The fifteenth annual Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) took place last weekend, April 12-13, at the Columbus Ramada on Sinclair Rd. As I have for the last three years, I attended the expo and most of the accompanying events. Below is a random smattering of thoughts, recollections and observations in no particular order:
- I’m always surprised by how much better the comics look at SPACE each year I go. It seems like each year, the paper quality, printing and binding of the exhibitors’ comics get a little better. Bob Corby, who not only organizes SPACE but also publishes a number of his own comics, tells me this is because printing technology is getting cheaper and better. Whatever the reason, the comics all looked very nice and professional.
- Speaking of Bob Corby, it was nice to see him get a couple of rounds of applause over the weekend for his fifteen years of putting together SPACE single-handedly. I heard nothing but compliments about how well the convention was organized, and several said it was the best convention they had attended. I’m glad to hear that SPACE had an increase in foot traffic and attendance this year, as well as publicity, so hopefully the good times will keep on coming.
- One of my favorite purchases from SPACE was The Book of Da, by Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan, two comics creators from St. Louis. The Book of Da is an underwater adventure/horror comic of sorts, narrated by an evangelical frog person. It’s a fantastic book and is beautifully bound in a really cool looking hardcover. I bought the book solely based off of its binding and cover and was not disappointed in the least. You can purchase it here.
- Another very gorgeous looking book is Pictures of Pitchers by Katherine Wirick, whom I spoke about earlier this week. If you like baseball, you should try to pick up a copy of the book, as Wirick does a magnificent job of capturing the spirit of the various pitchers she illustrates, and like everything else she draws, there’s a lot of emotion in her drawings. I really liked her four pages on Sandy Koufax, and I think she did a great job capturing both his enigmatic personality and his immense will. You can purchase Pictures of Pitchers here.
- I was also very happy to learn that Sandy Koufax is still alive. We live in a world which Sandy Koufax isn’t dead, and that means the world is a little bit of a better place than I thought.
- If you want to talk for hours about baseball, especially the earlier days of the sport, talk to Katherine Wirick. Her knowledge about baseball is pretty astounding, and I probably spent a good two or three hours talking about the likes of Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. On Sunday, she pulled out a Baseball reference guide (the title of which escapes me) to show me a picture of Ty Cobb with another Detroit baseball player. To quote Katherine, “One looks like he has a healthy self-image, the other has the highest batting average of any player in the modern era.”
- To summarize, Katherine is crazy knowledgeable about baseball and lots of other things.
- She also gave me a drawing of Bob Feller, which I’ll be framing and hanging up in my living room shortly. My wife and I just stared in awe at it for a good two minutes yesterday. It’s absolutely amazing.
- I noticed that there were plenty of younger exhibitors this year. Someone made a joke about how the “age of the old white guy” was ending at SPACE, and while that was never really the case, there has certainly been a shift in recent years. I’d guess that 25-30% of the exhibitors were female, and there were several exhibitors who were still students at Columbus College of Arts and Design.
- Despite all the diversity, 90% of the creators I took pictures of were white dudes. I'm pretty ashamed of this, and want to note that my photos aren't an accurate representation of the diversity at SPACE.
- When describing her Prince of Cats series to me, Kori Michele Handwerker mentioned that her comic’s cast featured characters of various “races, sexualities and gender identities”. I’m sure Handwerker’s comic isn’t the first to deal with transgender issues at SPACE, but it was the first time that someone at SPACE has described their comic this way.
- I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to return to grab a copy of her first issue. However, she has a website which has all the comics online, and I noticed that one of her main characters is transgender. I feel I’m a bit behind in understanding transgender issues, but I’m glad that we’re starting to see more comics that tackle the complexities of non-traditional gender identities.
- Plus, her comic has talking cats, and who doesn’t love talking cats?
- With this being my third year of going to SPACE, I felt a sense of familiarity amongst many of the exhibitors. Conversations came easier, people were a bit more open, and the laughs came a bit easier. Not that SPACE wasn’t a friendly place before, but I felt much more comfortable walking around knowing a decent number of the creators there.
- One of those creators was Gabriel Dunston, who gave me a copy of his new Purgatory Pub graphic novel. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a book of contradictions and contrasts, chronicling the unlikely friendship between a demon and an angel. The book is filled with melancholy beats, which stand in stark contrast to Dunston’s cartoony and upbeat style.
- I also liked that Purgatory Pub had a very refined look at religion that wasn’t preachy or needlessly harsh. Gabriel's work can be found here.
- James Moore, of Two Headed Comics, debuted “Children These Days”, a minicomic that blended fantasy elements with the punk counterculture. Lisa Sterle provided the artwork, and it's quite good. It’s probably James’ best comic to date, a well-paced comic that both glorifies and mocks the rebellious teen experience. James told me that it was selling very well. It's not currently for sale on his website, and he should probably update that so I can link to where you can purchase the book.
- James and I also did a reading of Children These Days at a function Saturday night, which I’ll talk about in a bit.
- Tom Williams designed yet another gorgeous poster for SPACE this year. Williams is an underrated Columbus treasure, and consistently produces very pretty, surrealist artwork. I love his comics and prints, and I’m glad that his artwork continues to be featured by SPACE. I think it’s a very good partnership. Some of Tom's artwork can be found here.
- I finally had a chance to pick up March by Congressman John Lewis and Nate Powell. Powell is a regular exhibitor at SPACE, and he’s always very friendly and personable. I’m glad that Powell’s national profile continues to grow, as he’s one of the best artists in the industry today. His faces are very expressive, and I love how he depicts powerful emotional scenes. I thought he was a good pick for March when it was announced, and my cursory read of the first few pages confirmed that.
- I found out that Powell will be the artist for a graphic novel adaptation of Rick Riordian’s The Lost Hero. I’m a fan of the Percy Jackson series, so I was surprised to learn that there are several comic adaptations of the books out there.
- Probably the most subversive book of the convention was Animal Crackers by Scott and Jeff Kraynak. Animal Crackers is a poetry book with artwork showing various acts of animal cruelty, only with the animals perpetuating the attacks instead of the humans. Their imagery is both disturbingly hilarious and poignant. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or be disgusted by one page, which showed seals beating baby humans, so I just stared in shock at the page for a couple of minutes instead.
- I would have bought Animal Crackers or at least a print of manatees running down humans while riding jetskis, but I think my wife would divorce me. I think this is a book that people will want to buy, if only for the shock factor of having their friends flip through it. More information on the book can be found here.
- Andrew Meyerhoefer and Seth Kumpf’s Ragged Rider won a SPACE Prize this year in the general category, which is for any comic that’s not a mini-comic, webcomic or graphic novel. Ragged Rider features a mummy cowboy (or is a cowboy mummy?) and I think it’s a very fun and cute comic. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a new issue for sale, although I did pick up a collection of all their mini-comics. Issue #2 should be out soon, though, so I’ll be looking forward to reading that. You can find their work here.
- Some other comics I bought were Nathan and the Land of Robots, by Matt Dye, Amiculus: A Secret History, by Travis Horseman and Giancarlo Caracuzzo, the first two issues of The Lake Erie Monster by J Kelly and John G., and Daddy’s Little Girl, a western by Warwick Johnson and Dan Hale.
- I enjoyed all five comics, especially The Lake Erie Monster. I feel like Lake Erie Monster is a comic you’d find in those early days of the underground comix movement, and for some reason I kept thinking about Robert Crumb’s artwork as I read it. I would have bought the other three issues of The Lake Erie Monster, but the creators did not attend SPACE on Sunday. They can be purchased here, however.
- It would be remiss of me not to mention fellow Outhouse writer JM Hunter, who attended the event as an exhibitor. Hunter has spearheaded much of our small press coverage over the last few years, and is probably the reason why I met so many people who liked the Outhouse at the event. Hunter recently finished BAM Too, a 400 page anthology featuring over thirty creators’ work. Hunter’s been laboring over Bam for as long as I’ve known him, and I’m glad to finally have a copy in my possession.
- Having read about ten of the stories in Bam, I’ve already found several that I’ve enjoyed, and the anthology as a whole looks very well put together, which is impressive considering the amount of creators involved and the amount of time the book’s been in development. Kudos to Hunter and all those involved.
- Caitlin McGurk of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and the Laughing Ogre were actively involved with the weekend’s festivities, each organizing one of the two social events for the attendees of the show. Friday’s pre-party at the Ogre was a laid back affair, and I’m proud to say that my wife didn’t need to come and pick me up like she did last year.
- All the out of towners were impressed with the Ogre, and commented on both the store’s superior layout and selection, as well as their friendly staff. I think people in Columbus take the Ogre for granted, it’s one of the best comic stores in the nation, and I feel like we don’t appreciate that enough.
- Caitlin’s Saturday affair was a little more rambunctious. She organized a comics reading/karaoke night that was attended by 75-100 people. Caitlin has quickly become one of the cornerstones in the Columbus comics scene since she came into town two years ago, and her SPACE after-parties have been the talk of the convention on Sundays.
- Whenever I see Caitlin around town, it seems like she’s always rubbing elbows with some comics legend or future comics star. She knows EVERYONE in comics, and is always traveling to some comics event or another. If you haven’t met her yet, you probably should.
- I don't know how I missed this earlier, but I forgot to mention that the comics reading event was held at Kafe Kerouac, close to Ohio State's campus. Kerouac's one of Columbus's more unique venues, it's part coffee shop, part bar, part bookstore and part record store. I love going in there, and it's been the site of many of Columbus's comic events over the years. They also carry local comics, which I hear have sold decently well for them. I think that more local stores that aren't comic shops should carry comics, especially those made by local creators.
- Darcie and I had our second date at Kafe Kerouac, the one where we decided to actually make a go of it, and look how that turned out.
- I'm a pretty terrible person for forgetting to talk about Kafe Kerouac in my original draft of this, and I'm terribly sorry for neglecting to mention the shop when it's such an important part of the Columbus comics scene.
- JT Dockery kicked off the comic reading portion of the afterparty with an excerpt from his Despair Vol. 2 anthology. Dockery’s a natural showman, and he’s always the best choice to get any party off to a great start. He read delete;title, a “horror sci-fi hillbilly” story with Lovecraft and post-apocalyptical elements. JT will be in town for a few more weeks so I hope to get to see him again before he leaves.
- JT told me that he didn’t really prepare for his comics reading, but I really don’t think he’s the sort of person who needs to prepare for a performance. He’s very well-spoken and personable, and has left his mark on the last two years’ after-parties. He’s quickly become one of my favorite people to see at SPACE every year.
- JT's work can be found here.
- I was introduced to several new artists’ work, including Tyne Lowe, an Oxford, OH artist, and Kevin Czapiewski from Cleveland. Tyne’s work was autobiographical and self-deprecating and all together brilliant. Czapiewski’s work was a bit more droll and satirical. I especially enjoyed his mini-comic on a futuristic Cleveland that’s turned things around from its current straights. Both readings were absolutely hilarious, and I look forward to reading more of their work. Lowe's work can be found here, and Czapiewski's work here.
- Victor Dandridge, a local writer, did a reading from The Trouble With Love, a book examining the messy fallout from a superhero’s personal life. Dandridge’s reading was probably the most powerful of the night, and the entire crowd was captivated by his emotion driven performance. I confess I haven’t read much of Dandridge’s other work despite living in the same town of his, but I plan to correct this in the near future. His work can be found here.
- James and I performed a reading from his Elfpunk comic, with me supplying the female voices. I hadn’t realized I’d be doing this when I volunteered to help him, and also didn’t realize that the minicomic had a romance element to it. I hammed up the performance for laughs, and I hope that it wasn’t too cringeworthy.
- If anyone has a video of the performance, please send a copy to my wife so she can use it as leverage for the rest of our lives.
- Sean Ford also did a reading at the event. I was unfamiliar with Sean’s work, but his reading of Only Skin convinced me to pick it up the next day. Only Skin is about a brother and sister returning to their rural hometown after their father disappears. Sean read two scenes in which the brother interacts with a ghost who may or may not be his father, and used audience sound effects to humorous effect. I really liked the pacing of Only Skin, and the artwork, and the story, and just about everything else.
- Another thing that stood out to me about Only Skin is how Ford nailed the comedic beats of the story without taking away from the more serious elements of the book. I think it’s very hard to translate certain types comedic beats in comics, and it’s a very underrated skill to have in any medium. I laughed out loud several times while reading Only Skin, and that’s not something I do very often while reading comics.
- Only Skin was probably my favorite book from SPACE. Ford's website states that its out of print, but other of his comics are available for purchase here. EDIT: His website was mistaken and has since been corrected. I highly recommend you pick up Only Skin at the link provided.
- Colleen Clark finished the comics reading portion of the after-party with readings of “You Have Body Issues” and “Busted”. Clark is still a student at CCAD, but her comics have been featured on the Huffington Post and the Columbus Dispatch. She’s crazy talented, and I think we’ll all be talking about her in the near future. You can see her work here.
- Seeing Clark’s body of work so far makes me feel very inept about my own accomplishments, which might be ironic considering one of her comics is about self-judging and being overly critical of one’s self-image. I might be using the word ironic wrong in that last sentence, but the point is that Colleen Clark is very talented and very accomplished and I look forward to her awesomeness making me feel like a bum for years to come.
- There were a lot of creators at SPACE who made me feel that way. A lot.
- After the comics reading finished up, the karaoke began. Ken Eppstein, Nix Comics mogul and occasional Outhouse contributor, really got the party started with a truly horrifying rendition of “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by the Ohio Express. I would have gotten pictures of him doing this, but I was too busy trying not to die of laughter. I 100% guarantee that his performance will pop up on YouTube at some point, and I plan on showing people that video at all of his future events.
- Surprisingly, I didn’t get to talk to Ken very much at SPACE. Ken’s booth this year was right by the entrance, so it seemed like people were stopping to peruse his comics whenever I stopped by.
- Nate Powell sang Black Sabbath at karaoke that night. It was pretty great.
- That’s right, I saw one of the greatest comics illustrators of our generation sing Black Sabbath at karaoke. Isn’t SPACE wonderful?
- Caitlin sang Hey Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms. Katherine Wirick performed a headbanging version of You Can Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac. At one point in time, Katherine pulled her glasses off her face and tossed them into the crowd. Very rock n’ roll. Tom Williams sang Cocaine Blues.
- I cheated and rapped Young MC’s Bust a Move. I was able to rap about 80% of the song, which was 15% more than I thought.
- I ended up staying out until nearly 12:30 AM on Saturday, and I heard the party didn’t wrap up until 1 AM. Needless to say, there were plenty of tired and hungover folks at SPACE the next day.
- In total, I spent about $120 at SPACE, not including food, drink and admission costs. I could have easily spent another $50-$100 if I hadn’t shown a little bit of control.
- Actually, I probably would have spent another $50 if I hadn’t already supported several creators’ Kickstarter campaigns. Both Ken and Dara Naraghi were selling books that they had recently published with the help of crowdfunding. I’m pretty sure Gabriel Dunston’s Purgatory Pub was also Kickstarter funded, as was Johnson and Hale’s Pretty Little Girl.
- One of the things that surprised me was how many people at SPACE were Outhouse readers. I’m always hesitant to bring up that I “run” the Outhouse (Jude does all the work, and I just take the credit) because we’re such a divisive site. No one punched me in the face at SPACE for something the Outhouse said about them, which is something I probably wouldn’t be able to say at many other conventions. So thank you, both for reading the site and not punching me in the face.
- Oh, I got to speak to Chris Charlton before I left SPACE on Sunday. Chris is another one of the people I talk to at SPACE every year, and I’ve seen him grow from the writer of one comic to simultaneously producing multiple series at once. He was telling me that he’ll have multiple series debuting before the end of the year in addition to the three he currently has out, which is a pretty impressive feat.
- Chris reminds me a little bit of Ken Eppstein in that they both have developed a successful plan of creating comics and stick to it, and that they publish comics that appeal to fans of multiple genres. Just like Ken’s Nix Comics Quarterly appeals to a different crowd than Nix Comics Western, Chris’s Binary Gray appeals to a different group than his Black of Heart. I think it’s always a good thing to have new material every time you attend a yearly convention, and that’s something both Ken and Chris have done very well.
- I’m very glad that Chris is finding success at a creator, and I’m glad that he always has new comics for me to read at SPACE every year. You can find his work here.
- I’m sure I’m failing to mention a few people, and I’m really sorry for that.
- If any of the attendees come down with a terrible stomach flu, that’s probably my fault. My wife was very ill all weekend and couldn’t attend SPACE, but I might have acted as an unwitting transmitter. I don’t think I caught her bug, but we’ll all find out in a couple of weeks.
The TL;DR of this article is: SPACE was wonderful, the people there were wonderful. Everything was wonderful. And I love comics a little more because of it.
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About the Author - Christian Hoffer
Christian Hoffer is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Hoffer is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.
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