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Posted at 6:00 PM ET, 09/15/2010

'HARK! A WINNER': 5 Highlights from this year's SPX convention

By Michael Cavna


The Washington area's SMALL PRESS EXPO is awfully easy to like. The indie comics convention puts on no airs, except the distinct air of a communal vibe. Access to artists is easy, the lines are almost never ominous (the obvious popularity of Kate Beaton notwithstanding) and most exhibitors seem to check their ego at the door, even though so much of this shindig involves the sheer act of self-promotion.

Living up to its reputation, this year's event over the weekend in suburban Maryland offered wall-to-wall highlights, including signings by such greats as Jaime Hernandez and such Ignatz Award winners as James Sturm ("Market Day") and R. Sikoryak ("Masterpiece Comics") and Kevin Huizenga ("Ganges"). Comic Riffs also enjoyed chatting up such talented cartoonists as Dave Kellett ("Sheldon") and G.B. Tran ("Vietnamerica") and Nate Powell ("Swallow Me Whole").

Amid the hubbub and thrum and flowing chocolate fountain, here are five sessions that Comic Riffs especially enjoyed (in no particular order):

1. KATE BEATON and JULIA WERTZ: Fans lined up with geeked-out giddiness for the "Hark! A Vagrant" and "Fart Party" cartoonists (respectively). The conversation, moderated by Dustin Harbin, yielded many swell needle-drop quotes. To wit: Harbin asked about creators who self-identify as a "cartoonist" but won't go within a mile of owning the term "artist." Wertz replied: "People get caught up in the semantics of it. If you're a cartoonist and don't consider yourself an artist, that's crap." And when asked about seeking print publication beyond webcomicking, Beaton said: "I wanted that legitimacy. ... That i'm not just a web cartoonist. I wanted an editor of a published magazine to say, 'Yeah, you're good enough.' "

2. "REMEMBERING HARVEY PEKAR": When the great Pekar died this past summer, Comic Riffs interviewed a sampling of cartoonists who had worked with Harvey and/or knew his work intimately -- including Scott McCloud, Neil Gaiman and Dean Haspiel ("The Quitter"). And it was especially great to have Haspiel himself on hand for a Pekar panel, as well as Vanessa Davis, Jeff Newelt, Rick Parker, Ed Piskor and Sean Pryor. (The session was smartly moderated by The Beat's Heidi MacDonald.) Their remembrances of Harvey's personality and process were insightful, engaging -- and Newelt's uncanny, scratchy-and-nasal impression of Pekar helped ratchet the panel's entertainment value up to "11."

3. BRAVE NEW COMIC STRIPS: Friend of Comic Riffs Richard Thompson ("Cul de Sac") was joined by the gifted Keith Knight ("The Knight Life," "The K Chronicles") and Marguerite Dabaie. ("The Hookah Girl") as they shared their tales of hewing to the traditional path of newspaper syndication in 2010. Knight said that the comics syndication industry is "really, really, really really" down the tubes right now and praised the Chad Carpenter comic strip "Tundra" -- which has a single dedicated sales rep -- as a modern business model for virtual-DIY syndication. And Thompson spoke of his very gradual progression toward -- and initial wariness of -- seven-day-a-week syndication. (The ever-knowledgeable moderator, comics scholar/blogger Mike Rhode, has posted audio from that session.)

(via Steven Greenstreet):

Small Press Expo - Canon 7D from Steven Greenstreet on Vimeo.

4. COMICS FOR YOUNGER READERS: Raina Telgemeier ("Smile") and the Scottish duo Metaphrog ("Louis -- Night Salad") helped make this a particularly lively session. Telgemeier shared how some of her work was intended for a high-school readership, yet how her publisher steered toward marketing her for a middle-school audience.


5. THE ANIMATION SHOWCASE: SPX's first "Animation Showcase" offered an eminently entertaining array of styles and story, tone and technique. Featured were more than a dozen shorts -- some stop-motion, some hand-drawn. Particular highlights were "Wonders of Nature: Our National Parks Yosemite," by Clarissa Matalone and "Suck It Up," by Rebecca Boensch.


Suck It Up from rebecca boensch on Vimeo.

By Michael Cavna  | September 15, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Comic conventions  | Tags:  Ignatz Awards, SPX, Small Press Expo  
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