Among the most consistent shows on the convention circuit, the Small Press Expo in Betheda, Maryland continues to be a fun, friendly and successful show for the indie/art comix crowd. D&Q, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and AdHouse Books led the publishers on hand, while cartoonists from Carla Speed McNeill to Keith Knight to Roger Langridge led the creator contingent.
Paid attendance was just over 2000, up 18% from 2009 and 30% from 2008, according to PR coordinator Warren Bernard. 371 exhibitors, vips, press and so on brought total attendance to 2600.
The rise in attendance led to a very crowded floor on Satudray. Publishers and cartoonists reported decent sales, mostly comparable to last year, although perhaps a bit softer, according to online reports. Although the overall poor economy is beginning to chip away mainstream comics sales, enthusiasm for small press comics – often handmade, one of a kind items—remains strong.
Opinions differed over the book of the show: a new issue of Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware — the first in two years — was certainly noteworthy, as was a new issue of Monster, the influential Fort Thunder anthology by experimental comics pioneers including Brian Chippendale and Brian Ralph. But the rookie sensation was Adam Hines' Duncan the Wonder Dog, a massive 400-page journey into experimental storytelling that concerns a world where animals can think and talk and decide to confront humans. Told in a style that recalls Ware, Dave McKean and Dash Shaw, Duncan is very much sui generis and generated much talk. Hines won a Xeric Grant to publish the book in 2009 after having worked on it for seven years – it's his first professionally published work.
Elsewhere, Jaime Hernandez filled the role of comic book idol – his spotlight panel was packed and younger cartoonists were eager to meet him. As in years past, webcomic superstar Kate Beaton drew the longest line –a separate door was required to keep the aisles from crowding. Web cartoonists in general remained a prominent part of the show despite the presence of Intervention, a show dedicated to webcomics, just a few miles up the street. By Sunday morning, Meredith Gran reported she was almost sold out of Octopus Pie, her collection from Villard, and other established Web stars – from David Malki to Spike Trotman – also did well.
While the love of making comics and talking about comics took center stage, there were a few trends on the business side. In the highly cooperative atmosphere, small publishers distributing even smaller press books is almost expected, as with AdHouse's recent announcement of AdDistro. And even mini comics are getting publishers. Cartoonist Tom Kaczynski runs Uncivilized Books, a publisher of deluxe mini comics that has so far published minis by Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Thomas Weiken and his own work. Although small in scale, Kaczynski says the program has been a success, with sales at shows and online. "It never loses money and always makes a little. We sell lots of Gabrielle's book online," he said.
The Ignatz Awards were held Saturday night – a full list of winners is here – MC'd by Liz Baillie. Popular winners included Ken Dahl for Monsters and Mike Dawson for his webcomic/mini Troop 142. Dean Haspiel, a major figure in the early years of SPX, made his first appearance in five years and when requested to "take it off" by the crowd obliged by taking off his shirt to present the Outstanding Graphic Novel award, and winner James Sturm was rewarded with a full-on man hug.
It was, as usual, that kind of a show. Following the Ignatzes the crowd dispersed into happy pockets of hot crab dip, molten chocolate, karaoke and more indie comics.