Category Archives: Independent Comics

Review: NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

NOT MY SMALL DIARY #19

For a sampling of some of the best independent cartoonists today, one great source is the NOT MY SMALL DIARY anthology, edited by Delaine Derry Green. Cartoonist John Porcellino, known for his “King Cat” comics, has called Delaine’s anthology, “One of the most important comic-zines in history.” Here is a look at Issue 19: Unexplained Events, which showcases the work from 43 talented artists.

Panel excerpt from Kevin Van Hyning’s “The Curse of Macbeth”

So, the theme of “unexplained events” leaves open a wide field of opportunities from things that go bump in the night and beyond. One of the most inventive, jarring, and downright entertaining pieces comes from Kevin Van Hyning. It’s a pretty messed up misadventure and I hope and pray that nothing close to this actually happened to Kevin. Like a lot of creative people, myself included, Kevin has many outlets, like performing on stage. In “The Curse of Macbeth,” we see what can happen when an actor confronts the age-old superstition of daring to say “Macbeth” before a show. It’s supposed to be very bad luck! And, as it turns out in this comic, it’s the sort of bad luck that can knock your teeth out! Inspired work! A big takeaway for me is learning of this curse as I don’t believe I’d ever heard of it before. But it has a long tradition dating back to the very first time it was performed in 1606. Teeth kept being knocked out and worse!

David Lasky’s “Mothman”

As a cartoonist myself, who has observed and commented upon the comics scene for many years, I am delighted to see page after page of inspired work from familiar and new talent. What you find in this book is a treasure trove of comics experimentation. Each creator is working within their own special confines, powered by their own personal engine. This is a fascinating book and a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary comics. Each artist you visit here is like a little island onto itself. We paddle ashore and reach the Isle of David Lasky. Here we find enigmatic work giving out a melancholic howl. In the one-page “Mothman,” we find the distinctive Lasky poetic comic. Relax your shoulders and linger over it.

Panel excerpt from “My ‘Unsual’ Sighting’ by James Burns

The universal symbol for the unexplained seems to always go back to UFOs. And so I close with a piece by James Burns, “My ‘Unusual’ Sighting.” The most eerie and creepy incidents are beautifully underscored by the mundane. Often the most profound things must compete with the most banal and so it is in this comic. It is 1966 and a bunch of kids innocently look up in the sky and seem to be watching their favorite sci-fi show in the clouds–but they’re not. Or what are they seeing? Ten years later, Burns is eighteen and has an opportunity to possibly confirm his most wildest speculation. But he’s still a kid–and what is he supposed to do if his suspicions are correct? Nicely done and a fitting example to a most impressive collection of work in comics.

Be sure to keep up with Not My Small Diary at Delaine Derry Green’s My Small Web Page right here.

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Filed under Alt-Comics, Alternative Comics, Anthologies, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Not My Small Diary

Review: DARK PANTS #3

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

DARK PANTS #3 by Matt MacFarland

I am a big fan of Matt MacFarland’s DARK PANTS series. You can read my review on the previous two issues right here. The third issue is now out and it follows Phil, a teenager in Silver Lake, California, circa 1988. As Matt described to me in an interview, each new issue focuses on a different time and place in the Los Angeles area. The motif is a mysterious pair of black jeans and the sexual awakening they trigger in whoever wears them.

Page from DARK PANTS #3

Page from DARK PANTS #3

For our hero, Phil, life has been hell as he struggles with his sexuality. Phil is navigating in a very oppressive environment. The last thing he wants to consider is being gay. But, once his fate crosses paths with those alluring dark pants, he gains enough confidence to explore his options a little bit. MacFarland is relentless in his depiction of Phil’s inability to be true to himself. It seems as if his embracing his truth is filled with nothing but pain. Gradually, MacFarland hints that Phil may ultimately find pleasure but it sure won’t come easy.

Reading DARK PANTS #3

Reading DARK PANTS #3

The easiest thing that Phil can rely upon is his imagining having sex with teen heartthrob John Stamos. It’s a pretty funny and sobering fact. Phil thinks about it and he knows he likes it. But he’d rather hide. Things come to a head, so to speak, when Lisa, his supposed dream girl, lures him away to a bedroom. It’s his big chance to prove he’s not gay to his confused and frustrated self but all he can think about is…John Stamos. As for Lisa, she will have her day. It looks like she is the subject of the fourth issue set in Eagle Rock, California, circa 2016.

No matter how empowering those dark pants are, they are no match for an awkward teen. Phil is simply ill-equipped to harness his new raw power. He makes some progress but not quite what he might have expected. MacFarland’s drawing and writing is highly accessible. He immerses the reader in the inner turmoil that his characters are going through. With just the right touch of humor, MacFarland offers us stories of missteps of the heart that will stay with us.

Matt MacFarland Los Angeles

If you are in the L.A. area this weekend, be sure to see Matt MacFarland on Saturday, July 16th, from 5-7pm at the Los Angeles County Store in Silver Lake. Find out more right here.

Find Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Gay, Independent Comics, LGBTQ, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Sex

Review: A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

"A City Inside" by Tillie Walden

“A City Inside” by Tillie Walden

I was running late and I decided the best thing to do was to run even later. I stopped by to have a gourmet treat, a bison burger at Eve, one of the new trendy eateries in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Eve is not yet a year old but, in human years, I suppose it’s already a teenager. The place is always immaculate and it seems to have settled into a nice groove. I went to my favorite table near the window and the waitress, with a really dazzling arrangement of tattoos, took my order. With a glass of wine, I turned my attention to one of the most pleasing mini-comics I’ve read in quite a while, “A City Inside,” by Tillie Walden, published by Avery Hill Publishing.

By the time I had read Tillie Walden’s mesmerizing book, my bison burger was served. I started munching and thinking over what this book meant to be. I wondered how many people had bison and wine while contemplating a mini-comic by Tillie Walden. That would be a rare subset of a subset of a select group. Everything about this comic adds up to a beautiful rare bird. Think of it as going to a really good art gallery show. Sometimes you’ll get a pang of regret wishing more people were there with you to share the experience.

Up, up, in the air with Tillie Walden

Up, up, in the air with Tillie Walden

Or, instead of art galleries, just think of comic strips. Walden’s work is as accessible, and full of possibility, as some of the best comic strips. Take Little Nemo in Slumberland, for example. Now, there’s some truly fanciful stuff going on. Consider Krazy Cat and Ignatz, early Popeye, even Peanuts. Comics strips, by their very nature, are ethereal and odd. Speaking of Little Nemo, Walden’s alter-ego, just like Nemo, enjoys taking her bed out for a spin like a magic carpet ride. Much of what we see in “A City Inside” is a wonderful ode to a daydream nation and to overcoming the trepidations of a young person. Walden celebrates all the great eccentricity to be found in comics.

The city beckons.

The city beckons.

What Walden does in “A City Inside” is invite you inside her head–or appear to do so. The main character, her alter-ego and/or a universal character, shares her concerns with the reader. The narrative appears to occur during a therapy session. The young woman is contemplating her future. It is one she knows will require overcoming fears and, ultimately, it may require leaving behind her lover. But the important thing is that the future is hopeful. She will find her way. She will gain admission into the wondrous city. Walden does a great job with a light drawing style to go along with her light lyrical prose. Some of the narrative is enigmatic, elusive, ethereal. But, in the end, it all makes sense.

“A City Inside” is a 56-page trade paperback, published by Avery Hill Publishing. Visit Avery Hill right here. And find more Tillie Walden comics at Retrofit Comics right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Avery Hill Publishing, Comics, Independent Comics, Retrofit Comics, Tillie Walden

Interview: Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS

Matt McFarland's DARK PANTS comics series

Matt McFarland’s DARK PANTS comics series

Matt MacFarland is an interesting artist working in various mediums including comics. He is one of those hybrid artists who make for the best cartoonists. I am impressed with his comics and that initial interest led to this interview. Matt is a kindred spirit. That has a lot to do with us being a couple of cartoonists in the same boat, navigating still unchartered waters, which can often get pretty choppy.

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Interviews can be organic and creative things in their own right. Sometimes they require the right balance. As I mentioned to Matt, I have done more interviews than I care to count but I always strive for them to be fun and insightful. I’m always hopeful of what may result. In the case of a young cartoonist finding his way like Matt, who already demonstrates a seasoned approach to his work, it’s really good to gather up some observations from him and add to our general understanding of where we are headed with the comics medium.

The focus here is a cartoonist as a fine artist and that usually means someone who does the whole thing alone just as you would if you were a painter. Matt is in a very good place as someone who has a traditional art education. I say this because Matt’s ongoing series, DARK PANTS, seems to me a fine example of going through the rigors of art critiques. I sense that the recurring theme of those dark pants is a hard-won motif. It is through these mysterious pants that various displaced characters in Matt’s story find some clarity and, most significantly, a sexual awakening.

What you will find instructive here is listening to a particular breed of cartoonist describe how he goes about building his particular work. This is the work of an alternative comics/indie cartoonist. This type of cartoonist often does not care for superhero or genre comics. And, as I say, they usually work alone. Alternative cartoonists do not concern themselves so much with whether or not their comics are legitimate art. They already know they are creating art. The ones that have taken their work in comics past a certain point, they most certainly know since they are employing the same methodology used with other art mediums. This is the sort of work I do. This is the sort of work Matt does.

Check out our conversation right below:

And be sure to visit Matt McFarland and keep up with DARK PANTS right here.

You can find DARK PANTS at these fine establishments:

Los Angeles, CA
MELTDOWN COMICS! (Hollywood)
Bookshow (Highland Park)
Cool Cats Comics and Cards (Culver City)
Comics vs. Toys (Eagle Rock, CA)
Los Angeles County Store (Silver Lake)
Mega City One (Hollywood)
The Pop Hop (Highland Park)
Stories Books and Cafe (Echo Park)

Austin, TX
Farewell Books
Tribe Comics

Seattle, WA
Zanadu Comics

Pittsburgh, PA
Copacetic Comics

And you can pick up a print and t-shirt right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Art, Comics, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Interviews, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Meltdown Comics, Minicomics

Review: DARK PANTS #1 and #2

I find artist Matt MacFarland quite the kindred spirit as he makes comics coming from a fine arts background. Think of it this way, most of us out there love a David Lynch movie because it has all those extra layers of ambiguity. Well, that’s Lynch’s fine arts background at play. Some of us cartoonists began as painters and/or hybrid artists working in various forms of expression: writing, drawing, film, acting, photography, and so on. When you take all that activity and bring it into comics, it can result in some mind-blowing art like MacFarland’s ongoing comics series, “Dark Pants.”

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter's Deli

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter’s Deli

What sets apart one alternative comic from another is this fine art sensibility. You don’t necessarily have to go to art school for it–but it helps. Imagine that, art school actually does have value! I kid you not. It is what you make of it. Here’s another comparison. Try to achieve the comedic chops of Tina Fey without ever joining an improv comedy troupe. It ain’t gonna happen. You need to flex comedic muscles you don’t even know you have–and you need to be around like-minded people in order to really stretch yourself. In time, with the help of others, you’ll realize how much you suck and what you need to do to improve. And so we find ourselves with this comic which unabashedly displays its motif, those dark pants.

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Like Cinderella slipping her bare feet into glass slippers and transmogrifying into a regal beauty, there is something enthralling about a story of transformation. This is certainly not lost on MacFarland as he has one hard luck character after another in his series find a break from their routine when they happen upon a mysterious pair of tight black jeans. In the first issue of this comic, Diego, a drab little guy, becomes a hot lover when he buys these jeans at a thrift store and puts them on. But he soon finds that his newfound sex appeal is far more than he bargained for. By our second issue, the jeans have found their way into the hands of Milena, a lonely virgin who writes a sex column for her college paper. Once those jeans are on, she too is over her head.

Diego's story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

Diego’s story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

It’s interesting that both Diego and Milena were already struggling with their lives before they crossed paths with the sexy jeans. It just stands to reason that these jeans were just as likely to wreck, instead of enhance, their existence. But, who knows, maybe the right sort of loser, like the sort portrayed by Don Knotts or Jerry Lewis, would make the most of a cosmic makeover. So far, MacFarland’s characters are doomed, with or without sex, and that’s just as well for this humorous noir. This is a rare treat. I love MacFarland’s wit and vision.

Milena's story set in Glendale, 2002

Milena’s story set in Glendale, 2002

MacFarland has a very accessible style which goes well with his less commercial, and darker, vision. That said, the darker stuff is not always the less marketable. Overall, I see MacFarland’s work as assured with a refreshing approach and zest. It is a cartoony style that makes me think of ironic cartoonists from the ’90s like Ward Sutton and Michael Dugan. It is a sturdy yet elastic style that makes you think you could poke at the characters and reshape them a bit. With that in mind, it is a style that lends itself well to laughs and/or drifting in and out of reality. Our next victim of the traveling tight dark pants will be a kid named Philip in the upcoming third issue. I look forward to how things develop there.

To learn more, and to purchase comics, visit Matt MacFarlnd right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Matt MacFarland, Minicomics, Noir

Indie comics publisher Alvin Buenaventura (1977 – 2016)

Alvin Buenaventura examining proofs of an upcoming oversized comics project from Pigeon Press

Alvin Buenaventura examining proofs of an upcoming oversized comics project from Pigeon Press

Alvin Buenaventura, a beloved figure in the world of independent/art comics, has passed away. If you want to understand the evolution of the comics medium, you must look to what comics publisher Alvin Buenaventura accomplished in the last decade.

A tradition of excellence.

A tradition of excellence.

Look through any respectable comic book shop and you will find stellar work published by his Buenaventura Press and subsequent Pigeon Press with titles like Johnny Ryan’s Comic Book Holocaust and Vanessa Davis’ Spaniel Rage.

Kramers Ergot #7 anthology from 2008

Kramers Ergot #7 anthology from 2008

One crowning achievement for Mr. Buenaventura was publishing Sammy Harkham’s Kramers Ergot #7 anthology in 2008. It was one of those heroic works towering at 16″ x 21″ to mirror the size of newspaper comics of the early 20th century. It included cartoonists Daniel Clowes, Matt Groening, Seth, Gabrielle Bell and Jaime Hernandez.

The comics community is generous to a fault. We all realize how much of a labor of love comics is. In fact, in a very real sense, no matter what, that is all it really is. A labor of love. An exemplary example of someone who lived by that credo was Alvin Buenaventura.

A publishing legacy.

A publishing legacy.

Alvin Buenaventura’s life and work will live on. He has made a major and lasting contribution to elevating the comics medium to an art form.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Alvin Buenaventura, Art, Buenaventura Press, Comics, Independent Comics, Kramers Ergot, Pigeon Press

Comic Arts Los Angeles (CALA) Enters Second Year

CALA 2015 A

CALA 2015 in the Fashion District

Comic Arts L.A. (CALA), a comic arts festival in Los Angeles, took place this last weekend, December 5-6, in a walk-up art gallery, Think Tank Gallery. CALA expanded to two days for its second year. Both days proved busy for an event that has certainly earned its place alongside such notable comic arts festivals as MoCCA Comic Arts Festival in New York City, Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, and Short Run in Seattle, Washington.

CALA 2015 B

CALA 2015 tables

CALA 2015 C

CALA 2015 panel discussion

CALA is a pleasure to navigate from the moment you are welcomed by friendly volunteers at the entrance to the time you foot inside and marvel over the works on offer to when you take in a panel discussion. Comic arts festivals are something to be treasured indeed. CALA blends the offbeat folksy charm of a market with a clean precise professionalism. Within this context, you can engage with some of the leading artists in the comics medium.

John F. Malta

John F. Malta

Each artist here shares a desire to work with words and pictures. A cartoonist is someone who cannot help but do a lot of observing and is compelled to make note of it. This is how they view the world, how they process, and even cope, with reality. Often, if not always, this is simply a way of being before it becomes anything else, before it is shared with others. Among the young turks happy to take on the world is John F. Malta.

Vanessa Davis

Vanessa Davis

Trevor Alixopulos

Trevor Alixopulos

At an event like CALA, you will find those cartoonists who are taking comics to the level of fine art. You won’t find superhero genre work here. You’ll find a lot of cartoonists here who are self-published alongside publishers interested in experimental, offbeat, and daring work. Among seasoned vets, are Vanessa Davis and Trevor Alixopulos.

Lila Ash

Lila Ash

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg

Comics, like any other art form, can conform to some sort of commerce. In fact, the work you will find at CALA is quite varied with something for everyone. CALA provides that vital role of linking artists with customers. Two cartoonists with heartfelt and energetic work: Lila Ash and Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg.

Hazel Newlevant

Hazel Newlevant

Hope Larson

Hope Larson

I had a great time this year debuting a new work of my own at this year’s Short Run in Seattle. As a cartoonist coming fresh from that experience, I know that CALA is a taste of nirvana. It is smoothly run, considerate of participants and customers alike. More inspiring cartoonists: Hazel Newlevant and Hope Larson.

Quinne Larsen

Quinne Larsen

Fran Krause

Fran Krause

Stay tuned as I’ll share with you from my haul of comics I picked up at CALA. For someone completely new to independent comics, CALA will prove to be insightful and fun. And two more artists who can be your guide to the world of comics: Quinne Larsen and Fran Krause.

CALA-Dec-5-6-2015

For more details, visit our friends at CALA right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, CALA, Comic Arts Festivals, Comic Arts Los Angeles, Comics, Independent Comics, mini-comics

Review: A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

Harper and Madelyn

Harper and Madelyn

From the first page of Kara Queen’s new comic, “A Wind From Nowhere,” I felt as if I had been invited into a quiet space where secrets were revealed through whispers. There is 11-year-old Madelyn sitting on the rooftop of her apartment building talking to Ichabod, a one-legged crow. Then, one day at school, her world is rocked by a boy named, Harper.

Kara Queen has a solid way of evoking the vulnerability of youth. She takes her two main characters, inevitably lacking in self-awareness, and places them on a treacherous journey that both are unlikely to survive. This is a study of a crisis that just keeps getting further out of control. Perhaps Madelyn and Harper should never have met but, despite the cloud that hangs over them, they seem to be meant for each other.

A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

A WIND FROM NOWHERE by Kara Queen

The ill-fated relationship has everything to do with their instability. Neither one has much of a foothold on reality. At least Madelyn’s offbeat perspective leans to the whimsical. Harper’s view of the world veers towards homicidal.

Madelyn, Harper, and the crows

Madelyn, Harper, and the crows

There’s a lot of heart to this comic. You really believe in the characters and their struggles. Queen has an energetic and compassionate drawing style. As you might have suspected, there isn’t much in the way of healthy parental support for these kids. But Queen is careful not to paint them as monsters. Instead, she manages to evoke that murky world of dysfunction where things just aren’t working the way they should be.

“A Wind from Nowhere” is a 50-page full-color comic, priced at $12, and available right here. And be sure to visit Kara Queen right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Kara Queen, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Short Run 2015: Debut of GEORGE’S RUN #1

First issue of George's Run to debut at Short Run

First issue of George’s Run to debut at Short Run

For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, George Clayton Johnson, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Self-Published, Short Run

Review: TITAN #1 & #2

Phoebe at rest, one of the Titan masses.

Phoebe at rest, one of the Titan masses.

François Vigneault is an impressive cartoonist and I am so glad to share his work with you here at Comics Grinder. Phoebe and João come from two extremes on the class spectrum but they can’t help but be attracted to each other in François Vigneault’s TITAN, a new quirky sci-fi comics series published by Study Group Comics as a webcomic and as printed issues too.

Phoebe and João in François Vigneault's TITAN, published by Study Group Comics

Phoebe and João in François Vigneault’s TITAN, published by Study Group Comics

You’ve heard of the One Percenters, right? And all the economic disparity? Ha, of course you have. Ah, yes, the haves vs. the have-nots theme. In TITAN, the haves are Terrans and the have-nots are Titans. Vigneault brings us aboard Homestead Station on the moon of Titan where we follow Manager João da Silva as he attempts to lessen tensions between the geneticly-engineered Titan workers and the Terran management. It turns out that the key to his problems lies with one voluptuous Titan worker, Phoebe.

The dynamics on Homestead Station is a lot of fun to see unfold in these first two issues. Far, far, away, in some distant future, you’ll find that crass youth haven’t really changed much at all. Slang, for instance, reflects the latest level of rage. Communication in general, particularly amongst the working class, has undergone a further breakdown in literacy as everyone speaks in choppy sentences. It’s a grim world just waiting to explode! Vigneault keeps our eyes moving with just the right touches of futuristic background and engaging facial expressions and body language. TITAN proves to be a comic in the best sci-fi tradition: a compelling exploration of the human psyche.

Phoebe can't help but tower over Joao.

Phoebe can’t help but tower over João.

The relationship between Phoebe and João is very intriguing. Vigneault does a great job in expressing the divide between rich and poor, the vulnerabilities on each side. Vigneault engages the reader with a love story every bit unlikely and yet most compelling. Phoebe, who would seem to have the disadvantage as a member of the working class, cannot help but tower over her would-be master, João. And João seems to like it.

Study-Group-Comics-Titan-2105

If you’re heading out to the Small Press Expo, taking place this weekend in Bethesda, Maryland, you’ll be seeing some of the best independent comics around. SPX is turning 21 this year, by the way, which makes her legal. Anyway, TITAN #2 will debut at SPX and is surely a comic you’ll want to pick up. Be sure to visit François Vigneault at the Floating World Comics/Study Group table, J8-9.

Small-Press-Expo-2015

For more on the Small Press Expo, visit right here. And keep up with TITAN and Study Group Comics right here.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Independent Comics, Indie, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Small Press Expo, SPX, Study Group Comics