A few weeks ago, I attended SPX for the first time in a few years. Better yet, I attended it as a fan rather than a retail employee of Fantagraphics for the first time in over a decade, and I had a really great time. Best of all, my family was with me and it was great to come and go and visit with people at my leisure and then go leave with them. I saw many old friends and made a ton of new friends and met and inordinate amount of folks I only knew online or by phone — all way too many too mention. I got a little drunk on Saturday night knowing I didn't have to get up at 8AM to get ready for the show and had a great time after the Ignatzes arguing comics with Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro and shooting the shit with folks like Leslie Stein, Andrice Arp, Bill Kartalopoulos and Jesse Reklaw. I attended the Joost Swarte lecture on Sunday – one of the best comics-related pieces of programming I've ever seen – and thanks to the humanitarian efforts of my pal Paul Karasik I managed to get a killer sketch from Mr. Swarte (and also a hilarious one from Mr. Karasik, both of which I shall post later).
Oh, and because I was free to roam, I came home with an enormous pile of comics. Here' some of the stuff I obtained at SPX through purchase, pandering, chicanery, or other means. Season any comments with a grain of salt, because most of this stuff was read days if not weeks ago now and the old man's memory is a bit spotty.
Misc. items from EYE ROCKET PRESS. I like what these guys do. They're not the best drawers or the best writers, they just make fun objects. Take Todd's Favorite Adult Actors and Their Favorite Flowers. This series of handsome, witty and otherwise useless cards come packaged in plastic sleeve pockets and a little Velcro attaché case. Suicide Notes works similarly. Semi-obvious hipster subject matter but executed with humor and a lack of pretention. I can dig it.
Kelly Alder's minicomic menu for MAMMA ZU's restaurant in Richmond, VA is by it's very nature kind of lightweight and not something I have much to say about except that it simultaneously made me want to see more comics by Kelly and try the food at Mamma Zu's the next time I'm in Richmond.
Miriam Libiki's JOBNIK! will invariably be one of the buzz books you hear about over the rest of the year. It's not a perfect book, but signals a unique new voice in comics. Libicki's new "mini" (it's actually magazine-sized), FIERCE EASE, debuted at SPX and although only eight pages long, shows considerable growth since JOBNIK! and might be even more effective on its own terms (the art and lettering and entire composition is already considerably more confident than JOBNIK!). FIERCE EASE is the story of her first trip back to Israel since the events depicted in JOBNIK, and in it she's in full-on Joe Sacco mode, interviewing friends and acquaintances on how life has improved and worsened. It's quite well done.
Matt Wiegle saw me and probably a couple of hundred other people coming with his IS IT BACON?, one of the best and most inherently irresistible bargains of the show at $1.
COMIC FOUNDRY #3. I like this magazine and hope it survives. I can nitpick things and praise things here and there, but essentially it's a nice bridge between the alternative and mainstream in a way that manages to offend neither end and offer enough to satisfy both. Not an easy fence to straddle, to be sure, but editors Tim Leong and Laura Hudson accomplish it with aplomb. My favorite piece was a sidebar that looked into public campaign donation records and found comics personalities who donated to major candidates. Chris Ware is a stud, I'll just say.
LEO GEO AND HIS MIRACULOUS JOURNEY THROUGH THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Jon Chad. This comic, the first I've seen from the SCAD grad, was definitely one of the best finds of the show. I'm hesitant to describe it for fear of tipping too much, but the title really says it all. It's a formally ambitious experiment that also is simply a fun, picaresque adventure strip. A cartoonist to watch.
09/27/08 By James McShane. I bought this for the sheer handsomeness of it as an object: it's a hand-bound little book about 3 inches tall, two inches wide, and one inch thick. Its premise is simple: Keep a log, every ten minutes draw what you've done, do this all day. It's charming if slight, but I sure like it as a little fetish object.
Sean T. Collins' MURDER collects a bunch of short stories written by the prominent comics critic and illustrated by others. I'd actually read most if not all of these before, so I admit I didn't re-read this iteration and don't have much to say at the moment except that I remember enjoying the work well enough.
CROOKED TEETH 2 & 3 and THE ARCHER by Nate Doyle. Nate Doyle was one of the most impressive discoveries at SPX for me. All three of these comics are very good, and The Archer is easily one of the best self-published comics I've read in 2008. Search him out.
WINDY CORNER magazine #3 and SWEET HEART #3 by Austin English. Windy Corner is always a fun comic/art zine and this issue is highlighted by Dylan Williams' great comic essay about Alex Toth. Sweetheart is English's latest minicomic; this one threw me for a loop a bit, I have to admit. His style is an acquired taste to be sure, as English isn't really a cartoonist at heart (though I think he's a fine writer) so much as a thinker who is playing around with the form.
NIGHT BUSINESS #1 & 2 by Benjamin Marra. This probably isn't the best comic I found at SPX, but it's easily one of if not the most enjoyable. It's sleazy and profane and funny and just totally bitchin'. The best way I can describe it is to imagine an alternate universe where Rick Altergott was obsessed with Paul Gulacy instead of Wally Wood (with a bit of the great 1990s outsider comics from Real Deal Productions, which apparently are so obscure I can't even find an image via google, thrown in), the end product being Night Business instead of Doofus.
MAN UP by Sarah Morean and various. A zine about moustaches, complete with a free fake moustache in the back, which I was glad to find because it explained why several people walked around SPX with them on.
DEAD AIR #1 by Caitlin Plovnik. Another CCS student (or grad, I'm not sure). Somewhat indistinctive slacker-lifestyle comedy, but could develop into something more.
B MOVIES by James Turek starring Mitch & Icecream. I liked this. Mitch & Icecream are an elderly, slightly out-of-it couple who are featured in a series of comedic vignettes. The drawing is slightly creepy and the humor is acerbic without being cruel; the whole thing is very effective.
CAKWALK / BETS ARE OFF by Nate Powell. A nice split-cover mini from Nate Powell, whose new Top Shelf graphic novel, Swallow Me Whole, is getting a lot of praise right now (I haven't got my hands on one yet).
MILK TEETH by Kate Allen. Comics with mermaids and unicorns aren't usually up my alley, but this was very well done. Tom Spurgeon wrote a review of this on Comics Reporter earlier this week that put it much better than I could have. At the end of SPX, Kate walked up to me and gave me a very sweet – if slightly creepy (in a good way) – drawing of my baby daughter, which I was extremely touched by! So I was even more pleased when I got home and discovered that I liked her comic.
DHARBIN #1 by Dustin Harbin. This was a great minicomic. This was a downright classic, old-school minicomic. Nothing too heavy, just a ton of goofy, funny, well-executed short strips and jokes. I miss comics like this. One gets the impression that Dustin just really enjoys cartooning more than he necessarily wants to be a capital ‘C' Cartoonist; I wish more comics exuded this kind of enthusiasm, because the end result might be more capital ‘C' Cartoonists.
HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS 1 & 2 by Sarah Glidden. I was impressed to hear that Vertigo has signed this up. On the one hand, it's a little obvious: go to Israel and make a comic about it (middle eastern studies is a remarkably healthy category of contemporary comics these days) – but it's effective and better than the sum of its parts. It's more Rutu Modan than Joe Sacco, stylistically. Glidden is honest and her only agenda is to question her own assumptions and prejudices, but not in a hippie-dippie / p.c. way. This will be the first Vertigo book I've had any interest in reading since Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth, that's for sure.
DO NOT DISTURB MY WAKING DREAM #1 & 2 by Laura Park. Laura Park is great. Her comics make me happy. It's sort of a mystery to me why she isn't a superstar already. Her diary comics are better than most more well-known examples. These two minis are no different, although in Xeroxed black-and-white you lose the gorgeousness of her color work and gentle line. But they're still great. Seriously, click that link. (P.S. I should mention she's gonna be in MOME starting with Vol. 13.)
PANPIPES by Jesse McManus. Filled more with moments and images than story, this has a certain cut-up feel that is visually attractive and flashes occasional, magic moments but ultimately never quite connected with me due to a distinct lack of focus. But I'd like to see more from McManus.
COLD HEAT SPECIAL #8 by Frank Santoro and Lane Milburn. I tend to like all of the Cold Heat specials more than I like Cold Heat, and this one is no different. I'm not sure if that says more about me or Santoro, but this one is no different. Best cover of any comic I picked up at SPX.
THE LEGEND OF REBOB MOUNTAIN and THE FART PARTY by Julia Wertz. I've resisted Julia's comics for too long because I was put off by the simplicity of the art. I've underestimated her for too long. Her drawings still don't do much for me, but she is an honest and funny and even often insightful cartoonist. She made me laugh at a strip about how worthless babies are. And I have one. That's the best I can say. REBOB is a different sort of thing for her, an illustrated chapbook of nonfiction that is very sweet.
THE DIARY OF LISA FRANK by Zack Hazard Vaupen. This wins for the strangest comic from SPX I've read so far. I'm not even sure how to describe it, especially having read it a week ago. A girl giving a blow job flashes back to a potential child predator who may or may not have been a representative of a "MAD" magazine. The work reminds me visually of Portland cartoonist Jason Overby, whom I like very much. This was a bizarre work; the now so-overused-it-has-no-meaning adjective "Lynchian" comes to mind, but in more of a late-period, Inland Empire sort of way. Although I can't pretend to fully get it, I like it enough that I'll almost surely revisit it.
I still have a ton of longer-form books I picked up and other gems like the new GANZFELD (which looks great and the Paper Rad "Problem Solvers" DVD that comes with it is absolutely worth the price of admission alone) that I've only just cracked, but maybe I'll blog about them later. Oh, and go to SPX next year, it's still one of the very best small press shows in the U.S. The influence of new cartoonists from institutions like the CCS, SCAD, SVA, Parsons and others was palpable and maybe the most exciting aspect of the show after the appearance of international superstar Swarte. There are more skilled alternative/art/literary cartoonists now than there has ever been in history, professional or amateur, and SPX proves it.
Unfortunately, we forgot to take any pictures at SPX except for pics of my daughter, Clementine. Here we are at the Swarte talk, which she sat through intently.
Now it's off to APE…