The Wide World of SPX

I drove twelve hours in the last few days, from upstate New York to Washington, DC and back, so that my brother and I could go to SPX in Bethesda, MD. It was a long way to go for a expo, I know, but I had never been to one like this-- various things have kept me away MoCCA and, in June, I missed the first iteration of CAKE because I was in California, roadtripping down the coast to attend baseball games in each of that state's five MLB parks-- so I wanted to go, and my brother said he would come with, and so I drove down on Friday.

In the morning, he and I ate at the Steak n Egg, hopped on DC Metro's red line and headed to Bethesda, where we gorged ourselves on minicomics and sated our appetites for more lengthy fare-- he picked up Corpse on the Imjin and No Straight Lines, and I grabbed, among other things, Black Lung and Heads or Tails-- we did pretty well for ourselves, all things considered. Still, although the expo gave us an excuse to stimulate the economy, what we really found at SPX, what I was really looking for in Bethesda, was a sense that comics folk get together more often and more cordially than at the crush of humanity that is a major comic con. What I found at SPX was the same thing I love about NYCC or C2E2, a confluence of people who care about a particular form, for one reason or for another, coming together to celebrate, but on a much less competitive, scale.

Looking back on that celebration, something occurred there that was very peculiar: unlike at a larger con, where there's simply no way to talk to everyone or stand in every line or sit at every panel, at SPX it was hard to avoid the sense that you just might manage it, if you tried hard enough. That kind of intimacy, although slightly illusory, made the small world of comics seem even that much smaller, and that in turn made me acutely aware of how little I know, of just how big that small universe really is. In a room that feels like that, where you can turn around and just kind of stumble upon Dan Clowes and Chris Ware signing, sitting, heads bow, at the tops of lines that number a few dozen at most, you begin to wonder if you should be standing with those people, even though you've never really read the work of either, the copy of Jimmy Corrigan in your backpack that you read half of a year ago and brought with you to be signed but won't, because it feels kind of wrong to present it to Ware, to ask him to do the work when you have not, not withstanding. In a room like that, free from the overwhelming size of the Javitz Center or McCormick Place, it's much easier to remember that you know very little, no matter what you think you know.

And that seems important for our community, somehow.  The fact that I haven't read Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, and that I also know that I haven't and that I should, says that we're in the right spot, the place where we're still enough of a solid demographic to feel almost united, but where there's also enough stuff that for me to be as knowledgeable as I like will always been an aspiration, enough stuff that driving six hours to Washington and six hours back will be worth it because sometimes you happen upon something you've never heard of just as you walk past one of the industry's great lights. As you hurry by the kind of person who makes work that they hang in a fine art gallery but whose work you've never read, you think, "Oh, yeah, that's Chris Ware. I really should read Jimmy Corrigan," and then you move on. That possibility is what that little room in Bethesda felt like this weekend, and its why I'm glad I'm here, or, rather, why I was glad to be there.

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