I will be attending my thirteenth Small Press Expo this weekend in Bethesda, MD. Other than the show that was cancelled back in 2001, I've only missed three since attending the one-day show in Silver Spring back in 1997. Under the leadership of Warren Bernard, the show has expanded to become a true cultural event and mainstay in a number of interesting and unexpected ways. Their Graphic Novel Gift program partners the show with a local library to receive a huge number of books from a variety of publishers. The SPX Collection at the Library of Congress each year gathers up unique, self-published comics, prints and other ephemera, preserving work that is often lost to time because of small print runs. I was privileged to be the first guest-curator for the LOC last year, and the task will be in the quite capable hands of Joe "Jog" McCulloch this year. Once again, Bill Kartalopolous has put together a mind-bending array of panels. I will be moderating "Queering the Mainstream?" on Sunday the 15th at 3:30pm. I'll be joined by Rob Kirby, L.Nichols, Laurel Lynn Leake, Charles "Zan" Christensen and Dylan Edwards to discuss the ways in which queer comics and culture have influenced and crossed over into mainstream culture. This year's SPX has a ton of interesting guests who are first-timers, including cartoonists from the UK, Mexico, Argentina, Italy and Australia. Below is my annual round-up of artists to see. As always, I will be gathering comics for review.
1. Simon Moreton. (D13 B) Moreton is part of the British Invasion at this year's show. In a short period of time, Moreton's comics have become wonderfully restrained and poetic. He has a comic out from Retrofit called Grand Gestures, and I would also strongly recommend his Smoo and The Escapologist as well. Soon, he'll have a book out from Grimalkin Press (see below). If you're a fan of John Porcellino or comics-as-poetry, he's one to check out. He's doing a split mini with Warren Craghead (below)
2. Melinda Tracy Boyce. (W16 A) Boyce is a diary comics artist who work reminds me a bit of Vanessa Davis', in terms of her sense of humor and the painterly nature of the comics. Her comic The Melinderly is quite an enjoyable, upbeat read.
3. Anna Bongiovanni. (W77-78) Her first book, Out of Hollow Water, just debuted from 2D Cloud and it's one of the best books of 2013. Her use of myth and primal imagery is not unlike that of Julia Gfrorer (see below), though Bongiovanni tends to zero in on the mother-child relationship and the attendant horrors therein. Strongly recommended.
4. Dakota McFadzean.(L14) McFadzean is one of the most talented cartoonists to graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies. His haunting minicomics, detailing life in rural Canada, are both well-designed as well as beautifully drawn. Conundrum Press will be releasing a collection of his comics later in the year.
5. Emi Gennis. (F4A) Gennis does funny autobio comics, but she's best known for drawing comics based on unusual deaths found in Wikipedia. Her interest in the morbid and the unusual served her well as editor of the Hic and Hoc Book of Unknown Origins and Untimely Ends, a collection filled with exactly what you might think.
6. Geoff Vasile.(E3) The artist behind the Trackrabbit minicomic has been one of the most consistently interesting artists in the minicomics scene for quite some time. His mix of magical realism and harsh naturalism making for a compelling storytelling formula.
7. Jon McNaught.(K8-9) One of the stars in UK publisher NoBrow's stable of artists, McNaught's precise, gorgeous use of grids and subtle color cues lend a quiet, poetic quality to his comics about quotidian concerns. His work is akin to Chris Ware's in the way he concentrates on specific moments in time and all of the ways are senses take them in, and how they relate to our lives and their meanings as a whole. New readers might start with Dockwood, but all of his books are worthwhile.
8. Julia Gfrorer. (J2) Gfrorer is an electrifying storyteller whose scratchy line lends a visceral quality to her stories that mix the mundane, the earthy, and the supernatural. Her comics challenge norms of gender and sexuality, frequently through a fairy tale or fantasy lens. Snap up any minicomic she has. She will be debuting a new one called Black Light.
9. Lizz Lunney.(W42 A) A contributor to UK anthologies like Solipsistic Pop, Lunney is also editing the new Hic & Hoc humor anthology. Her sparse, cartoony line and anthropomorphic character design make for dry, funny comics that are surprisingly emotional.
10. Philippa Rice.(A4 B) Rice is another UK artist published by Hic 'n Hoc; she's also made appearances in anthologies like Solipsistic Pop. Her line is cartoony almost to the point of beautiful abstraction at times, and her book Looking Out is a worthy Ignatz nominee. Rice also constructs her comics like a sort of craftwork, as seen in her webseries My Cardboard Life.
11. Luis Echavarria.(W42 B) (sitting, in the blue shirt, second from left) Transformation and misdirection are the two themes this Columbian-born artist explores the more in his stylish, formally intriguing minicomics. How Do I Know Who I Am If I Forget also engages another running theme in his work, that of memory's connection to identity. It's the little character details that make this such a memorable comic, one that fans should go out of their way to seek out.
12. Sam Alden. (B5 B)Alden is poised to become a big indy comics star. His prodigious work ethic and ability to draw nearly anything, combined with a restless imagination and strong storytelling ability mark him as an artist who's on the verge of doing something big. An Ignatz nominee in a couple of categories, his minis are satisfying chunks of story. His Hawaii 1997 is one of the comics up for an award.
13. Sasha Steinberg.(K4 A) Another recent grad of CCS, his serialization of the history of the Stonewall riots is fascinating and exciting. Each issue/chapter sees him mimic the style of a classic cartoonist in order to capture something essential about the characters (some real, some fictional) he writes about. This is a project to pay close attention to.
14. Warren Craghead.(D13 B) He's been one of the central figures of the comics-as-poetry movement for quite a long time. His comics are spare, spectral and evocative. The way he uses text to get across information, to give his comics a decorative quality and to literally become part of the image is fascinating and demands full attention by the reader. Craghead is a totally unique talent.
15. T. Edward Bak.(J2) Bak's last book was the excellent Service Industry, which was one of the best long-form comics debuts I'd ever read. The first volume of his new book series about naturalist Georg Steller, Island of Memory, will debut at SPX. Bak will be at the Press Gang table with Zack Soto. For those of you who read the serial when it was ongoing in Mome, Bak has completely reworked it.
In addition to the artists mentioned above, I'd also like to mention three publishers debuting at SPX:
1. Grimalkin Press. (W38) This is Jordan Shiveley's operation, out of Minneapolis. His Hive anthologies are exceptionally well-designed. His own comics are formally interesting and share that same sharp look. His new Phil McAndrew strip collection, Crying In Front Of Your Dog and Other Stories, shares all of these qualities and brings out the best in McAndrew's art. McAndrew will be repping the table in Shiveley's absence.
2. Toon Books. (K13) This imprint by Francoise Mouly proved a score of doubters in the book publishing industry dead wrong as to whether young children would be interested in reading comics. Publishing on her own and recruiting the best from the world of comics and the world of children's literature, she's created a formidable library of books for emerging readers. She's now starting to inch up toward publishing a few books aimed at readers a bit older. Her table will feature legendary Argentinian cartoonist Liniers as well as underground legend Jay Lynch. If you have children and you're bringing them to the show, this is the table you must visit.
3. Youth In Decline. .(M14) Ryan Sands has become one of the most intriguing characters in comics, as he's had a hand in all sorts of interesting projects. He co-edited the cutting-edge porn anthology Thickness with Michael DeForge. His new series Frontier spotlights a different underexposed artist in each issue; the first issue featured Uno Morales and the second issue (debuting at SPX) features the excellent Hellen Jo. He also had a hand in bringing Panorama Island to English-speaking audiences at last. His magazine Electric Ant meshes comics and cultural commentary. Everything he has a hand in is interesting, beautiful and challenging.