Here’s a short diary of my weekend of literary festivals—SPX and the Brooklyn Book Fair. For those not familiar with it, the Small Press Expo (aka SPX) is one of the premier indie comics and small press shows in the country. The show is held in Bethesda, Md. just outside Washington DC and it’s a great place to find great indie press comics. SPX also hosts the Ignatz Awards, which honor the best indie and self-published comics from the previous year. This year I decided I’d make a one day trip to SPX and head back to New York Saturday night so I could head out to the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday.
Held in the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, the show is conveniently self-contained and once you arrive there’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but check out great comics. I arrived at SPX on Saturday afternoon. The show itself is held in one of the hotel’s ballrooms and the floor was packed. There are no superhero comics and while you may encounter the occasional artist working in a manga style, the show is completely focused on small press and self published comics. But in a show full of striking comics, probably the most dazzling book I encountered was Adam Hines’ Duncan The Wonder Dog published by AdHouse Books, a somewhat amazing 400-page graphic novel set in a world of talking, sentient animals in conflict and in communication with humans. The book is a bit of a wonder, juggling historical settings, philosophical arguments and page after page of inventive layouts and panel constructions, quirky but accomplished illustration and pithy, emotionally affecting dialogue. While I was not familiar with the author before, I expect we’ll all be hearing a lot more about Adam Hines in the future. (And we’ll have more to say about SPX in our PW Comics Week show report on Tuesday.)
Of the panels I was able attend, Remembering Harvey Pekar, was certainly the most affecting. The panel featured an array of artists who had collaborated with Pekar (who died earlier this summer) on his comics and also included Jeff Newelt, comics editor at Heeb and Smithmag.com, the impresario behind the Pekar Project, a series of online comics written by Harvey and illustrated by a new group of young cartoonists. Moderated by my PW Comics Week co-editor Heidi “The Beat” MacDonald, the panel featured artists Ed Piskor, Dean Haspiel, Vanessa Davis, Sean Pryor and Rick Parker. Probably the most notable thing about the panel was that every one of these artists talked about how Harvey had completely transformed their ideas about comics in general and the kind of comics they wanted to create in particular. Harvey Pekar will be sorely missed.
After a day spent sampling small press comics I returned to New York and braved a steady rainfall to make it out to Brooklyn in time for, well, more comics. This time it was the Comics As Form panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Although the weather didn’t help, attendance at the festival looked good despite the rain. I missed one comics panel, The International Graphic Novel: Drawing From Life, featuring cartoonists Jessica Abel (La Perdida), Matt Madden (99 Ways to Tell a Story), Josh Neufeld (AD: New Orleans After the Deluge) and Nick Abadizis (Laika), but thanks to Teachers College Press editor Meg Lemke—editor of Bill Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner’s To Teach: The Journey, in Comics—I’m told the panel discussed the process of researching visual backgrounds around the world in preparation for creating illustrated works.
Later that day, Comics as Form, a panel that discussed how comics are spinning off into other media—from films to animation to modern dance—was forced inside Borough Hall due to the rain and was held in the rotunda. The panel featured Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl), Jillian Tamaki (Skim), Rob Berry (Ulysses Seen) and was moderated by Columbia University librarian Karen Greene. And to top off a hectic weekend of festivals and comics, the panel, along with your reporter in attendance, managed to relocate to an excellent Brooklyn bar and continued the discussion about comics and much else long after the festival and the rain had ceased.