Thursday, October 2, 2014

SPX 2014

Courtesy of
Recently, I had the privilege of attending SPX, the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. Don't let the name fool you, SPX (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year!) is one of the largest gatherings of independent creators and publishers of comics. Profits from SPX go to support the SPX Graphic Novel Gift Program, which funds graphic novel purchases for public and academic libraries, as well as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). CBLDF helps protects the First Amendment rights of comics creators, publishers, and retailers in addition to working with libraries to help keep graphic novels on shelves as, "comics and graphic novels often attract attention from would-be censors...despite the fact that similar items in a traditional format might escape negative attention."[1] Some of the special guests this year included Emily Carroll, Charles Burns, Mimi Pond, and Eleanor Davis. I had a great time at the convention, talking to artists about their work and seeing some really incredible comics, so I'd like to highlight just a few (there were over 500 creators showing their art!) books I picked up.
Museum of Mistakes by Julia Wertz
Wertz's newest book made its debut at SPX this year and it was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend. Her earlier graphic memoir, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories (a book I've talked about here before) is one of my favorites, so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Museum of Mistakes. Wertz took a break from cartooning in 2012 after the publication of The Infinite Wait and hasn’t created any new content since. While a lot of Museum of Mistakes has either been previously posted online or published in different forms, it’s still definitely worth checking out.  The book is a nicely bound omnibus of her online comics (many of them unpublished until this point) as well as collecting some of her earliest work, sketches, work in progress pages, interviews, and short stories.

The loose structure makes it easy to flip through. Most pages show a quick snapshot of Wertz’s life – the hopeless shenanigans she gets herself into, working life in the food industry or just random conversations with friends. The comics are roughly in chronological order as she typically creates them as they happen in her life, but there isn’t really a narrative focus like you would see in The Infinite Wait or Drinking at the Movies. However, Museum of Mistakes makes for a great noncommittal way of checking out her work and getting a sense of her style. If you’re already familiar with Wertz’s work, you’ll definitely want to pick this book up.
Tomboy by Liz Prince

Tomboy follows author Liz Prince through her childhood and early adolescence into her teen years as she attempts to define what exactly makes her a girl. As a child, Prince always seemed to reject anything typically “girly” finding herself more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts and playing baseball than wearing dresses and dancing ballet.
Prince struggles over the years with societal expectations of femininity. She faced bullying at school for refusing to adhere to strict gender conformity. In fact, she swung so far away – she started to despise girls who embraced stereotypically female pursuits. But once given the chance to really be herself, Prince is able to discover is that your identity is what you make it. Tomboy is a really great book for anyone who has ever felt they didn’t fit in. Prince makes some surprisingly astute observations regarding gender inequality in a context that is accessible for any reader. 
I had the sincere pleasure of seeing artist Jillian Tamaki speak on panel about sharing stories of girlhood through graphic novels. She was joined with Aisha Franz (Earthling), Melissa Mendes (Freddy Stories, Lou), and panel moderator Ellen Lindner (The Black Feather Falls). I really enjoyed listening to all of the artists talk about why they chose to tell the stories they do, and how much their own lives influence their work. Afterwards, I got to speak briefly with Ellen Lindner who was just as star-struck being near Tamaki as those of us attending the panel, as it quickly became clear Tamaki is operating on a whole different artistic level. To put it simply – This One Summer is absolutely beautiful.
It focuses on Rose and Windy, two girls who spend their summer with their families at a lakeside cottage resort. They are getting older; Rose is beginning to find herself fascinated with the local group of teens while windy (a bit younger) is still content to spend her time swimming in the lake, eating candy, and watching horror movies. While marketed as a young adult novel, This One Summer actually tells three parallel stories (written by Tamaki’s cousin, Mariko) – that of Rose and Windy, the group of teens dealing with a possible pregnancy, and the adults (especially Rose’s parents, whose relationship is becoming more and more fraught). It’s surprisingly nuanced and may actually not appeal to younger readers. Regardless, the artwork is so remarkable; anyone would enjoy at least flipping through the pages and pouring over each detailed panel.  
So those are my picks!  It’s worth noting these are just a few books that actually have publishers (and that you’d be able to check out from the library!), but many of the artists I saw take a more DIY approach, hand assembling mini comics to sell or sharing their work on tumblr.  And speaking of tumblr – you should check out our page to see library photos and other literary posts. 

~Meredith T.

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea how vast the world of graphic novels is. What a wonderful experience!