Alternative Press Expo ’05

ape_proghdr_r1_c1.gifOne of the great joys of being a comic book devotee in San Francisco is being able to attend the yearly Alternative Press Expo. Independent comic publishers ranging from the big guys (Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics and Top Shelf) to a limitless array of self-publishers are there to hawk their goods and exchange ideas about where the comic book is heading. Walk only a few steps in the Concourse Exhibition Center and you find yourself talking with the folks behind Too Much Coffee Man or you end up discussing H.P. Lovecraft’s sudden legitimacy with the Library of America volume (I counted four separate Lovecraft comic book projects on tap this year), and whether this newfound respectability will interfere with his indie streetcred.

It’s a bit like being a kid in a candy store. There are quite literally hundreds of vendors. Everything from personal comics to manga to unapologetically titilating titles such as Babes in Space. For the smaller publishers, the artists are often there themselves to promote their own books — costermongers by necessity.

It was only the rapidly depleting funds in my wallet that forced me to leave. But I did manage to speak with a good chunk of cartoonists while walking the floor.

For the most part, I tried to ignore the multi-table setups from the big indie publishers. I was there to scope out titles I hadn’t heard of. To my surprise, I was able to talk to a few off-the-beaten-track artists I was already familiar with.

Besides Lovecraft, the floor was festooned with compilation comics — a dependable way of putting out a comic and splitting the hard labor of drawing among several people to get something put out. Two compilation comics in particular caught my eye. Young American Comics has an ongoing series called The BIZMAR Experiment. The challenge? An artist can tell any tale he wants, but it must involve a bunny, an insect, a zombie, a monkey, an alien and a robot. This unique limitation results in some interesting and off-the-wall tales (one story has the other five relentlessly hitting on an anthrmorphized bunny). The folks at Young American also told me that they were planning a YACtour — essentially, a year-long trip through all the states. Another group project, Unseen on TV, was also recently launched.

The other group project that interested me, a far more morbid offering than BIZMAR, was Mauled!, put out by Manual Comics. It involves collaborative depictions of true-life horror stories. The first two issues deal with, respectively, people attacked at the zoo and surgical malpractice. Fortunately, there’s a sense of humor to go along with this. (A depiction of the infamous Phil Bronstein komodo dragon biting, with Sharon Stone in tow, shows the incident from multiple perspectives.) Manual is based out of Hoboken, New Jersey and Mauled! owes its sustained life by the artists’ ability to coordinate work through email.

Zombies and Broken Hearts is a new self-published offering from Matt Delight and Kevin Cross. Delight and Cross, both zombie lovers (but reportedly not zombies), told me they spawned the title when they noticed the pre-2004 glut of interest in zombies. Little did they realize that the Dawn of the Dead remake and Shaun of the Dead were just around the corner. But their fun little comic continues the new tradition of zombies being misunderstood and almost completely disregarded by the human population. (“Why does Blake smell like dog shit?” says one human obliviously kissing her lover, now a zombie.) Delight and Cross told me that they had plotted through the fourth issue and had enough ideas for twenty.

I noticed that a new TPB of Arsenic Lullaby, a daring and politically incorrect comic book with zombies of aborted fetuses and field agents from the U.S. Census Bureau, was out. Arsenic Lullaby has been in existence for about five to six years. It is perhaps one of the most unapologetically dark comics being turned out today, almost sure to offend anyone. But this no holds barred approach, however, is part of its charm. To my surprise, the thin and bearded man hawking the goods was none other than Douglas Paszkiewicz himself. Doug told me that he had a spinoff called King Donut in the works. Despite having seen other spinoffs start and fail, he assured me that this one contained some of his best work.

I’m a big fan of Andi (Breakfast After Noon) Watson. And Oni Press now has a new title, Little Star, from Watson, which offers a more introspective take than usual on past regrets and fatherhood. Watson’s striking shadings continue to get better, employed for charcoal darkness and even an ultrasound.

Local cartoonist Keith Knight of The K Chronicles (who also has a blog) was there hawking his new book, The Passion of the Keef.

The very animated Batton Lash told me that he’s been working on Supernatural Law for about 27 years. Supernatural Law, which tells the tale of attorneys representing monsters and manages to sustain its premise with heavy injections of cultural satire. It started off as a comic strip (what Lash called his “off-Broadway” period) that was eventually picked up in the National Law Journal. After thirteen years of this, Lash began work on Supernatural Law as a comic book. Lash did ferocious research, perhaps more than was necessary, and was told by his superiors that he needed to give the attorneys some time away from the office. There hasn’t been a new issue of Supernatural Law, Lash tells me, because he’s busy working on the TPB for the first eight issues. While TPBs exist for the remainder of the series, Lash has returned to the beginning to redraw it.

Perhaps the most soft-spoken cartoonist I talked with was the remarkably prolific Jeffrey Brown. Brown was a very amicable guy, but I had to lean in to about a foot away from him to hear what he was saying. He was at the Top Shelf booth with a new title, Minisulk. When I asked him how he was so prolific, he told me that he pretty much drew when rising from bed, before work, and after work. I asked if he drew at his job and he said that he once was able to. But now that security cameras have been added, he’s had to be careful.

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