A few weeks ago, I attended the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Maryland, and I’m still floating on the cloud of good vibes I found there. Instead of feeling exhausted or overwhelmed by the con, I felt rejuvenated–much to my own surprise. So, what does SPX do right?
1. The perfect size
Filling one ballroom for the expo and two rooms for panels, SPX is the perfect size. Not so big as to be completely overwhelming, yet not so small that no one goes: SPX is Goldilocks’ kind of con. There are plenty of people milling around and plenty of comics to ogle, but the panic-inducing crush of crowds you find at other cons is absent here. And if you’re feeling a bit too squeezed, you just head out to the hallway or to the sunny patio beyond for as long as you want; there’s no shortage of seats and chill-out spots.
2. Short lines*
*Unless you’re trying to see Kate Beaton or Noelle Stevenson, that is. But even those lines were manageable. I love meeting authors and creators, but I hate imposing on them—and meeting them after they’ve been signing for an hour is maybe not the best way to make a connection. Many of the lines at SPX were only a few people deep, which meant you don’t have to wait long and, most importantly, you have time to chat with creators and maybe even get to know them a little bit without the pressure of hundreds of people behind you.
3. Proximity to creators
That brings me to my next point: SPX is an excellent way to find new creators to love, and to connect with current creators you’re already obsessing over. One of my favorite moments at SPX 2015 happened when I spotted one of my favorite all-ages comics—okay, one of my favorite comics, period. “Ooh, I love Princeless!” I said. “Thanks!” said the guy behind the table…. Jeremy Whitley, none other than the creator of the series. We chatted about the book and about the new spin-off series, Raven: The Pirate Princess. I read Princeless digitally, but couldn’t resist getting a signed trade, too, because that’s how I roll. It was fantastic to meet, in real life, someone whose work I am nuts about—and to talk comics with him!
4. Great panels
I attended the session on turning real stories into narratives–whether memoir or fictionalized work. The creators addressed how to draw themselves (“I find the uglier I draw myself, the more I’m recognized,” Derf Backderf joked) and what they include (and leave out) of memoir. “Writing memoir is the hardest to do,” Backderf said. “You have to have it in you.” Jennifer Hayden, author of The Story of My Tits, recounted something her daughter told her: by writing such an honest and intimate story, she was showing her children how to be strong and just go for their dreams. Panel discussions like these stay in my head for a long time afterward and inform how I view creative work. And they’re also another great way to discover and get to know artists.
5. New (and rare) comics
SPX features so many publications you can’t find anywhere else. A zine about corgis, anyone? How about an indie serial memoir about growing up Vietnamese in New Orleans? Swapna already mentioned some of her favorite finds at SPX 2015, and I’m excited to share mine as well.
6. Unique art
Noelle Stevenson signed a print from Nimona, one of my favorite books of all time. Derf Backderf drew a quick (but stunningly detailed) sketch in my copy of My Friend Dahmer. This is what I love about being around artists: they never seem to stop creating, and this spirit of creativity spreads to you, too. I had to stop myself before I bought prints for everyone on my Christmas list. (Only because I’m already buying them books!)
7. Nerds abound
“Everyone here is queer,” I overheard one woman tell a friend. “It’s like Christmas!” There is nothing like being among your own people—your tribe. And the Small Press Expo, by its very nature, encourages the marginalized, the small, the struggling; it prizes the triumphant and ambitious spirit. Diversity is not just allowed; it is encouraged. And hey, did you see how women swept the Ignatz awards? Yeah. My kind of people.