by Kevin Czap
I spoke a bit about scenes and community last week. One of the best opportunities to see the community of any given location in the flesh is at the comics convention. This past weekend, I trucked down to Columbus for the 12th annual Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE). I had checked the show out last year, but this year it was the first stop on my big tabling tour. I never end up taking pictures the way I plan to, but that’s probably for the best. Since I’m writing this for the ‘Cube, I think I’ll do more of an overall analysis than gab about all the extracurricular stuff that I did, as usual.
I feel like the biggest thing I came away with from my SPACE experience was the future of comics. Not so much that I saw the next great big thing in comics that’s going to blow the medium out of the water. Make no mistake, there was great stuff to be found all over the floor. But what I’m really talking about is the future as in the sense of “children are our future.” This manifested itself in a couple of ways.
First were the art classes that were there for the experience. Lined up outside the main show space were tables for CCAD’s high school-aged art explorers. From what I could gather, they were all roped along for their comics class, getting started on paying their con dues early. Comics veteran Carol Tyler was also on hand with her own comics class from Cincinnati. Clearly nothing new, hearing about college courses devoted entirely to comics, but it’s exciting to see in the wild. I was able to speak to a couple of the students about the structure of their course, and it was pretty fascinating stuff. Tyler’s putting these kids through some pretty rigorous comics history and practice from what I could gather.
The other thing that really brought it home was by how many little kids were there. Like, not attending, I mean exhibiting. Sure, most were with their parents who were manning (and I assume paying for) the table, but there were so many kids who were selling their own damn comics. This is what I’m talking about – this is the mainstreaming of comics in its own way, passing all the traits of this here Golden Age onto the next generation, so that they will always have known a world of diverse comics. The figurehead of all this for me was this one little androgynous girl who was rocking the confidence, style and just plain coolness of a pro. I wasn’t able to get to take home one of her little minis, but I got to see the one she gave to my buddies from the Bowling Green Toledo Mafia Clan. On Sunday I walked by this little girl bragging about how she sold out of all her stuff. Dang.
There was plenty of comics history on hand, of course, with representatives of mini- and alt-comics past Colin Upton, Steve Willis and Bruce Chrislip exhibiting. Thanks to Joe Kuth for tipping me off to these guys – I might have missed some essential stuff otherwise. I also had the pleasure of meeting more recent legend John Porcellino, who is really just so nice. The appearance of these gents was in keeping with the show’s theme of celebrating self-published comics. As far as I’m concerned, this is a practice that is worth all the celebration in the world, and I’m happy to add whatever small part to it as I may.
I was also pretty interested in the scenes that seemed to be prominent there. The show organizers seemed to have figured out it was a good idea to shove all the Pittsburgh people together in the same corner of the room. The cumulative result was a palpable energy of comics ingenuity. Not only were my good friends Cupcakes and Comics bringing the con-goers to their knees with Kerry Tallarico’s delicious Blue Velvet cupcakes, but there was also Tom Scioli, the Andromeda crew, and probably every other young comics artist to pick up a pencil in that fine city.
My hometown was well represented by various members of the DC Conspiracy, who I got to spend some quality time with. I had a page in their recent newspaper antho Magic Bullet, which I guess gave me my in. Great group of cartoonists, and the whole concept of the Conspiracy was good fuel for my own scene scheming. Speaking with Matt Dembicki, I was able to get a coherent sense of how the whole thing works. Practical advice about the ins, outs and false starts of a comics scene.
Ohio was in full effect, of course, but maybe a bit scattered (not enjoying the same consolidated arrangement as the Yinzers). I was across from Joe Kuth and a couple of his fellow Cincinnati colleagues (one of which, Brian Hagan, shares a website with Justin Green). The greater Columbus area yielded the trio of http://fredfrancessucks.tumblr.com/, Jeff Gibbons and Mike Madsen, who caught my eye with their tight clothing and winning smugness. I got a bunch of interesting stuff from these good guys, sold in a spray-painted and hand-printed pizza box. I chatted them up a little bit, enough to find their influences were pretty diverse and wide ranging. I’m going to keep my eyes on these kids and I recommend you do the same. I also got to meet Joe Hunter in the flesh, a cartoonist who is a lot better than he’ll ever tell you to your face.
Overall, it was a fun weekend, I learned a lot and I got an encouraging glimpse of the future. I’ll be back at SPACE again next year, and I can only hope that I can take an even more active role.