Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
Report? Ha! "Report" implies that I've got some sense of the gestalt of the show this year, and I definitely don't. Between driving down on Saturday morning rather than Friday night, traffic, getting lost (me only!), getting locked out of our hotel room because the lock's battery died, and doing two panels back to back, my friends and I ended up with a lot less time to prowl and browse than we normally do. Any big-picture view of the con I might have could be only be pieced together from a small handful of hurried circuits of the show floor, plus what turns out to be the very limited perspective one has from being "on stage" during panels or award shows.
1) It sure looked crowded! When my buddies and I rolled into the show floor on Saturday afternoon around 2:15 or so, I basically did a vaudevillian double-take upon seeing just how many people were packed in there. Maybe I'm just mentally comparing it to the wider aisles (and cavernous environment) of this year's MoCCA, but I don't think so--it seemed much busier than the last two SPXs I went to, both in this same venue. I talked to one exhibitor who met his sales goals for the entire weekend before day's end Saturday, and another who said foot traffic was up but sales were flat, and somewhere between those poles were a lot of people who said things were going very well indeed. More support for my theory that cons and festivals and whatnot are going to continue to do well throughout the Great Recession even as the industries they're tied to struggle because they offer not just a commodity but a community, not just a purchase but an event?
2) This was one of those shows where I didn't end up buying anything I'd never heard of before. I know a lot of people NEVER have that happen to them, they always come away with some kind of hidden treasure, and honestly that's probably the right thing to do, or try to do. But man, I was just soooooo overwhelmed by the amount of high-quality product by creators and publishers I was already following. Three new Cold Heat comics, for pete's sake! New comics from Theo Ellsworth, Kevin Huizenga, Jeffrey Brown, John Porcellino, James McShane, Matt Wiegle, Tom Neely, the whole Buenaventura Press altcomic revival...it was nuts even if you stayed away from the big, readily available elsewhere book-format debuts from Porcellino and Al Columbia and Gahan Wilson and Carol Tyler and so on and so forth. (Which I did, with the exception of a personalized copy of Driven by Lemons that Josh Cotter was nice enough to comp me, so it didn't count anyway.) I spent a lot of money at this show and feel like I barely scratched the surface.
[2.5)Speaking of barely scratching the surface, only four new Bowie sketches this time around. But they're doozies. Stay tuned!]
3) Man, people love this show. Multiple presenters at the Ignatz Awards talked about how great it felt to go to a place where everyone knew what a minicomic and a graphic novel was. And it's true! That's a major selling point for a show like this. There's not a huge local contingent here the way there is at MoCCA or many of the other altcomix-friendly shows, so it really does feel like a weekend retreat for people who make and like good comics. In my case I'm traveling five-plus hours each way for a 24-hour immersion in looking at, buying, reading, and talking about comics, basically. It feels like a vacation.
4) Now here's the punchline: Looking over my 2008 SPX report, I see I said many of the same things! "Busy, bustling show filled with happy altcomix creators and fans with tons of killer debuts to the point where you end up feeling dazed and dizzied and unable to take it all in" appears to be the default mode for SPX at this point. No one seems to be reminiscing over the old Friday/Saturday cookout/softball game/Dean Haspiel's Topless Revue-model SPX anymore, either. When you look up "undisputed highlight of most attendees' con season" in the dictionary, you'd find SPX's picture, basically.
5) People asked me how the Critics' Roundtable panel went and I had to tell them "Good!...I think." It turns out that it's hard to tell how a panel went when you're on it--you're sitting there listening to the questions, listening to the other panelists' responses, and formulating your own answers when you aren't busy actually saying them. It was a big group up there, but I was surprised with how well things flowed and how much everyone was able to speak when it suited them. I didn't get the sense that anyone dominated the conversation or that anyone just disappeared into the background.
In terms of what was discussed, it seems like it focused a bit more on the ins and outs of writing criticism, as opposed to focusing on the state criticism itself, if you follow me. We talked a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of writing online versus writing for print, the blogging format, the pace of production, the back and forth between critics online, and so on. If I recall correctly, the last couple of panels had a lot more discussion of whether or not there was enough valid criticism out there, how it stacked up compared to criticism in other fields, etc. This group appeared to take for granted that yes, there's plenty of valid comics criticism out there (even Gary!), and we're doing just fine, thank you.
There were a couple of topics I'd have liked to get a few more words in on, though. The one that comes to mind right away is Tucker Stone's dismissal of the notion of "critical discourse," likening it to the mouthbreathers who leave comments on YouTube. I don't remember exactly who said what, but someone else added that much of the "critical discourse" online consists of people reviewing the week's superhero comics. But I doubt anyone on the panel was thinking of either of those things when using that term. Actually, I doubt anyone on the panel even reads any of those things. For me, the only critical discourse worth talking about is the other people on that panel, and critics like them--people whose work I like and respect, in other words. Why would you care what people you don't respect think about anything? You can pick and choose what "critical discourse" you participate in, and do what you can to advance it.
This actually ties in with an earlier topic of discussion: the need to write for an audience. I said that I couldn't keep track of my hit counts if I wanted to, which is true. I mainly write for me. But there is a form of feedback I can monitor, and which does matter to me: the responses of other people I respect. For a long time I've said I judge how my blog's doing by who shows up to comment--it's pretty much all my friends and bloggers I like, which makes me feel like I'm doing something right. Heck, at this point my favorite comics critic, my favorite music critic, and my favorite film critic have all told me they like what I'm doing around here. Not only is that the critical discourse that matters, that's the hit count that matters.
While we're on the subject of audience, though, this one was packed. It was flattering!
6) If anything, I have even less of a sense of how my "New Action" panel went, since it was up to me to host it and shape it and keep it moving. With four participants--plus a late assist from the audience from the great Lane Milburn of Closed Caption Comics--it was a manageable size, so again, everyone who wanted to weigh in on a subject could. Moreover the four guys on the panel--Frank Santoro, Ben Marra, Kaz Strzepek, and Shawn Cheng--were each coming at the "alternative action comic" from a different direction, with different goals, and producing different results, so it ended up being very interesting to me to hear how similar their motivating inspirations were given how different their output was. I think the way the panel came to focus on issues like recapturing the joy of childhood, play, games, the thrills that genre art once gave you, the simple act of drawing, and so on (hopefully) gave the audience a hook on which what was a fairly oblique concept could be hung. I mostly hope that what they took away was that they should go upstairs and buy Cold Heat, Night Business, The Mourning Star, and The Would-Be Bridegrooms--not to mention Prison Pit, Powr Mastrs, Scott Pilgrim, Street Angel, New Engineering, The Mage's Tower, Daybreak, The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, Ninja, and any number of similar comics that combine visceral thrills with deeply rewarding approaches to character, art, and world-building. (Listen to the panel here.)
7) I loved the Ignatzes! I'd never gone before, and I have to say it felt nice to see an award show where a) so many people and books who would have been my choices for nominees for awards were in fact nominees, and b) so many of those nominees won! And instead of a giant half-empty room it was a small room filled with an SRO crowd, most of whom were drinking beer and all of whom were thrilled to be there and thrilled for the winners. I presented the award for Outstanding Series, which gave me an opportunity to vent a little bit about how Diamond's decision to raise its order minimums disproportionately stuck it to these kinds of comics, which elicited some appreciative whoops from some people in the audience, which made me feel like a rabble-rouser. Best of all, Jordan Crane's Uptight wound up winning that award--Jordan's work played an indispensable role in making me a reader of alternative comics in general, and in a very real sense I wouldn't have been up there presenting that award at all if it weren't for his comics, so it was a huge personal thrill and privilege for me to be able to make that announcement. Congratulations, Jordan!