SPX (or the Small Press Expo), held annually in Bethesda, Md., for small-press comics and graphic novel creators and fans, expanded from two days to three this year, September 5—7. Attendance at the show was about 1,800, down about 200 from last year, according to SPX executive director Greg McElhatton.
Big publishers like DC, Marvel and Dark Horse don't exhibit at SPX (although scouts from most of the major companies were hanging around the large, fully booked exhibition halls), and there was no manga presence at all. Instead, the biggest tables were taken by medium-sized independent graphic novel publishers like Alternative Press, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, most of which brought along a slew of their creators for signings. The majority of tables, though, were occupied by small self-publishing concerns as well as a few European publishers who brought over French- and German-language titles.
State of the Industry
On Sunday morning, Bill Schanes, v-p of Diamond Distribution gave his annual State of the Industry speech. He painted a generally rosy picture. Diamond's graphic novel sales to the direct market are up 11.5% in the past year (a figure that excludes most of the manga sales explosion in bookstores); general bookstore sales are up 18% (driven by how-to-draw-manga titles); and even the long-languishing comics periodicals category is up 20% after a couple of rough years.
There's a well-established tradition of successful self-publishing in the comics world, but these books often have difficulty finding distribution outside the comics-store market. Carla Speed McNeil's Finder series, for instance, is a solid hit, but she doesn't yet have much bookstore distribution.
No particular book was the focus of attention at this year's SPX, although recent titles like Craig Thompson's Blankets (which Thompson was present to sign) and the Kramers Ergot Four anthology continued to sell briskly. The biggest piece of news, though, put smiles on the faces of Fantagraphics' staff. After years of negotiations, they have signed an agreement to publish Charles M. Schulz's complete 50-year run of Peanuts in a series of 25 volumes, designed by the Canadian comics artist Seth—two volumes a year, beginning next April.
Most of the hottest new titles at this SPX were anthologies. Drawn and Quarterly debuted the first volume of Drawn and Quarterly Showcase split between Nicolas Robel and multiple Ignatz Award—winner Kevin Huizenga; the sixth volume of Typewriter (from Popzero) is a collaboration among 24 cartoonists, each starting his or her own strip with the last sentence of the previous one. Danny Hellman has published a second fat volume of his Legal Action Comics anthology to raise money for his long-running legal struggle with NBM comics artist Ted Rall, featuring contributions from Art Spiegelman and novelist Myla Goldberg. Two very unusual X-rated titles from Alternative Comics did especially well: James Kochalka's deeply goofy Fancy Froglin's Sexy Forest and the anthology True Porn.
SPX also has its own awards ceremony, the Ignatz Awards, named after the mouse from George Herriman's legendary comic strip Krazy Kat and voted on by the expo's attendees. Jason Little won Outstanding Artist for his Shutterbug Follies (from Doubleday's about-to-be-shuttered graphic novel line), and Rich Koslowski's animation-world satire Three Fingers (Top Shelf) won Outstanding Graphic Novel or Collection.