Oct
20
2015

Original Oyster War Pages Now For Sale

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So, I just posted pretty much all the original pages from Oyster War on my store for sale. Get ’em while you can!

I pre-sold a few and have pulled a few for friends and family, but there are still a ton of great pages there. These are big, pretty pages–much larger than most modern original comics art. The pages are 13″ x 18″ artwork on 14.5″ x 23″ Stathmore 2-ply 500 series Bristol board. Here’s a pic of a page next to a ruler, CD, and cassette tape to give you a sense of scale:

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If for whatever reason you’d prefer not to use my Storenvy storefront, you can email me (benzilla@benzilla.com) and arrange purchase/payment directly.

Oct
11
2015

Con Report: Cartoon Crossroads Columbus 2015

I returned this past week from the inaugural year of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) in Columbus, Ohio. The event has very deliberately patterned itself after the European festival model—with a bit of Toronto’s well-respected TCAF thrown in for good measure—rather than the traditional U.S. comics event model. Unlike most domestic comics conventions (and unlike even such “indie” comics events as Bethesda, MD’s Small Press Expo), CXC is a multi-venue event that places significant focus on elements other than selling books on a show floor.

I was one of the thirty exhibitors who were accepted to the show. As an exhibitor rather than a guest (guests being folks like Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith, Kate Beaton, etc.) I really only needed to be there for Saturday, the day of the show where people set up at the Cultural Arts Center to sell books. Friday was a day exclusively for speaking events and workshops, but these events were a significant enough draw that I left Thursday night after dinner and stayed the night in West Virginia so I could get up early and get into Columbus in time to catch Friday’s events.

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For some reason, this person checking into the downtown Sheraton brought breakfast food instead of luggage.

Friday

Friday’s events were all at the OSU campus and I rolled into town right in the middle of Lalo Alcaraz’s presentation. It was completely full, but I managed to get into the next two presentations, by Katie Skelly and Dylan Horrocks. Both were great. It’s worth noting that these talks were “Talk and Teach” presentations, specifically geared toward other comics-makers. This is an element of CXC that you’ll find pretty much nowhere else. (More on this later.)

Between the Talk and Teach and the evening “Special Presentations” there was a tour of the Billy Ireland Library facilities. There was some truly mind-blowing stuff to see on this tour and it was easily the highlight of CXC for me. If you’ve been to the Billy Ireland, or even just poked around their website, you know that they’ve got a stunning collection of original art, but you really don’t get a sense of the scale of things like you do walking through all 30,000 square feet of the facility. For copyright reasons, you’re not allowed to publish pictures of the art itself, but here’re a few pics from the tour:

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Outside the Billy Ireland.

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Hanging in the main office: these are all printers plates of old newspaper comic strips.

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Tons of original artwork set up for people on the tour to view.

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In the bowels of the facility. These sliding shelves are full of books/graphic novels. The flat files behind are full of original art.

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The most valuable art is kept in a combo-locked weapons locker. The Bill Watterson originals are kept in here, among other things.

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A shelf full of weekly manga magazines–a rare sight in the West.

IMG_20151002_182147A box full of cut out and mounted Wash Tubbs strips originally from Bill Blackbeard.

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OK, what the heck… So here’s one pic of some original art. A Bill Peet-drawn storyboard from Alice in Wonderland (!!).

The only Saturday event I attended was the Bill Griffith presentation. I’ll admit to not knowing Griffith’s work very well, but the presentation was interesting and he received the first of several festival awards that were given out over the course of the weekend.

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Bill Griffith receiving his award. As Art Spiegelman mentioned later when he received his, from afar they look a lot like a single silicon breast implant.

Saturday

On Saturday, the festival changed venues to the Cultural Arts Center downtown (for the exhibition portion of the show) and the Columbus College of Art and Design (for closing Spiegelman/Mouly talk).

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People at the exhibition portion of the show.

I’ll be blunt about the expo portion: my sales were not great. If I had to speculate, I’d say this was probably the result of two things. First: Oyster War was pretty much the main thing I was selling and it’s a relatively high-dollar item at $25.00. Second: this being the show’s first year, I think a lot of people were there in “just checking things out” mode—which isn’t totally unexpected.

It’s entirely possible that other people did much better than I sales-wise. The Lumberjanes folks who were at the table beside me, for example, came with stacks of individual issues and sold through a most of them.

After an initial hour without a single book sale, I dug through my old stock and put out some Animal Alphabet post card sets for $5 and those started to sell, further enforcing my thought that Oyster War’s $25 price tag was probably the culprit.

For comparison’s sake (and to put in the most unpleasantly mercenary terms) at CXC, I pulled in around $57 per show hour, whereas at SPX two weeks prior I brought in $140 per show hour. If CXC had been a usual “just show up and sell stuff” show, I’d have been pretty disappointed by these sales, but given the nature of the show, it didn’t really bother me that much (more on that later as well).

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I gave a copy of Oyster War to Art Spiegelman.

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Art Spiegelman very graciously gave me this copy of Flop to the Top. It’s fantastic, by the way!

Saturday evening’s closing event was a Jeff Smith-moderated talk with Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly about RAW Magazine that took place at CCAD. The event was completely packed and I wound up sitting on the floor. Smith was a solid moderator and they wound up going over some early RAW history that I wasn’t familiar with–and I’ve seen Spiegelman speak several times before.

After Hours

On both Friday and Saturday nights there were show-organized events after the festival at local bars. I really enjoyed this aspect of the show and wanted to single it out here as a definite CXC strong point. I was discussing the show afterwards with some of the other exhibitors I was palling around with in the evenings and we all agreed that it was great to have a show with built-in socializing time where you could talk with other cartoonists beyond the usual “how did the show go for you” chatter.

A Multi-Venue Festival

As mentioned, CXC is spread over a number of different venues in Columbus. One nice result of this is that you don’t have that “three days trapped in a hotel” feeling that you can sometimes get with events like SPX. Also: in addition to the obvious comics-related appeal, Columbus seems to have a lot of good spots for food and drink, interesting cultural institutions, etc.

On the other hand, getting around can be difficult. Columbus reminds me of a smaller, mid-western version of Atlanta: there are lots of cool spots with great stuff to do, but those spots are all well out of walking range from one another. Columbus is definitely a “car town” and I don’t think you’d really be able to do CXC without a car–or without someone else at the show having a car that you could tag along with. Exacerbating the situation is parking, which can be difficult and ranges from expensive to incredibly expensive. It was actually cheaper for me to pay for valet parking at my downtown hotel than it would have been to park and re-park in public lots as I came and went from venue to venue for the show.

That said, I did have my car and I was able to get around fairly well. Uber was a real god-send for the various after-festival events. Most rides I took were in the four to seven dollar range and even a ride back to the hotel from the bar during peak hours on Saturday night was maybe $12.00.

Organization 

For an inaugural year event with a fairly complex multi-venue event schedule, I thought things ran quite smoothly. There were no big obvious SNAFUs at any event I observed and the given the large number of participating institutions (CXC itself, Billy Ireland, Sol-Con, CCAD, etc.) everything seemed to be humming right along.

I will say that I had to do a dedicated sit-down the week before the show in order to sort out what was going on where and what events I wanted to attend vs. needed to be at. I’d 100% chalk this mainly up to my being used to the relative simplicity of single venue/single focus events like SPX, not to anything on the festival’s end. That said though, there were definitely a lot of show emails/documents about a ton of different things flying around and it could be hard to sort through, especially on the heels of SPX, which a lot of exhibitors (and a few guests) had likely just returned from. I had a phone conversation with a cartoonist friend a few days before the show just trying to sort out when and where he was supposed to be–and he didn’t realize until our phone conversation that the exhibition portion of the show was only on Saturday and he didn’t need to be there Friday.

Would I Go Back?

“Will you apply to exhibit next year?” is a moot question for me since I don’t table at shows unless I have a new book to sell and I won’t have another new book for a while. More generally, though:

I would definitely like to return to CXC. In a nutshell: everything except actual book sales on Saturday was 100% fabulous. And here’s the thing: book sales is pretty much the one element of the show that the CXC organizers can’t control. All the rest of the stuff–the stuff that they could control–was fantastic and seems poised to get even better as the show expands to four days next year.

Here’s what I’d love to see happen at CXC:

I’ve groused for years that comics doesn’t have an event that’s oriented toward comics industry professionals and aspiring professionals. I’d love to see CXC become that event–a “conference” in the way that other professions have yearly conferences that are professional gatherings geared toward professional development rather than toward retailing to the general public. The Billy Ireland is already a big draw for anyone practicing comics-making and CXC elements like the Talk and Teach sessions and the “Business of Comics” programming are clearly geared toward practicing cartoonists. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing, with maybe even some more nuts and bolts craft workshops about drawing, inking, software, etc.

I also would love to see more opportunities for interaction between the bigger name guests and the exhibitors and attendees. This year it almost seemed like the guests were part of one event and the exhibitors part of a different event and the two just happened to overlap every once in a while. Even the after-festival events seemed to be segregated this way. I’ve seen the positive value of having an established professional cartoonist do hands-on work with students in a classroom; I think you would see those same results with some sort of hands-on mentoring/workshop opportunity in a festival situation. More interaction like this might also put CSX in the amiable position of being a “generational ambassador,” bringing into contact the disparate groups of comics folks who never seem to really interact much, even when they’re all lumped together in the same place, as with SPX.

If turns out to be a direction the show goes, I think it’d be worth having some sort of attendee status specifically for working cartoonists who want to attend workshops, library tours, after-events, etc. but are neither guests nor exhibitors. Whatever the case, I’m fairly certain I’ll return to CXC.

 

 

Sep
27
2015

Comics Workshop in Boone, NC 9/12/15

Here’re a few pictures from a recent workshop I conducted at the Watauga Public Library in Boon, NC. For this particular workshop, I had the participants do a one page comic version of the Aesop’s Fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” This project is an old standby that’s been used by lots of comics teachers over the years. The best-known example of it is probably Joe Lambert’s “Turtle Keep it Steady,” a musical telling of the Tortoise and the Hare story that came out of a Center for Cartoon Studies assignment. It wound up being included in a Best American Comics volume and was eventually included in I Will Bite You, a collection of the artist’s short comics work.

I take a slightly indirect approach to the Tortoise and Hare assignment, though. I begin with a general talk on comics-making and then go through some nuts-and-bolts basics of character design. Once the character design material has concluded I have them design two characters:

Boone_book_festival_2015These characters are, of course, setups for the the eventual “Tortoise and Hare” story, which I only reveal once everyone has designed a Tortoise stand-in and Hare stand-in character from the initial exercise.

Anyway, here’re some pictures from the event, including some great Dr. Who and Saga cosplay:

Also: the event was coordinated by Craig Fischer, who’s in the middle of curating an exhibit of original art from CCS students and faculty. He had a few originals with him that he displayed at the event. Here’re pages by Joe Lambert, Stephen Bissette, and Colleen Frakes:

Sep
24
2015

Con Report: SPX 2015

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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.

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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:

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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?

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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!

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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!

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Sep
07
2015

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

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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!

Aug
25
2015

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.

Aug
19
2015

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.

 

Aug
01
2015

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.

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Jul
28
2015

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.

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Jul
21
2015

Oyster Tour 2015!

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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).

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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.

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October 7 – Oyster War in Stores!

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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 

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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