How to Run a Convention
(This Stripped column originally appeared in the October 2-8, 1997, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)
by Beth Hannan Rimmels
Went to the Small Press Expo (SPX) last week, folks, and had a blast. Held in Silver Spring, Md., after the convention season proper is over, it's primarily designed as an opportunity for self-publishers, retailers and distributors to get together, swap info and books and make contacts.
You'd be surprised at the major networking going on considering how laid-back and friendly everyone was. This was as far from the crush and insanity of the San Diego Comicon as you could get, which meant exhibitors could talk to fans-and often those fans worked on other books.
The fact that the convention was, mostly, organized — something will always slip through the cracks — and extremely well-run by enthusiastic, nice people certainly helped the atmosphere. Panel glitches were the hotel's fault and fixed within five minutes. Not booking every meeting room solid was a huge help when a panel ran late because people were enjoying it.
SPX also put its money where its proverbial mouth is in regard to exhibit set-up. Retailers and dealers did not have tables; the publishers and creators did instead. Why? Because for many of these people — already operating on a shoestring — it helped finance the trip. But to make it worthwhile for retailers, the floor closed to non retailers at 6 p.m. so stores could buy at 60 percent off the regular price-an attractive inducement, particularly if you're not sure how well a book can sell.
Exhibitors included everyone in the small press (which, by the way, also includes creator-owned titles released by companies who simply take the printing and distribution work off the creators' backs) including Jeff Smith (Bone), Charles Vess (Book of Ballads and Sagas) and Linda Medley (Castle Waiting), all three hot off the Trilogy tour; Roberta Gregor (Naughty Bits); Donna Barr (Desert Peach); Colin Upton (Buddha on the Road); Dave Sim (Cerebus); Colleen Doren (A Distant Soil); James O'Barr (The Crow); Jimmie Robinson (Amanda and Gunn); Batton Lash (Wolff & Byrd); Steve Darnell (DC's upcoming Uncle Sam and his own Empty Love Stories); Barry Lygia (Warrior Nun Areala); and too many more to mention.
The weekend also was a fund-raiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Friday night Jeff Smith did a "chalk talk," i.e., he sketched a Bone collage while chatting with watchers. The completed sketch fetched $550 the next night at auction. Other items donated by participants raised $2,330 for the CBLDF, plus an additional $1,891 was made via sales of T-shirts, bags, comics, etc. A very good one-day take for the First Amendment rights group.
SPX also started its own award, the Ignatz, named for George Herriman's brick-throwing mouse to honor those working in alternative comics. See the list of nominees and winners.
If you're disappointed you missed SPX, you can still vicariously enjoy it by picking up a copy of SPX '97, the official convention comic book that features a sample of independent comics. It's only $2.95 for 128 pages and benefits the CBLDF. My favorite contribution? Colin Upton's Buddha on the Road. Anyone who's ever lived with fictional characters in their heads will adore it.
One tidbit I was disappointed to learn at SPX is that Jimmie Robinson feels that with the current Amanda and Gunn miniseries, distributed via Jim Valentino's studio at Image, he's told his last Amanda and Gunn story. The characters were launched in Robinson's self-published Cyberzone; so if you crave more Amanda and Gunn, look for back issues. But he's planning to release another miniseries through Image next spring called Code Blue, which will be set in a hospital and have science-fiction overtones. Sounds different and definitely something I don't want to miss.
Column © 1997 Long Island Voice. Artwork © 1997 SPX.