seasons by shows, SPX, or Camp Comics, puts the back in Back to School every year. This year, that flimsy metaphor becomes literal as our table neighbors, Koyama Press, have threatened to make good on launching their Butt Touching Competition. We plan to destroy them with our snack game. More on that when we return for the recap.
The Secret Acres gang cover the floor pretty good this SPX. Theo Ellsworth enjoys Special Guest status this year, so he might have a balloon for you at L3-4, aka the Secret Acres tables. MK and Farel sharpened their pencils weeks ago just to sketch out your very own Palefire. Journey to table K3, and enter the world of Shadow Hills; our man Sean Ford dragged a brand spanking new issue of his series to SPX. Get over to E11A and Get Over It! with Corinne Mucha, too. Listen up on Sunday, as Farel, Liz Surburbia and Ron Wimberly get moderated by the aforementioned Brandon Graham on the state of indie comics for their panel, “Royalboiler Redux.” TMI?
Meanwhile, digging into the ICYMI files, we are prepared to offer you Rob Clough’s thoughts on Corinne Mucha’s Get Over It! and Mike Dawson’s Angie Bongiolatti. Edie Fake sold out his entire show, Grey Area, and wrapped a cover around H. Melt‘s latest. Theo Ellsworth cheated on us with kuš! and all we got this amazing mini, deconstructed here by Your Chicken Enemy. Saving the best for last, John Brodowski, Curio Cabinet-maker, popped up on Comics Workbook with a little number called the “Road Pt. 2.” In your face, Cormac McCarthy!
Sorry to blab and run like this, but there’s a riot going on. Of course, we’ll dig up some dirt for you for our post-show post in a bit, but come say hi. Really, be there or be square, as the kids say.
Barry and Leon
MAN ALIVE, knowing what you’re doing halves the battle for real. The unthinkable happened on our trip up to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this year: not a thing. Meaning, we had our paperwork expertly prepared, we were given all kinds of enthusiastic support from the beautiful people at the border crossing, we arrived in Toronto during daylight hours and managed to get set up and registered at the early load-in on Friday. This has never happened to us ever in our lives. God bless Peter Birkemoe and the good ship Beguiling for their expert direction which made us not feel like invading smugglers. Other than our Breeders run-in, the trip up north was never so magical.
Last year’s TCAF, we had an actual book (like with a spine) debut. Unfortunately, our planned TCAF 2015 debut is running two and a half years late. A surprising number of people asked about Gabby, his book, his health and his well-being. He’s still Gabby. Folks asked the same of Joe Lambert. He is alive and well. Secret Acres’ lucky streak continues, though, with Rob Sergel saving our days at TCAF with his brand spanking new, fourth issue of Eschew. It rocks, and if you missed TCAF, you can get yours right here. There were only two of us manning the booth and there could not have been a better tag team. Disasters averted, we sold a ton of books, way more than expected. If you remember our previous post, we explained that this kind of travel needs a great show to hit break even. We hit that in style.
Rolling into TCAF as a duo means a lot less time to explore the show itself, but escaping the major news of the day (and, no, idiots, Annie Koyama did not buy Drawn and Quarterly, nor did Blaise Larmee get into a fistfight) meant that you were deaf. Major props to Drawn and Quarterly, both for bringing out the biggest book of the show in D+Q: 25, and for keeping tight wraps on the changing of the guard over in Montreal. Chris Oliveros, founder and publisher and deity, is handing the reigns over to Peggy Burns, now capital P Publisher and still the best in the game. Congratulations, Peggy!
Imagine how tough it would be to accept that kind of responsibility. Back when Fantagraphics turned 25, people said D+Q would be the last comic company on our side of the comics fence to hit that milestone. That might be true (but probably not – and looking at you, Conundrum). The biggest reason for that likelihood is the publishing companies in the underground, indie world have never had a clear line of succession until this very moment. Add that to Chris Oliveros’ stupidly long list of accomplishments. You could even put that at the top. Leaving D+Q in such capable hands is about the best thing he could have done for comics.
We talked about all that plenty on Saturday night. We (meaning Nobrow‘s Tucker Stone and Koyama Press’ Annie) talked a lot about Consortium, too, the big distro that is threatening to make grownups out of all the little comics outfits. Speaking of which, more than a few folks at TCAF were picking our brains on that process and how we’re handling it. Short version: it’s really hard for us. With no power comes no responsibility and we’ve been cool with that for years.
We spent plenty of time with Alex Degen, otherwise known as A. Degen (and correctly pronounced A. DEE-gen), who promises to be a terrible influence on us. We got to hang with Hazlitt‘s own Anshuman Iddamsetty, a human reminder of just how dumb we are. We went to the Queer Mixer, which had Anne Ishii killing it with one-liners, but no fucking of any kind that we could see, which… We officially met the one and only Sophia Foster-Dimino, a cartoonist who has turned that corner from great to godlike genius, producing some of the best work the medium has seen in a long while. We hope someone is watching her read this, because we can guarantee that she is hiding her head under something. Seriously, if you see her, compliment her (because it’s your duty), and watch what happens. We love you, Sophia.
We made the rounds of the floor(s) early on Mother’s Day, after FaceTiming with our respective mommies on the library’s WiFi. Believe it or not, the second floor now wraps comics all the way around the library – and it ain’t filler, either. The strangest thing was the AdHouse setup. Chris Pitzer had just one book on the table and the booth would fill with water for five minutes every hour while Pitzer just held his breath and read. Amazing. Many thanks to the Space Face people for holding copies of their stuff for us in their odd room, which would climb, again hourly, in temperature up to 451° Fahrenheit, clearing out all the books with fire. Incredible.
Sadly, we had to skip the Sunday parties to make Rob’s flight home. After a tearful goodbye to the best table island neighbours (sic), Dustin Harbin and Conundrum Press, we packed up, exchanged pretty Canadian dollars for a fat check, and made it home in record time to bask in the glow of our separation anxiety. With TCAF done, we’re going to be relatively quiet for a while. But, in a David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive kind of way, when you see us again, you’ll have three rather enormous books coming from us. Spring break is over.
Leon and Barry
IF you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere. New York’s original indie comics showstopper, MoCCA, has come and gone once again. As you almost certainly know by now, we’ve been co-steering this one for three years running under the warm and welcoming Society of Illustrators, who took over for the old Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art. Way back when, we dug ourselves a little hole, bitching and moaning about the declining fortunes of our fair city’s hometown hoedown. We volunteered to help if anyone ever wanted to let us inside, and, lo, our bluff was called. So how’re we driving?
The party started early for us on Thursday, which was the Society’s VIP night at their own glitzy digs. We probably spent a little too much time gazing at the downstairs gallery exhibit of Alt-Weekly Comics, and we feel safe saying that the microscopic patterns and textures in Mark Beyer‘s art serve as great evidence of his insanity. Upstairs, in the Society’s dining room, which someone like the Beat might call stately, we saddled up some signature cocktails and sliders. The bands played along while we caught up with Tucker Stone, flirted a bit with Keren Katz and cozied up to Leslie Anne MacKenzie Stein while staring in wonder at the Crumbs. We discussed our favorite kinds of drunks, the major categorical division being Defensive Drunks (“Bullshit, I didn’t do that!”) and Remorseful Drunks (“OMGZ, what did I do?”). Signature cocktails having signed our death warrants, and drunk on the evening’s glamour, we decided to pub crawl our way home. At least one of us woke up in a deluxe, crime syndicate townhouse surrounded by a pack of adorable dogs. Don’t worry, we couldn’t find our way back there if we tried. File us under Remorseful Drunks.
For once, we took advantage of the Friday early load-in, which meant that we were on time and fully recovered when the doors opened on Saturday. Going to MoCCA without a debut was tough, and we made it worse by not really having much of an artist schedule, either. The Jersey show, ECCC, as it’s currently known, divided a little bit of the day’s attention. Or so we thought. By the time Brendan Leach made it to the table, all actual MoCCA attendance records fell to pieces with over 5,000 guests wandering around Center 548. The space rocks. People complained about the stairs, which were overwhelmed by the traffic, for sure. MoCCA remains a little heavy on the Pikachu set, those exhibitors who exhibit the kind of Not Comics that one would expect of a show like APE. In these days of lotteries and curated everything, these guys looked like they crawled of 2003. The crowd changed a bit with the surroundings, though. They showed up later, they dressed better, more aligned to the folks at Brooklyn’s own CAB. They held on to their money a little tighter than we’re used to. Then again, we only had the classics to offer and the world loves a new kid.
We’ve talked a bit about the con economy on this blog before. But let’s go there again. MoCCA has the highest table cost of any show we attend at $460 per table. That’s a whole $110 above SPX and a whopping $64.50 above TCAF. TCAF costs attendees nothing. MoCCA is five bucks. SPX is three times that, asking a whole fifteen dollar bill of everyone coming through the door. They look alike from here. Or do they? Tony Breed, a Chicago guy and our RIPE neighbor of a couple weeks ago, came by and said the most interesting thing: his sales at CAKE were slow, but he makes more money at that show than at any other. This year, we brought home something less than half of our take from MoCCA 2014. We made money. We can’t not make money. We live here.
Our most expensive show, by far, is TCAF. Believe us, if we could afford to skip customs and ship our books to Canada, we sure as shit would. Depending on the exchange rate, food and shelter and gas, we need to clean up every year or we go broke. We’re pretty sure Annie Koyama is making more money at TCAF than she could at any other show and, at any other show, break-even has got to be way up there for Koyama Press. We’ve enjoyed a couple of years of making more money at TCAF than we have at MoCCA, but we took home less money every time. And we’re a publishing company, micro or no. If you’re an artist making mini-comics, you’re not making table at MoCCA without a gang to split costs – and profits – and if you can’t make it there, you’re not making it anywhere else, either. How much are you saving traveling to Toronto or booking a room at the SPX Marriott? If not for the money, why bother with shows at all? Do we really need to answer that question?
Speaking of Annie, she and her gang took our gang out to dinner on Saturday, because that’s how Annie does it. Ian Harker waited on us, saying smartass things, teasing us about desserts he wouldn’t give us, and reminding us, fondly, of ye olde TCJ message boards. We ran over to Bergen Street for some books, beer and bubbly, and a Bergen Street Amy sighting. Brendan pointed out that this was an entirely different crowd at Bergen, mostly people we’d never seen before in our lives. The weirdos multiply.
Sean Ford made his way to MoCCA on Sunday, Shadow Hills in hand. Having two of our gang at the table brought things to life a bit and let us sneak out for lunch with our VIP night flirtee, Keren Katz. The tales that woman tells. First, she’s an army vet, having run a runway or two for fighter jets. She bungee jumps to impress her dates. She wrangled a thousand escaped alligators. She holds more than a few passports. She may be a compulsive liar. We’re in love. And we’re heartbroken, too. For further evidence of New York’s devouring of it own soul, MoCCA finds itself homeless once again. (Unlike local deity Art Spiegelman who survived several attempts on his life over the weekend at the hands of an imaginary glass floor, his wife and her Jetta) Center 548 joins the ranks of Florent, Kim’s Video and Picturebox, going bye-bye. Yes, more condos. This city needs more condos like we need another round of gonorrhea. We’re bleeding friends here, as everyone who pretends to like us gets priced out to greener pastures. Someday, that’ll be us. Until then, we’ll keep cranking out comics that are probably too good to pay the rent.
Although a couple of our guys are blowing deadlines with gale force winds (not a good start for our new, grown up style distro), Robert Sergel has delivered unto us Eschew 4. We won’t be walking into TCAF unarmed, at least. We’ll return to remind you of all this before we head north of the border. See you on the other side.
Barry and Leon