SPX 2018: Observations & Recollections

SPX 2018: “Three tickets, please.”

Whenever I go to anything creative, be it a play or a reading or a comics art festival, I do a lot of processing: What have I learned? How does this fit into the world? So, Small Press Expo is no different in that regard. Once you drop into SPX, it is like being inside a giant pinball machine as you’re being thrown in one direction after another. For me, with many years of experience in creating comics and writing about them, I rely on my internal database to make sense of it all.

For this post, I will introduce some pieces of the puzzle that I will discuss further in upcoming posts. I’m as much cartoonist as journalist in the sense that I feel most alive when I’m tackling a project that requires a good bit of deciphering.

It is my strong belief that you can’t study the art of comics inside a comics bubble. I mean, you run a high risk of doing yourself and the reader a disservice if you come to the subject of comics only as a comics enthusiast. I’m digressing here a bit but I’m just trying to say that comics fit into a much bigger picture. You can, as the saying goes, lose the forest for the trees. Where do you begin with such a colossal subject as comics? You look at it, walk away for a while, then refocus–and always keep in mind those outside of comics or just entering the world of comics.

One thing I do know is that people still read. And I’m always pleased when some folks make their way over to my posts. I do my best to provide concise text with a decent sampling of images as needed. Here I will post some creators I will spotlight in some upcoming posts. I think this will result in giving a sense of the wide range of activity and talent at Small Press Expo. Here are some representative talent: Kati Lacker, Luke Foster, and Sophie Goldstein:

Kati Lacker

Luke Foster

Sophie Goldstein

Let’s make a quick detour. I want to share with you a little taste of the comics workshops at SPX put together by Comics Workbook. I had the honor of participating in one led by Dash Shaw. We covered quite a lot of work in one hour! I include a sample in this below video. I even got a chance to participate in the informal Q&A. I wasn’t planning to but then I did.

I put a question to Dash Shaw: “This may sound silly but is the only true work in comics created by one person?” His response was interesting: “It’s great that a work in comics can be created by one person. Not all things can be created by one person. You can’t make a baby with just one person.”

Dash Shaw leading a Comics Workbook session at SPX

I enjoyed that response very much. But it was only the next morning that I thought of a much better way to frame the question–or my own answer back: “It can hold true that, just like the lone painter creating a painting, and we see painting as the act of a singular vision, so too can we see that in the creation of comics, there is a singular vision by one creator.” That is exactly what each student was doing in that session with Shaw: creating one work by one person. So, anyway, that for me was good to think about. Of course, there can be other factors that come in, like hiring a colorist. In the end, comics are about a driving force and that usually means one very determined creator started the ball rolling or kept the ball to themselves.

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Filed under Comics, Illustration, Illustrators, Kati Lacker, Luke Foster, mini comics, mini-comics, Minicomics, Small Press, Small Press Expo, Sophie Goldstein

SPX Spotlight: INK BRICK #9

INK BRICK #9

If you’re a dreamy cartoonist with a poetic bent, then you may already know about the comics anthology, INK BRICK. This is a journal dedicated to comics poetry. Issue 9, which debuts at Small Press Expo, features work by 26 creators using the visual language of comics to make poetry. But what is “poetry comics” within a community of alt-comics? Isn’t everything “poetic” at a gathering like Small Press Expo? Yes, it is! I suppose you could say that we’re talking about work at the farther reaches.

Like spoken word, I think there’s more poetry comics being made than some may realize. Essentially, you are already playing with words and images in one form or another if you’re an alt-cartoonist. But, one could say, if you focus on the poetry, then the results can potentially be even more interesting.

The important thing is to relax and not take yourself too seriously. That said, I like what I see in this collection. In that spirit of irreverence and thoughtful searching is work by Johnny Damm. I like his “Weird Comics” presented here. There are panels, word balloons, even superheros, all shifting around looking for something to do, or a way out.

INK BRICK contributors this year are:

Jenna Andersen, Jimmy Comey, Johnny Damm, Clotilde Deschamps-Prince, Zoe Drew, Jamaica Dyer, Oliver East, Kate Farquhar, Sophia Wiedeman Glock, Lauren Haldeman, John Hexer, Daria Komleva-Litvinova, David Lasky, Laurel Lynn Leake, Urbano Mata, Vernon Meidlinger-Chin, Josh O’neill, Lorenz Ohrmer, Alexander Rothman, Kawai Shen, Alexey Sokolin, Chaille Stovall, Deshan Tennekoon, Maria Tetzlaff, Noemi Charlotte Thieves, and Paul K. Tunis.

INK BRICK #9 will debut at Small Press Expo and it is well worth picking up. If you can’t make it out to SPX, be sure to visit Ink Brick right here.

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Filed under Comics, Poetry, Small Press Expo

SPX Spotlight: MY FRIEND DAHMER

A troubled person who grows up to become a monster. That could be the pitch for another superhero movie but this movie is dead serious. My Friend Dahmer is the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most infamous of serial killers. When other boys are out exploring and playing, young Jeffrey is out collecting dead bodies. Not yet human bodies. That will come later. In the same spirit as the graphic novel it is based on, the viewer is asked to observe an awkward teen growing up who, bit by bit, loses his humanity.

Cartoonist John Beckderf, aka Derf, will be at Small Press Expo to participate in a Q&A following a screening of the 2017 movie.

DERF PRESENTS MY FRIEND DAHMER SCREENING AND Q&A
White Oak Room September 15, 2018 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Join creator Derf in a showing of the critically acclaimed film made from his international best-selling graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer. Derf will talk about the process of getting the graphic novel made into a film, as well as take questions after the screening. The graphic novel has been translated into over a dozen languages and won the prestigious Angouléme Prize in 2014. Comics historian and SPX Executive Director Warren Bernard will host Derf and the screening.

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Filed under graphic novels, Small Press Expo

SPX Spotlight: Ellen Forney and ROCK STEADY

ROCK STEADY by Ellen Forney

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life, by Ellen Forney, is a unique guidebook to mental health. Anyone can find something insightful and useful here. This is cartoonist Ellen Forney’s latest book in a long line of outstanding work. Among that special group of artist-writers, Ellen Forney has done it all: a remarkable comic strip, illustrations, and various other distinguished work in the comics medium. I’ve known Ellen for many years. I was the curator for her first solo art show. With all that in mind, if you’re going to this weekend’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda, then be sure to see Ellen Forney, and one of the most original voices in comics. Here is a bio from Small Press Expo:

Ellen Forney is a cartoonist and illustrator living in Seattle, WA, with her partner. Forney illustrated Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007) and authored her 2012 graphic memoir, Marbles. She was the 2012 recipient of The Stranger Genius Award for Literature as well as the winner of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.

Ellen Forney will take part in the following SPX panel:

Writing About Bipolar
September 15, 2018
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
White Flint Auditorium

As mental health is becoming a subject that’s more openly discussed than ever, comics narratives are emerging about personal experiences with mental illness. Moderator Rob Clough will discuss with Lawrence Lindell (Couldn’t Afford Therapy, So I Made This), Ellen Forney (Rock Steady), and Keiler Roberts (Chlorine Gardens) their struggles with Bipolar Disorder, the choices they make in writing about it, and how this process affects how they think about it.

And you can always visit Ellen Forney’s website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Ellen Forney, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, graphic novels, Seattle, Small Press Expo, SPX

SPX Comics Review: GOOD KINGS BING & BOWIE SWING

GOOD KINGS BING & BOWIE SWING

Good Kings Bing & Bowie Swing, published by Brain Cloud Comics, is a comic book with a gentle, quirky, and upbeat theme. I’m always fascinated with the innate ability of comics to crossover into various subjects and demographics. It sounds sort of counterintuitive to say but comics are not just for comics enthusiasts. Comics will always surprise you with how elastic it is and how broad its appeal is. This can apply for any comic, even a comic that may have, by all intents and purposes, been created with a small group of readers in mind. So, this is a lengthy way of saying that I see this weird and funny book as being something a lot of readers will enjoy!

Bing Crosby and David Bowie to the rescue!

It’s remarkable to see how well the creative team (written by Jim Ousley; illustrated by Carlos Gabriel Ruiz; lettered by Brandon Daniels) works with its chosen subject: an enhanced/fanciful look beyond that time that Bowie and Bing sang together on a holiday special. For this book, this unlikely dynamic duo is lending a helping hand to those in distress.

Brain Cloud Comics offers a wide variety of quality comics. I go back with this publisher to my reviewing one of its earliest projects, Pretentious Record Store Guy. You can read my review right here. And you can read my interview with creator Carlos Gabriel Ruiz right here. What I enjoyed about this book was its irreverence and style. When you reach that sweet spot of irony, it’s something special. That said, this Bowie/Bing comic gives us a taste of that.

If you are heading out to Small Press Expo this weekend, be sure to stop by at Table B10 and visit Brain Cloud Comics. You will find the SPX debut of Good Kings Bing & Bowie Swing as well as the debut of Blood on the Track #2, plus many more titles.

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Filed under Brain Cloud Comics, Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Small Press Expo

Small Press Expo: 2018 Ignatz Award Nominees

Ignatz image by 2017 Promising New Talent winner Bianca Xunise

The Small Press Expo (SPX), the preeminent showcase for the exhibition of independent comics, graphic novels and alternative political cartoons, is pleased to announce the 2018 nominees for the annual presentation of the Ignatz Awards, a celebration of outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning.

The Ignatz, named after George Herriman’s brick-wielding mouse from his long running comic strip Krazy Kat, recognizes exceptional work that challenges popular notions of what comics can achieve, both as an art form and as a means of personal expression. The Ignatz Awards are a festival prize, the first of such in the United States comic book industry.

The nominees for the ballot were determined by a panel of five of the best of today’s comic artists: Mita Mahato, Carolyn Nowak, Kevin Czap, Leila Abdelrazaq, and Taneka Stotts.

Congratulations to all our nominees!, with the votes cast for the awards by the attendees during SPX. The Ignatz Awards will be presented at the gala Ignatz Awards ceremony held on Saturday, September 15, 2018 at 9:30 P.M.

Outstanding Artist

Yvan Alagbé – Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures
Ivy Atoms – Pinky & Pepper Forever
Tommi Parrish – The Lie and How We Told It
Richie Pope – The Box We Sit On
Sophie Standing – Anxiety is Really Strange

Outstanding Collection

Beirut Won’t Cry – Mazen Kerbaj
Blackbird Days – Manuele Fior
Language Barrier – Hannah K. Lee
Sex Fantasy – Sophia Foster-Dimino
Super Late Bloomer: My Early Days in Transition – Julia Kaye

Outstanding Anthology

La Raza Anthology: Unidos y Fuertes – ed. by Kat Fajardo & Pablo Castro
Comics for Choice – ed. by Hazel Newlevant, Whit Taylor and Ø.K. Fox
Ink Brick #8 – ed. by Alexander Rothmans, Paul K. Tunis, and Alexey Sokolin
Bottoms Up, Tales of Hitting Rock Bottom – ed. by J.T. Yost
Lovers Only – ed. by Mickey Zacchilli

Outstanding Graphic Novel

Why Art? – Eleanor Davis
Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom – Marcelo D’Salete
Uncomfortably Happily – Yeon-sik Hong
The Lie and How We Told It – Tommi Parrish
Anti-Gone – Connor Willumsen

Outstanding Series

Ley Lines – Czap Books
Nori – Rumi Hara
Bug Boys – Laura Knetzger
Gumballs – Erin Nations
Frontier – Youth in Decline

Outstanding Minicomic

Dog Nurse – Margot Ferrick
Greenhouse – Debbie Fong
Common Blessings & Common Curses – Maritsa Patrinos
Mothball 88 – Kevin Reilly
Say It With Noodles: On Learning to Speak the Language of Food – Shing Yin Khor

Outstanding Comic

Recollection – Alyssa Berg
Hot to Be Alive – Tara Booth
Hot Summer Nights – Freddy Carrasco
Whatsa Paintoonist – Jerry Moriarty
Baopu – Yao Xiao

Outstanding Online Comic

Woman World – Aminder Dhaliwal
The Wolves Outside – Jesse England
A Fire Story – Brian Files
Lara Croft Was My Family – Carta Monir
A Part of Me is Still Unknown – Meg O’Shea

Promising New Talent

Yasmin Omar Ata – Mis(h)adra
Tara Booth – How to Be Alive
Xia Gordon – The Fashion of 2004, Harvest
Rumi Hara – Nori and The Rabbits of the Moon
Tommi Parrish – The Lie and How We Told It

Outstanding Story

Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures – Yvan Alabge
Why Art? – Eleanor Davis
Rhode Island Me – Michael DeForge
How the Best Hunter in the Village Met Her Death – Molly Ostertag
The Lie and How We Told It – Tommi Parrish

Small Press Expo is this weekend in Bethesda, Maryland, September 15-16!

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Ignatz Awards, Independent Comics, Micropublishing, Minicomics, Small Press Expo

SPX Comics Review: THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is such a refreshing and original graphic novel that I could not put it down once I started. Published by Scholastic, this is the first book both drawn and written by Molly Ostertag. You may know Ostertag from her work as the artist behind the long running webcomic, Strong Female Protagonist and the graphic novel Shattered Warrior.

Ostertag’s passion shines through each page. In this tale of the supernatural, there is a strict divide between genders: only women are witches; only men are shapeshifters. But Aster won’t abide by the rules. You too will root for Aster, the boy who dreams of being a witch.

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

Aster is naturally drawn to what has been deemed the feminine domain. It is only a matter of time before this conflict erupts and forces his community to respond. That becomes inevitable once a dragon monster threatens everyone.

THE WITCH BOY by Molly Ostertag

A golden rule that does make sense to follow is that an artist will do well to pursue what is compelling. I don’t find a false note anywhere in this book and that all has to do with Ostertag’s authenticity. I look forward to seeing Molly Ostertag proceed upon her merry way and continue to delight her readers.

Molly Ostertag will have a table at Small Press Expo in Bethesda Maryland this upcoming weekend, September 15-16. You can see her at two panels: “Comics with Molly Ostertag,” on Saturday, from 4:15 pm – 5:15 pm, at the Glen Echo Room; and “Building The Jungle Gym,” on Sunday, from 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm, at the White Oak Room.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Molly Ostertag, Small Press Expo, SPX

Comics Review: THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb

Mystery and irony abound.

The Prince, a graphic novel by Liam Cobb, published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, has an intriguing reserve about it. There is an ambiguous and messy quality at play. It takes patience to build something like this brimming with mystery and irony.

This is the story of May and she’s in love with a frog. Well, she is and she isn’t. There’s a frog and there isn’t–or it’s more than just a frog. And if the frog is more MacGuffin than frog, then it’s one of the best MacGuffin frogs I’ve seen in comics. This is the magical world of comics we’re dealing with here so there’s more than one of these MacGuffin frogs. Jim Woodring comes to mind.

Dare to be sloppy.

Like I was alluding to, this is a very strange and quirky work that, as they say, in lesser hands, would likely fail. Because, let’s face it, this is very arty–but in a good way. For instance, Cobb gets to release some angst with little subversive acts of being intentionally “bad.” This is evident in his sometimes atrocious use of digital coloring. “Atrocious” in the sense that it’s not clean. It’s clearly calling attention to itself with its smudgy application but it’s purposeful, intended to add to the tension. Of course, I could be wrong but I don’t think so. In other places, Cobb demonstrates he’s quite capable of competent, even skillful, digital coloring.

Frog or no frog, Cobb does a fine job of pushing the envelope of what is possible in the comics medium. We have May and Adrian trapped in a bad marriage. Adrian is the bread winner but is a loathsome abusive monster. May stays at home and easily drifts into long stretches of daydreaming. Our story begins with May bringing home a stray late night lover–and it’s a man, not a frog. It’s not a pretty sight but, then again, that scene, like the rest of the book, is full of wry wit.

We end up with magic.

Once you have your premise set up, a talented and adventurous cartoonist can run wild–and so does Cobb to the reader’s delight. Enjoy this artful comic for all its worth. I particularly love the extended scenes showing one or two characters leaving or entering somewhere else. Cobb is great at lingering over things long enough to pluck out other possibilities. For example, there’s an interesting passage when May and a lover are walking down a street at night that is lit up by lights. We see them walk into the circles of illumination created by the streetlamps. Then we see the same circles turn into portals and May disappears through one of them. Ah, now that’s the magic of comics–and Cobb is some magician!

THE PRINCE by Liam Cobb

The Prince is a 120-page two-color softcover graphic novel (available in print or digital), published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics. The Prince will debut at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. You can also find Liam Cobb on Instagram right here.

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Filed under Comics, Retrofit/Big Planet, Small Press Expo

Comics Review: THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE

“Beatles: Yellow Submarine,” an official illustrated adaptation published by Titan Comics

An announcement about a graphic novel based on The Beatles Yellow Submarine was one of the most popular posts on Comics Grinder. Well, here is a full-on review (with video) that delves right into the book! This is the official illustrated adaptation, published by Titan Comics.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles Yellow Submarine comes this fully authorized graphic novel adaptation! We all know the story:

When the music-hating Blue Meanies invade the underwater paradise of Pepperland, the Captain of the Yellow Submarine sails away to find help… and stumbles upon The Beatles! Can the Fab Four free Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, return music to Pepperland, and overthrow the evil Blue Meanies through the power of love?

This book beautifully and faithfully adapts all the antics and charm of the original animated feature. It’s genius to create such a work. Who doesn’t love The Beatles? And who can resist a book that transports you to Pepperland and beyond? Here is a perfect gift for any Beatles fan. And it can make for a dazzling bedtime story too!

THE BEATLES YELLOW SUBMARINE

The layout to this work is quite impressive. The pacing is spot on as it captures the wacky and irreverent humor. An adaptation of this scope and significance requires a master and that is exactly what we get from writer/artist Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, artist on classic Disney posters, and editor of Mad Magazine. Usually, it works the other way around but Mr. Morrison has managed to take a legendary work in animation and find a viable graphic novel counterpart. He has done a wonderful job of sequencing a narrative from something that is both iconic and rather loopy and might seem impossible to properly transfer from one medium to another.

There is plenty to love here. All you need is love, right?

The Beatles Yellow Submarine is a 112-page hardcover, in full color, published by Titan Comics.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Music, pop culture, The Beatles, Titan Comics

SPX 2018: Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16!

SPX illustration by Molly Ostertag

Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16! SPX, created in 1994, is the cornerstone to the comics community. It is at the forefront in promoting and providing support. Each year, more than 4,000 cartoonists and comics enthusiasts gather in Bethesda Maryland for North America’s premiere independent cartooning and comic arts festival. Let the latest news speak for itself. This is from a press release that just came out:

“Small Press Expo announced that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.”

So, yeah, it’s September and that can only mean one thing for die-hard indie comics fans: Small Press Expo! Yes, indeed, each year Bethesda Maryland suddenly becomes, for one weekend, the lightning rod for some of the most cutting-edge comics. If you’re in the area the weekend of September 15-16, then come out to this event and check out some awesome alt-comics.

Now, I must admit that, although I’ve gone and I’ve participated in numerous comics festivals and events as a journalist and as a comics creator, I have never gone to Small Press Expo. Some folks there will have heard of me and some know me from years back. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m new to SPX. So, I hope to do my best to provide some stellar coverage to this most venerable and respected gathering. Small Press Expo is where much of the indie comics scene gained traction and it remains the jewel in the crown.

So, say hello if you see me and we make eye contact or somehow slip into conversation. We’ll figure it out. Or say hello here at Comics Grinder. If you’re a creator, let me know what you’re up to and maybe we can set up an interview or I can plan to review your work. I don’t exactly expect an avalanche of responses– but I always end up making a decent number of connections at these events. I understand that things will get hectic and maybe you’re shy to begin with. I understand– and I can only focus on so much myself. The main thing is to have fun and to always strive for authenticity. The rest works itself out.

The full press release on the Legal Aid Fund for Cartoonists follows:

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Independent Comics, Indie, Millennials, mini comics, mini-comics, Minicomics, Self-Published, Small Press, Small Press Expo, SPX