In September 1999 Kiri and I attended the sixth annual Small Press Expo here in Montgomery County, Maryland, but I didn't get around to writing this report until now. Some of it is going to sound familiar, since I'm once again using the previous reports as a template, and things weren't all that different. Updates in this color are from 2015. I don't seem to have mentioned here that if you click on a cover image, you should get a look at a much larger, clearer image.
The SPX was again in Bethesda, at the same hotel as in '98 -- the good one. I don't know how attendance or the number of exhibitors compared.
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. This time, alas, most of the cool stuff I saw was stuff I was already following, having discovered it at the '97 and '98 shows; I didn't see much good new material. Here's what I did pick up:
- STRANGE CHILD COMICS #1, published by Strange Child Studios, a.k.a. Ethan Wenberg and Tom Martin, is not for children, despite the title and innocuous cover. It contains a dozen one-pagers and a couple of longer pieces, all but one by either Wenberg or Martin, using their assorted characters.
They're weird stuff; if you come across this book and want a quick feel for the mindset involved, just read the back cover.
There's no real unifying theme beyond chaotic humor. There's sex and violence and weirdness -- but it really is pretty funny, and these guys draw real good.
It's twisted, and some gags are just dumb, but overall, it's fun.
- WHITEOUT is a trade paperback collecting the story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, sent to Antarctica to solve a murder. It's written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Steve Lieber, and published by Oni Press.
It's real good.
Oh, don't let the cover art fool you -- that's a guest shot by Frank Miller, and the interior art is much subtler. Reminds me a bit of Reed Crandall's work. I also picked up The Steven Lieber Sketchbook Mini, which is exactly what it says -- a sampler of Lieber's sketches, intended to demonstrate his versatility. It works at that. He's good.
Whiteout is a story where you don't need to know anything going in beyond what I've already told you -- it develops very nicely from zero. Highly recommended. It's got some violence, and implied sexual stuff, so it's not for kiddies, but it's a good, solid piece of work. It was successful enough to spawn a sequel, WHITEOUT: MELT, which I haven't read yet.
- LOVE AND ROCKETS #50 is the final issue of the acclaimed long-running Fantagraphics series featuring stores by the Hernandez brothers. If you've paid any attention to independent comics for the past twenty years, you've probably heard of the series.
I hadn't read an issue in years, because, frankly, I didn't like the ones I'd looked at, but SPX '99 was giving away this issue, so I read it.
I must be a philistine, an uncultured slob -- for me, the Hernandez brothers both draw very nicely, and create distinct and believable characters, but they simply don't tell stories I care about at all. I found LOVE AND ROCKETS boring back when I looked at the first few issues, and I still find it boring. It does nothing for me.
But I picked it up at the Expo, so I figured I should point it out. Here it is.
- The FLASHPOINT ILLUSTRATED preview was another giveaway. Pointless, pompous, full of overblown writing and contrived existential angst. The guy can draw fairly well, but his writing... bleah. Avoid.
- Another freebie is this BUZZBOY/40 WINKS preview, which is just four pages in which Buzzboy, a nicely-drawn humorous superhero I'm not really familiar with, encounters Pandora from Forty Winks. Not much you can do in four undersized pages, but it's charming and I wonder whether I missed the advertised crossover, which was announced for February 2000. It might've been delayed, or I might've been oblivious.
I've never bought any Buzzboy comics; they've been at the SPX for years, and every year I look at them, hesitate -- and don't buy 'em. I'm not sure why.
- Yet another giveaway, the DANGEROUS TIMES ashcan contains two very short stories -- "The Last Survivor of Mona," featuring Vidorix the Druid, written by Alexei Kondratiev and drawn by James Fletcher; and "Marooned," part of a series called Beleagean Days, written by Margie Spears, drawn by Vince Mielcarek, inked by Russ Steffens.
Vidorix the Druid is nicely drawn, but could stand more room on the page, and the writing... well, there's nothing really wrong with it, but it doesn't grab me. Kondratiev does seem to know the period, but the pacing, the panel-to-panel flow of story, isn't what it ought to be.
Beleagean Days strikes me as cliche-ridden -- I'm sorry, but I can't take dialogue like "You, you little, little dog, are not fit to lick my boots" seriously. The art doesn't exactly wow me, either -- it reminds me of the poorer stuff from Charlton when I was a kid.
I'd like to be more positive, since these guys obviously put a lot of love and effort into this, but it just doesn't work for me.
- And I have three other previews that I'm afraid I don't feel like describing individually -- the LASZLO PRESS SAMPLER (assorted real-life stories), FAR FLUNG (a long story about some animals having adventures, told one panel per day in a calendar format -- the sample has 139 of the 431 panels), and TURNIP JOE MARMET #1 (a silly quasi-underground piece).
That's it for new stuff, but there are also some
- Which brings us to the Pam Bliss titles. You may recall that at the '98 SPX I discovered B-36 and THE PHANTOM AIRSHIP. Well, this time I got a bunch more of her output: The full-sized B-36 #2, the two B-36 mini-comics, and two more minis: GOBLIN, named for the little fighters meant to be carried inside a B-36 and air-launched, and THE FIRST KIDS ON MARS, a Those Kids! mini. They're all from Pam's Paradise Valley Comics.
All the B-36 comics, as well as GOBLIN, are miscellanies, with lots of short features, including kids'-club adventure stories (Those Kids!), more of the surreal zen of Radiation Man, and assorted other fun stuff.
The First Kids on Mars was a mild disappointment, as it's really just an introduction of Those Kids! There's no actual story. It's still charming, but I probably should've passed.
Last time I said, "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." It's still true.
- Okay, next up we have a returning 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 still not sure a flipbook was really a good idea, and apparently David Keye is coming to agree with me.
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.
The stories-within-stories are mostly fun. In both these new issues she's in a superhero comic book -- but things may not be what they appear...
GRAVITY, the series on the other side, is plain old space opera. Five heroic rebels are battling the evil Lord Nitrojan, falling into various tight situations along the way.
The influence of Star Wars is still pretty plain, but less blatant than it was at first.
I bought the flipbooks for JULIE'S JOURNEY, and GRAVITY is good enough that I don't resent having it attached.
- I bought a zillion back issues of LETHARGIC COMICS and LETHARGIC COMICS, WEAKLY, featuring Lethargic Lad -- see below for pictures. There are other characters in there, but frankly, I kinda burned out on the others. I bought these for Lethargic Lad, which remains one of the funniest ongoing parody series in the history of comics.
The Lad of Lethargy is the creation of Greg Hyland, and is probably the best-sustained superhero parody I've ever seen. While the covers of the current series don't waste space on display art, these back issues did, usually featuring a dead-on parody of some "hot" comic.
It unquestionably helps if you're a comic-book fan and aware of what's happened in mainline superhero comics, but even if you aren't, this stuff is pretty damn funny.
I think the Lethargic Web Page is still there.
Of course, any time you have that many contributors, there'll be a few that just don't work, and that's the case here, but the average is quite decent.
There's a lot of nifty stuff being done in comics these days. Eventually I want to put up a few pages about it. For now, though, I'll just direct you to one link as a starting point.
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.
That's it; here's your list of handy exits: