The SPX moved back from Silver Spring to Bethesda, at the same hotel as the third but not the grouchy one where the first two were held. I believe the number of exhibitors was up; I don't know about attendance, but it wasn't bad.
The purpose of the SPX is to give readers (and writers and artists and publishers) a chance to see what cool stuff is out there that they hadn't seen elsewhere. Here's what I found.
SKIN EATER COMICS #1, published by Chris Shadoian, with work by several writer/artists. As Chris explains on the inside back cover, the front cover was drawn as a birthday card for a co-worker who had the odd habit of eating the bits of skin that she peeled off after getting sunburned. Once he had a cover, well, why not put a comic book behind it? So he and some friends came up with several stories on the (sometimes very loosely interpreted) theme of skin-eating.
The results range from unspeakably weird to completely harmless, from everyday humor to cannibalistic horror -- sometimes in the same story.
It's mildly twisted, and some stories don't work, but overall, it's fun.
- THE FACTOR #0 launched a new series scripted by Nat Gertler, drawn by various artists, and published by About Comics. The premise is simple: In a real-world setting, a superhero has appeared, stopping crimes, beating up thugs, and so on. We don't see much of this hero -- the "new factor," as he's called. Instead, the stories are all about his effect on the world around him -- how various people react to the presence of a masked vigilante of unknown abilities in their city. Cops, mafiosi, reporters, ordinary citizens -- how do they react to the mere knowledge that this mystery man is active in their area?
This was the introduction for a four-issue mini-series, which is now almost complete -- there's one issue left to go as I type this. It's pretty good all through. Nat had apparently hoped to continue beyond the mini, but sales weren't good enough -- he lost money on every issue -- so that's all we'll have. Which is a shame.
[Additional note: Actually, Nat came across this webpage, read the above, and contacted me to let me know that the character and series may not be entirely dead. The critical reception was very good (including an Eisner nomination), and there's been interest from TV folks, and... well, it may not be permanently dead. We'll see.]
- CUTEGIRL #3 is another mini-comic from Matt Feazell's Not Available Comics. Matt Feazell can be a bit hard to explain; he's been writing and drawing his somewhat eccentric minimalist comics for years. His characters are all just stick figures, his storylines tend to be stylized and simplified -- these are comics boiled down to the bare essentials.
And they're a lot of fun. No heroes or villains, nobody tries to take over the world -- just a bunch of people leading normal lives. In CUTEGIRL #3, CuteGirl and her friend Wencil go to a comic book convention, publicize the comics they draw (CuteGirl is writer/artist of "Scribbles the Pup"), run into old friends, meet new people, have various adventures. There are funny moments (sample dialogue: "Oh no! He's about to kill America's third-best penciller!"), but it's not all-out parody or farce...
As I said, it's hard to explain. But I like 'em, and at a mere 50c for eight full (very full) pages, how can you go wrong?
- SECRET AIRCRAFT OF THE LUFTWAFFE is a one-shot black-and-white by Sean Bieri, published by Detroit's Garlic Press and priced at $1.00. It's not exactly a comic book; each two-page spread has a text piece, a diagram, and a picture of some insane example of non-existent Nazi hardware.
For those of you not up on your history, in the closing months of World War II the Germans were getting desperate and trying a lot of experiments, hoping to find some secret weapon that would let them win the war. They tried the V-2, the ME-363 "Komett" rocket plane, kit-built plywood fighters, and other bizarre flying machines.
Sean Bieri has gathered here, in a dead-perfect imitation of a typical aviation buff's handbook, examples of last-ditch Luftwaffe equipment you never heard of before -- mostly because it didn't really exist. The Funk und Wagnell Fg. 101 Papierflugzeug, for example -- the world's first full-scale paper airplane...
It's silly, and some of the gags work better than others, but it's fun, especially if you're a fan of the old warbirds and have read too many books about them.
- B-36 #1 and THE PHANTOM AIRSHIP #1 are both the work of Pam Bliss, published by her Paradise Valley Comics. These are endearing comics that I found utterly charming. B-36 is a miscellany, several short features, ranging from a straightforward kids'-club adventure story (Those Kids! in "The Wrong Backpack") to a vaguely surreal, semi-zen featurette, "Gosh, Radiation Man, You're Swell!" There's a page of fun facts about the B-36 bomber that gave the book its title, as well.
The Phantom Airship is mostly a single long story "from the Logbooks of the Travelling Travelall," in which the inhabitants of Professor Petrov's farm (the professor also appears briefly in B-36) get involved with a time traveler and other strangeness. The last few pages are filled out with a scrapbook page and a short story entitled "Archeology." Like all of Bliss' stories, these are gently strange tales in which the unearthly is taken for granted, people behave kindly, and while there may be conflict (or may not), you won't find a lot of gritted teeth or bruising punches or free-floating angst. Bliss clearly sees the world as a wonderful place to be, and it's reflected in her simple, elegant art and low-key, straightforward scripts. Reading these comics won't get your pulse pounding, but it'll leave you feeling pretty good.
- WAHOO MORRIS #1 is the first issue in a continuing series about a band, and about the relationships of the members of the band -- one of whom is studying magic. It's set very much in the real world of clubs and landlords and radio stations, but with that added bit of mysticism.
It's written and drawn by Craig Taillefer, published by Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics, and well worth a look. The art's very polished, the dialogue lifelike; the lettering's occasionally a bit rough, and the story's pacing isn't exactly right, but it's pretty good stuff all the same. I've seen it suggested that it would appeal to the same readers as Strangers in Paradise, and I think that's probably right. These characters have faces and personalities.
Oh, and there's a Webpage about it.
- THE CROW: WAKING NIGHTMARES #1 is the first issue of a four-issue mini-series from Kitchen Sink. I don't know how many issues were published before Kitchen Sink shut down for good. I didn't buy this one; it was a freebie given to everyone who attended the SPX.
Frankly, I wasn't terribly impressed. The art's nice, in a Frank-Millerish way, and the story's reasonably well-told, but it's just another revenge fantasy, and I've seen enough of those. Organized crime in Chinatown, child abuse, yeah, yeah. It's a good solid piece of work, but it's in a genre I just don't care about any more, and it doesn't do anything to break out of that genre.
- BEYOND THE SECOND STAR #1 was another freebie. It wasn't in the official SPX goodie bag; it was given to me by Ann Doria, the writer.
I'd really like to say good things about it, but I can only go so far with that.
The bad news is that the story isn't very interesting, layouts are often confusing, and I don't think Doria's a good writer. She might become one someday, but she isn't there yet.
The good news is that Frankie Galang's art is very sharp and powerful in what's called the Image style (though in fact most Image titles don't use it). Very detailed linework, dynamic panel layouts, etc. I think Galang could well have a great future as an artist, either in comics or illustration -- but this isn't going to be the book that makes his (or her) reputation, because the art's not good enough to overcome the weak story.
By the way, the cover is not Galang's best work. Many interior pages are better, and Galang's work comes across better in black and white than in color.
- Okay, next up we have an oddity -- an ongoing flip-book series...
JULIE'S JOURNEY is backed with GRAVITY. The two series are both written and drawn by David Keyes, published by Paper Life Studios, but are very different -- so much that I'm not sure a flipbook was really a good idea.
JULIE'S JOURNEY is the story of a young woman who finds herself in a mysterious library, unsure how she got there. Whenever she opens one of the comic books she finds there and starts to read, she finds herself transported into that story. In each issue we get another adventure-in-a-story, and also Julie gets a little more information about her situation -- though it looks like it'll be a very long time before she figures out what's going on and finds her way out of the library into real life.
That's assuming she ever makes it, which she may not.
The stories-within-stories are mostly fun. In the first issue she's in a space-opera comic book -- but she falls out of the story at the end of the issue, and it was a continued story. In #2 she tries a superhero comic, in #3 a fantasy toon, in #4 it's a science fiction comic. It's an entertaining series, but it's hard to tell whether it's really going anywhere.
GRAVITY, the series on the other side, is much less original. It's plain old space opera, not completely unlike the story Julie fell into in #1. Five heroic rebels are battling the evil Lord Nitrojan, in a story that's more than a little reminiscent of a certain classic movie. The influence of Star Wars is unmistakable.
It's fun, but nothing special. I bought the flipbooks for JULIE'S JOURNEY. GRAVITY is good enough that I don't resent having it forced upon me, but it isn't anything at all out of the ordinary.
- And now another special case -- a title I saw back in '97 but didn't buy, but picked up this time because Kiri wanted it. Once I read the books I fell in love with 'em. The title is SHEBA, and it's the story of a mummified cat...
SHEBA started out self-published by Walter S. Crane IV under the name Sick Mind Press, then after four issues went to Sirius Publications' Dog Star Press imprint. I'm not sure how long it ran there, but I believe Crane's gone back to self-publishing. The story is set in seventh-century Egypt, when Islam was spreading into the then-Christian region. Sheba herself is indeed a mummified cat whose soul somehow didn't get taken to the afterlife as promised -- and Sheba wants that mistake corrected. She demands the retired Anubis rectify the situation -- and the resulting complications involve not just the other Egyptian gods, but the Hindu and Greco-Roman pantheons, creatures of Islamic myth, and lots of other assorted people.
The artwork is eccentric but charming, always clear and easy to follow; the characters are likeable; and the whole thing is just plain fun. I laughed a lot reading these. They get the very highest recommendation from everyone here at the Evans household. There used to be an official webpage, but it seems to be gone.
- MURDER CAN BE FUN, various artists, created by John Marr, edited by Craig Pape, published by Slave Labor Graphics. I picked up four more of these. #2 is a "Dead Celebrities" issue, #3 is "Postal Death," #5 is "More Dead Celebrities," and #7 is "Naughty Children."
As I said last time, if you aren't a fan of true crime stories, these are not for you. Skip ahead to the next item; you don't want these.
On the other hand, if you do find an awful fascination in tales of death and dismemberment, check it out. Learn the sordid details of Hollywood death and debauchery. Find out what "going postal" really means. See just how rotten kids can be -- and discover that kids killing people isn't at all a new phenomenon; some of these incidents go way back. These horrific anecdotes are told deadpan in a style I find very suitable.
But I'm a sicko.
- ETERNAL ROMANCE #4, by Janet L. Hetherington, published by Best Destiny, continues the series I talked about in 1997 -- but is the last issue, barring some miracle that lets Janet revive the title.
As before, it's a good old-fashioned romance comic with a kink to it -- each story involves some sort of supernatural angle. Well, and the last story is superheroics, rather than romance, but that's an exception. This issue the lead story features the title's host, Destine, in "Destine's Scream Date."
I find these pretty darn funny. I think it's gotta be a specialized taste.
- LETHARGIC LAD continues from previous stories in LETHARGIC COMICS, but the exact publishing history has gotten so complicated -- just like the titles it parodies -- that I can't keep it straight.
However it gets published, it's by Greg Hyland and others, and full of some of the funniest superhero parodies I've ever seen. The covers of the current series don't waste space on display art; instead each one picks up the story right where the previous issue left off. I think Hyland knows that it's not his art (although it's pretty darn good) that sells these, but his jokes.
Consider the cover of #6, where most of the regular cast explain to someone that she can't be Lethargic Lass because there already is a Lethargic Lass -- who's made out of plywood...
Just read it. If you think it's funny, rest assured, the whole series is like that.
You can also still get a taste from the Lethargic Lad Web Page, I believe.
And that's it for this year.
You may notice that most of these reviews are positive. I didn't buy anything unless I was pretty sure I was going to like it. I did have negative things to say about a couple I got free, but that's the risk a creator takes when using that particular promotional method.
In general, though, the stuff above is what I considered the best. Check it out.
Oh, one final note -- each year the SPX publishes its own comic, compiling work by several of the exhibitors. For 1998 it wasn't ready in time. I did eventually buy and read it, a few weeks after the show -- but I didn't think much of it, so I don't have anything to say about it here beyond admitting it was a disappointment, not at all up to the level of the '97 edition.
For those who somehow stumbled in here by accident -- hi! I'm Lawrence Watt-Evans. I'm the author of more than three dozen novels and over a hundred short stories, as well as innumerable articles, comic scripts, poems, and other miscellany. This is my personal website, the Misenchanted Page; the name is a reference to my bestselling novel The Misenchanted Sword.
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