SPX Spotlight 2014: Fantagraphics 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 ExpoYou can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

I can't imagine SPX without Fantagraphics, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual between the show organizers and the publisher. Year and and year out, Fantagraphics has been publishing some of the best alternative comix, classic comics, and award-winning comics all under one roof. Whether it's getting the rights to Peanuts (their year by year collections are almost at the end of the run), being the home of Johnny Ryan's raw drawings, or where people go when they want the best work from the Hernandez Brothers, Fantagraphics is the place to be.

I've spent a lot of time talking about Fantagraphics, and I don't know if there's anything new I can really add in terms of describing the publisher. They have a place in the indie comics canon, and to some degree, have probably shaped it significantly, between being the publishers of The Comics Journal and being the home of a good chunk of Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Bill Griffith, and so many others.

Everything we've done about Fantagraphics at Panel Patter should be contained here. For the purposes of this spotlight, since I recently highlighted their newer books here, I'll focus on the books from those who should be at SPX this year:

Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 1 is nominated for an Ignatz, and deservedly so, because it was awesome. I expect that Hip Hop Family Tree Vol 2, which was just released, will also be extremely popular. Though I've not had a chance to read the second book yet, I expect it will be similar to the first as a meticulously researched, respectfully drawn book from a person who is a genuine fan of the music. What could easily have been a jokey, loose narrative is instead quite serious, looking at the history of hip hop music as important to record and relate to the reader. For the second book, only the years 1981-1983 are covered, which is said to include "including hits like Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” and the movie Wildstyle, plus RUN-DMC, NWA, The Beastie Boys & more."

Eleanor Davis is one of those creators that all my other creator friends talk about. I'm still waiting to get my copy of her new book, How to Be Happy, which is currently sold out online. I expect they'll have a few copies held back for the show, but if you want one, make sure you get there early on Saturday! Davis' work is in a variety of mediums and genres, ranging from beautiful full-color work that bursts across the page to basic pen and ink lines that recall Anders Nilsen. It's unusual for me recommend a creator's work without being more familiar myself, but I feel confident that those who love the craft of comics will enjoy Davis.

Mexahex by Simon Hanselmann sounds absolutely amazing. It's described as follows: "Megg is a depressed, drug-addicted witch. Mogg is her black cat. Their friend, Owl, is an anthropomorphized owl. They hang out a lot with Werewolf Jones. This may sound like a pure stoner comedy, but it transcends the genre: these characters struggle unsuccessfully to come to grips with their depression, drug use, sexuality, poverty, lack of work, lack of ambition, and their complex feelings about each other in ways that have made Megg and Mogg sensations on Hanselmann's Girl Mountain Tumblr." Collected for the first time in print form, this one looks like it has a lot of depth.

If you are at all aware of Drew Friedman's work, you know that he does amazing portrait work. This time, he's taking and looking inward at the comics community with Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books. Featuring about 75 portraits of industry legends, such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, as well as some creators you may not be as familiar with, Friedman puts a face to many of the names we bandy about on a daily basis.

In addition to these books, Fantagraphics always brings a long a healthy supply of its reprints. I mentioned Peanuts above, but they also do Prince Valiant, Uncle Scrooge, and Mickey Mouse, for those who enjoy strips going back decades.

Move a little closer, and you get to the amazing EC Library work. I've read the Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, and Joe Orlando books, and the quality of the reprint work is amazing. Any one of those is highly recommended, and I've been told by friends the Severin war edition is the best of the set. And of course, there's the Ditko Archives (volume one is now out in softcover), the Bill Everett Archives, and more!

When you go to SPX, don't forget to stop at the Fantagraphics table. Just make sure you bring your money with you. Fortunately, they take credit cards!

Can't make SPX? Here's the Fantagraphics website.