SPX 2007, In 3,000 Words or Less

Categories:  News


SPX 2007 Flickrage can be found here.

We stayed at the other Marriott on Friday night, arriving via car at around 11. Having never actually been in or around Bethesda—or Maryland, for that matter, save for a few weeks spent in DC on various semi-educational excursions through the years, and a brief trek through the state, en route to rural Virginia, from the New York—the “Pooks Hill” hotel was still pretty much exactly as I had imagined it would be in mid-October–clean, sparse, and so far as we could tell, at least a mile away from the nearest sign of commercial civilization.

The 1970 high school reunion that was happening that weekend in the hotel went far to compound the sense of late night desolation, men with collars unbuttoned slightly, and women sucking on cosmos, stumbling through the awkward attempts at conversation that come from thirty-odd years of post graduate unfamiliarity. We watched and drank, and point out to one another the handful of SPX attendees who trickled in during those few hours, having failed to secure reservations in time to find a spot in the Marriot convention center, a five minute taxi ride away.

It was ride that, at least in our case, comprised of talk of sports—post-season baseball (spurred on by the admission that we had driven in from New York City, the night before) and football. I made some lame comment about A-Rod being traded. Enough, at least, I think, to give the some semblance of knowledge on the subject.

The driver asked if we were “in research.” Perhaps there was a rival nerd convention in town, or maybe Bethesda is actually a hotbed of scientific discover—I couldn’t say for sure, either way, though I’ve since been informed that the city is indeed something of an epicenter for science in the area, and is also where George W. Bush goes when he need to have a few polyps removed from his lower intestine. Too tired explain to the driver why two grown men had taken a four hour car ride through the deepest bowels of New Jersey, in order to look at funny picture books, I answered, simply, “No. We’re in publishing.”

“Mm,” answered the cab driver. “Publishing.”

Five minutes later, still in Bethesda. Now at a larger, fancier Marriott. The general sense of desolation one encounters, riding from one hotel to the next on an early Saturday morning in Bethesda lends the impression that the small Maryland city is a prime contender for the highest Marriott per capita ratio on the eastern seabord.

Gilbert Hernandez SPX

At 11:30, the place was already buzzing. The room itself is decidedly smaller than the space allotted for APE or MoCCA (not to mention the San Diego and New York cons), aesthetically more suited for an insurance or vacuum cleaner sales convention. But lack of attendence was clearly not a concern amongst anyone in the room, at times so packed to the gills that it was nearly impossible to navigate down the halls with a messenger bag full of minis.

I was told later that evening that Friday had seen an even more steadily influx of attendees, primarily college aged kids not bound by prior cubicle engagements. The median age of the crowd on Saturday was a bit old than most of us had suspected, most likely there to see the older generation of greats who had come out for the event: Kim Deitch, Bill Griffith, Gilbert Hernandez, et al.

That wasn’t the case across the board however, one exhibitor told me, having struck up a conversation with a gray haired attendee who had stopped to peruse minis at his table. The gentleman had seen an ad in the local paper, and had dropped the eight dollars at the door, on the strength that it looked, “interesting.”

At noon, I walked downstairs, for the first panel of the day, Kim Deitch, who had opted to warm up the crowd with an acapella rendition of an old made up standard. Deitch took full advantage of the Marriott’s incredible AV set up, to explain how, in the past decade, his work had evolved from an interview for Details with a deathrow inmate, days away from execution to the dense fantasy epic that is Alias the Cat.

Attending the panel, it warrants mention, felt a bit like sitting in on a meeting of the UN. The remainder of the day’s panels were all held in the room, as were the Ignatz, later that evening, amongst a series on long concave desks, replete with audio jacks, should anyone need to plug in one of those big white translation earpieces.

I was back in the room at 2:10, for a conversation between Jeff Smith and The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, a bit late, having just finished up my own interview with Exit Wounds author, Rutu Modan, which, thanks to CMJ-related obligations, will be debuting a week from now. Modan and I shuffled into the hall post-interview, packed full of fans who descended upon Bethesda, for the opportunity to engage the Bone author.

Smith fielded the standard fare of questions—where the design of the Bone characters came from, when would there be a movie, et al—with style, providing some addition insight into the Columbus-centric origin of much of Boneville’s geography.

I sadly missed the third panel I had deemed a must-see for the day—Bill Griffith. Spotting all of the white and red McDonalds bags marching back to the hotel, it was pretty clear that the food options in the immediate area were fairly limited. Modan had lamented after our interview, that she too, in desperation, had given into the lure of the golden arches. Determined to procure an alternate source of nourishment, we made a few laps around the block, finally settling on an equally questionable pair of turkey pita sandwiches encased in Saran wrap cocoons in the 7-11 refridgerator section, a decision that cost us our attendence at Griffith’s panel.

Back on the floor, post-pita, the vibe was a largely positive one. There was none of the desperation of commerce that fuels the larger shows. People were peddling their books, sure, but that goal was almost secondary to the creative networking that fuels these smaller shows, folks trading books and sketches, and generally carrying on conversations about comics that seldom ended with desperate stories of trying to break into the Marvel bullpen.

SPX Gorilla

The attendee costumes were minimal, as well, and in the few cases where exhibitors were in some manner of full regalia, I don’t think I’d be stretching too much to suggest that there was something of an ironic element to the whole thing.

I’m sad to say that I missed the two little girls who visited Andy Rutton at the Top Shelf booth, dressed as Owly, fighting over which of the two got to wear the single costume they shared between them.

The door did well in terms of paid admissions, and just about every exhibitor I spoke with over the course of my one day walking the floor reported better than expected sales.

With a table directly facing the enterance, Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeir’s Comics Bakery cleaned up. Roman told me the next morning that this year’s SPX had been their best show, due in no small part to the forced eye contact that comes with setting up directly infront of the floor’s main show entrance.

Also facing the front door was The Blot author, Tom Neely, complete with forearm Popeye anchor tattoos, who would make out pretty well himself, later that night at the Ignatz.

Crammed into the rear corner of the floor, Brian Brown reported satisfactory sales, as well, making up for poor floor placement with the fact that he was set up adjacent to Nick Gurewich in a “Unicorn Power” shirt and yellow Flashdance headband, and his sometimes tablemate, Laika author, Nick Adabzis. Nearby, Macedonia artist, Ed Piskor, was cleaning up with copies of Mineshaft, and his own Harvey Pekar books.

Richard Marcej, reported something more of a spiritual victory of sorts, with the creative seeds of some future Baboon Books project germinating amongst the crowd of the Marriott showroom floor.

Julia Wertz’s new Fart Party collection tops the pile of the books I need to read, before sending off a big bushel of minis to Sarah Morean, who couldn’t make it to the show. I read the first few pages, before passing out later that night, through no fault of Ms. Wertz’s excellent diary strip. I also took a quick glance through her equally-promising Good-Bye San Francisco, during the long trip home. Wertz’s tablemate, Sarah Glidden handed me a copy of, How to Understand Israel in Sixty Days or Less, which is also pretty high up on the list.

Liz Bailie’s My Brain Hurts: Volume One was one of the other couple of books I’ve already cracked open, thanks in no small part to the ringing endorsements from Nick Bertozzi, Tom Hart, and our own Liz Chou, which grace the back of the collection.

Factoring out the big guns, Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, and Top Shelf, the two tables with the largest spread of amazing titles were Sparkplug and Dan Nadel’s PictureBox, the former of which handed off a copy of Renee French’s insanely sublime Edison Steelhead’s Lost Portfolio: Exploratory Studies of Girls and Rabbits, a companion piece to her sublimely insane Edison Steelhead.

I squeezed in my second interview of the day, this time with Nick Abadzis, speaking primarily about the history of the Russian space program, in which the author had become something of an expert, whilst doing the multiple years of research it required to compile Laika. He’d given a speech on the subject the day prior.

The Ignatz began at 9PM (well, around 9…), held in the same UN-esque room that had housed the day’s panels. My first comics awards ceremony had all of the essential elements. There was a table full of celebratory bricks, the appropriate amount of casual goofiness, and of course, the guy sitting next to me in the gorilla costume, who turned out to be one of the evening’s winners, Chris Onstad, giving an acceptance speech through the magic of pantomime, interpreted by Gurewich, the category’s presenter.

My feeble attempts to live blog the ceremony were foiled by my notebook’s lack of Internet access, but the evening’s emcee, Heidi, has the full rundown.

The awards were capped off by a giant chocolate fondue fountain. Now that’s comic book classy.

After the reception, 30 or so of us, including Jeff Smith, Aaron Renier, Liz Prince, Liz Bailie, Alec Longstreth, Julia Wertz, Sarah Glidden, and dozens of other artists, went in search of a rumored Korean restaurant in nearby Rockville, which was said to be the closest karaoke accessible establishment in the vicinity. Rumored to have gone by the name the Fusion Lounge, several folks had hit the place up following last year’s Ignatz.

Thanks to faulty direction, the lot of us ended up in the parking lot of the local army recruiter, asking directions from a police officer whose car was staked out next to us.

As evidenced by the included Flickr set, the incident ended well. I’ll spare you the details—after all, there’s not much that can’t be explained by the pictures, beyond the song choices which included obligatory selections like Journey and Bon Jovi (crazy kids), and the size and temparture of the private room which was jam packed three to four times beyond its maximum occupancy. Oh, and of course the evening wouldn’t have been complete without Jah Furry, my Dr. Gonzo for the weekend, laying busting out the toasting on top of a Beegees’ track.

The showroom floor was closed the next morning, now home to some massive breakfast that looked a few balls short of a bingo game.

A handful of smaller panels rounded up the show. I sat in on the first, Publicity and the Media, featuring Whitney Matheson, Heidi MacDonald, and Douglas Wolk, and the second, Working With Mainstream Publishers, which included Nick Abadzis, Ed Piskor, and Raina Telgemeir.

The rest of the morning was spent on my notebook in the lobby, watching droves of zombie-like comics fans emerge from the elevators into the warm Bethesda Sunday morning.

On the way back home, my first trip through downtown Bethesda in the daylight revealed a town that indeed has a lot more going for it than the area that lies between its two Marriotts. Heidi pointed out the location of the old hotel that once housed the show, which has since apparently been gutted.

Bethesda is certainly no New York or San Francisco or San Diego, but in a way, that’s one of the best things that SPX has going for it. The lack of outside distractions helps solidify the sense of community generated through these small press shows. There aren’t the cliques and competing parties that going along with bigger shows in major cities.

Whatever talk there might be of new guards and old guards is ultimately fleeting. In the end, it’s a celebration of the creative amount of creativity that has brought us together in the first place. And while I wasn’t there as a panelist or exhibitor, I’m lucky enough to have felt a part of the whole scene, if only for two brief days.

–Brian Heater