September 12, 2010

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SPX 2010 Review

It's hard to believe that my favorite show of the year, the Small Press Expo, is already over with for 2010, at least for me. We made a tough decision to only go for one day this time, since with my new responsibilities I need one day per weekend to have time to sit down and work. After all, if I'm not working, it's awfully hard to support my comic habit. ;)

Some folks reading this will already be getting themselves some breakfast and preparing for another day of fun, and though I know this was the right call, I'm definitely a bit envious. Enjoy your day, guys!

The first thing that was strange for me is that I didn't have to get up at 7am to make it to SPX on time this year. With my new, closer location, I was able to relax a bit and be nice and refreshed for the show itself. I think it made a big difference--I was not as fatigued at all by the time the show was closing, even though I hadn't eaten anything for hours.

SPX seemed a little less crowded this year in comparison to 2009. I felt like I had an easier time overall negotiating the hall, especially at the start of the day. That might just be my inability to gauge crowds, though. I'll wait to see what what others say. I love the venue, however, and the extremely well organized show. People always know where to go, and the staff is extremely polite. There was plenty of room in the aisles, too, which was nice. I hate being on top of people all day. After so many years, I think SPX does a great job of getting things right, with the exception of cross-programming, which can make panel decisions quite difficult.

The only thing I noticed, especially as the day went on, is that while it's cool that the webcomics folks tend to be grouped together, it makes for very crowded parts of the show. There were times when I couldn't get near to buy things from anyone around the Malki!-Beaton-Goats-et all region of the show. That's not helpful for the creators, the show, or the fans, and I hope that the organizers think about breaking things up a a bit more.

I have no data on this of course, but from looking around the past few years, it doesn't seem like there is much of a crossover between webcomics readers and mini-comics/indie comics readers as I wish there were. Mixing the booths up might help each fanbase try something new. Just as superhero comic readers seem as a rule to only stick to their comfort zones, it feels like a lot of the attendees at SPX only stick to those items they can relate to, whether it's swarming the Fantagraphics table or picking up anything with a simple cardstock cover or nabbing a sketch from the Questionable Content guy.

This leads me to something that came up at the critic's panel, the only one I attended at SPX this year. It seems, particularly in critical circles, that there is a strong bias towards specializing. If you look at a lot of reviewers, they tend to specialize in one particular area. This leads to some interesting issues when they review outside their comfort zones, as many manga fans will tell you. The impression I got, which I may be totally wrong on, is that it's implied that the best way to be a comics fan--and to be able to talk about comics on a high level--is to only like and read one particular kind of comic sub-genre. With so many comics out there, if you try to read too much, you're going to miss out on good material.

I've wrestled with this one a lot, but here's the thing: If you only read one type of comics, think of the ones you miss! I can't imagine giving up manga to make sure I read everything Oni Press puts out, much as I love Oni's stuff. I just feel that sticking to a sub-genre or two leads to both missing great comics and to being snobbish about your specialty, and that bothers me more than anything I might omit by reading as much as I can of everything.

But that's a discussion for another day. I'd love to hear what others think.

The critic's panel was much better this year, and had more open discussion. I'm glad they retooled things, but I also wish they'd shrink the total number of panelists. All seven folks got to talk, but no one had a lot of time. There was a lot of discussion of the idea of quality, comics cannon, and print versus online reviewing/commentary. If I could have said one thing to the group, I think it would be that the internet is here to stay, and working with it, rather than sniping at it, is probably a better strategy. I'm just saying.

It was a hard call on my part to only go to one panel, but given my time constraints, I decided to spend more time looking at books and talking to creators. Had I stayed for Sunday, I'd have checked out more of them. I hope those who came to both days of the show took some time out to hear panels on Jamie Hernandez, Kate Beaton, kids comics, and more.

The vendors area was as lively as ever, and from informal discussions, folks appeared to be doing pretty well. I noticed several tweets on the #SPX hashtag with creators mentioning various sold out books, and at least one person who felt they'd had their best sales day. Given that the economy isn't the best, that's great news.

It was a lot of fun to get to see some folks that I remembered or whom I chat with from time to time on Twitter. I was also happy to grab new things from them, adding to the never-ending "to read" and "to review" lists. I'll get to as much as I can as soon as I can. There's a lot of great books I'm just itching to read. I hope my reviews, even the less-than-positive ones, help draw some attention to what you do. Even if I don't love the book, I always appreciate the hard work. I know what goes into making a comic and I know that thanks to a lot of you.

In general, I thought the quality of the artists represented was quite high. Even though I didn't always buy--after all, I do have some semblance of a budget--I saw a lot of books that were well crafted and well drawn. It was rare for me to put down a book before I didn't care for the drawings inside. Most of the time, my decision not to purchase came because I just wasn't into the concept of the comic. That's a good problem to have, since there's all kind of people at SPX with all kinds of different tastes.

If I had one disappointment from SPX this year, it was that I didn't find a lot of opportunities to sample new creators. A lot of the folks I hadn't seen before had comics that looked cool, but the entry price to see if I enjoyed their work was just too high for me. I realize that making comics costs money (see my paragraph above), but if you don't have something small for me to sample, it's hard for me to find out.

The best advice I can give, as a person who *wants* to buy lots of comics from unfamiliar names, is to give me a $1, $2, or even $3 comic to try you out. If I like it, I'll be back, I'll be telling others, and I'll even see if maybe I can order it from you on Etsy or something. If your comics are $7 or $10, I'm going to look, but you'll have to knock my socks off to get me to reach for my wallet, when a few dollars more gets me something from NBM or Top Shelf or any other number of places that have a reputation already established.

I don't say this to discount your efforts. I'm just offering this out there as something to think about. You're working hard and want to be rewarded accordingly. In a lot of cases, the comics looked appealing, but there's more to comics than just the art, and it's rude to read it in front of you. Postcards and bookmarks are fine to get me to come to your site, but it's the actual physical books I remember the most.

Overall, I had yet another wonderful time at SPX this year. I don't have a lot of shows to compare it to, but I am always impressed by the civility displayed at the show. People apologize if they bump into you! There are a wide variety of people in terms of age and gender. I'm sure it still happens but you don't get the sense that every man at the show wants to ogle the girls. You can take the kids, though be careful which comics they pick up. It's a safe, welcoming environment.

SPX is like going to a family reunion without having to bring lukewarm potato salad. I can't wait to go back next year!