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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Ley Lines – Czap Books
Nori – Rumi Hara
Bug Boys – Laura Knetzger
Gumballs – Erin Nations
Frontier – Youth in Decline
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
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
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
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:
Mastering the “Uncomfortable Smile.” Who knew that was a thing. Apparently, it is a very big thing among cartoonist Sam Spina and his friends. Seriously, Spina is masterful at spinning gold from ephemera. It’s an art form that carries over to all kinds of storytelling. So, it makes total sense that Spina could transfer the skills he honed as a cartoonist and use them as a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show.” Spina has a golden touch which you can enjoy in his latest collection of diary comics, “Spinadoodles #8: Mooz Boosh,” available at Kilgore Books.
The whole page about uncomfortable smiles.
The whole page about uncomfortable smiles, entitled, “It’s My Sad Eyes,” is fun to read and indicative of what you’ll find here. Spina is recalling a moment from a trip to Arizona. The locale is mentioned simply to add a little flavor. The focus is on the interactions between friends. Spina uses a very casual approach which welcomes the reader. Everything feels like it is accessible and evoking an easy-going conversation. Nothing appears to be overworked. The characters are drawn, not in a slapdash manner as much as a slapdash style. That’s a huge difference. Less careful, less thoughtful, and less skilled cartoonists tend to lean too heavily upon an artistic sensibility that would embrace any mark on the page. In fact, any mark on a page is not golden. There are standards to this thing and cartoonists that create comics at the level of a six-year-old seeking praise from grandma are doing themselves a disservice. Just saying.
Diary comics actually have a long history, inextricably linked to independent comics. And it is John Porcellino’s ongoing zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories” (May 1989 – present), that casts quite a long shadow. I think there is room for everyone under the comics tent–and I know a lot of cartoonists are influenced by John P’s approach, be it the pared-down artwork, the spare compositions, right down to the self-deprecating humor–but it often does not quite work in other hands. The best one can do is to honor what he’s established and add to it. I think Sam Spina falls within the group of cartoonists that are not just coasting along but creating compelling work.
SPINADOODLES 8: MOOZ BOOSH
Sam Spina is having fun and he has taken the time to give his comics a distinctive charm and sparkle. His humor is not particularly satirical as much as it is in keeping with the slice-of-life tradition of much of alt-comics. Within alt-comics circles, authenticity is highly regarded although not always followed through in practice. Spina’s work has a refreshing honesty and irreverence that, at its best, can rise above anything trendy and cute and just be plain ole good storytelling.
“Garden Salad” is a mini-comic that exceeds expectations and enters the realm of a model of excellence: the story is engaging; the art has a dazzling and quite intoxicating quality; the whole work is delightfully original. Tristan Wright is new to me but I’m so glad that I stumbled upon his work! Honestly, the solid craftsmanship and originality immediately won me over.
Creating something with a real spark and kick to it is never easy. What Wright accomplishes with this work involves a lot of groundwork and revisions. I suspect that he enjoys every bit of it as there is an effortless and joyful vibe throughout these pages.
Nice day for some sveedle!
Our story is a deceptively simple one: an old man is gathering items from his garden for his mid-day feast. Like many stories that have the reader see things from an unconventional vantage point, events focus more on what the old man is foraging: vegetables, for sure, but not good ole veggies exclusively. How about a veggie goblin? In our tale, we see quite a bit of this little critter and then we come to find out that the old man is all too aware of this bewildering force of nature. He even has a name for them. These critters are known as “sveedle.” Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel! Yum, sveedle, them’s good eatin’ goblins!
Running after the garden goblin!
Yessir, these here goblins are pretty hideous and intense little beings. With a wedge of leaves upon their heads and bulbous jiggly bodies, they resemble what they eat: veggies, but also worms and other creepy crawlies. The big hint here is that these ghastly little monsters are violent–and potentially dangerous to humans. But the old man seems to be up to the challenge. In fact, the old man is relatively hideous and dangerous in his own right, surely a formidable match for any veggie goblin.
Wright’s intricate and detailed drawing style keep the reader glued to each page. This is a masterfully crafted tale with a philosophical bent; a wonderfully ambiguous tale of veggies and goblins. Let’s go ahead and bring out a nice shiny star and give this one a 10/10.
“Garden Salad” is a 32-page black and white comic book written and drawn by Tristan Wright. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.
On a recent trip to Tacoma, I went to visit my dear friend, Dalton and his family. Our first stop was Tinkertopia. Dalton said it was just the place to go and he was so right. This place has everything in the way of quirky and functional art supplies and curios and such. Well, there’s a very practical and worthwhile side to this. Tinkertopia plays a vital role in the community as it is in the forefront of the reuse and do-it-yourself movement. Much of what is on display and for sale has been salvaged and recycled in some way in order to enjoy a new life as alternate artwork and arts & crafts supplies. Tinkertopia is also a prime location for workshops of all kinds, especially for kids.
As a cartoonist, I was quite taken with the mini-comics on display which, after a closer look, were the results of numerous 24-Hour Comics Day marathons. I am something of an expert of 24HCD, I suppose, as I’ve been creating comics during that event for a number of years. It’s always fun to see what comes from these comics experiments. The merry band of cartoonists that congregate at Tinkertopia enjoy a perfectly built-in ecosystem for such endeavors. The books on display are by R.R., that’s short for Rerun (aka RR Anderson), the master of ceremonies at Tinkertopia.
A fine and dandy drawing style by Rerun!
Many comics fans, young and old, are familiar with Rerun’s cartooning antics which feature the Hairy Mermaid. Rerun has as a clean and polished style. His sense of humor is highly irreverent and just a lot of fun. Rerun’s fluid line makes it all looks effortless and graceful. But I can see that he’s put in the elbow grease necessary to have a facile way with drawing trucks and squids flying through space from one panel to the next. A nice crisp style like Rerun’s comes from dedication and a genuine tireless love for the comics medium.
If you have a young inventor in the family, or want to throw a unique birthday party, or maybe need help with recycling, come to Tinkertopia. Founded by two Tacoma artists, Tinkertopia is all about resource conservation in partnership with local industries, educators, and activists. There’s always something on to inspire and to educate. In March, for example, you can take part in a workshop to build Tiny Treehouses and Leprechaun Lairs! There are numerous workshops and events at Tinkertopia that will have something for everyone. Go visit Tinkertopia right here.
And one final note: You want to know more about RR Anderson? Well, he’s the real deal trifecta: a cartoonist, inventor, and author. Check out his book, “The Tacomic.” As he puts it himself: “RR Anderson is one of the most curious alternative political cartoonists in FeedTacoma.com history. He fought bizarre underground beings in the lava tubes of Juneau, Alaska; was wounded by a laser before it was invented; and was a founding father of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians (C.L.A.W.). Questions? Seek him out drawing on the sidewalk at Friday’s Frost Park Chalk Challenge in the center of downtown Tacoma. Ultimately his work is about friendship, need and other timeless values.” Visit RR Anderson right here.
Comics can be discussed in any number of ways. You can try to include everything from comic strips to superhero comics to the latest graphic novels. What the annual anthology Best American Comics does is focus on comics that rise to the level of art that are already coming from some sort of artistic background: boutique publishers, arthouse anthologies, cultural websites, self-published work, and any other art outlets including galleries. The Best American series began with a short stories yearly anthology in 1915. The addition of an annual focusing on comics began in 2006. This was perfect timing as consensus in varied circles had reached a fever pitch that American comics had reached the level of art. And so, here we are with another long look at the comics medium with The Best American Comics 2017.
“Generous Bosom Part 2,” by Conor Stechschulte
When you focus solely on alt-comics (alternative as opposed to mainstream) as representing all the best American comics, that creates an interesting challenge. But, all in all, it ends up being very helpful in sorting out where comics are headed as an art form. It is essential to avoid pitfalls: giving a pass to work that is weak from being self-indulgent, ill-conceived, poorly crafted, or heavy-handed. But we’re looking for the best, right? Comics cannot be held by the hand and protected. It is made of stronger stuff. To try to shield its creators from the harsh realities of life only hurts the very thing you may think, it your position of authority, you are helping. You wouldn’t provide a painter with free room and board and simply expect masterpieces in return, right? That’s not how life works. Anyway, the best work will win out in the end and the best work has got to have some kind of “wow factor.” This collection has plenty of that.
From “Frieze, No. 181,” by Gary Panter
First, be sure to read the introductions by series editor Bill Kartalopoulos and guest editor Ben Katchor, a master cartoonist. To be fair, this is a very dry nutshell of what they have to say but, basically: Kartalopoulos advocates for artist-cartoonists to not hold back at all since their odds of fame and fortune are nil; Katchor, in a series of hilarious satirical pieces, reveals a sensitivity to the marginalized role of cartoonists. To be egalitarian and invite everyone to try their hand at creating comics does, as I suggest, create interesting challenges. Another example: you would not assemble an annual collection of the best American illustration and really spend too much time considering nonprofessionals–nor would you concern yourself over the status of a person in the illustration profession. So, what makes the artist-cartoonist (plus those who aspire to be) so special? You could say that is what makes this book so special since it devotes itself, as well as logic and space can accommodate, to the current state of independent American comics.
From “Communications Workers of America,” by Dan Zettwoch
We begin with a piece by Gary Panter. Here is someone who, by all rights, openly defies any professional standards to the comics profession. Panter’s work is messy: from the clumsy depiction of figures and composition down to the often hard to read hand-drawn lettering. A lot of people do not like a “clumsy” work. However, a lot of people who attempt such a style, don’t nearly come close to the spark and originality in Panter’s work. In “Frieze, No. 181,” Panter has his characters prattle about the current state of art. It’s funny, unique, and totally Panter. In comparison, the next work in this collection is by Dan Zettwoch. Now, here you have a cartoonist who has mastered all those aspects of traditional cartooning: crisp and dynamic depiction of figures and composition right down to intricate highly-polished/professional-grade use of hand-drawn lettering. In his case, if he tried to be too casual and expressive, his creations might become too hard to follow. So, there you have two examples of contemporary indie comics, among a myriad of possibilities.
From “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall
If I were to point to only one item in this collection, I would be satisfied with the excerpt from “John Wilcock, New York Years, 1954-1971,” by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall. I believe this satisfies the desire of Kartalopoulos to highlight work that pushes boundaries; and it also satisfies a similar inclination in Katchor, to seek out offbeat and unusual work. I find this excerpt especially timely as it focuses on the origins of The Village Voice, which recently had to give up its print edition. In this piece, we follow the misadventures of writer John Wilcock, who actually succeeds by not only skill and talent but by a formidable force of will. He finds himself at the right time and place as one of the founders of the Voice, first published in October of 1955. Wilcock manages to hold his own with tough guy co-founder Norman Mailer. And, among the dazzling people he gets to interview is none other than Marilyn Monroe. This is a very lively work of comics. You can follow it as a webcomic right here.
From “Test of Loyalty,” by Sam Alden
There is definitely something to be said for being completely inclusive about the act of creating comics. We have already reached the point where you can just as easily consider taking a cooking class, or a yoga workshop, or a comics-making workshop. Hey, you can also include improv comedy in that self-improvement list. Do comedians feel that their profession is somehow diminished by having so many amateurs getting into (or attempting to get into) the same game? Nope. Same goes for a whole bunch of other people: writers, actors, and various other artists. Fortunately, you can’t learn some of the basics of becoming a doctor on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The point is that the standards for comics are there and some people will do comics for a certain time while others will be compelled to delve deeper. What a book like Best American Comics does is provide both the practitioner and the reader with a wonderful roadmap and source of inspiration–and, by the way, entertainment and enrichment.
“The Best American Comics 2017,” editor Ben Katchor; series editor, Bill Kartalopoulos, is a 400-page hardcover, available as of October 3rd, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Grab Back Comics Anthology Volume 1: Acts of Love and Resistance,” edited by Erma Blood
Minicomics will always retain the capacity to inspire and engage. A fine case in point is “Grab Back Comics Anthology Volume 1: Acts of Love and Resistance,” edited by Erma Blood, and available through Grab Back Comics. The disturbing and threatening rhetoric and related activity connected to Donald Trump and company have been responded to with numerous acts of love and resistance, including this collection of comics.
Dr. Allie Gray and Erika Rier
The first work in this collection is entitled, “Naming It,” story by Dr. Allie Gray and drawings by Erika Rier. In four exemplary pages, Gray and Rier express why it is never okay for a man to overpower a woman, never okay for someone to exploit someone else. In this case, Dr. Allie Gray, a young female professor, is just getting her bearings at an international conference when she is overwhelmed by a bear, a man in a position of power, a VIP scientist. This VIP bear forces himself upon Gray and manipulates Gray into a protracted relationship. A part of Gray is confused although she does her best to resist him. In retrospect, Gray concludes that the VIP bear was never confused. He wanted what he wanted and grabbed it. He was abusive. In the end, Gray has the power to name what she has experienced: abuse.
Nicole J. Georges
Nicole J. Georges shares a story about same sex predatory behavior in “I Had a Crush on My Rapist,” which further demonstrates the complexities and simple truths involved when we talk about sex. Georges recounts a situation where she was forced into sex by a pushy and aggressive friend. It left her questioning what happened, in a similar vein to Dr. Gray’s narrative. Georges, with her formidable storytelling skills, brings to light an area often shrouded in misplaced guilt. In the end, we come back to basics: no means no.
Erma Blood shares a story about survival, “Did You Find Her?” Blood uses a minimal style to tell a powerful narrative about recalling abuse that took place at a very early stage in life, before Blood had learned to speak. This simple and direct story speaks volumes. The first page to this collection carries another subtitle, “Comics Stories About Sexual Assault, Rape Culture and Advocacy.” That further defines what is to be found on these pages. Blood’s work fits in perfectly, haunting but not heavy-handed.
Oana & Maria Heller
In an excerpt from a longer piece, “Interval of Trust,” Oana & Maria Heller tell the story of misplaced anger. Mara, the main character, has suffered abuse but she feels she has not been heard, not been provided an outlet for her pain. When a rude boy insults her, this triggers an avalanche of violence that she inflicts upon the boy. It is an intriguing piece that subverts expectations. The girl is not a traditionally sympathetic character. But, in spite of her actions, we can also see how vulnerable she is.
All the work here is quite compelling. This 87-page collection also features: Robin Elan, Rachel Masilamani, Tatiana Gill & Kathy Naughton, Mikko Galpin, Tess LeBlanc, Amy Camber, T.O. Walker, Anna Vo, and E.T. Russian. There is also a mini poster by Barry Deutsch and Ellen Forney. Cover and spot illustrations are by Gillian Rhodes.
For more information, and how to get your own copy, be sure to visit the Grab Back Comics website right here.
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
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)
And you can pick up a print and t-shirt right here.