I had a fantastic time at SPX.
As mentioned in my previous post, I decided to hit this year’s SPX as a “regular Joe” rather than keeping my table I’d initially bought to hawk my wares. The difference in mindset was apparent well before I departed: instead of spending the night pre-SPX up ’till all hours of the night making sure I’d packed all the stuff I’d need to stock my table–or even collating and stapling minicomics–I just took it easy and threw a change of clothes and something to read on the plane into a backpack. As much as I love the pre-convention panic/excitement sometimes, there’s something to be said for attending a comics event just for the fun of it.
I shelled out the extra bucks to fly into Reagan rather than Dulles and it was a quick and inexpensive hop on DC/MD/VA’s great Metro system to the hotel. I lost some potential “floor time” hiking down the Rockville Pike since I overshot my stop by one station, but managed to get lunch, check in, freshen up and get to the SPX floor by about one in the afternoon on Saturday. I was pretty blown away when I walked in; this was as packed as I’ve ever seen an SPX. Now, it may be the case that this impression is due to the different perspective of walking in at the height of things vs. seeing the crowd ebb and flow from behind a table, but there were definitely several times when things were getting pretty locked up on the floor and it was difficult to even move up and down the isles.
Just taking a cursory first pass around the floor, I was really impressed by how much stuff there was on display that looked like it was worth investigating. There was notably very little of the non-comics ephemera that crops up a SPX every so often–not a lot of t-shirts, stuffed animals, objects d’art,etc–just comics. I didn’t see a whole lot of original art for sale, though, but I’m not sure that’s really all that odd for SPX. I know I’ve sold some pieces at SPX in the past, but not enough to warrant sacrificing table space solely for original art if it came down to that vs. more space for books and/or minis.
I was really excited to be able to attend some panels this year, something I’ve not done since my last non-exhibitor trip to SPX in 2002, and the first one I hit was the John Porcellino panel. The first part of the panel was Porcellino reading some sequences from King-Cat and talking about the biographical analogs (if any) to those stories. The timbre of Porcellino’s tempered but confident voice really lent an even greater poetic resonance to some of the King-Cat sequences that he read from. On the other hand, the obnoxiousness of someone’s rambunctious but highly-annoying three year old really lent unwanted interruption to those same passages. (For the record, I’m a parent and I love kids; I just wouldn’t bring mine to a John Porcellino talk with any reasonable explanation that she’d be quiet throughout.) I know that it’s pretty standard for most panel discussions, but there was clearly no real plan for what to do after Porcellino’s presentation and it was kind of a let-down to see the guest and moderator up there trying to come up with something to discuss on the fly. I really think this is a place where comics festivals need to up their game. The programming needs to be more thought out than just putting a couple of people in a room and basically saying, “now talk about stuff.” Fortunately, with a little help from some audience questions, things got rolling again and the panel concluded with Porcellino commenting on everything from his own work to the Chicago Bears’ recent acquisition of disgruntled Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.
The other panel I hit was Paul Karasik’s Fletcher Hanks panel, which began with a powerpoint presentation of a few of Hanks’ stories, narrated by Karasik. Then he showed an interesting film/presentation thing (a voice track over still images) of Fletcher Hanks, Jr. discussing his late father, who apparently died frozen on a park bench in the 70s. His concluding comment on his dad, taken from a note to Karasik, was apparently something to the effect of, “There may have been more than one guy named Fletcher Hanks drawing comics, but there was only one son of a bitch like my dad.” ‘Nuff said.
With only two hours left, it was time to get out there and buy some stuff. Here’s my haul:
- Animal Stew – Matt Dembicki
- Xoc – Matt Dembicki
- Buzz #3 – Corinne Mucha
- I Want You – Lisa Hanawalt
- Stewbrew #3 – Kelly Froh & Max Clotfelter
- Fact Parader #2 – Dan Zettwoch
- Dharbin #2 – Dustin Harbin
- Poo – Sam Sharpe
- Rough Grocery Digest Bonanza – Max Clotfelter
- Anchorless – Joseph Lambert, Alexis Frederick-Frost, James Hindle & JP Coovert
- 3 Stories – Alexis Frederick-Frost
- Scott Pilgrim: Full Color Odds and Ends – Bryan Lee O’Malley
- Shoot the Moon – Chris Schweizer
- Untitled – Alexis Frederick-Frost
- Monsters – Ken Dahl
- Rematch – JP Coovert
- Return Me to the Sea – Sam Sharpe
I bought a few more things at the last minute before leaving for dinner, but that’s the bulk of it.
Speaking of dinner, it seems that despite the relatively desolate culinary environment surrounding the Bethesda North Marriott, a few spots are becoming popular SPX dining spots, including the place we ate on Saturday night, the Fortune Star Buffet. A couple of our party bagged out at the prospect of a Chinese buffet (understandable since about 99.9% of all Chinese buffets are gross) but we hoofed it down the Rockville Pike in the driving rain, with some folks from the Oni camp donning Marriott hotel garbage bags as rain gear. While not spectacular, the buffet was decent. The number of Chinese people eating there was a testament to its quality and the number of cartoonists eating there was a testament to its affordability. Admittedly, I stuck to the Americanized “Chinese” offerings, but for the adventurous there were chicken feet, tripe and unidentifiable sea creatures for the taking as well.
As per usual, I didn’t manage to get a seat for the Ignatz awards, so I missed the middle of the ceremony, having to bow out for a bit to save my knees. When I returned, thankfully, there was a place to stand up in the back. You can read the results at any comics news site, but my general impression of the affair was that the MC, Liz Bailie did a fantastic job (she even composed an original Haiku for each presenter to introduce him or her) and that Gahan Wilson really stole the show as far as presenters went. Karon Flage began the ceremony and did let folks know that despite continuing to sell out tables well in advance of the show, SPX will remain the same size it is now and will likely only expand if/when attendance grows–a good idea, I think.
The post-Ignatz party was the usual beer-soaked comics-fest that it always is and I even managed to stay up past my bedtime ’till 12:30 (gasp!).
Sunday, after a quick workout in the hotel gym and my traditional SPX breakfast of crab cakes Benedict at the Silver Diner, I had to hit the Metro to make my plane. I obviously have no direct way of knowing what sales were like this year, but word of mouth seemed good. I had such a good time that I’d love to return again as just an attendee, but I guess it’s back behind the table for me next year since Amelia will be out by then…