April 22, 2015

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Staple Independent Media Expo: A Belated Review

The STAPLE Independent Media Expo was bustling and busy -- it was a cold, grey weekend just like the 2014 one, but that didn't stop the discerning crowds from pouring into the Marchesa Theater. But I entered trepidatiously and perhaps a bid grudgingly -- it's hard leaving your cozy bed on a Sunday afternoon. But I'm glad I went -- It took me a while to unwind and take a deep breath before attacking my stash. Once the stash was attacked, I then took a while to process it. Hence, in part, the lateness of my review.


I always struggle a bit at conventions -- I’m pretty introverted and comics suit me fairly well in that regard. I am nowhere as happy as I am curled up in the corner of the couch furtively turning pages and tuning out the world. So the bustle and hum of conventions freaks me out a little -- and I’d wager to say that a fair handful of cartoonists have a tendency towards introversion too. So that makes for some stuttering and stammering and not learning as much about the offerings as I should. So to try to combat this while not getting too far outside my comfort zone, I focused on some artists who I had something in common with -- Austin? Cats? Beards? These are things I like, and can talk about for a minute or two if pressed-- so I found myself with a few selections in such areas. Here were some of my favorites.


Bearded for Pleasure by Jaime Hernandez surprised me -- Hernandez does a lot of prints as Crayonblood Studios, and I enjoy his light but piercing style. It’s in full force in Bearded for Pleasure, which is a playful, pointed jab at the Austin culture of bushy-bearded but somehow perfectly-coiffed, clean-flannel-work-shirted, sunglass-clad hipsters who haunt coffee shop porches and beer bars. It’s a certain, especially absurd, brand of masculinity that Hernandez captures, portraying his protagonist as part superhero and part man-child. I was surprised by how it was able to embody that coolness and also skewer it in such short order -- anyway, it was great. So Austin.


Bad Mother was the one comic I planned to make a deliberate stop for -- as a newly minted mother, I am predisposed to gravitate to anything with the word mother in it, because all mothers are the same, right? But in all seriousness, it worked, because I got into a lovely conversation with Jeanne Thornton about writing, her webcomics, the Hire This Woman panel (which I missed!), and her recent relocation to New Orleans. Thornton’s comics highlight another side of Austin -- the folks who actually Keep Austin Weird. Nerds, artists, transgendered baristas and pagan-lesbian-sculptor-parents-of-preschoolers. It’s been a webcomic for a while, and adheres to the comic strip format, but does a wonderful job of fully realizing snarky, silly and smart characters in just a few pages. And the titular Bad Mother, is in fact, and of course, a good mother, who exemplifies being a caring parent by being true to yourself -- though Jeanne is not a parent herself, she’s spot on about what parents could learn by taking their task a bit less seriously and living life more joyfully. I’m not sure that was Thornton’s main intent, but I liked it and want to read more of her work.


And my final favorite thing, after beards and babies, was CATS. My husband is hopelessly allergic, but I am a Crazy Cat Lady by nature and nurture, and I will stop for any good cat comic that presents itself -- Rachel Dukes' Frankie Comics definitely fit that bill. In her Frankie minicomics, Dukes sends up life with a cat, integrating the cat into her marriage, feline eccentricites -- and just the joys of seeing the world through cats eyes -- of course it sounds silly and obvious, but Dukes’ bold black and white illustrations are simple and clean but also slyly personal - Dukes’ funky self-depiction and Frankie’s wry expressions give her stories just the right amount of edge.


A totally different take on cats was That Damned Cat by David Lamplugh and Chris Nicholas -- Nicholas is Uncle Staple himself, and Lamplugh does really great samurai/animal mash-up prints that we’ve gotten hip to at the craft fairs around town. That Damned Cat is the ongoing adventures of a feline nursing home denizen who also serves as a sort of spirit-guide for the dying, and offers them a chance to right their wrongs before they go. It sounds a little ridiculous, and it is -- but it’s well executed and suitably trippy, and the cats' snarky tone saves the stories from getting too serious. I only bought the first volume, and I’m eager to get my hands on more.


Other comics I got and really enjoyed were Mittie Paul’s -- her etchy but precise Ash and her impeccable, simple, and delightful cover designs (cutouts! shiny paper!) were a treat. Noel Kalmus’s dreamy sketchy fairy worlds and dark smeary fantasies were delightful as well -- youthful in their soul-baring openness, but also bold and challenging.


Finally, I finally got the guts to tell Ben Snakepit he was my hero and idol. I don’t think I did a good job of it, or that it particularly matters in the grand scheme of things, but I’m a committed member of the Snakepit Fiend Club (I have two buttons now!) and knowing he’s in Austin makes it a pretty great town as far as I’m concerned.


So there’s my STAPLE - I missed the panels (though they’re available to listen to here!), I didn’t connect with the big name folks, and I passed by a lot of artists that were more along the superheroes, sci-fi, creatures and fan-art points on the comics spectrum, so I probably missed some great stuff that just wasn’t my bag -- regardless, I enjoyed what I did find, and can recommend the comics on beards, kids, and cats that I did discover. Can’t wait till next year, when maybe I’ll get a few steps bolder and branch out just a little bit more. STAPLE delivers again!