SPX 2014

You’d think with me now being pretty much done with Oyster War I’d have time for a big, extensive SPX 2014 wrap-up, but I’ve actually got to jump right into several other comics (and other) projects pretty quickly. But, I did want to do just a quick post–mainly just to show off some of the great stuff I bought at the show.

As with last year, I went to the show this year as a “civilian” and did not get a table. It’s looking like (knock on wood!) I’ll have a book out by next year’s show, so this was probably my last show for a bit where wandering the floor and catching a lot of programming is an option. I caught several interesting panels including the Lynda Barry talk, The John P. panel (which included a screening of a shortened version of the documentary about him, Root Hog or Die), and the Digital Comics panel. My favorite panel of the show by far, though, was the panel on Spanish language comics. You occasionally hear some discussion of Argentinian comics because of the connection with Italian comics, but it was so great to hear folks discuss comics from places you rarely hear mentioned: Columbia, Mexico, Spain (which you’d think would be discussed more with other European comics, what with Spain’s being in Europe and all), etc.

I don’t have any idea how things with sales-wise with the new, bigger floor, but I did observe a few general things just wandering around:

  • The level of quality of work was exceptionally high. There’s always great stuff at SPX, but this year in particular there seemed to be almost no glaringly non-professional looking work on display.
  • People were mostly selling actual comics. There have been years in the past when it seemed like non-comics stuff was in danger of taking over the show: t-shirts, stuffed animals/characters, screenprints, and other crafts. There was a smattering of that kind of stuff throughout, but the bulk of merch at the show was actual comics.
  • There are still a few outlying folks trying sell to straight fantasy and SF genre comics packaged/printed like monthly books from the “big two.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but that sort of material has never seemed to do well at SPX.
  • There were almost no old school black and white foldedover 8 1/2 x 11 minicomics for sale. Other than King Cat and Phase 7 this format seems to have largely vanished. This is a bad thing.
  • There were no carnival barkers. I wasn’t once hit with the “hard sell” as I walked through the floor. This is a good thing.
  • The younger set seemed to really get into the “SPX Prom.” I’m betting/hoping that this will become a regular thing.
  • The level of organization was exceptionally high. This has been the case for the last several years, but it bears mentioning again. The folks who are currently running SPX are doing a spectacular job. The show just gets better and better.

Anyway… I had an absolute blast and enjoyed seeing all the folks that I usually hang with at SPX and I met a bunch of new folks as well. I also managed somehow to completely miss a number of people who I was looking forward to meeting/seeing. I’m gonna do a better job of “making the rounds” next year if I can.

So, on to the swag! I got a ton of great stuff and would have bought more but I was going broke and maxing out my luggage.



1 – Titus and the Cyber Sun/Lale West – Maybe my fave “find” of the show. It’s a big, surreal, wordless comic that’s beautifully drawn with all kinds of great hatching and stippling.

2 – New Comics Workbook magazine.

3 – Broken Summer/JP Coovert – JP’s stuff is always so great. I’m really looking forward to this one.

4 – The Garden of Earthly Delights/R. Bensen – Impulse buy. I flipped through it and really liked the art.

5 – In the Sounds and Seas vols. I & II/Marnite Galloway – Again, I don’t know this artist, but the interior art looked fantastic so I picked both of these up. They’re wordless as well.

6 – The Aeronaut/Alexis Frederick-Frost –  I love Alexis’s art and I’ll buy pretty much anything he puts out. This is the first thing I’ve seen from him in a while.


7 – The Lorian Gendarme Guidebook for Adventuring Standards/M.K. Reed & Jonathan Hill – This is an adventure manual for an imaginary fantasy world gendarme. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff.

8 – A little print by J. Chris Campbell.

9 – Warlow’s Guide to Wizards & Familiars Arcane/Andrea Kalfas – A beautifully drawn bestiary/character guide.

10 – A Cartozia Tales minicomic of Kickstarter reward art.

11 – The two most recent issues of Cartozia Tales.


12 – Pictures of Pitchers/Katherine K. Wirick – The title says it all.

13 – Eat or Be Meatball/Liz Suburbia – I love this artist’s webcomic, Sacred Heart, but don’t know her other work at all.

14 – My Biblical Dreams/R. Bensen

15 – How to Make Art/J. Chris Campbell –

16 – Margo Maloo  black and white “teaser”/Drew Weing. This came with a great Margo Maloo business card.

17 – A Josh Cotter sticker.

18 – A little blank sketchbook with Eleanor Davis covers.

19 – Minicomics by Connie Sun – I’ve been reading Connie’s comics on GoComics for a while, but I got to meet her and hang out some at the post-Ignatz party. She’s awesome–and her comics are great!

20 – A sketchbook mini by Eleanor Davis.

21 – My Own Petard/Art Baxter.



A – A Derf DEVO drawing.

B – A Josh Cotter one-pager. (And he had some originals from his in-progress GN with him at the show. That book is gonna be amazing.)

C – A Popeye page by Roger Langridge.



Think of a City

Here’s my contribution to the wonderful Think of a City collaborative project.


The idea behind the project is that each artist participating draws a cityscape or scene that takes place in a city with his or her contribution containing one drawn element and one color from the previous artist’s submission. There’s some pretty amazing artwork already up on the tumblr. Be sure to click back to the beginning–and keep an eye on it for future submissions every two weeks or so.

If you read my webcomic, Oyster War, you will no doubt recognize this particular city as Blood’s Haven. I thought this project would be a good opportunity to put together a big overall drawing of the city that I could maybe use as endpapers for a print edition of the book. The section you see here is the only portion I colored for Think of a City, but this is only the left half of the actual drawing. I have to admit, I had no overall map of Blood’s Haven in mind when drawing Oyster War, so I had to “reverse engineer” this drawing from the story. I had to flub a few things here and there, but it worked out OK. Maybe at some point when I finish the whole drawing I can post an annotated version that shows what locations correspond to what pages/panels in the story.


Talking Comics Terminology on the Deconstructing Comics Podcast


I was recently a guest on the Deconstructing Comics podcast discussing my recent (and surprisingly controversial?) blog post about using film terminology to discuss comics. I’m hoping that the hour-long conversation here gave me a bit more room to make my case in a more nuanced and thorough way than in the original post. One of the hosts mentioned this in so many words–so I certainly hope so. I do wonder, though, if I communicated as well in my initial writings as I wanted to.  There was a fair amount of talk from the hosts about things like comics formats/trim sizes and people using comics as movie “pitches”–two things that are maybe tangentially related to my original points, but certainly not central. I for sure noted when discussing this verbally that there’s a lot of potential confusion related to the words “terminology” and “language.” In both my original post and in the podcast, I tried to use “terminology” to refer to vocabulary and “language” to refer to the formal visual language of particular media–but I can tell that this is potentially confusing.

Anyway, here’s a link to the podcast. Enjoy.


A Grid of Monsters

Here’s a grid of monsters I drew as a pinup for Jess Smart Smiley’s Kickstarter book, Spooky Silly Comics:

Spooky Scary color

I really love bestiaries and things of that ilk so (after a bit of machinating about other possibilities) I decided that’s the route I’d go here. For projects like this, I like to introduce some randomness–just to spur creativity a bit. What I did in this case was use this online monster name generator to generate 100 monster names. I then rolled two ten-sided die for each slot on the page to determine what monster to draw.

The image was drawn traditionally on Bristol board with dip pens and then colored in Digital Manga Studio. The original will be on display (and for sale) closer to Halloween at a local Halloween-themed exhibition. I’ll post details once I’ve got them.


AlphaBands Wrap-up: 26 Weeks of Music and Musician Drawings

So, here’re all my drawings from the recently-completed AlphaBands project. As is usual with these sorts of weekly drawing exercises, the end results are a mixed bag. Looking back on these, there are some I really like (Karl Bartos, CCR, Hank Shocklee, Woody Guthrie) and some that were obvious duds (Angus Young, Iggy Pop, Marvin Gaye)–with the rest falling somewhere in between the two extremes.

Also as usual, though, I used this exercise not just as an excuse to draw regularly, but also to learn some new tools. All of these were drawn and colored in Digital Manga Studio on my Surface Pro 2. I also started investigating some of Ray Frenden’s custom Manga Studio brushes. The CCR illustration, for example, was colored with his watercolor wash brushes and you can see some of his dry media brushes creating charcoal-like effects in some of the later drawings. If you want to try some of these brushes out for yourself, you can buy them from his shop here. They’re well worth picking up.

Thanks to all the folks that participated in AlphaBands–whether with a single drawing or a full set of 26–and a big thanks to Sam Wolk who was the tumblr admin this time around. I know that’s a ton of work!

(You can right/ctrl click any image and open the link in a new tab to get a bigger version.)


AlphaBands – Z is for Zigaboo Modeliste

Z is for Zigaboo Modeliste




AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr:


AlphaBands – Y is for Yellowman

Y is for Yellowman




AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr:


AlphaBands: X is for XTC

X is for XTC



AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr:



Catching Up On AlphaBands: V & W

V is for Vince Guaraldi

Vince G

W is for Woody Guthrie

Woodie Guthrie


AlphaBands is a weekly online collaborative project in which illustrators and cartoonists draw a band or musician for one letter of the alphabet each week for 26 weeks. See the art and find out more at the AlphaBands tumblr:


My Friend and Collaborator: Chris Reilly 1967 – 2014

My friend Chris Reilly passed away this week.

I first met Chris Reilly in Bethesda, Maryland at the 2003 Small Press Expo. SPX was a lot different then–as was I. The Expo was held in a smallish hotel in the heart of Bethesda proper and it was a much, much smaller event than the indie comics behemoth it’s become. It wasn’t as polished as its current incarnation, but there was a sense of comradery to the event that came with the turf for a not widely-known event in the very beginnings of the “graphic novel boom” days.

As for me: I was at SPX for the first time as an actual comics creator hawking my own book (Farewell, Georgia)–and not just by myself at a table, but at the big SLG table, alongside tons of other actual, well-known comics people. I’d been to Heroes Con a few times and to an earlier SPX (or maybe two?) but I’d never been behind a table selling a book before–and to a newcomer that comradery can seem like an impenetrable barrier. As if I weren’t nervous and awkward enough, when I showed up to pick up my badge, my name was nowhere to be found. Ultimately the situation got sorted out (you can see I had to hand-scrawl my name on a blank badge) but it was a rocky start to an intimidating situation. IMG_20140612_132052My trajectory through the world of comics would likely have been a very different one if I’d not had the good fortune to be seated at the SLG table next to Chris Reilly. I’d eventually get to know and be friends with lots of people I met at that SPX, but I walked in not knowing a soul (remember, this is pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter) and left feeling like I was–even in some small way–part of a larger community of like-minded comics practitioners, and Chris was instrumental in that.

If you’ve met Chris, I don’t need to tell you that he was one of the most enthusiastic, energetic, outgoing, and just plain amiable people you’re likely to encounter. He introduced himself, said he’d read and liked my book, and we immediately hit it off. Hanging out with Chris in the hotel bar at the SLG-sponsored afterparty in the company of big name comics folk like Evan Dorkin and Frank Miller is to this day one of my fondest memories from any comics event.

In the years that followed, Chris and I became good friends, spoke regularly, and collaborated on many comics projects. Chris’s enthusiasm for comics was infectious. When he got an idea in his head, there was no stopping him. The first project of his I got involved with was an anthology he and his friend Steve were putting together called Strange Eggs. Comics people ruminate on anthology projects all the time but all to often never actually put the projects together, but within a few weeks of agreeing to do a story for Strange Eggs and maybe “help out” a bit with production (I wound up doing pretty much all the production work on the series), Chris was emailing me completed story after completed story by people like Roger Langridge, Derf, Crab Scrambly, Tommy Kovac and tons more. We did two more issues of Strange Eggs and more odds and ends projects together than I can list here, often with me illustrating Chris’s stories. pg_4

(Page from The Boxing Bucket. Words: Chris Reilly. Pictures: Ben Towle)

Chris’s writing was as manic and unpredictable as he was. “Madcap” is an overused term, but his writing was indeed madcap: sometimes dark, always funny–in a way that used to be a lot more commonplace during the “black and white boom” than what followed.  Beyond his actual comics storytelling, though, Chris was a consummate storyteller of all varieties. Answering a call from Chris entailed an hour-long commitment at a  minimum. Get a few beers into Chris at a con hotel bar and he’d regale you with stories about being bitten by a rabid raccoon (he thought it was a cat and tried to pet it), playing in a band with Cheetah Chrome (“Gothic Snowtire”),  or trying Flaming Carrot-style to read every single submitted single issue comic in one sitting the year he was an Eisner Awards judge.

More so than anyone else I’ve ever known, Chris was a creature of comics conventions. No one enjoyed being at comics industry events the way Chris seemed to. His already vigorous personality fed off the bustling energy of any comics convention he attended. He was genuinely perplexed by people wanting to “decompress” (a phrase he particularly loathed) after a day tabling at a con.

As far as I could tell, Chris Reilly didn’t sleep. There were many times I remember leaving Chris at some afterparty or late-night bar at a con hotel at two or three in the morning. I’d have been bleary-eyed, stumbling back to my room….and yet, the next morning bright and early, there’d be Chris–apparently unfazed–setting up his table, regaling me with tales of some hotel room party I’d missed out on in the wee hours.

Chris often seemed to be operating just on the periphery of the comics community. In one of the most bizarrely ignored comics events of late, he successfully sued Dreamworks for copying the design of one of his characters from his 90’s comics series, Rogue Satellite Comics.

Miniontumblr_mgslegRiLn1qaw3rpo1_1280(Above: Minion from Megamind. Below: Kingfish from Rogue Satellite Comics, drawn by Kevin Atkinson)

The last time I saw Chris in person was at the San Diego Comic-Con last year (2013). One of his lifelong infatuations had been Art Clokey’s Gumby and he’d finally gotten the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of his favorite comics of all time, the Gumby Summer Fun Special (Bob Burden and Art Adams, 1987) and write a licensed Gumby comic. The first issue or two had gone well, but he was clearly frustrated that he’d written an issue (and I’m guessing paid partially out of his own pocket for it to be illustrated) that wasn’t being released.


Chris had a backpack full of Gumby issues with him and we were poring over them at this semi-cheesy San Diego bar in the wee hours of Saturday night when a crowd of tipsy twenty-something women burst through the door with their dudebro companions. The ladies asked us about the comics we were looking at and when Chris explained that he wrote Gumby comics, they went nuts. “OHMYGAWD! YOU WRITE GUMBY?! I FUCKING LOVE GUMBY!!”  Chris–as was his nature–gave out Gumby comics to everyone and signed copies for anyone who asked. The drunker these women got, the more they loved Gumby apparently. “I FUCKIN’ LOVE GUMBY!!”

I spoke to Chris after San Diego 2013 via phone several times and I could tell all was not well. He hadn’t been well, in fact, since he suffered an exhaustion-related health event (a stroke of some sort?)  when he was an Eisner judge in 2007. Since then, his behavior had been erratic and on the phone he often seemed scatterbrained or oddly out of it. Other times, he was his “old self,” though.

“Comics will break your heart,” Charles Schulz famously said. I sure think comics broke Chris’s heart.

I could have been a better friend to Chris. I should have been a better friend. I don’t, though, realistically think there’s anything I could have said or done that’d have would have altered the course Chris was on.

I could choose to have my last remembrance of Chris be my final phone conversation with him–where I had to make a rude early exit thanks to the appearance of the cable installers. I won’t, though. Instead I’ll remember him after Comic-Con, embraced by some random girl raving “I FUCKING LOVE GUMBY!!” while he proudly and generously gave away signed copies of his work.

I miss you, Chris.

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