Photo of John P. at SPX, by Phoebe Gloeckner
First of all, don't get me wrong. SPX was a weird show for many of us, but it was also, at least for me, a great show. I had my best SPX ever this year, narrowly edging out 2012 in terms of sales. This is especially exciting because at a show like SPX, where many of my distribution clients are exhibiting (I don't overlap by selling their work at my table), I'm often down to bringing the more obscure items in my stock list. This year I focused on a bunch of French and Belgian imports, recent publications from the Latvian publisher KUŠ, Conundrum and Pow Pow titles from Canada, and so on. And people responded. I even sold an untranslated copy of Nylso's Jérôme et la Route!
From a personal angle, I sold plenty of copies of my newest zine, King-Cat #75, and met a lot of wonderful readers and artists. I had great conversations with buddies Noah Van Sciver, Melissa Mendes, Rob Kirby, and even Dylan Horrocks, who I finally got to meet in person!!!
So what did I mean when I said last week, "SPX is no longer the show we once knew"? I don't even know exactly, I'm still trying to put it all together. I was talking to Bill Kartalopoulos when he was at my table, and was trying to explain how I choose what books to bring to what show. Having done enough shows I do have a feel for the crowds at each one. Some crowds are looking for the weirdest, most out there stuff; others are more middle of the road. (I don't do the shows where people are looking for superheroes, or digital prints of Star Trek characters anymore.) Some crowds are looking for nicely produced book editions, some are looking for low-budget zines. With SPX, I really was at a loss for what to expect. What's clear is that it's no longer strictly what you would call an "Art Comics Show". (Was it ever? My memory fails me, but it did feel more like that in the past.) There are tons of webcomics artists exhibiting now, with their own set of aesthetics and creative goals. There are lots of very young artists exhibiting, who also have different sets of goals and approaches. The politics are different (in approach, if not in essence). But us traditional (?) (!) Art Comics creators were still there in force, we're just more diluted, spread out more in the sea of banners and comics.
Again, as I took pains to say in my last post, this isn't a bad thing. It's good! Comics has grown so much, so quickly, that now there are a zillion different people coming at it from a zillion different angles. But it does make it kind of hard for old-timers to keep up. I say old-timers with my tongue in cheek a little, but damn, let's face it, a lot of us are pushing 50 now, not to mention those fogies like the Hernandezes and Cloweses.
As many have pointed out, comics are in a real Golden Age. Many of the greatest comics ever made are being made right now. There's no shortage of amazing work available, from photocopied zines to lush hardcover books (to, I am told, webcomics, though I admit almost complete ignorance of that scene) and beyond. I've been in comics since the number of good, challenging, literary cartoonists could be counted on two hands, through the rise of the self-published revolution, the emergence of the Graphic Novel ™, the internet, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and whatever's next. Some of us are in it for the long haul, and I guess what we need to keep in mind is that above it all, it comes down to the work. Platforms, festivals, methods come and go. We ride those things out, keep our heads down, and try to create the best work we can; put it out into the world however we choose, and continue to hope for that human connection.
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PS: The latest Comics Books Are Burning in Hell podcast discusses many of these points better than I can, and is well worth the listen for those interested.