by Kevin Czap
Ah, it’s autumn. Time for a trip to our sister city for the second annual Pittsburgh Independent Expo. This trip marks a year that I’ve been tabling at comics shows, and it’s nice to celebrate the occasion in such a great place. (For those interested in reading a long and enthusiastic report of last year’s show, check out this post. Everyone else, let’s move one.)
We were back in the stunning Guardian Storage facility again this year, after some back and forth uncertainty. At one point the organizers had been outbid on the space, and we were told we’d need to be moving to another part of the city where we’d be in the midst of a series of cultural events taking place that weekend. In the end, we were able to secure the original location, but now I’m left here wondering things might have been like if we’d moved.
The deal was, there were like three other shows running simultaneously, including some record thing, a small press expo and something for zinesters (though that might have been the same thing as the small press expo). The sense I got was that all of these events were a much bigger deal to the citizens of Pittsburgh than our independent comics show. There’s no way for me to know definitively, but I can tell you that wherever the people were over the weekend, the majority of them weren’t with us.
It’s easy to be negative about the lack of foot traffic (for instance, on Saturday, I don’t think anyone came in off the street until about 1pm). It was my least successful show in terms of sales, without a doubt. However, with all that out on the table, I’ll go ahead and say that I had an amazing time, as did most of the folks I spoke with, and in the grand scheme of things, I’d rank this as one of up there with the best of them.
I can attribute this largely to the stellar lineup of guests and attendees who were there. Pittsburgh has one of my favorite scenes, from Copacetic to Jim Rugg to Ed Piskor to Tom Scioli, to the guys behind Andromeda, to my buddies at Cupcakes and Comics. And then of course good dudes like Jessi Zabarsky and Rafer Roberts were there, as well as other greats like John Porcellino, Dave Kiersh, Jason Little and Nate Marsh. How many other great entities can I name drop? Unicorn Mountain, the folks behind the Kindlin’ Quarterly, Pat Aulisio, Jo-Jo Sherrow, Mike Madsen and Fred Frances, Jasen Lex, Dave Wachter, Bob Corby… Sales may have been slow, but the con quickly established itself as an “information sharing conference,” as Ed Piskor put it.
The lack of attendees gave all the exhibitors plenty of time to shoot the shit, and the small size presented everyone veteran to up-and-comer equal access to each other’s attention. Unlike overrun shows like SPX and TCAF, there was plenty of time to look around, spend time at people’s tables, especially the side of the room devoted to Copacetic’s boxes and boxes of comics gold. Dave Kiersh was also getting rid of some gems at his table, including 20 year old Drawn & Quarterly pamphlets, an early Steve Weissman floppy, and a host of other eye-popping wonders. And of course next to him was John Porcellino’s Spit and a Half offerings – literally, everything there is worth buying.
On Saturday night the Toonseum hosted an after party, which felt nice and intimate with the small number of exhibitors. The next day picked up a bit, thanks to the lack of competing events. The whole show really seemed to culminate with the panel discussion on Sunday. Bill Boichel got Jason Little, Tom Scioli, John P, Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor all together to talk about one of my favorite topics – building a comics community.
As I’ve made no secret of here on the Cube, I’m always thinking about community, and this panel was really super valuable. Pittsburgh was really my first example of a city where the cartoonists were all supportive of each other and had outstanding work to show for it. Getting to hear some insight on the history of this scene (as well as the Denver scene and Seattle scene from Porcellino and Little, respectively) was eye-opening, as were the panels’ insistence that nothing can happen for you unless you’re willing to put the work in and get it for yourself.
The panel really brought it all home for me. We’re doing this for the bigger picture, not the immediate rewards. Sure, it’d be nice to have made at least half of what I made last year, if only to have been able to buy more stuff, but I’m really not making comics for money. The time and funds I invested in going to the show has already been repaid by the experience, but there’s also any number of possible returns that have yet to come, because I feel like I’ve made the relationships I share with other cartoonists that much stronger. One of the lessons of the panel was to ask yourself truly what you want. Don’t lose sight of what you’re doing it all for.
To round everything out, I got to spend time with great friends, connect with artists I admire in ways I haven’t before, I saw and walked away with a bunch of inspiring comics, and most importantly, got to see people really reacting to my work in a positive and meaningful way. So yeah, I’m feeling amped.
A stack of newsprint freebies — Some cool stuff here: Pork is a weirdo punk mag filled with meat, chubby babes and favorites like Heather Jewett and the real Janelle Blarg. ISRA is an anthology put out by Tom Hart and the Sequential Artists Workshop. Entirely fresh faces for me, so I’m looking forward to diving in. Seriously Comics is another SAW production, although this is more of a Weekly World News type deal, as I think it’s full of lies. Has an interview with Dash Shaw.
Virus — This here is quite the find. A vintage French language mag that I got from Dave Kiersh that’s filled with tons of great cartooning. The reason I had to have it, though, was the ten color pages of Guy Peelaert’s Pravda, a strip I’ve been obsessed with mildly for a time. I think this is from 1981.
Neverland, Dave Kiersh — Dave K’s beautiful white, yellow and black book on nostalgia, fantasy and love.
The Chronicles of Captain Cupcake, Kerry and Dan Tallarico — The first chapter of Cupcakes and Comics’ confectionary epic was completed just in time for the show, so I needed to complete my collection.
Captcha #1 and “How to Be Lolita”, Jo-Jo Sherrow — I really like the Sailor Moon meets Lady Gaga vibe of these Captcha comics. And the Lolita comic is handy if you’ve ever been interested in understanding what Jane Mai is all about. Good stuff!
“C’mon Man”, Pat Aulisio — A recent mini from Aulisio mixing his energetic, scrawling genre action with a 100% true story of the cool chick who got away. I always appreciate realistically voiced dialogue, and Pat’s authentic voice is a nice match for the subject matter of the drawings, an alien warrior dude and his three-eyed chimera beast battling a horde of demons. Even though clearly the text is incongruous, in a way it sort of works in the given context, aided by the timing and the overall casual feeling of Aulisio’s work. The drawings are quick and messy as always, but there’s a nice control over the distribution of lights and darks here.
Andromeda #12, ed by Andy Scott — I’m really impressed by the younger set of Pittsburgh cartoonists who are able to put out a monthly anthology as great as Andromeda. Highlights of this full color issue are the contributions by Scott, Nate McDonough, Pat Kain and Christina Lee. Lizze Solomon takes the cake, though, with her unreal “Dicky Go Bye-Bye.” Wow. Gross. I love it.
“Old Shoes,” M. Young — A touching little comic that nails the colors and lettering.
“Apology,” Megan Stanton — Pictured below. A surprise highlight of the show was getting to trade for this little guy. Wrapped in a envelope cover, Stanton’s comic is adorable on the outside and really quite amazing on the inside. Even though the pages are a bit small, they impress instantly, the layouts, greyscale colors, mixture of techniques and expressive drawing all teeming with life and energy. I want to see more comics from this woman.
And then I got a whole bunch of beautiful prints from Jessi, Jim and Ed.