Artists to Seek out at SPX 2006

The Small Press Expo (SPX) is coming up this Friday and Saturday, October 13th-14th, in Bethesda, MD. It’s still the pre-eminent smallpress/indy/alternative/etc. comics festival, and this year it’s in a new location. Happily, the new location is all in one big room, rather than the Siberia-like exile some artists faced in the old set-up. Much like I did in my coverage of MOCCA in 2005, I wanted to do a preview centering around some artists that I find interesting, but might not yet be Big Names. Some are minicomics artists, some have works published through small press companies, and some have had books published major publishing houses. All of them are worthy of your attention.

1. Liz Baillie Baillie is one of my favorite mini-comics artists to come on to the scene in recent years. Her series MY BRAIN HURTS is a sort of distant cousin to LOVE AND ROCKETS X and Jaime Hernandez’s glimpses of Hopey’s high school life, by way of Ariel Schrag. Baillie encapsulates true-to-life high school experiences, the punk scene and queer issues as we follow the experiences of Kate, an angry and confused girl who’s trying to look out for her best friend Joey while looking for love. Issue #3 introduces a new love interest for Kate in Desi, whose frumpy appearance but steely resolve makes her a great match for punker Kate. Baillie’s art has an appealling gritty quality, and has grown in leaps and bounds from issue to issue. In particular, the expressiveness of her characters’ faces may be my favorite thing about her art. I’d recommend picking up all four issues in order to get the full impact of what Baillie’s doing. Issue #4 debuts at SPX.

2. Kelli Nelson. Nelson is perhaps best known for being the co-editor of the TRUE PORN anthologies. Those volumes were autobiographical accounts of sexual experiences (or experiences related to sex–not necessarily the same thing). I’m also rather fond of her series of minis, most of which are also autobiographical. What sets her apart is her nasty wit and unusual style of art. It’s a blocky style that looks like it was drawn simply and on a computer, but its effect is to create an environment that looks inviting on the surface but is ultimately distancing. Her NON-WINNER minis are good samplers, but I’d also check out the longer THE EGOISTS.

3. John Hankiewicz. One of the unique voices in comics today. Part of the Chicago crowd, his series TEPID is one of the most unusual and enigmatic comics I’ve read in the past few years. While Hankiewicz is clearly working in a narrative form, his dense work rewards multiple readings. His minicomics collection ASTHMA (published by Sparkplug Comic Books) shows him at his best, working in a wide variety of styles. Many stories are wordless and rely on close readings in order to interpret the symbolic action, while others are heavily dependent on the interplay between word and image–particularly when the two seem to be at odds. Above all else, Hankiewicz has the ability to make familiar objects and surroundings strange and even terrifying.

4. Zack Soto. Zack is someone I keep meaning to write about more extensively, but never quite have the opportunity to do so. Here’s where I start to rectify that. THE SECRET VOICE #1 was one of my favorite comics of 2005. Published by AdHouse Books, it’s a one-man anthology that combines Soto’s interests both as an avant-garde creator and someone who loves super-heroes. Soto’s old STUDYGROUP12 anthology was not unlike KRAMER’S ERGOT; in fact the earliest issues of both shared a lot of the same creators. What I like about Soto’s superhero comics is that they remind me of the creative place where kids create their own superheroes: pure imagination, unfettered by other concerns. With characters like the Smog Emperor and Dr Galapagos, Soto manages to keep this feel while creating beautifully designed and composed pages. Soto is really coming into his own as an artist, topping himself with every new comic, and I’m excited to see what’s coming next from him.

), Weinstein is the best-known artist on this list. While GIRL STORIES is her tour-de-force, I am also a huge fan of her Xeric grant-winning effort, INSIDE VINEYLAND. Weinstein is one of the funniest artists working today, with an off-kilter sense of humor that I find particularly compelling. It’s hard to pin down her style and influences; she’s constantly shifting and changing techniques and inspirations. She’s a rarity in comics: a true original.

I also wanted to say a couple of words about these five artists:

1. Robyn Chapman. The other co-editor of TRUE PORN is also the editor of HEY FOUR-EYES, a zine about eyeglasses. Her minis are exquisite, done in bold, black lines. One senses that she’s on the brink of really doing something great in comics.

2. Alec Longstreth. A minicomics whirlwind of ideas. He continues to shift through different styles and inspirations in the pages of his PHASE 7 comic. One to watch and enjoy his development as an artist.

3. Tony Consiglio. Possibly the funniest man in comics that is not widely known. Check out his new graphic novel from Top Shelf, 110Percent. If he has any minis, snap ‘em up.

4. Ivan Brunetti. One of my five favorite artists working today. Not extremely prolific, but his recent SCHIZO #4 was staggering. He’ll be at SPX with the anthology he’s editing: AN ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION, CARTOONS, AND TRUE STORIES.

5. Fredo. AKA Frederick Noland, this former Xeric-winner has done some of the most stylishly grotesque (in the true sense of the word) in the past several years. He’ll have a new issue of BLACK SHEEP debuting.

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Rob Clough fights cancer by day, and writes about comix, college basketball and funky music by night. He is the comics editor of Other magazine and is happy to have published many fine cartoonists. He used to write for Savant and just finished something for idea-bot. He is married to award-winning poet Laura Clough (formerly Jent), with whom he lives in lovely Durham, NC.

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