Thursday, September 16, 2010

SPX 2010: The Year We Made Contact

"My God, it's full of comics!"
Hilary Allison, Adrian James, and Hanh Nguyen man the SVA Booth
The Small Press Expo, an annual small press comics convention held in Bethesda, Maryland, is a magical land of wonder. The aisles are congested, all concept of personal space is abandoned as soon as you wander into the hall, and the convention seems to have an ongoing Charisma debuff, but it’s filled to the brim with comics. Comics and the people who love them.
(Read on to witness the awesome that was CA's trip to SPX 2010!)

At 5:45 AM on Saturday morning, the ever-classy Adrian James and I stumbled out of the G-Dubs to meet up with the Chinatown-bound CA Special Forces group. Boxes stacked on our frail arms, we marched on to catch a bus we thought might never come. It would have been wiser of me to use that time to visit a bank and get some cash in my wallet, but I wasn’t having any of that logic crap.

We arrived at the marvelously creepy office of the Chinatown bus with more than enough time to gather, put our excessive load of minicomics and copies of Inkstains onto the bus, take them out of the first bus and dump them into the right bus, and take seats up in the front of the vehicle. The ugly pattern of the chairs momentarily filled me with strange nostalgia; I guess we were about to embark on a kind of field trip. An awesome, expensive, and frantic one.

A few states (and a rest stop where me and Adrian were amazed by the fry holsters at Roy Rogers) later, we arrived in our nation’s capital and acquired metro passes with cute pandas printed on them. We moseyed through a train station with architecture reminiscent of the Galactic Empire and took up more than enough space in DC’s well-furnished and surprisingly cozy train cars to introduce a small level of discomfort to those around us.

We arrived at the Marriott an hour after the convention doors opened and scrambled to acquire our passes and set up our table (as well as shoo a mass of MICA kids offa it). When I entered the hall, I was a little overwhelmed; if the people populating the aisles had been asteroids, my poor X-Wing wouldn’t have had the shield integrity to make it to the back corner where our booth was. Everywhere I looked I saw a person I at least partially recognized, setting off a kind of Geiger counter in my head of panic. I knew from the get-go that this was going to be crazy, but the field is nothing like boot camp.

Taking a breather from our manic trains-and-automobiles journey, Adrian and I took over the booth and commanded all our visitors to purchase lovely student-made comics and receive free issues of Inkstains. I was… well, a tad too enthusiastic at first and narrowly avoided an existential crisis when I became aware of this. I wouldn’t be so lucky with the following crises I would experience over the course of the con. While behind the table, we chatted it up with a good variety of folks, spread word of our school’s programs, and sold a good number of minis! Y’know, between periods of doodling and twiddling our thumbs.

Visitors seemed especially impressed by our most recent issues of Inkstains, the works of President Strejlau and Hanh Nguyen, and the massive amount of free stuff we were just giving away at our booth. While being able to pay for lunch is pretty dandy, our real focus was making people aware that we exist and how we’re totally awesome at existing (and making comics, o’course). When not initiating small-talk with passer-bys or emptying our wallets, Vice President Allison and I toured the convention’s many tables to boost our PR campaign; that is, we sweet-talked the coolest of the cool kids with our adorable innocence. If the cartoonists we spoke to weren’t in as much of a daze as we were (or chugged too much chocolate at the Ignatz Awards), the Allies have a long lineup of inspiring professionals to speak to us shiny-eyed youths. Hilary deserves most of the credit for our networking success; I was little more than a fearfully awkward wingman.

After the first day, we all strutted outside to find a banquet of delicious foods waiting for us. The wonderful parents of spectacular freshman Skippy Kay Jay prepared an amazing dinner for us hungry hungry Allies. I’m still nibbling on some of the cookies I stole. Skippy established her place in the Cartoon Allies pantheon that night. May we always shower her in affection and drawings of sharks.

Sketch of the Ignatz Awards by SVA senior Maggie Sigel-Berele
 After filling our stomachs, we all returned to our hotel rooms to tidy up and get fancy for the Ignatz Awards! Or, we would’ve if we didn’t have homework and sleep to take care of. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning does that to already sleep-deprived college students.

Day Two was off to a much better start: we were well-rested, we had plenty of time to tidy up our table and make it spectacularly pretty, and a few of us even had breakfast! Business cards were flying everywhere, some money was exchanged, and Hanh got us donuts! It was pretty splendid.

Hilary and I went on a journey of discovery to unlock the history of the Cartoon Allies and Inkstains, conducting some awesome interviews with sweet people. (Keep your eyes on the CA Blog for Hilary’s grand exposé.) A few of us also hit up some enlightening panels, like Telling Stories, featuring the ever-awesome SVA alumna Meredith Gran, the Dustin Harbin-moderated Kate Beaton and Julia Wertz in Conversation, which emphasized the importance of making comics for yourself, and Brave New Comic Strips.

I participated in my first (and terribly embarrassing) mini-comics trade with a swell cartoonist by the name of Flynn Nicholls (who unfortunately didn’t leave any contact info in his crazy awesome scifi/fantasy comic Machine Knight). He drew this t-rex with robot arms for me. It’s pretty friggin’ rad.

Like all good things, the convention had to come to a close. Adrian and I spent the con’s final hour in a local diner, worrying our fellow Allies when Hanh decided to call Adrian as opposed to the reliable member of the duo. We gathered a lot fewer boxes than we brought, content with the number of Inkstains we got rid of, and boarded the train back to Washington, DC. The trip back was a lot more relaxing as we collectively reflected on the awesome weekend we all had just shared. We all managed to get off at the right stop (although Pat accidentally left his flaming parakeet on the train) and moseyed out of the concrete Death Star triumphantly.

Well, all except for me. My fare ticket got rejected on our way out, so I’ve been living in the DC Metro’s Chinatown station for the past week. The internet’s decent and occasionally some tourists feed me. It’s a hard life, but there are few deadlines.

I heard that the rest of the group had some bus ticket issues (they were expected to catch the bus in Baltimore), but they were able to clear that all up at the bus company and have a chill ride back to NYC.

 And we all bought…

For the most part, SPX was a splendid success!

Except for me, of course. At least I sold some copies of Nuclear Fiction v1.0. If you’re ever in the DC Chinatown area, please visit me.

This is Major Eric Alexander Arroyo, signing off.


  1. Man why is my beautiful face not in any of these photos? I am like soooo offended.

  2. Because it's busy starring in THIS video.

  3. Oh how I love that two pictures of my are shown with that horrible looking expression on my face. Yeehaaww!

  4. This is what comes up when you google "SPX SVA"...

    "I got .... Sandcastle Syndrome by Hilary Allison, which has this yellow ochre/blue marker color palette that really gives the art this outdoorsy, dusky quality...

    I also got to meet Adrian James, who I'd seen around. I got Sooky Service LLC #1, and the art is fantastic! The world needs more queer punk comics! I think Adrian goes to SVA, so watch out!"

    -Toppled Idols