SPX 2012 Report

So, on Saturday September 15, Tommy and I drove down to SPX 2012 in Bethesda Maryland. We had fellow PHILLY COMIX JAM cartoonists, Bob Pistilli and David Jablow in tow. Check it all out complete with Tommy’s pictures.

Saturday morning was slightly chilly, with the first pangs of autumn, but was bright and sunny. We headed out on the road at 8. Traffic was light and the driving easy.

We arrived in at the Bethesda Marriot by 10:30, pretty good time for a 150 mile trip. Seeing that the hotel was charging for parking this year (last year was free), we inquired of a passing comics fan if there was some free parking available somewhere. She directed to a Metro station parking garage across the street where parking was free on weekends. Sweet! It worked out just fine with less than a five minute walk to the hotel.

After a nod to Frank Santoro by the hotel entrance, we got into the quickly growing line. We were paid and ready as the doors to the show opened at 11:00.

There were perhaps the best list of panels I’d ever seen at a show. I seriously would have loved to see jut about all of them all but there was only enough time to see five. Tommy and I were interested in the British Comics panel that started at 11:30 so we had a half hour to kill. I immediately went over to see Ian Harker and get my freshly minted copy of SECRET PRISON #7 (the Garo Manga tribute issue) that contained my Yoshiharo Tsuge story. The oversize (10.25″ x 13.25″) book looks great. I spoke to Ian briefly about the trials and tribulations bringing this baby to market. Including making the printer finally understand that the book is supposed to read from back to front (as is the case with Japanese manga).

(L to R) Box Brown, Cody Pickrodt, Ian Harker and Doug Slack – Secret Prison #7 can be seen in the center left

Cody Pickrodt was at the same table, as was PCJ‘s Box Brown and Doug Slack. Josh Bayer, who I met for the first time even though we had a brief back and forth on Facebook a few days before, was also there.

(L to R) Pat Aulisio and Hic & Hoc publisher, Matt Moses

Also at SPX representing the Philly scene were Mike Sgier, Brady Russell, Steve Peters and Bianca Alu-Marr. Pat Alusio was there with his publisher, Matt Moses of Hic & Hoc.

I went to the Koyama Press table to buy the new LOSE #4 by Michael DeForge. I said hello to Michael and also purchased all three issues of his minicomic, KID MAFIA. I first noticed Michael’s work in issues of SMOKE SIGNAL a few years ago and started to take notice. I was knocked out by his LOSE #3 story, “Dog 2070″ about a divorced dog dad with 2 kids that all live in a post apocalyptic landscape. It kinda reminded me of the play, “Happy Days” by Samuel Beckett, in its tone and post apocalyptic setting. I like Michael’s work quite a bit.

(L to R) Glyn Dillon, Sam Arthur, Rob Clough – Moderator, Nick Abadzis, Luke Pearson and Ellen Linder

By the time I got to the English Comics panel it was already in progress. Nick Abadzis, the third artist on the panel was finishing up. Next was Luke Pearson another artist who’s work I really like. Luke’s is quiet and withdrawn but I liked to hear how he got started drawing comics. Ellen Lindner spoke how she and Jeremy Day created all-female anthology, THE STRUMPET.

(L to R) Frank Santoro, Obnoxious Three-Legged Cyclops and Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez was up next interviewed by comics artist, Frank Santoro. For me, artist on artist interviews are always the most interesting. More so here, as Henrandez and Santoro know each other. Hernandez said that Maggie stories are easy to write. He just puts her in a situation and follows her to what she does. A 10 page story can expand into a whole series of stories. He mentioned he is haunted by the past. He talked about the end of “The Death of Speedy” where Speedy’s ghost visits various characters. He said that scene was based on a true story of a girl he knew who was visited by the ghost of her boyfriend the night he died. He also said the panel where Izzy turns on the light to find the room empty was based on a scene in The Eddy Duchin Story (1956), a biopic about a pianist starring Tyrone Power; a scene he is still moved by. He said he gets a lot of ideas for staging from old movies. A questioner from the audience speculated on what the band “Ape Sex” sounded like. Jaime said they sounded like thrash metal and told the secret origin of the band. When he was asked what he likes to listen to while he is working. He said he used to work with music playing but now prefers to draw in complete silence except for inking once in a while. I could have listed to Jaime talk for another day and a half.

The next panel I wanted to see was with Gilbert Hernandez in an hour so I had some time to give the dealers room a pass. I had definitely wanted to check out the NoBrow table. I was hoping to pick up and advance copy of Luke Pearson’s new “Hilda and the Bird Parade,” third book in the “Hilda” series, which is scheduled for October release. Alas, it isn’t out yet but I did get to chat with Luke himself for a moment. I hope to pick up his new book at the Brooklyn Comics Fest in November. I did snag the apparent last copy (?) of the NOBROW anthology. The seventh and latest volume features comics and illustrations by Luke Pearson, Michael DeForge, Joost Swarte, Tom Gruld, Anders Nilsen and Joseph Lambert, among others. I usually pick a book that is otherwise very difficult to get as my splurge purchase and this was it. It’s a damn gorgeous looking book.

(L to R) Sean T. Collins and Gilbert Hernandez

Gilbert Hernandez was interviewed by Sean T. Collins. He spoke mostly about his extended cycle of stories about Fritz. He relayed an interesting story about her origin. It seemed that when he drew her the first time in the “Birdland” miniseries, he didn’t like the way she looked but instead of fixing the drawing, he let it go. The way that character looked became Fritz’s older sister Petra. Gilbert also spoke how he doesn’t draw with a brush anymore except for very large drawings. He now draws with a pen. In fact he doesn’t even draw larger than print size anymore. He draws same size as print so he can produce pages faster. He also spoke briefly about his new “Fatima: The Blood Spinners” series for Dark Horse that is currently being serialized. It was an old idea that he had previously abandoned. Last year’s “Citizen Rex” miniseries was also based on an old plot that was planned for “Mister X” back in the 80s. That series, written by brother, Mario, gave Gilbert a chance to relax and just draw. When that was done he was ready to sink his teeth into one of his own stories again.

Gilbert Hernandez

Now was a good time to break for lunch. It was an hour until Dan Clowes’s interview. Just enough time to relax, enjoy lunch and decompress a bit. Unable to find a table with an umbrella, we headed down to ground level to find a shady spot.

(L to R) Alvin Buenaventura, Bill Kartalopoulos and Daniel Clowes

Daniel Clowes was interviewed by Ken Parille and Alvin Buenaventura, editor of “The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist.” On first look, Clowes appeared a little stern and austere, slightly frowning, wearing a black shirt. But soon he was talking, employing a dry wit, breaking into a broad smile and getting big laughs. Dan stated that he like so work in silence. He used to work at night but now works 9-5 to be on his family’s schedule. He liked to have Alvin Buenaventura over his house to select art pieces from Clowes’ studio. As he worked, he could hear Alvin chuckling in the closet at the drawings he found.

(L to R) Ken Parille, Alvin Buenaventura and Daniel Clowes

Clowes mentioned that he is currently working on a long book project that he is 100 pages into. He also spoke about the upcoming film version of “Wilson” to be directed by Alexander Payne. He still draws on the drafting table he bought when he was 15 and can’t imagine drawing comics anywhere else. He talked about an magazine illustration he did of Glen Beck. It was ultimately rejected when Beck saw the drawing and decided he would prefer a photograph. Clowes did say that former Penn State coach and convicted ubermolester, Jerry Sandusky, was a perfect looking “Clowes” character that he would love to draw.

 Daniel Clowes

I stopped by to chat with Philly’s Mike Sgier, winner of last year’s Philadelphia CityPaper “Comics Conest,” a moment and picked up his new fantasy comic, “Sid & Francis.” I had previously recommended a couple of books to him on fairy tale analysis from a psychological perspective by Robert Bly and Marie-Louise von Franz which come from a Joseph Campbel/Carl Jung point of view. We chatted a bit about them. He said he enjoyed them both and that the books provided some new insights. He is now reading a second von Franz text.

I wanted to stop by and give North Carolina’s Ben Towle a hello. Ben and I exchanged emails a year ago. He was discussing a strip on his blog that James Sturm an I had done a dozen years earlier for the COMICS JOURNAL’s critical reappraisal of Scott McClouds “Understanding Comics” at  ten years,  issue. James and I produced the 8 page “Response to Chapter Nine: Build a Beach Head” strip. Ben had been using an copy of an old zerox James had and had posted those fuzzy images. I sent him nice clean scans as well as a commentary of my remembrance working on it with James. You can see it here. Anyway, it was nice to finally meet Ben. I picked up a copy of his color mini, “Animal Alphabet,” and we talked about the Platinum Carbon Pen, a Japanese fountain pen he had liked and had written about on his blog. He let me try it and it was pretty nice. It seems to be a good alternative to the Rotring Artpen (R.I.P). Instead of a fixed ball nib like the Artpen it has a quill like tip. The pen’s line has a little more variance than the more uniform line of the Artpen (which takes a little practice to make it sing). I ordered mine as soon as I got home and am looking forward to trying it out.

(L to R) Sammy Harkam and Dan Nadel

The final panel of the night was Sammy Harkham interviewed by PictureBox publisher, Dan Nadel. I arrived a little late so I missed the first 10 minutes or so. Sammy talked at length about his sumptuous architectural room drawings that he has been doing the last few years. He said that photo reference was a revelation to him. He also talked a bit about his relationship with Bonnie Prince Billy, who acted as a mentor to him in the art life. He spoke briefly on horror and the artifice of horror. He told the story of when he finally attended a Fangoria convention he realized that all the people there liked horror in a different way than he did. He aparently recently made a short film of a head melting that we saw an image from. He touched on the KRAMERS ERGOT anthology series saying that it was a way to make a whole book without having to draw the whole thing. I was eyeing Sammy’s new book from PictureBox, “Everything Together,” earlier. I like his drawings quite a bit but I’m unsure of his stories. I’m certainly thinking of picking it up later.

We had time for one last quick pass through the dealer’s room. Bob had liked the talks with Dan Clowes and Gilbert Hernandez (especially his Palomar stories) even though he was completely unfamiliar with their work. I know Bob would probably like “Wilson” and I thought we’d pass Fantagraphics to see what Palomar volumes they had on hand. We were in luck and Bob snagged the seeming last copy of the book containing ‘Beto’s earliest Palomar Stories. Unfortunately, it seemed there wasn’t a copy of “Wilson” to be had in the place.

Well, that was pretty much it. We said a few good-bys and headed out the door. We got in the car and headed to downtown Bethesda. The municipal lots were full as usual by 7:00 but we were lucky enough to get a spot on the street. Considering all the places to eat in Bethesda we wound up eating in the same brew pub we ate in last year. Bethesda is the kind of place that looks much different during the day than at night. At night, Bethesda looks all the same to me and I got lost! It took a lot of driving around and the ultimate humiliation: asking directions. We finally got to a few landmarks I remembered from SPX’s downtown days. I hit the gas and we were outta there.

The travel conversations veered from the Vatican and Catholocism in general to the paintings of Otto Dix. The worst news of the day came over the radio that the Phillies lost 5-0 to the worst team in baseball. If that’s the worst news of the day, then all-in-all, it was a pretty great day.

Which it was!

SPX 2012 was certainly one of the most pleasurable shows I’ve ever been to. All of the panels seemde to be interesting, worthwhile and well considered. The expanded floorspace of the dealer’s room was a noticeable plus. Although the floor was full of people there was almost no crowding. A really spectacular job on the show this year by the SPX organizers. Aparently sellers had a great weekend too. It was a completely sucessful melding of art and comerce.

Next trip: the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Fest in November.

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