Monday, September 26, 2005

SPX The Indy Fest Weekend

This was the first SPX I've attended in several years, the last few years I wanted to go, but either due to a Hurricane or a sniper, even worse, a horrible deadline, I was forced to bag the trip. I arrived late on Friday, missing the first few hours due to the storyboard and needing a few hours of sleep to avoid crashing the car on the way down. The last SPX I attended I had to leave early as the transmission in my Jeep went Ka-Boom! That cause me to pack it in and have my jeep towed back to Philly, costing me a nice round $350 buckeroos. So I was hoping this trip would be less eventful on my pocketbook but more eventful art, business and experience wise. I also need to get out and have some fun as I have been killing myself with work this last few weeks, late nite after late nite, sleeping 4 hours a fun indeed!

The Holiday Inn where the con is I hate the Holiday Inn...

This, the 11th annual SPX was pretty darn laid back I have to say. I guess Harvey Peckar was the big guest for this show. I passed him several times and he seemed much less cranky than the persona I was used to. Maybe movie money makes one happy with the security it can bring?

Peckar and a few associates eat some free lunch in the candle lit pro hospitality suite

The show was otherwise really quite it seemed to me, and of course since there was no Marvel or DC there was only once costumed dude dressed as a mouse walking around passing out comics. Plenty of young, hipster types, the kind you see at First Friday's in attendance. I wish there were even more female cartoonist though, I think the medium would be even better served by more, good female cartoonist, maybe it's also because these things end up being such a "sausage factory" after hours. Dude, dude, dude, dude, chick, dude etc.

I didn't make a ton of money selling books or art, and I didn't go expecting to, I had really wanted to have some mini-comics myself along with some cool t-shirts to sell, but my work schedule just didn't allow me to get any of what I had planned done. However, I did find a huge bunch of cool comics and in general had a good time, I did give away or trade plenty of my sketchbooks and got a lot of good feedback that way, especially on the naked Velmas.

Some of the really great comics I picked up this weekend

The show was pretty low energy at times, at least in our section, people seemed to come in waves amd more than once I heard that people felt attendance was down and it really was a mixed bag art/comic wise, really top notch material right next to somebody self-publishing crap not worth the staples holding it together. I think Diamonds new policy will clean out some of they bottom feeders while it makes tougher on many who are doing good work. I circled the small show many times, taking breaks and getting up to stretch my legs, I'd pass table where the artist pleaded with you with their eyes, "Please look at my stuff!" yet the work made me want to look away...very far away...

So the show was like a treasure hunt, I'd walk along checking out the various tables, finding a little gem of a mini-comic, I found many of those or even more appealing book from Ad House or this great publisher called Bries from the Netherlands. I spent a lot of $$ at that table and wanted to buy a few more books from them, but I decided to hold off and see what else there was at the con. I picked up the first volume of the essential Dennis the Menise and even shook hands with Gary Groth.

I did have a good time, sharing the ride and a table with my pal Jamar (I laughed at every time he got a gal to stick one of his 'I met Jammar " stickers on their boobs) and good times and good eats were shared with the crew from the Philly Cartoonist Society.

Jamar sketches for a fan

The Philly crew

But the show was a bit of a letdown too, the attendance seemed off, was less than I expected and I don't think the facility is the best. I think the show needs to get a better hotel, a better place to host the show. I will say right off I liked MoCCA more. The Puck building is a superior place, despite the lack of air conditioning in some rooms last spring, (What is it with small press cons and air conditioning? Must we all be forced to sit there and pit-out or shirts top sell our stuff? Isn't self-publishing hell enough?) MOCCA seems more up scale and more pleasant. It's bolo tie vs. faded t-shirt.

The Holiday Inn in Bethesda gave me a feeling like I was in the Shinning.

"Your money is no good here Mr. Torrence."

I expected to see somebody in a pig mask blowing a clown every time I walked the halls there. It just has a weird vibe. I also thought it was funny that there was booze available the whole time from the bar.

The artist mingle into groups after the Ignatz awards.

There were many a indy-cred cartoonist soaked in booze like Sinatra at the show. I just never connected drinking during the show. I guess my con hours are viewed as business and the drinking after as pleasure. There were times at the show I really wanted to head back to my hotel, the American, and take a nap.

An Alex Raymond drawing becons you to drink!

The first thing I really didn't like about SPX is the fact it was so crowded space wise and the facility isn't easy to get in or out of. The elevators are way slow, no easy way to load your stuff in and out. The tables are small too, too small for my taste. I think 8 foot tables are a must. So my vote is that it gets moved to a new venu and a new time of year. I think Baltimore is a better place as the show could be a bit spacier and the hotels are cheaper and the inner harbor a better place for food as well. Though I have to say Bethesda does have good eats. I know running this thing must be a thankless job on some levels, people are probably always bitching about something, but the show did run very smooth I have to say. I didn't feel it was very high energy though. MOCCA seemed more high energy to me. Maybe it's the set-up at the Holiday Inn. I already have a hate for the Holiday Inn because of how they fucked us in San Diego with our reservations this summer, so they are already on my shit list.

I have to admit, maybe I feel I'm a bit of a strange man in a strange land at the SPX show. I'm sort of an artist that straddles dimensions a bit. I am chiefly known to many as a mainstream guy, doing lots of work for Marvel, DC , animation designs and storyboards, etc., in the past, but since 1995 I have been self publishing under my Action Planet imprint. I plan to do even more books in the next year as well, more experimentation maybe than I've done in the past with the type of story I do as well. And while I love a good super jock yarn, having drawn many, I am pretty tired of what is put out today by Marvel DC, etc. Tired of the humorlessness of much of todays material. The craft alone has slipped drastically since Liefelds success broke the line between immature and professional, and we've never recovered there in the mainstream. the current crop of photo-traced comics just another nail in the coffin of creativity to me. And on top, how many times can we have some dumb "Crisis of the Impossible Bullshit Infinity". Oh god, I can't bear the mess. That stuff just doesn't interest me at all. Last spring when I did the MOCCA in NYC show I was just so excited to see all the great, cool comics that people were doing, there seemed to me to be a lot more creativity on so many levels in this part of the business, something that the stagnate Babymen end of the pool has long since given up on. Just endless retreads and repeats, sequels and dumbness. So I was looking forward to being excited and wowed again at the SPX.

There has always been, since I can remember, going back to my teens, a sort of constant low level animosity in the two creator comic camps in America, mainstream fat guys with beards and classes on one side of the comic watering hole and thinner ( soon to be fatter) indy artists with glasses and chin beards on the other side. The brackish and decade plus, stagnate direct market pool of water we all depend on for life, in the middle. No new water coming into this pool...ever again I'm afraid, that new land of promise is out in the bookstore market, not hidden in dank dungeons of male power fantasies.

Now between the"mainstream" and "the underground", or what was then in the 70's, "the underground",and what people call the "Indy movement or Small Press" now there are many rocks and glares thrown and people sneaking off from one camp to the other, some going back and forth several times. There was the Fantagraphics crowd which seemed to spring directly from the loins of the Zap Comics era. I never really understood this animosity there seemed to be between the different camps. For me there are either two kinds of comics. Good comic and bad comics. Good comics can mean any type of comic book, graphic novel, magazine or strip. I don't care if it's Little Nemo, Crumb, Moebius or I include manga too. Often I think the barriers are put up because of not only jealousy, but maybe because of a certain sense of frustration with the entire ball of babyman wax, know as the direct market, and it's narrow focus on just superjock adventures. the bad retailers who have just about strangled us as an industry to death. However I can easily say that just because some 20-year-old shoe gazer self-publishes a book about him masturbation experiences after his girlfreind dumps him, doesn't make that work any better or more accessible, legitimate than an issue of Marvel Two-In-One.

The Pancake House served up an awesome breakfast before we headed back to Philly.

So in short I was looking forward to being awed again at SPX like I was at MOCCA... and I was to a certain degree at the SPX. This show was very different than the last one I attended, the atmosphere was really different, and that might be due to the fact that there is a whole new crowd of artists coming along, which I guess could make these artists a third generation in a way, Crumb and the Zap era being the first and the Love and Rockets era defining in my mind, the second wave.

Little House was one of the many small publishers I picked books up from. They stamped thier bags with their logo.

And I noticed right away something about many of these artist. A) They seem to all smoke. B) They are pretty skinny and don't often comb their hair, or comb it with candle wax. C) They all wear the same type of glasses and they remind me a lot of the art students I teach. I always associated independent or alternative artist with being health conscious, being vegetarian, eating cous-cous and smoking the pot. These guys seem more like indy rocker types. They seem maybe less hung-up on labels and seem to want anyone they can to read their comics. Maybe these worlds are merging? Maybe I am just showing my age, remembering how it was in the 70's and 80's. They also seem more likely to blend genres. Street Angle and Scott Pilgrim come to mind as a good example. Oni Press and Ad House seem to put out books that are more reader friendly. I think you can give Capote in Kansas to anyone. I find many of the newer generation to be also less against the mainstream, often being fans of it. There seemed to be a lot less bile in the room.

What was really funny to me was that I drew several sketches of Darkhawk for artist at this show, including O'Malley and Corey Lewis and it turns out Jim Rugg was also a Darkhawk fan. Funny to think these guys were digging what I did on that book 14-15 years ago. Maybe it should make me feel old...but it doesn't. I seem to be hitting the time where guys drawing comics now were reading what I did back in the early 90's trying to make my living as a pro cartoonist, DH is getting a lot of love now.

Many of the cartoonist headed out for dinner at the Mongolian Grill.

There were more artists outside smoking Friday and Saturday nite than inside the hotel. This may also have been because it seemed that they either turned the air conditioning off completely, or turned it down so low it wasn't effective. I have to say it also reminded me of high school, where they had the "smokers wall" with the cool kids hanging out and puffing their way to early crows feet and lung cancer ––while looking cool.

Everybody lines up fro free hamburgers and hotdogs

I didn't know about 99% of the people there, and there seemed to be a certain clickishness too, and maybe that is natural, artist always seem to break into camps, we are by nature a bit clickish and loners too. there is that stare we all do....that " who are you and should I be the first to say HI?" stare. I see that at the college too, certain clicks just seem to form amongst artist, and again this sort of cliskishness seemed to carry over to the after hours mixing. I did meet a few cartoonist and introduce myself around, but I was pretty dam drained the whole show as I had been burning the candle heavy, getting 3 hours sleep the night before as I finished up my Venture Brothers board right before Jamar and I headed down to the show. My friend Bonaia who's been assisting me didn't get a chance to come along as she had a bad tooth ache and was trying to get into a dentist. Since she's new and trying to break in, I would have been interested to see what she thought and felt. I admit, I do have certain prejudices and a certain lack of respect for artists who don't display what I consider a certain level of craft. More than one mini-comic I picked up made little or no narrative sense. I don't subscribe to the thinking that anyone who can make a mini-comic is equal to anyone else at the show. I guess I believe there are standards, levels of craft where either you are an amature, not of pro caliber, or you are professional. I'm sure many at the con would have disagreed with me. But I think there were many tables where the artist had little traffic because the work was just bad.

I would have probably had more energy to shmooze if I had a good night's sleep. I had many people tell me how much they dig DRAW! which is always good and I plan to have an "All Indy" issue out next year featuring interviews and step-by-steps with Carla Speed McNeil, Bryan Lee O'malley, Jim Rugg, Frank Cammusos and many more. This work I have to say excited me, there were a lot of great looking books at the show, especially the books put out from Bries an publisher from Netherlands and Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer published by Typocrat press. I saw this big comic at the end of the row we were set up at and I was immediately attracted to its stylish design. I love over-sized comics, even published one myself, the Action Planet Giant Size Halloween Special and have dug the over-size comics since I bought all those Treasury sized editions Marvel and DC put out in the 70's. Killoffer has created this dark tome that reminds me of a cross between Raw, Munoz and Jeff Darrow. Stylish and graphic, a black and white hangover almost, employing to good use what one can do in a comic narrative, a certain dream like quality that one can't really do in any other medium except maybe animation. The use of standard panel to panel narrative is juxtaposed strikingly with open boarded hallucinatory scenes of nightmarish violence. I really haven't had a chance to fully digest it yet, but recommend you grab yourself a copy when it comes out. I was able to snag a preview copy at the show and will do a more in-depth review in the next issue of Draw!

A table full of feebies and give-away comics, etc.

Richard Marcej, Jammar, Jeff Kilpatrick and Andrew Hoffman sketch Fat Wonderwomen in Jammar's sketchbook.

I snagged a copy of Street Angel which came highly recommended and I was digging Ruggs work since I saw it in the Superocity anthology published by Ad House. One of the favorite comics I got was a little comic called Love is in the Air by De Plaaatjesmaker, a great funny little comic showing what a guy is thinking on a date and what a gal is thinking on the same date. Crisp, funny cartooning! I picked up more books from the Artist with Problems gang and a few funny T-shirts. I plan to go along again next year and I have to say the SPX gang did do a decent job having things organized from my perspective. The free food wasn't bad either in the hospitality suits. I didn't go to any of the awards or panels just like I don't attend any at the other shows I go to. I find award shows just too boring and I'd rather spend that time hanging out with friends. So all in all a nice sorta' slow weekend full of alt-comics. Next year I'll be sure to bring my own mini-comics along. So this brings to the end my con going for the season, I don't see myself doing any cons until maybe the NYC show at the Javits next Februray. I did more shows this year than I have in a long time.

A sign shop down the street which used the cover for the Rocketeer in its window display

The faded Americana food franchise icon, now only located in rest stops along the highways of America's interstates


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Richard Marcej said...

"However I can easily say that just because some 20-year-old shoe gazer self-publishes a book about him masturbation experiences after his girlfreind dumps him, doesn't make that work any better or more accessible, legitimate than an issue of Marvel Two-In-One."

Truer words were never spoken. I agree with you 100%.
It was great hanging out with you and Jamar again, we'll have to do it again soon.

Mike Manley said...

Richard, It was great hanging with you too, we'll have a PCS meeting in my casa soon.

John Beatty said...

I see a Dennis the Menace book mixed in there...don't know what volume this one is but I am getting the entire run!

Ketchum was one of my earliest influences...if not the first I remember and I love to look at his work.

My comic shop guy has book one that I know of waiting for me...don't know if 2 or 3 are out yet...but WOW...I can't wait to see them.

Peanuts was also an influence but more for the 'stories' than the drawing...Ketchum is pure GENIUS to me!

Great post!

Mike Manley said...

John, It's the first volume, just paged it a bit and it's awesome. Ketchum is KING!

Bobby Timony said...

I'm glad you liked the Bries comics, Mike.
Ria, the publisher, was super nice and let my pal Jim put his New Thing anthologies on her table. After the show we helped her pack up all her many excellent books.

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