The Cross Hatch Rehash: SPX 2010

Categories:  Events, Features

I won the first—and almost certainly the last—comics award of my career. It had the word “fake” in its name and two Silly Bandz adhered to its exterior. I haven’t actually opened the thing yet, but I’m told that it’s full of Sour Patch Kids. It got more or less smashed on in my suitcase on the car ride home, under the weight of the new Adhouse Book and a mason jar full of “genuine” Georgian corn whisky—apparently they distill the stuff in Kentucky.

Ignatz emcee Liz Baillie tossed the cardboard Fakenatzes to anyone who could guess the next presenter based on a series of obscure questions she’d found rummaging around amongst Internet biographies. I guessed Dean Haspiel. Moments later, at the request of the crowd, Dean presented the award for “Best Graphic Novel” topless. So, in a sense we all won.

The Ignatz Awards are, no doubt, a fascinating thing for first timers, a unique balance of the goofy and earnest, the self-proclaimed “fastest awards show in comics,” wherein shirtless presenters and prat falls co-mingle with tearful acceptance speeches given while cradling a brick on a small wooden cradle. There was, much to the disappointment of many, no gorilla suit in the crowd, but the point stands nonetheless.

It’s easy to appreciate the ceremony as a microcosm the whole weekend. SPX is a rare thing in an industry that, let’s face it, has the tendency to take itself far too seriously—and understandably so. We’ve all, no doubt, spent countless hours and energy as one-person ambassadors working to convince other of the legitimacy of the form. How many strangers have you told about Maus or Fun Home or Palestine or Persepolis?

Yet the SPX of 2010 is a show full of fake felt beards and candy-filled cardboard bricks. The poster drawn by Raina Telgemeier prominently displayed the now-infamous chocolate fountain, which, like clockwork, made an appearance at the Ignatz after party held in the hallway adjacent to an what sounded like a pretty happening Quinceanera.

There’s a sense, I think, that SPX is a show for friends. Not in that intimidating off-limits sort of way, however—I spoke to plenty of first-timers who felt at home amongst crowds of veteran showgoers. In past years, I think I’ve pointed toward the setting—Bethesda (or, rather, Rockville, as any local will quickly point out). The city’s size dissuades natural fracturing. It’s not a New York or San Francisco or Chicago, where a plethora of nightlife options entice every single publisher to put their own competing party.

It’s not just Bethesda, however. It’s the North Bethesda Marriot, which, for two days a year morphs into a tightly-packed village of cartoonists. You can’t sit down or eat or, in most cases, even go to the bathroom without running into one. You can, however, as I mentioned in previous years’ posts, have the hotel gym almost entirely to yourself for the better part of the morning.

There is, of course, still some fracturing. There are plenty of folks who I regrettably didn’t see as much as I’d like to have. As in past years, late night merriment was oft segregated into small groups in hotel rooms—small by party standards, but in many cases no doubt pushing the outer limits of fire code occupancy. It was in those rooms that I had some of best conversations of the weekend, away from the sometimes maddening crowd of the buzzing showroom floor.

On Saturday night, I stuck with travelmate Heidi MacDonald and cartoonist R. Sikoryak for the better part of the evening, both before and after the awards. We ate dinner at a diner with panel organizer Bill Kartalopoulos a bit out of the way, when the paltry offerings within a few blocks all proved too crowded to offer any hope of returning to the Marriot in time for the ceremony (for which Sikoryak was nominated and later won).

Good conversations weren’t enough to stave off hunger, given the fact that no one at the table had really eaten anything of substance the entire day. It is a comic show after all. Starve and drink and look at funny books—they ought to print that on all the posters.

We made it to four separate hotel parties that night. I spoke with a handful of folks who I rarely see, despite living in the same city—Lisa Hanawalt, Chris Duffy, Julia Wertz, Haspiel, Jamie Tanner, Gabriel Bell, and had the first actual non-interview conversation I’d ever had with Vanessa Davis, Jesse Reklaw, and Nate Neal, the latter of whom shared my genuine sense of affection for “Nashville Skyline.”

I hope I never get to the point where I don’t have to excitedly whisper to a friend “that’s Jaime Hernandez!” when the cartoonist sits down next to me in on a hotel couch. It was in the same whisky-filled suite that I first met Jeff Smith my first year at the show. There’s something magical in that cutting edge 1970s upholstery—something that, thankfully, isn’t bedbugs.

The trip down also afforded near-constant conversation with fellow travelers MacDonald, Jeff Newelt (who, for better or worse, has never heard a genre of music he couldn’t improvise fake trumpet lines for), and former New York City cab driver Rick Parker, who piloted his station wagon from his home in rural Maplewood, New Jersey to highways of Maryland. On the way back, fellow Pekar Project artist Sean Pryor squeezed in back—we dropped him off in his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey—he regaled us with tales of the time Bruce Springsteen came in to the ice cream parlor he was working at.

The Marriot bar is the default meeting place of sorts for the duration of the weekend. It’s the first place one heads to after drive the 45 minutes back from Atomic Books’ annual reading/Nerdlinger kickoff party the evening before. The room was packed with familiar faces when we strolled in—Dustin Harbin, Will Dinski, Laura Hudson, Tom K., First Second’s Gina Gagliano, Fantagraphics’ Jacq Cohen, Tom Neely, Ed Piskor, Aaron Renier, Kate Beaton, and Chris Staros and Leigh Walton from Top Shelf.

The common topic of conversation was where the party moved after the bar closed at midnight. The answer was, unsurprisingly, a long list of hotel room numbers.

Saturday night was a bit more organized, however. The Karaoke Karavan was in play once again, thanks to the discovery of a local Mexican restaurant, which had taken the mantel from the sadly defunct Korean establishment we used to descend upon annual and the leadership of Jen Vaughn and Eugene Ahn, who had also taken over this year’s Nerdlingers.

I, however, missed the event, too caught up in a conversation with Fred Chao, Aaron Renier, and Indie Spinner Rack’s Mr. Phil on the steps outside the hotel, post-Ignatz.

I had gone into this year’s show with the intention of grabbing and squeezing as many interviews as possible into the one and a half days we spent on the floor (hey, some of us have to be at work at 8AM on Monday). Roger Langridge, Jaime Hernandez, Vanessa Davis, Lisa Hanawalt, Drew Weing, and Adventures in Cartooning’s Alexis Frederick-Frost all agreed—and I’m genuinely excited to share the results in the coming weeks.

Each year someone asks me what the “book of the show” is a little earlier in the weekend. This time I got the question by 1:00 on Saturday. As always, it’s a tough thing to answer—there were new books from Kevin Huizenga, C. Tyler, Chris Ware, Vanessa Davis, Harbin, and the almost absurdly personable Jim Rugg. Picture Box’s lovingly compiled Monster anthology, the mind-boggling Norman Pettingill collection from Fantagraphics, and new issues of Love and Rockets and THB were certainly contenders.

By Sunday afternoon, however, it was clear—Adam Hines’s epic Duncan the Wonder Dog on Adhouse had stolen the show—at least for me. There was no other book on the floor I was more excited about tearing into on the train ride from Maplewood to Manhattan.

Given its sheer girth, however, I was forced to deposit it for most of the day, and when it came time for to eat lunch at 3:00, however, it was me and a messenger bag full of minis at the falafel place around the corner. There’s a fine line between habit and tradition, but after a third year in a row, I think I may have crossed over into the latter, as I sat quietly alone for a few moments, eating kebob and leafing through a stack of Xeroxed minis.

I caught myself laughing out loud at one of Gabrielle Bell’s latest diary strips—as did two diners sitting on the other side of the room. I smiled as they stared, and said loudly, “sorry, comics.” They nodded. I stood up, walked over, and showed them the offending panel, one at a time. They laughed. I walked back to my table, sat down, and turned the page.

–Brian Heater

2 Comments to “The Cross Hatch Rehash: SPX 2010”

  1. Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment
  2. Small Press Expo (SPX) 2010 Con Report » Comics Worth Reading