Mrs. Chappy Goes to SPX

After being together for almost five years, I finally talked my wife into going to a comic book show with me. I picked a good one, the Small Press Expo, which is about as "spouse-safe" a comicon as you'll find out there. But she was still a little nervous. Here's what she thought:

I Attended SPX... and Lived: Comicon Virgin Deflowered

Well, I did it. Rob had spent years talking to me so coolly... whispering in my ear, "Its OK. If you aren't comfortable... you can wait. Do it when you are ready."

After my 4+ years of comicon abstinence, however, he began to get a little more agressive, "C'mon. Just try it. Just once - you can leave when you've had enough. Just one time. Please? For me? Just one time. Pitzer's spouse has been. So has J Chris's - Foster's done it. Just one time."

So, I gave in. Peer pressure worked.
I am no longer a comicon virgin as of Saturday September 24th.
28 years a virGin... all in my past.
What did I think? Here ya go:


Freaks. Geeks. Dorks. Everywhere. I began to feel outnumbered. A heavy set dude with a mullet... a mullet that consisted of a ponytail past his ass crack... walks past me. A chick wearing what looks like my grandmother's housecoat dragging a 25lb goodie-sack of homemade comic mags weeble wobbles past me. An exceptionally skinny guy with thick glasses, black socks and shorts reads over his list of panel discussions in front of me. I have died and gone to freakland. I'm paralized with a mix of dread, fear and mind-numbing sensory overload.

There he is, my saving grace, the Tot. Thank Gawd someone NORMAL. (For those of you who have the honor of having the Tot in your life, know that he's not at all mainstream normal. He's bit creative himself.)

Turns out Greg and I have made it in time to catch the second half of Rob's panel discussion - Romance in Comics. We find the room and sit in the very back row. Its like when you attend someone else's church - you sit as far from the altar as possible so you can't get sucked into the oddity of the whole culture.

I try not to look at Rob. I don't want to make him nervous. Greg leans over, "Did you see Rob? He got nervous when you walked in." I slump and look off.

Greg and I spend the remaining 20 mins of the panel discussion giggling about comic books... about overhearing people in the hallways demanding that the panel discussion about Sex needs to begin. A chick with a leopard print cowgirl hat walks in and then leaves. While the door slowly falls closed, I see people in the hallway eating hotdogs with bacon as a condiment (is the SPX fav?) waiting to talk about Sex. Greg and I whisper some more. I get the giggles.

The panel breaks and people rush in... Rob seems thrilled that I have decided to attend. He hugs me... a bit more enthusiastically than normal. I'm happy knowing how excited he is. Its a geek moment.

I cling to my friends like life rafts as we make our way to Rob's table. Ah, yes. The shallow end of the pool... I begin to relax. Pitzer, Bill Burg, Mark Way... OK, I know these people - I can do this! Everyone is very eager to make this first time an easy one. They all are very attentive and excitedly asking me what I think.

I eventually get my sea legs and begin to branch out from the table. I do a small lap. What do I see? CROWDS of people. People are packed in the aisle's and blocking my views of tables. At first I try to see how quick I can walk past these people. But then something catches my eye. "No punch backs" little monsters. I'm intrigued - this chick makes these cute stuffed animal monsters. Hey! There's crafts in here! I walk on... getting a little closer to the tables.

There's a table with a screen print t-shirt of a girl pouting with money in her hands. A rain drop hangs over her head. Only $15?!. Too cool. I move on...

There are these handcrafted little comic books. Screen printed... hand assembled with staples, grommets, stickers, tape, glue, string... all unique. All lovingly made. I could see the sweat put into these little beauties. Each one totally different... each one really interesting. The cost for almost everything is fantastic. Being a designer myself and married to a comic book artist - I know the time put into all of this. I know how much the paper costs, the xerox's, the paint... and the time! The time these people spend to make all this! And they charge so little? How can they charge so little... they can't POSSIBLY live off this. Some do. Some can't. Many have full time jobs. Some are lucky and the wives bring home the steady checks (which, I can answer ANY questions you may have regarding how well THAT system works out).

I try to avoid conversation. What in the hell do I know about the art of comic books. I know what I like and that's about it. Turns out, that's all you need! I was the perfect audience member! I was a new attendee on the brink of conversion. People could tell, too. They see many of the same faces all the time. They love a new fan. People begin calling me in like Sirens. Damn, I'm in Homer's Odyssey and I'm getting pulled in! Where's Rob? I race back to the table. I'm a little giddy. There's stuff out there I like!

Rob eagerly grabs money from his cash box and walks around with me. I point out all the stuff I like - its freaky, he likes the same stuff. Its probably because I've seen the comic world through his eyes and that's WHY we like the same stuff. Or could it simply be that this stuff is damned good - who WOULDN'T appreciate it?

I tell Rob to wait before buying me anything. There's a WHOLE OTHER room to see! He walks with me and introduces me to famous people. Tony Consiglio! Jim Rugg! Jessica Abel! Jordan Crane (I buy a print for $25. Its beautiful... he created five horrific scenes of death in glorious colors... and now I'm pissed I didn't buy all 5 for $100. How stupid! Erg!)! Is that Harvey Pekar? (it was! - I have the photo proof!)

Its like the Oscars. The Oscars for real people consisting OF real people. These people are simply amazing. Talent everywhere! Talent, talent, .. talent...

And how were the people? the freaks? the geeks? the dorks? Awesome - they were the friendliest damned people I have met in a looong time. Everyone was generous. Some were shy when you told them how great their work was. Some were eager to share with you what they have created, drawn, published. All are proud. And with every right!

So, ...now what? What did I think? Like, if I were to give it stars... how many? Four out of four stars. Plain and simple.

What did I learn? A lot.

I learned that the graphic novels, the handmade comics, the posters, the t-shirts are an amazing craft that really does deserve its own market in this world. Its an amazing trade and skill.

I also learned that this art suffers like many arts. CENSORED is a four-letter word in this industry. There's a table: CBLDF. Those of you reading this know what that stands for - creative freedom! Rob has thought about joining but never has (hell, we have their poster framed in the house. Why hasn't he signed up yet - it must be expensive..). ONLY $25?!. Dear CBLDF, your check is in the mail with regrets that it hasn't made its way to you sooner. March on! You're a great organization!

I learned that your mom was right - you can't judge a book by its cover. These people ... hipsters and indie rockers abound, were a great sub culture that I wish was more mainstream if for the simple fact that most mainstream really is filled with assholes. Heck, I'M an asshole! Reread what I first wrote about my SPX experience - what a naive jerk. Hopefully, for those of you who made it to the end of this story, you are now a wee bit more tolerant of my opinions and are willing to work with me while I still learn & continue to grow.

SPX 2005 was a really great year I hear from Rob. He sold lots, the rooms were more packed this year, and, sadly, it MAY be the last year here at that hotel in Bethesda (remains to be seen with the new ownership).

I don't know how this year ranks with all the previous years but one thing is for sure: I plan to attend SPX 2006... And I'm bringing more cash.

1 comment:

Greg McElhatton said...

Yay! I'm glad you had such a good time at the show--it really is like nothing else.

(Having just moved across town this month, it positively pained me to be on a strict budget! Argh!)