Wednesday, October 17, 2007

OK. SPX report. I like reading other people’s views on the show, so I thought I’d add my own to the mix before the week was over. Forgive me if this feels dashed off. I just want to get some impressions down before they evaporate.

Was it slower than last year? It felt like it. There was never an insane rush of people crowding all parts of the floor (which I remember from last year). Yet it was pretty brisk. People were buying. Especially late on Friday and around 4 on Saturday when people had done enough window shopping and had figured out what they were gonna take home.

Buy. Sell. Trade. Don’t get me wrong — I see SPX more as a community event than a commodity one — but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re there to sell books. But who’s buying these days? That was what I was trying to figure out. It’s other artists, really, and other dealers who do a lot of the buying. Not a big surprise, but I was having a rough time trying to get a handle on who my audience was this year and, y’know, do a little market research. Some know the work already and some are surprised PictureBox even exists. Nothing new there, but where were all those new comics fans that are supposed to be out there? Where were all the new “book” crowd people? I feel like I read these articles all the time about this new type of educated, multi-dimensional comics reader but I rarely ever encounter them in large numbers. (Except at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, those folks at The Beguiling have groomed a whole slew of this new type of reader.) I mean, there were plenty of you sharp comic readin’ cats out there — but I’ve seen you year after year. SPX seems to be a mix of newbies, passersby, and hardened old-schoolers. I would say it’s because it’s in Bethesda, but really I feel this way at MoCCA too.

So then what about the community? Well, I kinda felt a real sense of community more than ever this year. It’s really great to see C.F. and Brian Chippendale at the same show as Gilbert Hernandez and Kim Deitch. That’s three generations of radical comics (“underground,” “punk,” and “fort thunder”) in one show and that, to me, is pretty special. Tim Hodler moderated a panel on genre comics that included Gilbert, Jon Lewis, Matt Wagner (!), and myself. Dan Nadel interviewed C.F. about inner space (while Chippendale interjected from the audience about music and Providence history). Both Tim and Dan were on a panel with Gary Groth and Doug Wolk which was moderated by Bill Kartalopoulous (who I think did a great job setting up this year’s panels). At SPX these events feel right somehow. MoCCA’s off-site panels seem weird and disconnected from the show, and San Diego‘s panels are too blockbustery. So yeah, community in full effect, yo. It was pretty sweet. I’ve heard that almost all of the panels were recorded and will be available soon, so please stay tuned. (Next year wish list: Kevin Huizenga and Ben Jones “in conversation”.)

And as far as the comics themselves: one thing I really noticed this year was that most of the “new” comics were long on craft and short on narrative. I think this trend is due to a lot of new practitioners coming to the field from other backgrounds besides comics. Meaning, I think a lot of the people who are new to making zines and minis aren’t long-time comics readers and are more immersed in fine art and illustration. This is a good thing. But some of them are familiar with comics and comics “language” and some of them aren’t. And the books they are creating seem more about the look and the craft of bookmaking and image-making than they are about creating narrative comics. Again, this is nothing new — I’ve heard this being said about Fort Thunder — but in reality most comics created by Chippendale, Brinkman, Paper Rad, C.F., etc., are all character-driven and tell stories. And for the most part they are all avid readers of comics — and mostly mainstream comics at that.

I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m not saying that I don’t like the new crafty, abstract work that was in evidence this year — I’m simply taking note that there is something new going on. And I like it. The work is beautiful. I do, however, lament the absence of strong characters in this new trend. Whether the comic is well-executed or dashed off what I notice is there isn’t much of a story or any real characters to identify with. There’s no distance, no mediator between the artist’s intention and the reader’s comprehension. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But it’s sort of like abstract painting, which I love, but often leaves me wanting more. Yet the work is usually so visually stunning that one has to hope that the craft and narrative elements will start to balance out. And, ultimately, I hold out much more hope for this approach to making alt comics than the rehashing of every Clowes, Ware, or Tomine story of the last 15 years.

Anyways, thanks to everyone at SPX. It’s still the best indy comics show out there.

P.S. Read Gilbert Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil — IT’S THE BEST COMIC BOOK ON THE MARKET RIGHT NOW!

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5 Responses to “SPX RADio”
  1. Sam Gaskin says:

    “[Next year wish list: Kevin Huizenga and Ben Jones “in conversation”.]”

    I would pay a lot of money to see that.

  2. Brian says:

    Not being at SPX this year, I just associated the type of new comics you’re talking about with some Souther Salazar comics, like Please Don’t Give Up. Then I realized that Incanto and Chimera are like that as well.

    It’s not like you’re dismissing that type of comics, and it’s not that I don’t like them, but: I was thinking of Fervler And Razzle as a comic that has a narrative, and Cold Heat as a comic that has a narrative, but I don’t know if you yourself made a shift back towards more characters after doing fine art for a while or if you view your own work differently from the context you’re discussing.

    I guess this is probably more of a question to ask in an interview context than as a blog comment, because I don’t mean it as some kind of “gotcha, Santoro! What do you have to say to THAT?” so much as a question about your artistic intentions with your work

  3. Brian says:

    My comment about doing “fine art for a while” is maybe unclear. I read that you had stopped doing comics for a whle before doing that Ganzfeld piece, and my understanding is that Chimera and Incanto followed that- All works that I don’t think of as being strong on narrative.

    Cold Heat does, but that’s collaborative. I guess I want to know if you made a conscious decision to make more narrative comics with stronger characters because you think that makes for better comics, or if there’s some other thought process in mind. I kind of imagined that the new minicomic that a previous post mentioned as being at SPX would be in the vein of Incanto, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

    The bit about “if you view your own work differently from the context you’re discussing” is to refer to the fact that I wasn’t at SPX, and maybe people were selling some pretty fucking out there comics that are nothing like the work I’m using as a reference point.

  4. Frank Santoro says:

    Hey Brian,
    Awesome phrasing, good questions!
    I have a really long answer. So I’m going to compose it not here but on paper and get back to you. Maybe as a new post.

    I will say that there were some totally amazing and beautifully “out there” comics at this SPX that may change your ideas about “this type of comics” that we’re discussing here.

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