David Dissanayake, our Senior SPX Correspondent writes;
Interviewing Small Press Expo’s executive director Warren Bernard made me more excited for SPX than I already was, and believe me, that is saying something. “This year is going to be totally f*^%ing Looney Tunes” says Warren, and he’s absolutely right.
For those of you unfamiliar, SPX is the San Diego Comic-Con of small and indie publishers; the big daddy expo of alternative comics. This year’s expo will be host to almost 700 exhibitors, all of which are either creators or publishers. Retailers are not permitted as exhibitors at SPX, so anything you buy at the expo comes directly from the source. Yet, despite its size, SPX is intimate and familial in a way that most other conventions could never be. Most creators and attendees all stay in the same hotel, which happens to be part of the conference center itself. As an attendee, you couldn’t fail to bump into your favorite creators if you tried, and don’t be surprised if you bump into creators who show up just to attend the expo (like the Hernandez Brothers for instance, hint hint). There is a reason people call SPX “Camp Comics.”
Some of the highlight attendees include US Congressman Jon Lewis (who just debuted his stellar graphic novel, March), Jeff Smith, Liza Donnelly, Peter Bagge, Farel Dalrymple, Michael Deforge, Tom Scioli and so many other amazing talents that it simply boggles the mind. Over 200 new books will debut from SPX creators at this year’s expo as well. And of course, we can’t forget the Ignatz Awards, the most democratic Comics awards, where attendees of the expo actually vote to decide who wins each award (look for the exhibitors with the balloons floating above their tables; those are the Ignatz nominees).
“There’s no question about the increase in popularity of indie comics,” says Warren. “We’ve seen a twenty percent growth in attendance year over year for the past three years.” SPX has gotten so popular, that this year will feature 280 tables where last year there were only 210 (and there are still over 50 on the wait list).
“This is an experiment,” he said of the additional 70 tables. “We’re watching for the problem of profit dilution for the publishers and creators. We understand it’s hard enough as it is making money in comics. We want to do our best to ensure that exhibitors make money,” and if it doesn’t work he says, “next year we’ll go back to 210 tables.” Often times going out to attend conventions if very costly to creators, particularly indie creators, and its common that they might not actually break even after all is said and done. “We intentionally keep the tickets cheap so that attendees will have more money to spend and creators can make more.”
As for the future of SPX, Warren wants to move SPX from not only being a show, but being a foundation as well. Already SPX has donated massive collections of extremely rare indie comics to the Library of Congress, a program they are continuing into the future. Each year SPX operates their Library Gift Program, where they work with attending publishers to put together a collection of graphic novels that are donated to a different local library every year. Even further, SPX donates $10,000 of its proceeds each year to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (totaling $50,000 since the program started). Warren and the SPX Board have made it a goal to build upon this kind of work into the future.
Warren revealed to me that SPX is about to announce its official sponsor of the annual National Book Festival. SPX will work with the festival to expand its Comics and Graphic Novel section while bringing big name creators from the Comics community to speak. This year will be the first of SPX’s official sponsorship which will bring the inimitable Los Bros Hernandez, Gilbert and Jamie Hernandez, to the festival.
SPX 2013 will be held September 14th and 15th at the Mariott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center in Bethesda Maryland. Tickets to SPX are only available at the door both days of the expo ($10 for a single day, $15 for both days).