September 3, 2014

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SPX Spotlight 2014: Sparkplug Books

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

If there is one thing I know for sure about the small press comics world, it's that Dylan Williams, the original publisher of Sparkplug Book, was universally loved in an industry that often features frequent spats and camps of support and opposition.

That's why it was such a tragedy, both to his family and to his comics family, when Williams passed in 2011. Fortunately, thanks originally to his wife and now to friend Virginia Paine, Sparkplug Books lives on and will be once again exhibiting at the Small Press Expo this year.

The level of talent who work with Sparkplug is and incredibly high, often pushing the boundaries of the comics medium. Some of the creators include Renee French, Julia Gfrörer, Katie Skelly, and Elijah Brubaker, just to name a few. It's also the home of  the Gay Genius anthology, Orchid anthology (featuring Victorian horror stories as well as art from Gabrielle Bell and Williams himself), and the Windy Corner series.

For the purposes of this spotlight, we'll highlight three of their newest titles, all of which you should be able to pick up at SPX this year.

The Anthropologists by Whit Taylor is an autobiographical story from Panel Patter's own contributor, looking at the time when she was studying abroad in Australia. Here's Sparkplug's description:
The Anthropologists follows the author's trip to Australia and subsequent reevaluation of her chosen field of study. Taylor's expressive line work and analysis of the strange intersection of self as a person of color, a tourist and a scholar of Aboriginal culture make for an engrossing, thought-provoking read.
The comic is black and white, 36 pages, and retails for $6.00. Naturally, I'm a little biased, but Whit's work continues to impress me with subtle improvements and style changes that really allow the reader to grow closer to her work and subject, as she allows herself to be more personal. This is sadly the only one of the books profiled here as of this writing, but I definitely recommend it. You may never look at how we "study" indigenous cultures the same way again.

Hungry Summer by Asher Craw has a very interesting premise, with the characters featured being involved in mythology, which always intrigues me. The Baba Yaga can be used in many different ways, and Craw looks like he's playing with that variety from this description:
Hungry Summer is a tale of several individuals tied together through the magic and curses of Baba Yaga. An archetypal witchlike figure, Baba Yaga finds her origins in Slavic storytelling and is said to dwell deep in the woods. Just as with any dark demigod, she can bless and curse, heal and destroy. 
Drawn and written by Asher Z. Craw, Hungry Summer is eerie and constantly transforming, just as with all of Asher’s work. The precise drawings and movement in each panel guide you through a linear movement of feeling rather than time; there is always an air of mysticism and ancient magic welling up between the cells.
There are two planes of reality in this story – the ghost realm, and the human realm. These overlap and interlock as the characters interact.
 This comic is also black and white, checks in at 32 pages, and will also cost $6.00

The final new book is the latest in Elijah Brubaker's Reich Series.  For those who are unfamiliar, Reich follows the story of Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an acolyte of Freud. Reich 11 is described by Sparkplug as follows:
Reich tells the story of a man who lived with unwavering conviction in his beliefs and shows the potential danger of that conviction. 
In issue #11, Reich refuses to comply with the terms of the government injunction against him, insisting that government organizations have no authority over scientific progress...At the end of this installment, Reich has moved to Washington, D.C., to conduct atmospheric research and be with a new lover; ominously, however, he has had a complaint filed against him for contempt of injunction. A court date is set, and Reich realizes that there may be no way to escape his fate. 
Most of the time, autobiographical profiles are done in the form of graphic novels, given that the ending is already known. Here Brubaker takes a serial approach, breaking Reich's life into chunks and showing the ups and downs of a man of science who fails to take into account the rest of the world. It's Black and White, 24 pages, and retails for $4.00

Those are just a few of the many interesting books you'll find at the Sparkplug table. Look for them at SPX this year, along with Short Run in Seattle later this year.

Can't make it to SPX? You can find Sparkplug on the web here.