Small Press Expo: We're All Awkward Here / by David Anderson


So. Here we are. Another weekend gone, another 48 hours closer to the Fimbulwinter. But it was a very special 48 hours, because this was the weekend where I and the guys (and girl) from Spandexless stomped around the Small Press Expo of Bethesda, Maryland. (Beth does not own Bethesda in spite of a curious naming similarity.) My plan for attending the Small Press Expo (SPX hereon) was mostly set out by this past Friday: A two way train ticket secured my ingress and egress routes, pay-day gave me the funds, and my bros at Spandexless helped me with Saturday night lodging. The only gap in the plan was the seven hour stretch between the time I stepped out of White Flint Metro station and into the exhibitor's hall of the accommodating Marriott, which opened at 11:00 AM. If I didn't have family in DC I probably would have tried to blend in with the homeless in the hopes that they might not shank me.

This marks the second time I visited SPX, and we're a bit less religiously zealous. I still enjoy it, but we're more laid back this time. It still gives me the energy to write, which is great, and the crash I get from coming off the emotional high is less drastic. I do miss the excitement of last year, but I'm more outgoing now, so it's a nice trade-off.

It was bigger than last year, but not too big. I feel like once an expo reaches a certain event horizon it just loses the appeal, which is why I won't go to NYCC this year. Small scenes are great, big scenes are too loud and crowded for me. I spent most of NYCC shuffling at 3 feet an hour in the middle of a sweaty mass of people, deafened by the speakers of advertising stands fifty feet away from me. Boring and overstimulating. It was pretty amazing to be able to walk twenty feet and only rub shoulders maybe twice. But more than that, there's an atmosphere of friendliness that still pervades the halls. That's the most important thing to keep if SPX wants to continue being an enjoyable experience. Shouldn't be hard, I think. I just hope I never get an elitist attitude about SPX, and I hope nobody else involved in it ever does.

Fashion-wise it was nothing but beards and pixie cuts. Neither typically appeared on the same person at the same time, though I might have seen a couple who tried to do it. My job forbids me to have facial hair so I stick out like a smooth thumb (or something), but beards itch like crazy for me anyway so I don't mind being a smooth-skin. I'm a fan of women with pixie cuts so I have nothing to say against the trend in the comics scene. Just glad in general to see more women at these kinds of things. If it were all dudes I'd feel like I was in a hivemind or something.

There were a couple of cosplayers, but I could literally count them on my hands. I don't really know if cosplay culture fits well with this expo. I mean, I wouldn't slam the door in your face if you came dressed up, but I feel like they are a square peg in a round hole. This event is lower-key and less flamboyant, maybe even humbler. So while I don't condemn, I also don't condone. No hate, just, you know, there's a time and a place.

The thing I love most about SPX is how down-to-Earth it is. It's easy to talk to people who's art you admire. It's still awkward, though. Tom Scioli summed up that important emotional theme of this convention. There' s the go-to topics of "I love your art" and "How's SPX treating you?" and "Hey I want to pimp a website" (I am bad at this last point so I leave it to Beth) but there's that nagging desire to say more, to show you're not just another brick in the wall. Another blurry face waxing enthusiastic for someone's work, jonesing for an autograph or a custom drawing. But it's not like any of the artists at SPX have an adversarial attitude to their fans in general. Otherwise they wouldn't show up. But yeah, SPX is a great way to connect with artists and writers in a very...proletarian way, I suppose. Some of them mingle in the after-party, which is cool. Generally people just seem more approachable, which may be because there's fewer people screaming over each other.

I did walk around with a mild sense of shame though. There was so much great material out there that I wish I could buy. And being shy really sucks when you walk by a table and don't have the energy to converse with artists you don't even know. I would have talked to them all if I could. I hated cold-shouldering people who were just trying to get their wares out and promote themselves. Really, I hope everyone at SPX did well because it's a great show and I never want anyone to come away from it feeling awful about their selling performance there. At the end of the day manning a booth is no different from door-to-door sales—it's all about watching a hundred people go by, talking to the ten who stop and selling to the three that persist in hanging around. The people come to you, though, which is way better than door-to-door shenanigans.

To everyone I bought books from: I will review every single one even if it takes me a goddamned year. Thank you for your patience. If I took your business card I will contact you when I can. I did get a couple books for free—I'll try to get those reviewed sooner than other material I paid for. If I talked to you I will at least send a "Hey nice seeing you" email. If Douglas MacArthur can keep a promise to an entire freakin island chain then I can friggin follow through on an email contact list. But I still have to figure out if I can even make an inbox exclusively for my SPX contacts in Gmail because I kinda ignored those hintboxes when they appeared the first time Google nagged me about their new features.

There was one moment where I felt truly awful and wanted to shame someone, and it was when the taste of my coffee was shrouded by the taste of someone's perfume. It was so pungent I thought I was drowning in a halon system.

To whoever did that: Jesus. Tone it down a notch.

Up next: Highlights and Shoutouts, The CCS workshop panel, The Crowdfunding Panel, Sex Positivism at SPX and a pile of reviews.