Fifteen days into September, the Small Press Expo of Bethesda, Maryland celebrated its 15th year of operation. The exposition showcases some of the nation’s most innovative and inspiring graphic novels, comics, and cartoons. In tradition, the event organizers invited only independent artists to speak and/or sell their works to fans and curious newcomers over the weekend.
Visitors swarmed to the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel & Conference Center to see material from over 450 exhibitors. Any and all types of comic literature could be found amongst the endless aisles. Topics of discussion ranged from apocalyptic love, as penned in Dean Haspiel’s The Last Romantic Anti-hero, to wildlife awareness described by Emily Huff in her EducationOwl Comics. An honest look at discovering one’s own homosexuality is recalled by Katie Omberg in her auto-bio series Gay Kid, while District Comics offers insights to punk rock and more in an Unconventional History of Washington, D.C. These specific titles, among others, were making their debut at the expo.
Some artists, like David Crosland, were also SPX first-timers. He travelled all the way from the West Coast for a chance to exhibit. Dave explained how he picked up a copy of the SPX Anthology back in the late nineties, his college days – “And since then, I'd always wanted to attend. But things never lined up for me schedule-wise, until this year's show. Better late than never, though. SPX was a refreshing change from the ginormous mega-cons that have popped up all over the nation. The larger conventions are great for what they are. But I really appreciate the indie shows that focus on artists & creators, rather than overwhelming displays dedicated to video games, blockbuster popcorn movies & other peripheral industries that are now an undeniable part of the comics industry… it's truly wonderful taking part in a show like SPX, where the artists, writers, small publishers & creators get to take center stage.”
Generally, the thought of comic books calls forth a mental image of youth. While younger audience members were seen hovering about the hotel, the majority of patrons were well into their 20’s & 30’s. Many exhibitors also fell into the aforementioned age range, which appears to be a point in time where the acknowledgment of life, the future, and death is at the forefront of the mind. Multiple publications touched on the need for global awareness, the delicate and disturbing emotions known to man, and as always, zombies.
Similar to the way a stand-up comedian breaks down barriers through humor, comic creators help readers overcome difficult situations that may be occurring in their own lives. Seemingly light-hearted issues such as how to deal with overwhelming flattery from NYC men, highlighted in Stevie Wilson’s You’re Doing It Wrong: Tales of Feminist Horror and Other Stories, lend themselves to a good chuckle. Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me by Harvey Pekar is considerably more serious in tone.
In addition to the mini-market, various discussions and workshops were offered in the hotel’s White Oak Room and White Flint Auditorium. Prominent speakers included artists such as Françoise Mouly (Co-founder of RAW Magazine & Art Editor of The New Yorker), brothers Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez (Co-creators of independent comic Love & Rockets), Daniel Clowes (Author of the cult classic graphic novel and film Ghost World), and Adrian Tomine (Creator of the comic series Optic Nerve). Programming also highlighted discussions titled Comics as Children’s Literature, British Comics: Does it Translate? and Life After Alternative Comics.
One exhibitor worth noting was the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to serving the comic art community. The group works to protect the First Amendment rights of comic creators by offering legal referrals, advice, and other services. Donations were being accepted.
In all, the annual festival enjoyed a tremendous amount of success this year. Days after the expo, contented attendees and exhibitors continued the positive dialogue on the SPX Facebook event page. From the looks of it, folks are already anxious to see what next year’s show will have to offer.
To learn more about Bethesda’s Small Press Expo, please visit their website.