SPX 2013

In the hours after the show ended, I told Sam Marx (one of the organizers) that SPX is my favorite holiday, better than Christmas. I was not being hyperbolic – SPX is, far and away, the most anticipated event on my calendar. Everything in my life gets organized around it.

Backing up and thinking about the show, I’ve been mentally unpacking the sentiment, trying to get at what it all means to me and why.

I’m a Defense contractor in my day job, which means that everything I do at work is wrapped around the Fiscal Year, which starts in October, not the Calendar Year that starts in January. My birthday is in mid-October and SPX is in mid-September. I’m not sure exactly when I started viewing SPX as the start of my year, but it’s not without precedent.

For myself (and many others), SPX is the culmination of an entire year’s worth of planning and creative endeavor. The fact that it’s in Fall makes it feel like a post-modern harvest festival, where all of the creators show up after a year of hard work and bring the fruits of their labors to market. It’s a time of celebration and community where everyone reconnects with friends they met in years past.

SPX also feels special because it’s my hometown show – I went to high school down the street from the venue. My work with the SPX Good Eats Map is part of my personal relationship with the show – I want to be a good ambassador to the people who are visiting the place that I grew up.

So that’s what SPX means to me in general. This year, 2013, was a crazy year for me personally.

It started out on a really high note, charged up from the post-SPX buzz. I took Frank Santoro’s composition course in January and really pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I waited a long time to actually post the results in public because I was really embarrassed by the artwork, but I finally got around to cleaning everything up and posting a rather lengthy manifesto of sorts in late July that wrapped up my newfound sense of purpose and goals in advance of turning forty.

The same day I posted that on Tumblr, my father died. In fact, going by the timestamp on the post, he was already dead – I just didn’t know it yet. In a lot of ways, the theme of this year has been death – Iain Banks (the only fandom community I really feel a part of), Kim Thompson,Josh Burdette, Elmore Leonard and, of course, the shooting at the Navy Yard the day after SPX by – get this – a Defense contractor.

Needless to say, looking at SPX through the filter of a year-end celebration that also marks the start of the new creative year has really been very cathartic for me. So now that I’ve been a major bummer by bringing death into the conversation, allow me to switch from abstracts to specifics.

I had six new books on my table this year, the product of a very busy year of making comics. Most of them were not a twinkle in my eye when I left SPX last year – they just sort of happened, which I’m taking as a good sign. Making comics has ceased to be a long, drawn out, complicated affair and has turned into something far more spontaneous. It remains to be seen if this trend continues.

When I was talking to Rafer Roberts before the show, he noted that the hall seemed to be about the size of a football field, which meant that my table was on the fifty yard line. After last year’s position near the front doors, it was a bit of a letdown to be in the center rear of the hall, but we can’t all win the SPX lottery every year.

The people on either side of me were fantastic – D. Austin Bedell, Chris Sweet and Zach Taylor on the one side and Warren Craghead and Simon Moreton on the other. One of my favorite parts of working at SPX is getting to know my neighbors and making new friends.

I also got a chance to catch up in person with people I talk with on Twitter all the time like Kat Feete (and her husband Dan and their adorable daughter Ella), Marguerite Dabaie, Tony Breed, Ken Eppstein and Sam Wolk. I would have enjoyed a longer conversation with Box Brown but he was a very busy man the whole weekend. Tony introduced me to Matt Hoddy from the Space Pyrates crew who flew all the way from Brisbane for the show. There should really be an off-season version of SPX where the creators can just show up and hang out in a room together and not worry about selling anything.

We went to the mixer on Friday night but didn’t stay long because it got really crowded really quickly. And for the same reason, we skipped the Ignatz Awards after party and opted to hang out in the room drinking wine with John Bintz and Meredith Burke instead. We got a noise complaint for our troubles, which I’m totally blaming on Meredith’s laugh.

For some reason, the hotel room was really dry this year and I woke up in the middle of the night on both Friday and Saturday feeling parched and desiccated. I don’t remember this from previous years and it may just have been the incipient con crud making an early appearance.

Sales were decent. Early on, I got a lot of “that looks interesting,” followed by “I’ll be back after I’ve had a chance to look around some more.” I’d say that maybe a quarter of that traffic came back. Not surprisingly, Emo Galactus and its thematic sequel Who Watches the Watcher? were my best-sellers by far. Both have quick, easy hooks that appealed to impulse buyers, a class of comics that I feel are the biggest sellers in a marketplace of that size.

One of the benefits of having Square is being able to identify when the sales occurred. Our busiest periods were just after noon and between 2 and 3pm on both days. Very interestingly, I only had 45 total transactions the whole show, but it felt like I talked to a lot more people over the course of the two days.

I probably would have taken more pictures but I was trying to save the battery on my phone, which was the only method of authenticating credit cards. Given that about half of my sales (by dollar amount) were via credit card, I’d say that was a good choice.

For the second year, Sarah P had her own half-table adjacent to mine so that we could share resources like Square, bags, water and food and cover for each other as necessary. I had some very interesting conversations about Starseed with some of the male cartoonists around me, mostly about the predominantly female audience and how far outside the superhero comics mainstream a gay porn space opera really is and how close it is to the center of female-centric mainstream (if such a thing could be said to exist).

My favorite customer interaction of the weekend was a little old lady with a walker who motioned towards the Starseed fliers. I handed one to her husband, who looked at it and refused to give it to her until she beat him up some. It was almost like our own personal slapstick revue.

Our banner from last year (“gay porn space opera – you either perked up or you didn’t”) worked remarkably well for bringing in the target demographic. A lot of people laughed and got a flier for their sense of humor. The girls who perked up were really happy to see the comic and it was fun to watch Sarah squee with them about their shared interests. I joked that we needed to encourage people to wear AO3 buttons so that we can spot them in the crowd and refine our marketing technique.

I also plotted secret projects with a couple of people and got a chance to kibitz with Frank Santoro. In fact, just riffing with Frank about some of my more outré notions about comics was one of the highlights of the show.

A few people mentioned my Heavy Metal Tumblr and at least one guy told me that reading it was always the highlight of his day, which was high praise indeed. I was seriously considering stopping when I got to 1986 in my reread because the magazine format switches from saddle stapled to perfect bound, but if one of my readers is that dedicated and enthusiastic, I guess I have no choice but to keep going.

In all honesty, it only takes a soupçon of perspective to notice that I’m not really going through hell at the moment. My father’s death aside, 2013 was actually a pretty good year – we traveled to Brussels, I took a lot of art classes and I generated a lot of positive momentum.

So that’s where I’m at coming out of SPX this year. I’ve been using the show to recharge my creative batteries for the past few years and this year was no different. There’s something about the friction of having books with completely different styles aimed at completely different audiences sitting right next to each other that generates a certain kind of creative tension and energy that just doesn’t manifest at more mainstream shows like Baltimore Comic Con.

SPX makes me want to spend my downtime being creative and making awesome things because I’m driven to make even better things through peer pressure alone(I’m allowed to call them peers even though they’re two decades younger than me, right?). I don’t want to be the only one on the floor next year without something new and amazing on my table.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s officially a new year and it’s time to start planting seeds so that I have something to bring to next year’s harvest.