Con Report: SPX 2015


This was the first SPX I’ve tabled at in a good long time and while I certainly can’t complain about sales so steady I couldn’t get away from my table, I’m afraid that situation doesn’t make for a very exciting con report. But here goes…

First and foremost: SPX 2015 was the debut of Oyster War! How did it go? In short: I took a ton of books–far more than I imagined I’d sell–and sold every single one. Huzzah! More on that later, though.

Backing up a bit, I hit the road on Friday morning so I could rendezvous with some fine Richmond VA cartoonists: Rob Ullman and Jared Cullum. We stuffed Rob’s Jeep SUV about as full of comics and luggage as I can imagine. I felt pretty bad about taking up far more than my fair share of the available space with seven giant boxes of Oyster War (that’s 72 books) because I didn’t imagine I’d sell half of them, but at least I volunteered to sit in what was left of the back seat for the drive up to Bethesda.


I managed to behave somewhat responsibly on Friday night, getting to bed at a reasonable hour so I could get up early enough to grab a bit of exercise in the hotel gym then get my table in gear. I figured I wouldn’t table again until whatever book I do next comes out (which at the rate I work could be some time), so I shelled out for a full six foot table. I thought I’d have room for some originals, but my books and minis pretty much filled it up:


Hey, check out that fancy sign! Saturday was steady start-to-finish and by mid-afternoon was kinda cray-cray. I didn’t think I’d be able to get to any panels and indeed I didn’t–not even this nonexistent one that I made up:

Andrew Neal was wandering the floor and he gave me one of his new minis: IMG_20150919_114555 I was right next to the big Cartozia Tales table and the Cartozia folks gave me a copy of the new issue. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but right off the bat I was blown away by the Tom Motley story, which is done in the style of Gustave Verbeek’s Upside-Downs comics–meaning: each panel is read first right side up, then upside down. Like this: IMG_20150919_122016 As far as I could tell, the only person dressed up at SPX was this lone furry: IMG_20150919_135849 JP Coovert had a relatively recent mini out, which he was kind enough to give me: IMG_20150920_122226 I bought the new issue of King Cat, which is all about the death of Maisie the cat. I foolishly started reading it on the floor but had to stop because I was about to burst into tears. I still haven’t read the end of it. IMG_20150920_121042 I picked up Joey Weiser’s new mini as well: IMG_20150920_123147 My favorite purchase I just happened upon was Gigant by Rune Ryberg (published by Adhouse). I was reading some comics news sites over Sunday morning coffee and saw an article on the book… and it just so happened that Rune Ryberg was at SPX. This book is really gorgeous: IMG_20150920_124715 Rune had traveled to SPX all the way from Denmark, but apparently invulnerable to jet lag, he did this killer sketch for me: IMG_20150924_094842

My one non-comics purchase was this purse/messenger bag for my daughter. What does the fox say, anyway?


SPX has changed a lot in the years since I first started attending back in the old hotel down the Pike in Bethesda proper. But there’s one thing that’s remained relatively constant: the Saturday night chocolate fountain.

IMG_20150919_232347~2 Craig Fisher had come to SPX with students from his graphic novels class and after mentioning the fountain to them, I was made to seek it out Holy Grail-style. (For future reference: it’s now upstairs near the exhibitor floor rather than downstairs.) The chocolate fountain was the subject of much discussion both in person and online Saturday night.

SPX protip: Don’t ever think about that. Seriously.

Anyway… SPX was a fantastic show for me in the sense of just generally being a blast (it’s always fabulous in this respect) but it was an unprecedented show for me sales-wise. I brought my last fifteen copies of Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean with me and sold the last one Sunday afternoon. I’d sold around forty-five copies of Oyster War by the end of Saturday and I sold through the remaining twenty-seven by late afternoon Sunday. I even sold the pawed-through sample copy for $10 to someone who’d come looking for a book after I’d sold out. Needless to say, big thanks to everyone who bought a copy! I worked hard on that book and I hope you dig it.

I had nothing left to sell by five on Sunday so I packed up and spent the last hour or so of the show in the hotel bar reading comics. Sacred Heart is great, by the way!


What did I do with my new-found comics wealth, you ask? I was in need of some socks this week, but instead of buying  a sixer of my usual crappy Walmart socks, I shelled out for some fancy 95% cotton Wigwam King Cotton socks.   OUT OF THE WAY, YOU SWINE! A CARTOONIST IS COMING!




Appearances: “Off The Page” Book Festival in Boone, NC


You can find all the details in the article, but if you’re near Boone, NC this Saturday (September 12th), come on out and say Hi to me at this year’s “Off the Page” High Country Festival of the Book from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. I’ll be giving a general talk about comics and how comics get made, then I’ll be leading a comics-making workshop. Spots are limited, so be sure to sign up in advance if you want to attend!


Form vs. Content and the “Othering” of Manga

Fruits-Basket-vol-2-Tohru-and-MomijiThere was a lot of talk going around about the “manga boom” of the late 90’s/early 2000’s a week or two back, spurred mainly by this thoughtful essay by Chris Butcher of The Beguiling and TCAF. I don’t have any first-hand experience with the anti-manga attitude he details there1 nor much to say about the larger issue he directly addresses2 but it did tangentially bring to mind a conversation I had with some comics students a while back.

I’ve taught summer comics classes for high school students at our local community art center, The Sawtooth School, on and off for several years. The students who sign on for this program have historically skewed heavily female and (not unrelated) heavily toward manga as far as their comics interests go. That’s been the case pretty much across the board from when I began teaching there (2004, maybe?) through to the present. I personally read a fair amount of manga, but it’s part of a broader range of comics I read including general fiction GNs, collections of old newspaper strips, webcomics, translated European comics, the occasional superhero comic, etc. The examples of comics I use in class are accordingly across-the-board: some manga, but lots of other stuff as well. Partially I do this in order to expose the students to things beyond what they already know, but also it’s because I’ve always felt that “comics is comics.” Meaning: despite variations in drawing style, genre, length, and format, all these things are all a single medium.

I was making exactly this case for “comics is comics” in a class years ago, though, and was taken aback by how vigorously the students rejected the idea. I’m always interested in my students’ take on comics, so I decided to probe a bit further. According to them, comic books, graphic novels, newspaper comics, etc. were one sort of thing, and manga was another, different kind of thing in another category all together. They couldn’t tell me exactly what this category was, but it contained manga, anime, and video games-related stuff. I remember at the time being pretty baffled by this idea and pointing out all the things that manga shares with other types of comics–They all use panels, right? And you read the panels in order to get a story, right?–but the students weren’t buying it.

At the time I chalked the conversation up to a generational disconnect and just moved on. In recent years, though, I’ve found myself thinking about that conversation a lot. It happened in maybe 2005 or so and at that point I wasn’t too long out of art school. I was very much under the influence–as were a lot of folks who were studying comics at the time–of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. McCloud’s very much into categorization and in that book he very famously defines/categorizes comics based on their formal properties–the sorts of things that I cited to my students: “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence,” as he says.

The more involved I get with comics, though–and with teaching comics–the more sympathetic I am to Dylan Horrock’s critique of Understanding Comics, which points out that in focusing entirely on the form of comics, McCloud ignores content and aesthetics. As Horrocks says, “In one fell swoop (McCloud) has removed all other considerations – genre, style, publishing formats…” And I think this is precisely what my students were responding to in our discussion: they resisted grouping manga with, say Krazy Kat, because of the obvious aesthetic differences between them. Just based on how they look, Vampire Hunter D sure seems have a lot more in common with the video game Final Fantasy II than to The Katzenjammer Kids… or Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth. (And, further, The Katzenjammer Kids, shares a lot more aesthetically with The Family Circus than the Bayeaux Tapestry, yet McCloud would say the former is not a comic, but the latter is.)

For what it’s worth, I still pretty much think “comics is comics.” Manga, newspaper strips, comic books, graphic novels–they’re all the same medium: comics. And I think that’s a particularly good way to think about things if you’re teaching the basic mechanics of the comics-making craft. But I also recognize that because I teach comics and make comics, I gravitate toward the aspects of the art form that I deal with as a teacher and a comics-maker–their formal properties–and not necessarily the aspects that readers of certain types of comics (like my students, in this case) may be responding to: aesthetic properties.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with Chris Butcher’s essay? Not much, really, but the article reminded me of this incident and that some of manga’s natural, positive “otherness”3 can be a part of its appeal.


1. I’m sure there was plenty of manga hostility going around at various “Android’s Dungeon”-type places during this period. During that time, though, I was in the Masters program in SCAD’s Sequential Art department and as such was hanging out with people who were heavily immersed in comics–including tons of manga. Manga seemed to me just another really exciting, interesting thing going on in comics in the late 90s.

2. OK, I will add this one thing: if you’re listing successful important types of comics from that era that have been roundly ignored or even derided by the comics industry status quo, you should add so-called “goth” comics to the list. Comics like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Lenore, Gloomcookie, etc. sold like hotcakes and were–and still are–incredibly influential, but you’d never know they existed by the way they’re discussed (or not discussed) at the time they were published or now.

3. As opposed to the jerky “this is a fad,” “these aren’t real comics,” othering that Chris B. addresses in his essay.


Commission – The Dark Knight Returns

I haven’t been accepting as many commissions this year as I had been previously (wrapping up Oyster War has been getting precedence), but here’s a recent one that I think turned out nicely: Batman and Robin from the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson/Lynn Varley series The Dark Knight Returns.

dark_knightOnce my “Oyster Tour” is wrapped up (not to mention my daughter being back in school) I’ll be more available for commissions. If’n you’re interested in one, you can purchase them via my store, or just contact me directly via the email address in the nav bar, twitter, etc.



Oyster War – Printer Sample Copy is Here!

I just received this sample copy of Oyster War and it looks great! Here’s a few pictures of the book, including one with a CD and ruler so you can get an idea of how big this book is. I’m really happy with the way the printing turned out. Look for the book in stores this Fall from Oni Press. The in-store date is in flux at the moment due to some printing delays, but I’ll continue to keep my “Oyster Tour” schedule/appearances post updated as the dates get worked out.

IMG_20150801_135750 IMG_20150801_140316 IMG_20150801_140338 IMG_20150801_140358

YouTube Preview Image


The Who and Richard Hell & The Voidoids

Here’re are a couple of recent drawings I took out of my sketchbook and inked/colored in Manga Studio: The Who and Richard Hell And The Voidoids. The former is from the cover of a recent Mojo Magazine; the latter’s from the back of the album jacket.

the who


Oyster Tour 2015!


As you probably know by now, Oyster War is coming out this fall from Oni Press. In support of the book, I’ll be doing a series of convention appearances and signings around its release. Here’re the dates that are currently lined up. I’ll be signing/sketching in copies of Oyster War and will have some of my older material available for sale at the conventions. I hope to see you at one (or more) of the following events!

Edit (8/1/2015): Unfortunately, there was a printing problem with some of the Oyster War covers and the in-store date of the book is going to be pushed back by a few weeks. I don’t have a definite date at the moment, but I’ll update my in-store signing dates once they’ve been rescheduled. I am still expecting to debut the book at SPX and should have reinforcement books shipped in time for CXC.

Update (8/16): Books are printed and ready to go–and I’ve got new signing dates for my in-store appearances! I’ve updated all the info below, including my table location at SPX.


September 18-19 – Small Press Expo (SPX), Bethesda MD. Oyster War debuts at this year’s Small Press Expo! This is a two day show, so I’ll be there both Saturday and Sunday. I’ve been to pretty much every SPX since 2000 or so (one was canceled, I missed one for a wedding) but this is the first time I’ll be debuting a book at the show. I’ve got a full six foot table, so I’ll have plenty of stuff with me other than Oyster War: older books, minicomics, original art, my Wrath of Khan screen-print poster, etc.

I’ll be seated at: E 4B-5A (see floor chart below).




October 3 – Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), Columbus, OH. I’ve been accepted as an exhibitor at the inaugural Cartoon Crossroads Columbus. Columbus is a great cartooning/comics town and the lineup for this event is already flat-out amazing. It’s a one day show as far as tabling goes, but I’m hoping I can show up a day early to catch some of the Friday programming as well.  I’ll update this page with my table information when I receive it.



October 7 – Oyster War in Stores!


October 8-9 – New York Comic Con, New York City. I’ll be at the Oni Press booth signing copies of Oyster War during the first two days (Thursday and Friday) of the NYCC. This is yet another con I’ve never attended before! Once I know my signing schedule and the location of the Oni booth on the show floor, I’ll post that information here.

NYCC Signing Info:

I’ll be signing at the Oni Press booth (1282):

Thursday: 2:00-3:15

Friday: 5:00-6:15 



October 24 – ACME Comics, Greensboro, NC, 12-4 pm.  I’ll be signing copies nearby ACME comics in Greensboro. I haven’t done an event here in a loooonnngg time and I’m looking forward to returning!


October 28 – Ssalefish Comics & Toys, Winston-Salem NC, 5-7 pm. I’ll be signing Oyster War as well as the issue of Creepy I’ve got a story in at my hometown comics shop, Ssalefish Comics and Toys from five until seven.


November 22 – Miami Book Fair. I’ll be giving a presentation on Sunday along with fellow cartoonist Scott Chantler.


In Children’s Alley:
Ragtag Pirates
2 p.m. / Wembly Wordsmith’s Storytorium!
Take an adventure on the high seas and encounter oyster pirates, mysterious lands, magical artifacts and legendary treasures, in Ben Towle’s Oyster War and Scott Chantler’s Pirates of the Silver Coast.


Upcoming Story in Cartozia Tales #7


The seventh issue of Cartozia Tales is at the printers now and about to be sent out to subscribers–and I’ve got a story in it! If you don’t know about Cartozia Tales, now’s a fantastic time to jump in. It’s a all-ages map-based fantasy comics anthology that features a core group of seven (great) cartoonists, with two additional guest cartoonists per issue. For issue seven, I’ll be joining Meredith Gran as guest artist. Here’re some sample panels from my story along with the cover:


CJ0FshoWgAAV2-M 01


Cartozia World Headquarters could really use an infusion of new subscribers right now, as they’re getting to the bottom of their Kickstarter piggy bank. They’ve set up a great deal to get you introduced to the series on the cheap: You can get the first three issues–that’s over 120 pages of comics–in digital format for just $2.50. And that also includes $5.00 off a full digital subscription if you decide to go all-in. Details here.  You can also pick up individual hard copy issues and subscriptions here.


EC Is For Me, See – by James Lloyd

I never fail to find something interesting at our local monthly Hoots Flea market. This past weekend I encountered a vendor who had a small stack of early 2000s indie comics and I picked up a few odds and ends from him, including a 2001 anthology I’d not heard of called Drippytown, which apparently originated in Vancouver.  It caught my eye because it featured early work by now well-known cartoonists such as Tony Millionaire and Marc Bell. The real surprise of the comic, though, was an extensive text essay on the history of EC Comics–and reminiscense of the 2000 EC “reunion” held at the San Diego Comic-Con–by cartoonist/illustrator James Lloyd.

With the author’s kind permission, I’ve scanned and posted the article:

You can click through the gallery above for bigger scans, or grab this PDF I put together. (© James Lloyd 2001)


Heroes Con 2015 Wrap-Up

I’m back from yet another great Heroes Con. It’s the last show for a bit that I’ll have attended as a “civilian.”  Oyster War will be out this fall and so I’ll most likely be tabling at any shows I go to for the next year or so. I don’t have any big take-away from this year’s show other than that it was–as usual–really well-run and a blast to be at. There’s a reason Heroes is one of comics folks’ most beloved shows.

Here’s just a few thoughts/highlights from my trip:

  • The show seemed to be really, really well-attended this year. I’ve never seen a line at Heroes like there was on Saturday. Even an hour or two after the show opened there were still people lined up all the way down the side of the convention center. IMG_20150620_111532
  • There were a lot more cosplayers–and maybe a lot more women?–this year than in years past. It’s not like there have never been cosplayers or women at Heroes before, but this was the first year that it really stood out to me as a noticeable demographic shift. That’s all good in my book.
  • Our “Mega Panel” on Saturday wasn’t very well attended. I went into it expecting a light showing crowd-wise just because of this year’s subject matter, but it was still a bit of a disappointment. The people that were there seemed to enjoy it, though.IMG_20150620_144615~2
  • Among the original art pieces that Craig Fischer showed at the Mega Panel were these two gorgeous Denys Wortman originals. Apparently James Sturm has literally boxes and boxes of Wortman originals that were given to CCS. IMG_20150620_125759 IMG_20150620_125812
  • Speaking of Originals: it’s worth a trip to Heroes just to look through the incredible array of original art you’ll find at Bechara Maalouf’s booth. Seriously. Did I mention he’s got literally dozens of Kirby pages in portfolios you can just flip through and look at? One of these days, when I win the lottery…IMG_20150621_112811 IMG_20150621_112817 IMG_20150621_112830
  • I bought this beautiful Drew Weing original from Set To Sea. Check out how he’s handled the reflection of the sponge and rigging! IMG_20150620_180055
  • I spent more time at the art auction than I have in years past–mainly just because there were some folks I knew hanging out there (and in some cases waiting to see what their pieces sold for). As usual, I registered for a bidding paddle but never actually bid on anything since everything I was interested in was way way out of my price range. Here’s a Bob MacLeod New Mutants piece that was out of my price range before I could even get my paddle in the air:IMG_20150620_210339
  • At the art auction I ran into Craig Hamilton, who I haven’t seen in years. He told me he’d abandoned comics work entirely and had gotten a job doing those hand-lettered chalk signs you see at bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. He then totally blew my mind my showing me that his Dr. Strange piece for the art auction–which appears at first glance to be an oil painting–is actually done with sign chalk on a black chalk board:IMG_20150620_223809
  • Speaking of the art auction: It’s long been known that paintings of superhero ladies in revealing outfits fetch the big money at the Heroes auction. This year, though, I heard at least two different artists wondering if maybe the bounds of good taste aren’t being stretched a bit in this department. That one of this year’s big five-figure sellers was basically a spread-legged crotch shot of Emma Frost wasn’t unusual, but I wonder if the current spotlight on making the comics community less toxic to women isn’t fueling some of this talk. I also heard at least one female exhibitor grousing about the boob-a-rific “You hit the jackpot, tiger” Mary Jane Watson that serves as the Heroes’ website splash page.
  • I attended two panels on craft/technology: Kyle Webster’s panel demoing his Photoshop brushes and a panel on color flatting with Manga Studio. Both of these panels were well-attended and had lots of people asking questions. I’ve thought for a long time that there’s a lot more interest out there for panels on the actual craft of comics-making than many con organizers may think. I’d love to see more of this. Maybe I’ll pitch something along those lines for next year’s show.
  • I didn’t buy as many books as I usually do at Heroes, but here’re a few items. That last book that’s open to a spread is the new Pope Hats from AdHouse.IMG_20150621_121103 IMG_20150621_131738 IMG_20150622_094932

As usual, the best part of Heroes was seeing and hanging out with a lot of folks who I only really see at Heroes once a year or so. See you next year everyone! (And also as usual, a big thanks to everyone who keeps Heroes running like the well-oiled machine it is, including but not limited to: Shelton Drum, Andy Mansell, Rico Renzi and all the Heroes volunteers!)

Older posts «

» Newer posts