An all-star celebration marking the 40th anniversary of groundbreaking independent comics publisher Fantagraphics Books was the centerpiece of the annual Small Press Expo, held September 17-18 in Bethesda, Md.
The Seattle-based indie comics house brought a line-up of some of the best known comics artists in independent publishing to the show, including Daniel Clowes (Patience), Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Joe Sacco (Palestine), Trina Robbins (Complete Wimmens Comix), Jim Woodring (Frank in the 3rd Dimension) and Carol Tyler (Soldier’s Heart).
It was the publisher's largest and most impressive line-up of cartoonists at the show to date, publisher Gary Groth told PW, adding that it led to "our biggest show ever," in terms of sales.
Although final attendance figures were not available, SPX generally draws about 4,000 fans. SPX director Warren Bernard said show attendance was up a bit from last year.
Publishers noticed and cited the impact of the stars and the crowds on sales. NBM publisher Terry Nantier, who hosted a signing by French comics artist Cyril Pedrosa at the NBM booth, said he sold out of both the French and newly released English editions of Pedrosa’s new book, Equinoxes.
NBM collaborated with Europe Comics, the online rights and promotional coalition of 13 European comics publishers, to bring Pedrosa to SPX. This is the first year Europe Comics has exhibited at SPX. Nazeli Kyuregan, director of editorial and marketing for Europe Comics, said she was impressed that American fans also snapped up every copy of the French language edition of Equinoxes, "we should have brought more copies."
Although Fantagraphics’ adult comics lineup stole the show, cartoonists who cater to a younger crowd were also a draw. One such example was Jeffrey Brown who was at the show promoting Lucy and Andy Neanderthal (Crown Books for Young Readers), the first book in a trilogy about two Neanderthal kids who learn about humans and cooling temperatures.
Nobrow Press quickly sold out of the latest volume of Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, Hilda and the Stone Forest (published by Nobrow’s Flying Eye Books children’s imprint). The series is the publisher's biggest hit, and an animated show based on it is in the works at Netflix.
And SPX also hosted two days of programming with presentations featuring among others, Joe Sacco (Palestine) and Sarah Glidden (Rolling Black Outs) discussing comics journalism, an onstage interview with Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (Love & Rockets), and a 40th anniversary panel on Fantagraphics (which is publishing We Told You So: Comics and Art, an Oral History of Fantagraphics by Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean, a 40 year history of the house in December) and its impact on American comics publishing.
Now more than 20 years old, the Small Press Expo is a key stop for many indie and self publishers. This year's show featured nearly 700 exhibitors. Tables at SPX are assigned via lottery, and in the past there has been controversy around securing a table. Although major publishers and cartoonists are locked into booth space, getting one of the highly coveted tables is mostly left to chance for smaller exhibitors, and many creators grumble about it every year, with 2016 being no exception.
Nevertheless, Bernard said the event will never become a curated or juried show—where organizers decide who will exhibit—like other popular shows, including the Toronto Comic Arts Festival and Comic Arts Brooklyn. "The lottery is part of the character of the show,” he told PW. “And if people don’t like the system, they don’t have to exhibit."
However, Bernard said, a change in the lottery system will be announced for 2017. He declined, though, to provide more details at press time.