SPXcellent

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SPX

SPX, it seems generally agreed, is the most fun weekend of convention season. So much more than a small press marketplace, it’s a celebration of comics with a quirky character all its own. Our time in Bethesda was filled with booze and belly laughs, as we caught up with old friends, sold a veritable buttload of comics, and even busted out some serious dance moves.

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Andrew Carl, Rafer Roberts, Dave Proch

Oh, and also, we debuted LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

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Sean getting his Nemo signed by Andrea Tsurumi (right page)

After two years, we finally had books to sell. It felt almost surreal. Having spent so much time with these beautiful pieces, having bickered & bonded over every page placement, every design element, having written endlessly about McCay and Little Nemo, having given interviews to any & all who would interview us, having generally turned ourselves over the last eight months into single-minded Nemo-making-and-promoting machines, here we were for the very first time with copies of the book to put into people’s hands. DREAM ANOTHER DREAM has attained such a giant status in our minds, as a tribute and collective effort and crowd-funded passion project, that it’s easy to forget that in the end, it’s a book. You can buy it if you want it. It’s up to you.

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Alexis Ziritt admiring those insane colors on his Nemo page (right)

We didn’t have many copies — there are only 50 in the US at the moment, having been overnight shipped and smuggled across the border at great expense and vague legal peril. We’ll be parceling them out over the our hectic convention schedule (come see us at Rose City in Portland, MICE in Cambridge, APE in San Francisco, and NYCC in NYC!), a few at a time, to tide you all over until the LOCUST MOON COMICS FESTIVAL, when we should have our bulk shipment in stock and we can sell them freely and – even more importantly – begin fulfilling the rewards of our beloved Kickstarter backers.

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Jen Tong seeing her Nemo page for the first time in print

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Here we were with 18 (quickly sold out) copies of this majestic creature, on the lushly-carpeted floor of one of the best and most exciting comics conventions in the world. We were tabling with our old pals & brothers-in-arms (and Nemo contributors) Farel Dalrymple and Jasen Lex, which gave our booth a grandeur and a comics firepower befitting the glorious book we were debuting. We thought we were making good sales, but Farel blew us away — there wasn’t a moment all weekend when he didn’t have a long line waiting for him to sign copies of THE WRENCHIES. The way our tables were combined, I think a fair amount of confused people thought that Locust Moon was THE WRENCHIES’ publisher. I sincerely wish we were. It’s one of the greatest comics of all time.

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Farel making his mark on a soon-to-be-epic copy of Nemo…

We discovered when inspecting the SPX floor plan that, including the two fine tablemates just to our left, 26 of the book’s 140 contributors were exhibiting at the show. So Andrew made heavily annotated maps marking each of their locations, and we sent the proud new owners of LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM off on scavengers hunts to get as many signatures as they cared to or could. I jokingly offered a free prize to anyone who got all 26. A constant sight on the show floor throughout the weekend was people stalking from booth to booth with an unwieldily gargantuan book under one arm and a marked-up map held aloft with the other, like some kind of alt-comix version of The Amazing Race. When a number of people returned to the table with every contributor checked off, I had to figure out what the hell kind of free prize I could offer them.

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…Rawn Gandy adding to the now well-scavenged set of signatures

SPX has always been a youthful show. For all the incredible comics luminaries they always have on hand, it’s always been the show where people are most excited about handmade books and self-published minis. It’s a show that thrives on New Comics Energy, and we couldn’t have been happier to contribute to that influx of medium-sustaining novelty with an unusual and unlikely project of our own. (Many thanks to Warren Bernard for helping us make this magical weekend happen.)

As usual, half of the reason for the glory of SPX is due to the Bethesda Marriott Hotel, whose comfy confines are given over completely to the endless array of misfits that we call a comics industry. It’s more than just a con venue — it’s the eye of the storm, for one brief weekend this one building is the center of the comics universe. You exhibit there, you drink there, you draw there, you sleep there. (You eat elsewhere and abruptly realize there’s such a thing as outside.) By the end of the weekend it feels like home. I’m not sure Jesse Reklaw ever put on a pair of shoes. To the maids and bellhops it must be kind of like going to the zoo, if the animals were all inside of your house. Their hospitality was stunning, and can in no way be attributed to the eight bazillion dollars they generated in overpriced drink sales.

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Ben Sears, Andrew MacLean, Chris Stevens, Aaron Conley, Zack Soto

This SPX was heavy on the social events, from the Ignatz awards (whose many unfamiliar nominees were a welcome reminder that comics is bottomless, and we should all be reading more than we are) to the baffling spectacle of Simon Hanselmann’s wedding (we missed the vows, but walked in at the very end to see Simon making out with Gary Groth while a five piece brass band played All You Need is Love), to the SPX prom, facilitated and arranged by our own homegirls the Dirty Diamonds, which featured a jam-packed dance floor, an inspiring interpretive performance of Madonna’s Express Yourself by R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg, and this majestic photo, which should really be featured here at least twice and, even if the con were a total failure, completely justifies the weekend.

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SPromX

Fashion round-up: I wore a beautiful Nancy tie that Denis Kitchen gave me, a fact that I’m surprised hasn’t found its way into more post-con blogs and recaps. My own sartorial beauty was outstripped only by Tom Scioli, who was sporting french braids woven by the dirtiest of diamonds Claire Folkman, and Simon Hanselmann, who was wearing a wedding dress, which seems like cheating.

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Nancy

We scored a lot of amazing books and prints, including Dustin Harbin‘s NoBrow dinosaur leporello, Andrea Tsurumi‘s remarkable new YA sci-fi collab with Molly Brooks, Kelly Phillips‘ hilariously revealing Weird Al superfan autobio, and one lone copy of Ben Marra‘s storied, seemingly-always-sold-out TERROR ASSAULTER, which Dave, Andrew and I read aloud to each other while eating chicken nuggets in our hotel room. I’m pretty sure that’s how Ben intended the book to be enjoyed.

Oh SPX. I hope that thoughts of you will sustain us through the meat-grinder shit-show known as New York Comic-Con. You only get one chance to make a first impression. I’m glad that SPX was ours.

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Josh O’Neill, Andrew Carl

– Josh O’Neill

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TCAFtermath

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The Toronto Comic Arts Festival was, as expected, a beauteous beast, a many-headed hydra of pure comics wonder. It’s the greatest North American convention, bar none — the most efficiently run, thoughtfully curated, ambitiously imagined show that we’ve ever been to. Every second at TCAF is a teachable moment for us, an object lesson in how to create an event worth of the phrase “comics festival.”

We were lucky to share a table with the incomparable Laura Lee Gulledge, who was there promoting her beautifully sincere and personal YA graphic novels WILL & WHIT and PAGE BY PAIGE. We couldn’t imagine a better tablemate or partner in misadventures throughout the weekend. Go check out Laura Lee’s stuff.

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While our sales this year didn’t quite match the insane explosion of commerce that was last year’s TCAF, we still did very brisk business, turned a lot of Torontonians on to ONCE UPON A TIME MACHINE, 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION, and QUARTER MOON, and had ourselves a grand old time.

Seated to our left was the cartoonist and illustrator Renee Nault, whose stunning prints and gorgeous comics we had somehow never seen or heard of before. This is the beauty of TCAF — you’re constantly tripping over geniuses, pushing your way through a horde of visionaries. Renee’s table was constantly thronged by eager comic fans, and sometimes when she would go to the bathroom Andrew & I would sell her stuff, pretending we were the authors of these exquisite watercolor mermaids and comics about witches. Over the course of crappy afterparties at The Pilot House (TCAF! You can do better!) and failed 2 a.m. quests for karaoke, we strong-armed her into doing a little something with us in the very near future.

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Over the course of four days in Toronto we were treated to a mind-blowing lesson in comic shop entrepreneurialism from Alex Hoffman of The Beguiling and a terrifying demonstration of the purposes and iconography of the Australian aboriginal killing stick from Cody Pickrodt. We ate Korean barbeque and okonomiyaki, which is some kind of Japanese pancake that appears to have live fish swimming on top of it. We talked Liefeld with Ed Piskor and watched Tom Scioli scribble endlessly more insane layouts for his face-meltingly weird and original take on G.I. JOE VS TRANSFORMERS. (Tom seemed to be drawing at literally every moment of the weekend, over dinner, at bars, at his table, comics spilling from his mind faster that they could be sketched. Tom is the only person I know who can dominate a conversation with his face buried in a sketchpad. Electricity crackles off this dude like no one I’ve ever met — he seems less a cartoonist than a conduit for comic book revelation.) We caught up with our pals R. Sikoryak and Kriota Willberg, and Maria & Peter Hoey. (When I broke a pint glass in a bar called the Spotted Dick, Maria helped me hide the evidence.) Daryl Seitchik explained the difference between pink noise and brown noise and gave us a copy of her stunning new book 477 BRIGHT CIRCLE. We discovered that there is a place where the pizza is worse than West Philly, and it is called Toronto. We shared in the rare luxury of Porter Airlines with Maritsa Patrinos and Rebecca Mock one way and our hometown Dirty Diamonds crew on the other. We tipped drinks with cartoonists we’ve long admired but never met, like Luke Pearson, Gabrielle Bell and Jesse Jacobs. We shopped at The Beguiling and lusted after their DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND McCay original. We plotted world domination — pardon me, wider distribution — with Jared Smith of Big Planet Comics. We forgot to take photos. We ate between six and ten pounds of poutine. (Pic courtesy of Laura Lee.)

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Meanwhile, back at the actual show, we copped books from Taddle Creek Press and Andrea Tsurumi‘s gorgeous new HOW TO POOL mini (to be featured in QUARTER MOON 4), rediscovered Zac Gorman‘s hilarious and heartrending piece of video game-inspired cartoon poetry MAGICAL GAME TIME in physical form, met Christina Ellis (whom I wish we had known when we were putting together our erotica mag), and cracked jokes with illustrator extraordinaire and QUARTER MOON 4 cover artist Steve Mardo. We got really mad at Ben Marra for selling out of TERROR ASSAULTER before we could grab any, then realized that Ben could kick our asses and quickly apologized. We sold QUARTER MOONS and 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION to Peter Birkemoe from The Beguiling, because a comic that’s not in stock at The Beguiling cannot really be said, in the truest sense, to exist at all. We discovered a weird little handmade hardcover book of woodcut porn, and we’re kicking ourselves for (a) not buying it and (b) forgetting the name of it. A little help anybody?

All in all, it was what you expect from this greatest of all conventions: a weekend full of cartoon glory, alternatingly passionate and hysterical conversations, and an ever-widening sense of the constantly expanding breadth and depth of this beautiful, broken industry we call home.

Still, it feels like we were just skimming the surface. TCAF is too big, too beautiful — you’re always in the process of missing out on hundreds of remarkable things. Do we really have to wait another year?

-Josh O’Neill
(& Andrew Carl)

P.S. Whoever’s spreading rumors of the LOCUST MOON COMICS FESTIVAL’s incredible ice cream (Little Baby’s!), please don’t stop. But also, don’t forget the puppy truck.

P.P.S. This is what Andrew & I look like when we talk about farts.

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