September 28, 2015

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Banned Book Week: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home
Written and Drawn by Alison Bechdel
Published by Mariner Books

The dedication in Fun Home probably speaks volumes about Alison Bechdel’s comic book and her family; “For Mom, Christian and John. We did have a lot of fun, in spite of everything.” It is important to notices the memories that open Fun Home, images of Bechdel and her father Bruce doing things that fathers and daughters do, as he encourages her in different ways to fly. And he does this because he’s there to catch her. The first image is him lying on the floor, legs sticking up as he balances Alison in the air at the end of his feet. The last image of the comic (not really a spoiler) is of him in a pool, ready to catch her as she leaps off of a diving board. With both sequences, Bechdel introduces and concludes the book ruminating on the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. Fun Home becomes this epic family story about a flawed father and a daughter who spends her life trying to find out who her father is.

Bechdel’s storytelling bends back on itself at many points, painting not a linear narrative of her childhood. Instead, her retrograde structure gives us her story and her father’s story as puzzle pieces and it requires us to put it together to form our own image of Bruce Bechdel just as Bechdel is doing herself. She gets the important pieces out of the way early; he most likely killed himself in 1980 two weeks after his wife asked him for a divorce; he was a cold man who never quite fit into the world of small town Americana; he was a gay man who secretly had sex with men and teenage boys. All of these realizations about her father hit Bechdel at different points in her life even as she has to realize that she’s also gay. Bruce and Alison are very different people but the influence of Bruce on her life gives Alison a unique perspective on who she wants to be and who she is.

The image we see of Bruce is colored through a daughter’s affection for her father. And even she realizes that Bruce’s life is a troublesome one. A closeted gay man, there are hints and allegations of a predatory nature of his sexuality. A school teacher, he apparently used his position to find boys to show favor on. As Alison discovers more about her father’s life while realizing her own sexuality, she struggles with the image of what her family should be in the small, idyllic town of Beech Creek and what she comes to know life to be like. A couple of times during Fun Home, she references the television show The Brady Bunch, a vision of perfect suburban family life from the 1970s that was so far from reality that its father as well was a closeted gay man.

Bechdel’s parents Bruce and Helen kept secrets from their children. Alison is a young girl through most of the book, trying to discover her own identity like most pre-teen and teens have to. When she finally writes home from college to tell her parents that she’s gay, the very unexpected response she gets back from her mother is “so is your father.” It’s a crucial moment for the daughter as she tries to separate herself from her parents and what she figures is their small town morals, only to be told that she’s more like one of her parents than she thought she wanted to be. This was her big stab at independence and striking out on her own and suddenly the whole narrative of her childhood suddenly comes into sharp focus as she finally discovers who her father is.

The structure of Fun Home makes it so that this momentous revelation for Alison which comes a fair distance into the book is no shock for the reader. Bechdel revealed that big plot twist within the first few pages of the book. The secrets in Fun Home aren’t that Bruce nor Alison are gay. Bechdel focuses on what that means for Bruce to be married and a father. He is not particularly good at either role but at the time in the 1970s, it was nearly impossible for him to be himself in any part of the country other than a major metropolitan area like NYC. The drama of Bruce’s secret is what shapes Fun Home as Bechdel explores what those secrets mean within the context of her family and the small town where they lived.

Bechdel is showing us the story of two people who are going through roughly the same thing but with completely different experiences. Bruce is forced to hide his sexuality while Alison in this book is able to be who she is without the shame that Bruce lived through. After his suicide, her mother is left to tell Alison more about who her father was. The one conversation with Bruce after Alison comes out to her parents is awkward and unfulfilling. “But which of us was the father? I had felt distinctly parental listening to his shamefaced recitation. And all too soon we were at the theater,” Bechdel writes of the one real conversation they had after her father tries to explain to her his experiences.

It seems too simplistic to describe Fun Home as a book about being gay or straight. Or about being good and bad. Bruce was gay and he wasn’t the best father or person. But for Alison, he was her father and that means something to Bechdel as she tries to create a full image of the complicated man that Bruce Bechdel was. The book is a complex look at a father, a mother and a daughter who are trying to be some Brady Bunch reflection of a family but know that they are much more flawed than that. The secrets that they keep put up these barriers between this family, as they try to protect themselves from what those secrets mean.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home has been a challenged book since shortly after it was released, most recently in 2015 by college students who found it “pornographic” and “garbage.” That alone is a cruel thing to say about Bechdel and her book. What Fun Home shows us is the complications about suppressing the truth about ourselves and how it damages more than just us. If Bruce was just a closeted gay man but he successfully portrayed himself as a straight husband, father and community member, Bechdel’s book would be tragic but wouldn’t have power behind it. The empathy that Fun Home asks of its readers to see how these secrets harm everyone around the secret holder forces us to examine our own reactions to these challenges of our own worldviews. It’s not enough to read Fun Home as a story about Bechdel’s family but we need examine our own responses to the book.

There are plenty of ways to read Fun Home and view Bruce Bechdel as the villain of the piece. It’s not his sexuality that makes him that but the ways that he acted on it. It’s the ways that it shaped his family, his town and most importantly his daughter. But in the end, his daughter still loves him with maybe only the love that a daughter could express. Bechdel wrote and drew this book not to absolve Bruce of his sins but to explore the cause and effect of Bruce’s life. Fun Home is about a daughter’s discovery of who her father really is. It’s still part of our cultural DNA to picture our parents as just versions of “Ozzie and Harriet.” When we discover the truth that our parents are just as human as their children are, it’s scary to have that final puzzle piece to be able to look back on our own stories and to complete the picture of who they and we are.

September 25, 2015

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Weekend Pattering for September 25th, 2015-- Prep for Banned Book Week

** It's been a quiet week around Panel Patter as we recover from our SPX and Rose City Comic Con festivities, both in person and our coverage leading up to the show.  We hope that everyone had a great time at those shows and we should be back next week to something looking like our regular publishing schedule.

** As long as it's a slow week, let's remind you of some ways that you can follow Panel Patter.

Or if you're not up on your social networks, you follow us via an RSS newsreader or even email.

** The list of Ignatz award winners is pretty great, isn't it?

** September 27th through October 2nd is Banned Book Week.  You can follow the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund to see the many ways that comics are challenged.  This year, we've seen people try to get books like Palomar and Fun Home dropped from libraries and college reading lists.  The CBLDF has even put together a book about ways to help celebrate this week and fight these calls for banning and censorship.

The theme of this year's Banned Book Week is Challenged or Banned Young Adult Fiction.  The list of books include:
  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  2. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books/Knopf Doubleday) 
  3. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston)
  4. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (Bloomsbury Publishing) 
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (MTV Books/Simon & Schuster)
  6. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier (Graphix/Scholastic)
  7. Chinese Handcuffs, by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins) 
  8. The Giver, by Lois Lowry (HMH Books for Young Readers)
  9. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros (Vintage/Knopf Doubleday) 
  10. Looking for Alaska, by John Green (Dutton Books/Penguin Random House)
There are two comics on this list-- Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Raina Telgemeier's Drama.  Both comics are about unique experiences and offer a wider view of the world than "safer" fiction could.  Drama is challenged for its LGBQT themes while Persepolis is questioned because of its profanity, violent content and religious viewpoint.  

Looking at the CBLDF Handbook, there are a number of reasons that books get challenged.  Even classic comics like Bone are listed as being challenged for a number of reasons.  

So next week, celebrate the myriad wealth of comics and go and read a banned or challenged comic.  I know some of us around here will be doing that.

** There's also a pretty cool Humble Bundle book set that's been put together for Banned Book Week that supports the CBLDF and all of the work that they do.

This bundle, as well as supporting a great cause, features some really good and diverse books.  It's worth getting if you've never read any Jim Woodring or Chester Brown.  And if you only know Jeff Lemire from his DC and Marvel work, definitely pay the bit extra to get Essex County.  

September 18, 2015

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Your Panel Patter Guide to Rose City Comic Con Pt 2: Panels!

Welcome to Part Two in my series of posts about Rose City Comic Con! Let's talk Panels!

Once you've had some time on the floor, your feet will start to get tired! So why not take in a few panels? Here are some of the ones that looked good to me, and maybe to you as well. It's not a comprehensive list (frankly, most of the programming looks pretty good this year, so it would be hard to make a bad choice). My comments follow each description in italics:


Image Comics: Where Creators Own Adventure
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 10:30AM - 11:20AM
Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey's AUTUMNLANDS shows us a world where anthropomorphic animals are the norm and magic is prevalent. Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca's SHUTTER depicts an Earth so fantastic that talking animals sit right alongside death cults and lion gangsters. Fantasy is whatever we want it to be, and these two creative teams clearly have a pretty good idea of what works in the genre.

Ben Dewey should be the next name to explode out of Periscope Studio, and as we've been chronicling all year here on the site, Image has been a House of Ideas for a long time now. This one's a bit early in the show for me, but should be a good time.

25 Years of Valiant: The Book of Death and Beyond
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 12:30PM - 1:20PM
Celebrate 25 years of the largest independent universe in comics with an all-star panel spotlighting the next earth-shaking changes coming for Valiant's biggest heroes! From the epic events of BOOK OF DEATH and WRATH OF THE ETERNAL WARRIOR to seismic changes for X-O MANOWAR, BLOODSHOT REBORN, THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE, DIVINITY and many more, get the jump on the future of the Valiant Universe right here with an exclusive round of news and announcements from the most acclaimed publisher in comics today! Featuring Jen Van Meter (The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage), and James Asmus (Quantum and Woody).

Going back to Archer and Armstrong #1, I've really enjoyed a lot of Valiant's output, though I admit I liked it best when it was something you could read on a series-by-series basis instead of a Marvel-style linked universe. Still, it's got some great innovations, kick-ass artists (alum include Ming Doyle and Steve Lieber), and is still small enough that whenever they do have an event, it's not sprawling. If getting a superhero universe that's manageable is at all interesting to you, and you haven't tried Valiant yet, this panel would be a good chance to get your feet wet. Plus, Valiant's employees are amazingly cool, very new-reader friendly, and will actually listen to you in terms of taste and interest when making recommendations. I expect to be at this panel, if all goes well.

Gender Non-Conformists: From Peppermint Patty to Graphic Memoir
Room: Panel Room 7
Time: 1:00PM - 1:50PM
This panel celebrates comics and creators that refuse gender stereotypes and even the idea of gender binarism - from Peanuts to contemporary autobiographical work. What makes comics different from other media when it comes to representing gender?

I go to a lot of panels like this when I'm wearing my literary science fiction hat, and I'm very, very pleased to see a high-concept panel like this one at a major con such as Rose City. We need more panels like this one, and I hope that it's well attended. Unfortunately, it's around the same time as Valiant's panel, and so I personally probably won't make it, but you never know. I like to keep my schedule fluid at cons, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series.

Representation in Comics
Room: Panel Room 5
Time: 2:00PM - 2:50PM
Representation and diversity are hot topics in the world of comics, but what is it really all about? Join top creators for a candid discussion on how to @*$% up the status quo. Featuring David Walker (Shaft), Ibrahim Moustafa (High Crimes), Jen Van Meter (Hopeless Savages), Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly), and Gary Phillips (The Rinse).

And here's another panel I'm super-excited to see on a big stage. It's not exactly a secret that I feel strongly about comics' race problem (and it's gender problem), and while it can be wearying for people of color and women to be asked to do panels such as this one, they're still very valuable and necessary. Especially at a show like Rose City, where there is a great potential to bring awareness to those who might not understand just why it's so important that Marvel doesn't have black writers or that DC has a sexual harassment problem. Best of all, here, many of these panelists are doing other panels as well--Rose City isn't just sticking them on the "diversity" track--something that sci fi cons should take note of! This is also on my list of panels I'd like to attend.

Dark Horse Comics: Writers on the Craft and Creation of Comics
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 2:30PM - 3:20PM
Whether it’s a tale of a 1920s caper in a famous hotel or a 1960s housewife turned assassin, there’s a lot to love about the dynamic reach of stories told in comics. Join industry veterans Jonathan Case (The New Deal), Larry Hama (Call of Duty: Black Ops III), Joëlle Jones (Lady Killer), and Paul Tobin (The Witcher, Colder, Plants vs. Zombies) as they discuss turning an idea into a full-fledged story—and how they continue to keep their writing fresh.

I guess Dark Horse doesn't want any stories set after the Johnson Administration, based on that panel description! Jokes aside, those are some amazing creators, all of whom do great books with Dark Horse and others, and if you like to know more about how comics are made, these are people you want to listen to.

Jack Kirby's Greatest Comics: An All-Star Tribute to The King
Room: Panel Room 7
Time: 3:00PM - 3:50PM
Captain America. The Fantastic Four. The Incredible Hulk. The Mighty Thor. The Avengers. The Silver Surfer. The Inhumans. Mr. Miracle. The New Gods. The Eternals. All these iconic creations and titles — and many more besides — were first brought to life on the comic book page by Jack Kirby. But although he is without doubt one of the greatest American comic book artists in the history of the medium, the full range of Kirby’s achievement is less than fully understood by many fans today. In a forty-year career, he drew every genre of comics — Romance, Western, War, Horror, and Crime titles as well as superheroes — and his powerful, kinetic style would pass through three distinct phases, from the 1940s through the Silver Age and into the 1970s. Join a panel of creators and academic experts for a gallop through some career highlights from this master of the form, and find out why Kirby is still the King!

It's a Jack Kirby panel. Really, do I have to say more?

Image Comics: Where Creators Own Thrills
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 3:30PM - 4:20PM
BITCH PLANET is Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's ode to the women-in-prison exploitation films of the '70s. NAILBITER is Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson's take on a modern serial killer thriller. Both series have lurid influences, but the execution is not just expert, but incredibly varied between the two series. What do they have in common? Where do they differ? There's only one way to find out.

This is a very curious pairing, and while I'm unlikely to go myself (I'll either be getting my Silver Age on at the Kirby panel, or perhaps eating food before I pass out), I'd love it if a Panel Patter reader went to this one and told me about it.


Bandette Spotlight
Room: Panel Room 8
Time: 10:30AM - 11:20AM
The creators behind the Eisner Award winning comic Bandette are here to steal your heart. Come hear what it takes to make a classic from Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover.

Bandette! One of my favorite series gets a spotlight. Plus, Paul and Colleen are both wonderful, funny, engaging people, who are sure to have a lot to say about comics, not just their own work.

Image Comics: Where Creators Own Everything
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 11:30AM - 12:20PM
Image Comics publishes some of the coolest comics from the coolest creators around, and this panel is proof. Come listen to Justin Greenwood (THE FUSE), Emi Lenox (PLUTONA), Jim Valentino (co-founder of Image, SHADOWHAWK) and Jeremy Haun (THE BEAUTY) talk about creating comics, finding fun on the page, and connecting with fans across the world by way of comic books.

This is Image's more general panel, and as I said above, Panel Patter the site is a big fan of the work coming from this publisher. I'm very curious what Valentino thinks, given that Image has gone from being "Let's do Marvel clones!" to "Let's be innovative!" over time.

Pitching Comic 101
Room: Panel Room 4
Time: 11:30AM - 12:20PM
Do you want to learn how to create a successful comic book pitch document? This classroom style panel presents the basics of pitching a comic book series to a comic publisher. Moderated by Joshua Williamson, (Nailbiter, Birthright, Marvel’s Illuminati) who has written successful pitches to Image Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Dark Horse Comics, he will share actual pitches of his own as examples. Hear from the guests on different styles and techniques on building a comic book pitch.  Guests include David Walker (Shaft, Cyborg), Joe Keatinge (Shutter, Ringside), Jen Van Meter (Hopeless Savages), and editor Lauren Sankovitch (Managing Editor, Milkfed Criminal Masterminds).

Look at how several of the people from the diversity panel are also on this panel. THAT is how you do it! However, I put this one on here because I know lots of comic readers are also people who'd like to be comics writers and artists. This is a very solid group of people to help you do that.

Dark Horse Manga
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 12:30PM - 1:20PM
Free Hatsune Mix fan for panel attendees while supplies last! Dark Horse’s history with Japanese comics can be traced back to the company’s earliest years, with a legacy that includes such legendary series as Oh My Goddess!,Lone Wolf and Cub, Berserk, and many more! Now Dark Horse continues to publish some of the industry’s best-selling titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Oreimo:Kuroneko, Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Satoshi Kon’s Opus, Unofficial Hatsune Mix (as seen on David Letterman), and the works of the creative powerhouse CLAMP. Join Dark Horse editor Carl Horn and special guests for a look at the past, present, and future of manga at Dark Horse!

Sure, Viz is the name most folks think of first when we talk manga in the United States, and Yen is probably second, but man oh man, Dark Horse is quietly one of the best at bringing amazing Japanese comics to the United States, particularly in the horror genre, but they're also the ones keeping CLAMP in print here, too. Additionally, while things might slow from time to time, Dark Horse did not give up on the genre, either, when Borders went under. One of the oldest manga publishers in English if I'm not mistaken, this should be a really good panel, and I'm likely to try to go.

Valiant 101: New Fans Start Here
Room: Panel Room 3
Time: 1:30PM - 2:20PM
You've heard the buzz… You've seen the reviews… Now find out where to start with Valiant Comics! From X-O MANOWAR to NINJAK to THE DEATH-DEFYING DR. MIRAGE and QUANTUM AND WOODY, jump on board here with a concise and fun-filled introduction to Valiant's biggest, most memorable characters…and find out for yourself why Buzzfeed calls Valiant "a universe full of your new favorite superheroes"!

Like I said, Valiant is extremely new-reader friendly. If the other panel intrigued you, or if you missed it, here's another you should attend.

Parker-Brothers: The Good Stuff
Room: Panel Room 8
Time: 1:30PM - 2:20PM
David Brothers (you know, from the internet) and Jeff Parker (writer, Justice League United) continue their talks taking apart how comics work- this time they discuss how books can jump past the tedious and cut right to the things artists want to draw and readers want to read. And they’ll show examples!

If you go to only one panel at Rose City, make it this one. David Brothers is amazing as an interviewer, and Jeff Parker is one of the best humans working in comics today. Together they take the discussion of comics to a new level--while still cracking jokes. It's a one-on-one panel, but the audience is welcomed in to be a part of the conversation, and there's a sense that we're all in this thing called comics appreciation together. Do not miss a chance to be a part of things!

Whew! I had a very hard time keeping this list down to a manageable level. There's a ton of great panels, including a whole track for new prose writers, plenty of media-friendly panels, and of course, things like improv and art jams and other features. Rose City has really knocked it out of the park this year in terms of programming!
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Your Panel Patter Guide to the Rose City Comic Con Pt 1: Show Overview

Normally before a show, I write a "You Should Go To" post. However, that's not necessary for Rose City Comic Con, because it's practically sold out! There aren't any more weekend passes to be had except a handful at local stores, and only some day passes left. So obviously, there's no need to convince you to go to the show--you've already bought your ticket, if you're a comics fan in the Portland, OR area.

So instead, I'm going to go straight to giving you a guide to this year's show. This post will focus on the show itself, and a second post will look at who to see at Rose City when you're there!

Now in its fourth year (and its third as a sizable convention), the Rose City Comic Con is a two-day show held at the Oregon Convention Center, just across the river from downtown on the East Side of Portland. This will be my third consecutive trip to the show, making it the one of the three comics shows I've attended most often. It's more of a mainstream show than, say, the Small Press Expo (or even Baltimore Comic Con), so it's not as much of a convention for those seeking out mini-comics, although there are plenty of them available in Artist's Alley. It's more of a place to tap into a general love of comics and the media surrounding them, and a chance to see a lot of the folks who are working on a mid-major level, such as creators doing comics for local publisher Dark Horse, as well as to indulge your inner geek and stand in line to see Walter Koenig and Nichelle Nichols.

Oh, and if you're a Star Wars person, someone you may have heard of will be there too: Carrie Fisher. Could possibly be of interest to you, maybe?

Rose City is broken up into roughly three sections, which makes it great to negotiate what's of greatest interest to you. There's the Celebrity Guests, who live in a special section with lines that won't interfere with the rest of your show (something I really wish other Cons would do, because trying to see Matt Kindt by fighting the Scott Snyder line at one venue was really annoying). That's not really why I come to Rose City, but I'm happy that for those who do, there's a really nice format for easy navigation.

The second section, where I spend most of my time, is Artist's Alley. That's where you'll find everyone from the Amelia Cole gang to Kel McDonald to Periscope Studio. It's also where your mid-range creators will be, as well as the special guests. You can easily spend hours upon hours wandering the aisles, and I'll have a few suggestions for who to see in a second post to follow this one.

And last but not least, for those more interested in collecting comics and memorabilia than in meeting creators, there's a whole section for comic stores, comic collectors, toy vendors, cosplay materials, and more. Sometimes there's a few creators/publishers mixed in here as well, so never overlook a potential gem sitting next to those statues of Batman. It's worth going over here to look, if you have the time, as there's usually a good bargain on old trades or perhaps even a Godzilla shirt for next to nothing on offer.

In addition to spending time at the show floor, you should also do panels. Panels are what really make or break a show for me at something the size of Rose City. When I go to Linework NW or SPX, I'm there to find new indie creators. Panels are a bonus. When I go to a larger show, where there are less likely to be new people to discover--though I'll always find a few, because that's what I set out to do--it's the panels that determine if I had a great show or just an okay one. Heroes in North Carolina is a great example of a show that knows how to do panels well. I have to say, though, and more on this in the second part of this series, Rose City really did an awesome job coming up with panels this year, and I can't wait to attend them. Look for more coming up in an hour!

I'll end this section, however, with a few comments on how to have a great time at Rose City. Some of these are just generally good show advice, but others are centered on Rose City itself.

  • Make sure you eat before you get there. Look, I know convention centers have food, but no matter how good it is, it's expensive. Plus, if you eat before you get there, you can spend more time on the floor and in panels before you need to take a break.
  • Make sure you bring something to read. I'm press, so I get to go in as soon as the show opens. But my first year, I was just plain old Rob, and let me tell you, there's a VERY long line to get in. You'll want to ensure you've got a good book or comic to keep you company. And make sure it's an analog book, because...
  • Your phone will lose its charge. This happens at every con. Service use is high, and that means delays. Delays eat battery life, and that's before you start snapping pictures of cosplayers. Speaking of which...
  • Cosplay is NOT consent. I don't think any Panel Patter readers are jerks, but it's worth repeating. Folks who are in costume definitely want you to appreciate their work, but leering/touching/acting creepy is just shitty. I'll never forget seeing men outright staring at the ass of a women dressed as Ms. Marvel (before the Carol Corps explosion), nor how angry they were when I photobombed them. Taking ass shots with the cosplayer's back turned is low class. Not that I'd expect you to, but don't do that. Also, make sure you ask before taking a photo--or, as I sometimes will do, take your shot while others are doing the same. That way the cosplayer can move on. And last but not least--DO NOT block the show floor when taking your pictures. Rose City has plenty of space outside the show floor, and even a cool background. Take advantage of that.
  • Drink. Water preferably, but I'll leave that up to you. 
  • Take a food break. Whether it's overpaying a bit for con food or going outside (there's a Burgerville, Denny's, Subway, and more within a few blocks of the show), you will need food to keep going. It's a long day, even longer if you do any post-show events, like the Dark Horse stuff. Yes, you can go without eating--I've done it--but you WILL feel like crap afterwards. Losing a bit of time at the show is worth it for self-care.
  • Make sure you know where your favorite panel is before you try to get there with five minutes to spare. I'm not sure how much of the Convention Center Rose City has this year, but usually, the floor itself is immense and takes up the entire basement area. There are smaller panels held across from registration, and the larger panels are upstairs, across from the main entrance (where the Dr. King statue is). Knowing where you want to go will help a ton later, trust me.
  • If you're in a group, pick a meeting place and time. Did I mention the immense show floor? It's VERY easy to get lost or turned around, even though the sections themselves are pretty orderly. Given how crowded the floor can get, it's much better to say "Meet me by registration at 2pm so we can get food" or "See you outside at the Max station at 3pm" rather than, "Oh, I'll find you." Because you won't find them, and now you're losing time at the con trying to meet up.
  • Remember that kids are comics fans, too. Rose City is very kid-friendly, and we want them to have a good time and grow up to be amazing comics fans. Don't ruin their day by pushing and shoving them or acting like a jerk. Let's ensure the next generation gets a good experience, too.

Okay, that's it for now. at 1pm, look for a panel preview, and later in the day, a preview of some of the creators you should find at Rose City this year!
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Weekend Pattering-- SPX Recommendations From Your Panel Patter Pals

** This weekend, the Small Press Expo is being held in Bethesda, Md.  Here are the various ways you can follow SPX online:

** SPX announces that Nickelodeon is sponsoring this year's show around the Washington DC vicinity. 

** As well as the happenings this weekend, SPX is also sponsoring events all month long

** Comixology is having an SPX focused sale.  Amazon has a feature page up highlighting a lot of great books.  If your local comic shop hasn't stocked up on some great indie and alternative comics, this is a great way to experience the work.

** Want to know who's going to be at SPX this year?  Here's the exhibitor list.

** The Ignatz Awards are Friday night.  Here's the list of nominees.

**  And do you want to know who to check out this weekend or what books you need to be looking for?  Here's our SPX Spotlight coverage from the last couple of weeks.

** Sequential State has a fantastic rundown of 10 debut books at SPX.  Bleeding Cool previews some comics by Cary Pietsch.

** The Washington Post has had some good coverage of their hometown show.
** Support the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund at SPX and meet some cool creators.  

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SPX Spotlight 2015: Pranas T. Naujokaitis

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show onSeptember 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.
Comics are an experience. Beyond just the passive interactivity of reading, the way we perceive a book is changed in often subtle ways by lettering, style, and packaging. Iconic art (that is, art that less realistic and as such easier to identify with, to oversimplify) is often more indicative of work aimed at younger readers, which is silly because being able to identify with something is in no way a kids-only thing. It’s the same with packaging; if your book is being presented in a way that is more fun, it’s often for kids. Pranas T. Naujokaitis (prahn-us no-you-kite-us) has created a name for himself by ignoring that completely, creating work that is a nice mixture of family friend and grown-ups only, and packaging his books in ways that are both excited and unique.

One of the things that blows me away about almost everything Pranas produces how his books are presenting. Even his earlier work, like Beard does this – that particular book is held together by the nose, and folds open to shave off the beard from the cover. He created a three foot long cloth scroll comic, entitled Ghost. Each of the three volumes of his Monster Town series collects three tiny books held together by a monster head. His most recent work, Sack Lunch and the upcoming Laffy Meal, includes several different stories that all occur simultaneously split into a few small books that are put together in a bag (or sack), with each book being a different element of the meal – sandwich, fries, raisins, soda. All of Pranas’s work sets itself apart and catches the readers interest immediately with this creative packaging, and continues to be worth it thanks to his cartooning skills.

Pranas’s work ranges from comics about beards to lunch, with stories intended for both the adults and children in us all (and actual children, for that matter). After Pranas noticed that children were attracted to his style (a problem with Beard, which is full of foul language), he decided to start Balloon Toon Books, through which he produced three hardcover books so far - Dinosaurs in Space, The Totally Awesome Epic Adventures of Br

ave Boy Knight, and The Radically Awesome Adventures of Animal Princess, all intended just for kids. Similarly, Monster Town is super kid friendly, with each story focusing on a different monster resident of monster town and a new lesson. Recently, Pranas has been contributing backup stories and variant covers for Boom! Studios’ Bravest Warriors and Adventure Time as well.

The things Pranas makes are and excellent example of the unique and interesting things that comics lend themselves to. His refusal to adhere to one format or package, as well as the sheer quality and style of his work, has made his work incredibly fun and exciting. I thoroughly look forward to his future, both to what Pranas will present the comics world and what he will do himself.

You can find Pranas T. Naujokaitis online at Twitter and Tumblr, and he will be at SPX at table M2.
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SPX Spotlight 2015: Molly Ostertag

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show onSeptember 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

Have you read Strong Female Protagonist? No? Go do that. Yes? Go see Molly Ostertag at SPX!

Molly Ostertag is a New York based artist with a serious sense of style. She has a number of ongoing webcomics, has some great stand alone illustrations, and rocks a genuinely likeable internet presence.

So, I'm about to gush praise on Strong Female Protagonist, a webcomic that Ostertag has been working on for the past three years. You can totally skip this and go read it for yourself. It's great. Then you can buy a hard copy. And tell your friends how awesome it is. And post about her on your twitter. And just fall in love with her.

Strong Female Protagonist is my favorite thing that Ostertag has done. It's a little funny, a little honest, a lot good. In it, she and her creative partner Brennan Lee Mulligan think through what it would be like to lose your faith in what you think is right, to have your friend group radically shift, and to try and live outside of the limelight once it has been on you for a while. Ostertag does a great job of capturing the traditional superhero and then confronting it with reality. Just read it. You'll thank me. 

As if that weren't enough, her stand alone illustrations are to die for. They use bold lines and beautiful color transitions. She illustrates everything from original ideas to things she saw and wanted to play with. Ostertag has a very playful collection and she is able to convey a story in one panel. 

Basically, Molly Ostertag is a bit of a goddess. You can go see her at SPX. If you do, tweet us! You can see the Panel Patter crew foam at the mouth with jealousy. [Except for Guy, Rob K., and Whit, who will all be there! Lucky ducks! -RobM]

Can't make SPX? Molly Ostertag's website is here.

September 17, 2015

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SPX Spotlight 2015: Andrew MacLean

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show on September 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here. 

I first met Andrew MacLean a few years ago at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MassMICE, an excellent event, you should go) where he was promoting his self-published book, Head Lopper and other works such as Department O. He's had a (well-deserved) breakthrough year this year, with the release of his graphic novel ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times and the recent publication of Head Lopper at Image Comics

Head Lopper is a fun, violent, entertaining fantasy adventure read. If you like stories with magic and intrigue, and with heroic warriors beheading monsters as they trade barbs with the decapitated head of witch, then this is the perfect book for you. MacLean's skill as a visual artist are obvious, but Head Lopper is also a great showcase for his skills as a storyteller of wit and humor.  Head Lopper tells the story of the titular Lopper of heads, but he'd prefer you just call him Norgal. We first meet him has he battles and successfully beheads  giant sea monster from inside said monster. During the course of the issue we see Norgal fight other monsters, face corrupt clergy, and then eventually head off a great mission to destroy an evil that's plagued the whole island. 

Because I've been following MacLean's progress on the story of Head Lopper over the course of several years, what's really been interesting in rereading all of this work as a new collected series, is to see his evolution as an artist and storyteller during that time. From the very beginning, his line was very strong and he had a very clearly defined style. It feels like kind of a mix of Mike Mignola and Manga-influence and Geoff Darrow in a slightly more "cartoony" style. However, just reading the first to the second to the third part of Head Lopper it's clear that MacLean is evolving and even improving as an artist, as you can see his line get further refined and see his style crystallize more into itself.

The evolution of MacLean as a visual artist and storyteller is on full display in ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (my full review here).  MacLean still excels at the big, dramatic moments of action and violence, but he's also bringing a lighter touch to his work that's on display in ApocalyptiGirl, in addition to a very different sort of character.  ApocalyptiGirl is a book that's full of quieter, subtle moments and interactions, in addition to displaying a sweetness and optimism that's not present in Head Lopper.  Not to worry though, there's still plenty of exciting action in a richly illustrated world.  MacLean's a great talent, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next.

You can find Andrew MacLean online at Twitter and Tumblr.  He will be at SPX at table W44-46.
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SPX Spotlight 2015: Isabella Rotman

It's another entry in Panel Patter's SPX SPOTLIGHT series! We've been highlighting creators, publishers, and comics related to SPX since the site opened in 2008, but 2015 marks our fifth year of extensive coverage that is unlike what you'll find elsewhere! It's a great way to create your own personal guide for the show onSeptember 19th and 20th, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't miss it! You can find all our SPX SPOTLIGHT posts here.

The ability of comics to educate is an undeniable thing. The pictorial nature of comics allows them to bypass the dryness of textbooks, and the magic of tangential learning makes it even easier to educate yourself while enjoying something you love. In my perfect world, this would be common knowledge and comics would be commonly used in classrooms or for personal knowledge gain, but alas, not yet. Luckily, we have Isabella Rotman to help us get there. Rotman saw a gap in education when it came to something very important – sexual health and violence prevention, and decided to use her vast knowledge and beautiful artwork to help change that.

Most important to education (and really, storytelling in general) is the ability to be able to express things in a way that is clear, concise, and engaging. Rotman’s work is a fantastic and wonderfully drawn combination of all these things. She does not solely produce educational comics, however. Included in her body of work are touching stories that are both fictional and not, excellent art, skateboards, and much more. She often deals with themes of loneliness and primarily LGBT+ romance, with a healthy amount of marine and astrological imagery among a clear love for nature. I have personally never picked up a comic, or anything else, from Isabella Rotman and been disappointed in even the slightest. She is very obviously pushed by a passion for the medium, and it comes out in her work in the best way possible.

Every time I have seen Rotman at a show she has had a pretty wide selection of things to choose from. Her books Not On My Watch and You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STD’s both deal with health issues. Not On My Watch is a bystander’s guide to violence prevention – essentially what to do when you see sexual assault, or what could later become sexual assault, or domestic abuse. It includes information on consent, strategies for intervention, and ideas for what to do if you suspect your friend is in an abusive relationship. You’re So Sexy deals with, as you might have gathered from the full title, sexual health and safe sex techniques. Her comics Dig and Fireworks are eloquent and beautiful – Dig discusses the feeling of being cast out after major life changes, and Fireworks talks about dealing with a break up. Two of Rotman’s other educational comics, Gatherer and Good to Know are super convenient pocket sized books full of great knowledge – Gatherer about foraging and Good to Know being full things that are, well, good to know.

If there is one thing that I can take away from simply browsing through Isabella Rotman’s art, it’s that she is an excellent example of why comics are important. Her easy to consume style and vast knowledge combine into an almost perfect educational tool, addressing topics that are necessary to talk about. She is an important and necessary part of the comics community, and I look forward not only to the work that she will produce in the future, but also watching as she gains the success she so thoroughly deserves.

You can find Isabella online on Twitter, Tumblr, and her website, where she has a nice selection of free comics to read. She will be at SPX at table D13.