On Friday, the lovely Melinda and I visited the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD (though it was essentially in Rockville.) The Small Press Expo, or SPX for short, st what I can only describe as one of the big indie comics conventions. The convention mostly consists of a large exhibit hall, where various comic writers and artists buy booths and try to sell us passer-bys their comics. Many will greet you as you walk by, a common customer service practice. Some will actively try to get you to pay attention to their booth by what they say, and some will give you free stuff to entice you. Frankly, on first glance, it’s fairly overwhelming. If you’re not really really into the scene (which I’m not), it’s tough to pick out what’s worth even checking out.
So the stuff that I ended up coming home with could easily be divided into three categories: Stuff I Knew About Ahead of Time, Stuff That Caught My Eye, and Stuff I Was Handed for Free. And I have to say, even if you’re not a comic fan, there was a lot of stuff that would appeal to fans of our other categories. I was really pleased that it wasn’t a room full of depressing autobiographical comics, but instead had self-made stuff about D&D and video games.
So here’s what I bought:
STUFF I KNEW ABOUT AHEAD OF TIME
Mr. Scootles by H.C. Noel
One of my first stops was by H.C. Noel‘s booth. You see, I’m a huge Mr. Scootles fan, and Noel refers to me as his “one fan.” This is in part because Mr. Scootles is an awesome comic with one of the best premises I’ve ever read, but also in part because Noel has done a very good job using the internet to market himself. Unfortunately, the last book in the series wasn’t finished yet, but I was able to read some sample pages, which have me even more excited for the end of the series. He did hook me up with a new print (the cover of the last issue) and a comic called The Living Corpse by Zenescope. It was made by friends of his who had managed to sell the movie rights before the comic was even out. Now that’s an accomplishment!
Noel expected the complete trade of Mr. Scootles to be out around May, and put into Diamond Distribution, so you should be able to request it from your local comic shop when it comes out. Also expect a full review and interview with Noel here when that happens.
Monkey vs. Robot by James Kochalka and James Kochalka Superstar: Our Most Beloved
While looking at an adjoining booth, Melinda pointed out some of James Kochalka’s stuff on the next table, and I said to her, “Oh yeah, he’s awesome.” Then I heard from the booth, “Umm, that’s me.” And there he was! I laughed and said “I’m glad I didn’t say your stuff sucks!” I told him that I had first discovered him through his music, where he performs as James Kochalka Superstar and does the awesome Monkey vs. Robot song. I picked up his greatest hits album and the Monkey vs. Robot graphic novel. I’m sure I’ll pick up more of his books in the future, and actually remember to bring stuff to get signed.
You can buy Kochalka’s works through Amazon or Top Shelf Productions.
Action Philosophers #1 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
After I caught a glimpse of an illustrated Hero Cycle poster, I knew I had to get it. I had read a few issues of Action Philosophers before and really enjoyed them. The writer, Fred Van Lente, also writes the awesome Modok’s 11 series for Marvel, and so I talked to him about that. It’s really awesome to see an indie writer make the jump to a bigger company and still put out good work- though he says his working at Marvel was almost a coincidence! Along with the poster, I bought the Action Philosophers with Campbell in it. Van Lente also mentioned he’ll be cowriting The Incredible Hulk with Greg Pak in a few months, so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for that.
You can find Action Philosophers at their own site, and on Amazon.
The Trial of Colonel Sweeto and Other Stories by Nicholas Gurewitch
I was surprised to see this at SPX, along with the writer/artist. For those who don’t know, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto is the first collection of Perry Bible Fellowship strips which have run online and in alternative weeklies. It is the most consistently hilarious but yet utterly dark series. The hardcover is a glorious Candyland-looking book with a fabric bookmark, making it a must-buy for me. I bought it when Gurewitch wasn’t at the booth, and came back later to get it signed. I took it out of my bag and he said “Did you want to buy that?” and I said “I bought it early, I didn’t steal it.” He said, “Can I sign it then?” And I handed it over. He asked for my name, wrote Dave on the page, then sat there in thought for a minute. Then he wrote “It’s a crime to let a dream gather dust” and signed it. He handed it back saying, “I’m sorry, but I wrote you a fortune cookie message.” So I had a surreal experience with the creator of Perry Bible Fellowship, and that’s what makes these shows awesome.
Life Meter 1 & 2 by Various
Those of you who love video game fan art and aren’t checking out Life Meter Comics are doing yourselves a disservice. The two collections were definitely worth picking up, the first being a small saddle-stitched production, while the second one is a more impressive trade. Both contain a mix of pin-ups and narrative comics, all about video games. My favorite from the first is best described if Frank Miller wrote Burgertime, and the second contains one of my favorite Overcompensating strips, a Mario story inspired by true events.
Scott Pilgrim 1-3 by Bryan Lee O’Malley
A classic “indie darling” of which much has already been written about, I had never picked any up, but was totally hooked after reading the Free Comic Book Day excerpt (of which I know want to track down my own copy of.) Deftly combining video game tropes, the life of a mid-twenties slacker, and the entangling nature of relationships, I recommend Scott Pilgrim to just about everybody. The wikipedia page gives a more concise description than I could.
Sidescrollers by Matthew Loux
While at the Oni Press both, I noticed that they were having a sale… and they took credit cards. Uh oh. I picked up this graphic novel that I had my eye on for a while, about a trio of recent high school graduates who mostly hang out and play video games. It wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping, as most of the video game references were pretty tame. But the story is a fun one, along with an entertaining storyline, makes it still a good overall read.
Along with Sidescrollers, I also picked up three books for the art: Leading Man, The Tomb and Last Exit Before Toll. I’ll have to give them a read through before being able to tell you what they’re about. But… sale!
Again, Oni Press or Amazon can help you get these.
STUFF THAT CAUGHT MY EYE
Jobgoblin 1-5 by Brian Fukushima
The cover to each is a dead-on imitation of the old style Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets. Of course, I said “It must be mine!” The series itself stars Ketch, an adventurer that has been turned into a goblin, who seeks treasure to undo the curse. He meets up with Carlotte, who claims to be another cursed person. They have a number of fantasy adventures, where we get hints that there’s more to both their pasts than we’re first lead to believe. I really dug the art, especially the dark color palette that gave it a real “dungeony” feel and suited a series starring a goblin. The story was also interesting, but at times I had trouble following it. The narrative flow was a little jumpy at times making it occasionally seem like I had missed some panels. Regardless, even just for the covers alone, this was totally worth picking up.
Elfworld by various creators, Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffery Brown, Monday 1-2 by Andy Hatzell
In addition to the Kochalka stuff, I spent a while at the rest of the Top Shelf table. Even though they were one of the “bigger indies” at the show, all the authors and staff at the booth were super-friendly. One of my goals was to pick up some good fantasy comics (a goal I effectively failed) but did pick up an anthology called Elfworld, where a bunch of comic creators were asked to write comics about elves. Like most anthologies, the stories varied in quality, and like most people’s perception of elf, the portrayals of what an elf was varied. The cover makes it look like they’re focusing on the D&D-style elf, but within are plenty of stories about Keebler Elf-style elves. It was definitely worth picking up for the stronger stories (including one excellent silent story about a young boy who comes across a dying elf with three arrows in him.) There’s apparently going to be more volumes of it, so I’ll probably get those too.
While glancing through Elfworld, I noticed a book called Incredible Change-Bots, very clearly referencing Transformers. The jacket describes it as “part parody, part nostalgic tribute, part moral fable”, the book does an excellent job of pointing out the absurdities of the concept without going overboard and while staying funny. Definitely recommended for the Transformers fans out there… as long as you don’t take them too seriously.
While holding Elfworld, Andy Hartzell said he hoped the book did well as he was going to be in the second volume. He pointed me to his series Monday, which he described as “Eden/Genesis Fantasy.” It was cheap and had really interesting covers… sold!
Class of ’99 by Josh Eiserike and Anyone But Virginia by Josh Eiserike and Zac Crockett
Being a member of the Class of ’99, I had to check it out. The author, Josh Eiserike, was also a member of that class, which we celebrated. It also turned out he was a TMBG fan, and a local. I bought Class of ’99 just on those grounds, and because he felt the book was “too expensive” he threw in three issues of Anyone But Virginia for an extra dollar.
Class of ’99 does an excellent job of providing insights of what it was like to be going to high school that year, from social consciousness to music. It also touches on what it’s like to be a part of our generation, and about a major event of that time. He had told me that there was a twist, so I was able to pick up on it right away, but I won’t spoil it for anyone else. Let’s just say the book has a huge potential for controversy were it to be in wider distribution. The writing and dialogue feel very real, and the art is serviceable (but nothing exceptional.) I’d recommend it to most people who were in high school around that time, not just those among us of the awesome Class of ’99.
I have not yet read Anyone But Virginia, but it was described to me as “Grosse Pointe Blank meets Astro City.” I like that movie and that series, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
Eiserike has a blog which has links to all his works.
Ninjas in the Breakroom by Leah Riley and 10 Things To Do With a Fake Moustache by Leah Riley and Will Woods
Two cheap mini-comics with awesome titles. Both are very short and silly, and that was exactly what I was looking for. She was also selling Kraken t-shirts and robot hobos, so I was sold right there.
Check out more of their work at Willrad.
Robot Dave is Better Than You by Jon Chadujian and “Suck it up” by Jeremy Sorese
I stopped by this booth simply because I needed to buy the comic, without even opening it, called Robot Dave is Better Than You.” The creator seemed to be really amused that someone named Dave was buying his book. I wish I had a little more cash on me to be able to buy some of his other stuff- it looked really great, especially the vertical comic about descending underground.
The same booth was shared by a few other creators, and I bought “Suck it up” because the cover was really awesome (screen-printed with hand-cut letters) and the creator Jeremy Sorese told me about a They Might Be Giants-related holiday I didn’t know about. It also came with a free puppet. All the stuff on the table seemed to come with something else, like flags and such. It was a really cool booth- I think it was all Savannah College of Art students.
STUFF I WAS HANDED FOR FREE (and who get quick shout-outs)
The K Chronicles (he toured once with TMBG!)
The Dada Detective (was very close to picking the collection up)
Before the con, we stopped by Barnes & Noble. They had the Tellos Collosal collection, which I had wanted to pick up for a while. It makes me a bit sad because I’ll never get it signed by the artist, but I’m glad I picked it up.
Entry for one day to the show was $8, and parking ran $10 for the 3-4 hours we were there. I might consider next year finding elsewhere to park in Rockville and walking over.
I missed meeting with most of the Guests of Honor. My two volumes of Mage had already been signed at last year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, so I didn’t really have anything for Matt Wagner, though I’m sure I would have bought something. It also looked like Jeff Smith wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later in the evening, so I missed getting my Shazam issues signed. I did buy a Love and Rockets book as a gift for a friend, and had Gilbert Hernandez personalize it to him.
Wearing the TMBG shirt was definitely a good idea.
I definitely want to go next year. I think we stayed for the appropriate amount of time, though I also wouldn’t mind staying for longer (especially if I were at a booth, hmmmm).