Con Report: SPX 2008


Much as with Heroes Con earlier this summer, I’ve once again proved to be too lazy and disorganized to do a nightly roundup post during the show… but, frankly, there were plenty of press folks floating around the place who will most certainly do a better job covering the show than I could–especially since I spent my time behind a table, not taking in all the other good stuff going on.  Just for starters I noted Heidi MacDonald, Johanna Draper Carlson, and Whitney Matheson making the rounds–as well as a number of folks from Newsarama, at least one from The Pulse, someone who appeared to be Mr. Phil from Indie Spinner Rack but who didn’t turn around when I screamed “Hey, Mister Phil!!!” and a person (oddly enough) from The Wall Street Journal.

So there’ll be no lack of coverage from this year’s event from the usual sources, online and otherwise.

What I can probably provide some insight on, though, are what the general vibe among exhibitors was, and since I keep track of what I sell at shows, I’ll maybe do a comparison with this year’s Heroes Con.

First, the general vibe and goings on:

This was the first year for the Saturday/Sunday (as opposed to Friday/Saturday, and even Friday/Saturday/Sunday of previous years) and I think there were some kinks getting worked through as a result, as exhibitors and the event organizers got a feel for this new schedule.  A couple of my friends that had come down from New England and had arrived pre-dinner Friday night went to the Friday evening reception and said it wasn’t very well attended, speculating that there maybe weren’t really that many folks in town yet.  That theory seemed to be confirmed as I noted that as I unloaded my luggage later in the evening–around ten or so–people were beginning to come into the lobby in a pretty steady stream with their luggage, probably just arriving either from evening flights or off the road.

We checked out the hotel bar and found a strange mingling of a few SPX stragglers and some sort of wedding party there hanging out.  We wound up joining some friends from the Triangle area of North Carolina out on the back porch for drinks, but no sooner were we settled in with a few cold beers, than the manager of the bar told us we’d have to leave.  Somehow he’d figured out that some of the beers we were drinking hadn’t actually been purchased at the bar.  How could he have known?  Hmmm… Maybe it’s because the Hellcar guys we were hanging out with were drinking beer out of AN ENORMOUS IGLOO COOLER that they had just set beside their table IN PLAIN VIEW.  At any rate, we eventually left, feeling like elementary school kids caught wandering without a hall pass, and found a peaceful haven “below-decks” on some comfy couches downstairs in the conference area of the hotel where we found some peace and could engage in gentlemanly discussion of timely topics of interest, such as whether Underdog really got his powers from popping some sort of a pill.  (Apparently, yes.  Now that you can just look that kind of crap up on your %&$#@in’ iPhone it doesn’t stay unsettled for long.)

Pretty much everyone I talked to agreed that the first day of the show, Saturday, was an amazing zoo.  One person aptly described it as the “old” Friday and Saturday rolled into one.  I was genuinely surprised by my sales that day, especially considering the newest thing I had available was Midnight Sun, which has been out for about nine months now and is available through bookstores like Barnes and Noble.  On the other hand, I suppose this is the first SPX I’ve had it at.  I’ll get into more hard numbers in a minute, but I think I sold somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty of them on Saturday, along with maybe ten copies of my older SLG book, Farwell, Georgia.

Post-show on Saturday was, of course, the Ignatz awards.  I skipped them in favor of a few minutes of peace in my hotel room and a grilled shrimp Caesar salad that, once ordered via room service and including tip, cost something like $300.00.  I returned in time for the post-show booze-fest, which was, as usual, a lot of fun.  Again, pretty much everyone I talked to had nothing but great stuff to say sales-wise about Saturday.  The cheery mood led to much merriment of course.  In some strange manifestation of “six degrees of separation,” I wound up sitting at a table with a bunch of comics bigwigs far, far out of my league–including novelist and professor Tom DeHaven and his wife,  and Fantagraphics/Comics Journal founder Gary Groth.  I mostly talked to that guy that always comes to SPX in drag… who was curiously also sitting at this same table with us.

Sunday got rolling a little bit later–at noon, rather than eleven–than Saturday and, although it seemed like a pretty good crowd for a Sunday, my sales and the sales of those around me definitely seemed substantially slower than the day before.  I noted a number of folks starting to pack up and go as early as 4:00 or so, even though the show didn’t close until 6:00.  It’s worth noting, though, that this isn’t necessarily any indication of slow sales, but rather is likely just that many folks were heading home on Sunday and probably looking to get an earlier start.

…Which brings up: It definitely felt weird to just close down at the end of the day and go home.  In years past, even with Saturday as the last day of the show, everyone stuck around Saturday night to hang out, go to the Ignatz Awards and socialize.  The unpleasant prospect of hitting the road didn’t rear its ugly head until the following day.

All in all, though, a great show, especially considering the current economic woes.

Now, sales…

First, a disclaimer: I don’t attend events like SPX to generate money; I go to generally stay in the loop with what’s going on in the art form, to get my books out there for folks who buy stuff mainly in person at events like these, to catch up with friends I see only at conventions, to make new friends and most of all just to have fun.

That said, going to one of these things as an exhibitor entails a substantial financial outlay, and I remember the first time I considered getting a table at SPX there seemed to be a curious lack of information online with any hard numbers indicating what folks were selling.  Occasionally a big publisher will declare that they sold out of this book or that book and will give a number of copies that they brought, but few if any regular folks seem to put out there what they brought in.  I certainly hope I’m not breaking some unwritten rule of comicsdom by publishing such things, but certainly in the past I’ve posted numbers from various shows mainly for comparison’s sake, and I’ll do so again here with the hope that it’ll provide some useful info for other relatively small-time comics creators trying to decide which shows to attend, if any.

Comparing conventions to one another is definitely difficult to do, owing to differences in various things, but this year’s SPX and Heroes cons are a reasonable point of comparison for me since I had essentially the exact same stuff for sale at both–the only real difference being that, since I’m not making minis any more, I had even fewer minis available at SPX than at Heroes.  For these comparisons I’ve modified a bit what I’m listing as my take for original art at Heroes, since part of my original number included a commission that I didn’t actually do at the convention as well as an original art purchase that had been arranged in advance and only ocurred at Heroes con because both I and the purchaser were going to be there.  So here’s the breakdown:

SPX 2008




Interestingly, as far as cash-in-hand goes, I wound up with almost exactly the same amount of money walking out the door at both shows.  It says a lot about how brisk SPX was, though, that it’s a two day show and Heroes is a three day show.  On the other hand, the hotel at SPX costs about 160% of the hotel at Heroes.  A huge factor for me personally, though, is that I’m usually a guest at Heroes, but have to pay for a table at SPX–and of course Heroes is just down the road from me, whereas I have a long drive and one extra day in a hotel for SPX.

My brain really starts to hurt when I try to figure out how I did at this convention or that, especially when I begin to factor in things that are and aren’t tax deductible, etc.  I find this stuff more interesting mainly just as an indicator of the general health of the market for the sorts of comics that I’m most interested in making and reading.

Speaking of reading books…

The Books

I’m notoriously bad at calling the “buzz books” at shows like these, but I didn’t really note any single book that seemed to be in everyone’s hand.  I’d maybe put Chris Schweizer‘s Crogan’s Vengeance (Oni) in the running as it seemed to be getting a lot of well-deserved attention.  I saw a number of folks as well with some great-looking new releases from Fantagraphics including John Kerschbaum’s Peety & Pussy and the collected Fuzz & Pluck hardcover from Ted Stearn.

I was a bit surprised that Adhouse didn’t have a big onslaught of stuff debuting at the show, but I did get to see preview copies of not one, but two, really beautiful Scott Morse books that are apparently forthcoming from them.  One is, I think, entirely new stuff; the other is a couple of previously published anthology pieces.

Apparently repeating an event from last year, John McNamee started a narrative corpse-style jam comic that was drawn on a spool of cash register paper.  You can find the strip itself, as well as a list of participants, here.

I haven’t had time to even unpack yet, much less go through my purchases from the show, but one item I’ll feature here is this onesie that was given to me by Paul Friedrich of Onion Head Monster fame.  I’ve made a deliberate effort not to plaster my blog with pictures of my daughter, but in this case since it’s apropos to comics, I can’t resist:


(Caption on shirt: “Onion Head Monster takes a great big pea.”)


2 pings

  1. Chris Pitzer says:

    Ben! Like I said, I have to get use to the new you (sans glasses). Good seeing you at the show. I love your charts! I think a big part of a successful SPX is having new product, and as you pointed out, our schedule was such that we didn’t. I hope to fix that in coming years. Those preview books were by Scott Morse, not Mills, though. Not the first time their names have been switched. ;)

  2. Ben says:

    Given the number of people who didn’t recognize me without my glasses, I’m now realizing that this was a missed opportunity for some sort of criminal activity I could have committed then gone on the lam.

    And, definitely oops on the Scott Morse thing, which I’ve now corrected. At least I don’t confuse J. Chris Campbell with that “Gen 13” guy.

    Nice seeing you as well…


  3. Nathan Alderman says:

    I bought Midnight Sun from you at SPX, and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. The absurdist humor, the deliberate ambiguity regarding the real fate of that third overland hiker, and the sense of the calculus of life and death involved really impressed me. Nice work, and thanks much!

  4. Josh Latta says:

    Hey Ben,
    No glasses? What th-?
    Is up now down?

    I really missed seeing all of you dudes. Ah well, maybe I will go to SPX next year after McCain fixes our economy.

  5. Rob Ullman says:

    Yeah, the lack of specs threw me for a second as well, you chameleon!

    I found my sales, etc, to be pretty much in line with how they always are…Every year (both at SPX and Heroes, my two biggest shows) seems to improve just a smidge, so I suppose as long as that keeps happening, I’ve got nothing to complain about!

  1. Blog@Newsarama » Blog Archive » The Lightning Round says:

    […] from SPX beyond what Chris Mautner has shared so far, you can check out reports from The Beat, Ben Towle, The Daily Cross Hatch, Zack Smith and the Cool Kids Table, a new blog by Marvel’s Ben Morse, […]

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Oct. 7, 2008: Hacked/Slashed says:

    […] Brian Heater, Chris Mautner, Laura Hudson and Ben Towle report from last weekend’s Small Press Expo in Maryland, while Mike Lynch has video and […]

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