Bob Corby Interview
List of Exhibitors
A bastion of Midwestern conservative values, Columbus has not seen its like since Dave Sim's Spirits of Independence show five years ago.
Indie superstars like Matt Feazell, Carla Speed McNeil, Alex Robinson, and William Francis Loebs opened their porfolios for a curious public at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) at the Ohio Expo Center on Saturday, April 15.
The show was organized and sponsored by Bob Corby, cartoonist and indy comics enthusiast (see Corby interview, below.)
Also at the show were Jay Hosler (Clan Apis), Rachel Hartman (Amy Unbounded), John Porcellino (King Cat Comics), Barry Buchanan (Ballad of Utopia) and others, totalling 49 exhibitors of small press and independent comics.
Among the notable comics at the show:
Hosler's new trade paperback collecting the first Clan Apis series in a handsome squarebound format. This first-rate educational comics series deserves to reach the widest possible audience, and the format is ideal for achieving that purpose.
Rich Watson's Rat is a 2-part romantic allegory about a street rat who falls in love with a human girl. The complex, well-illustrated saga deals sensitively with the contrasts between wish-fulfillment and the day-to-day maintaining of a real relationship.
Michael R. Neno's Quacky Pig and Friends is a supposedly juvenile coloring book story laced with black humor; watch out for the lethal snowball fight, kids!
Shawn Granton's Modern Industry is an anthology of innovative indy newcomers.
Supermonster 12, Kevin Huizenga's fascinating post-modern minicomic, with unexpected plot twists and innovative storytelling techniques.
Paul Hornschemeier's Sequential is a comix tabloid featuring a Dan Clowes interview and several satirical strips.
J Kevin Carrier premiered a collection of his superhero parody/tribute series, Lady Spectra and Sparky, in a squarebound volume with an eye-catching cover. This is a light-hearted guilty pleasure for fanboys of caped heroes.
Rachel Hartman's displayed the latest installment in the Amy Unbound series; 'The Flash' is book 10, and the fourth installment in her 'Belondweg Blossoming' saga.
Brent Riches' Reverend Riches Tabernacle of Terror is a sacriligious barrel of laughs, its first issue focusing on the 'little fears' we all have.
Suzanne Baumann's Whitehead is a delightful little freebee minicomic, focusing on an overheard office conversation.
George Broderick was on hand with the first two volumes of his anthology Comic Library International, weighty squarebound tomes with attractively-designed laminated covers. "The main focus with CLI is the celebration and evolution of the comic art form," explained Broderick. "Our goal is to upgrade the format, visibility and integrity of comics and help bring them back into the mainstream youth culture.'
Perusing the books at the convention, one thing was obvious-- the production qualities of many of the small press books have skyrocketed. One conspicuous reason is Harold Buchholz Print Services, a supplier of low-cost printing for small editions. Hosler, Carrier, and Broderick all used Buchholz's services, which make trade paperback publishing economical even for sales under 1000.
Attendence at the con was disappointing. Joked Brent Riches, 'In S.P.A.C.E., no one can hear you scream!'
In spite of Corby's vigorous efforts, publicity may have been a problem, especially at the nearby Ohio State University. Several exhibitors also pointed out that the $3 charge for parking at the Expo Center in addition to the $3 admission charge may have driven attendees away.
Exhibitor Sean Bieri suggested, 'How about doing it at a student union or restaurant/bar that would be open to the puboic but more intimate, less convention-like? This is how the Caption show in Oxford, England runs. They have workshops and tables of books, but it's more a powwow for creators while the public is encouraged to wander through and participate. Is that possible here?'
Another likely problem was the absense of any well-established big name artists. In this regard, the show suffered from a scheduling problem, running the same weekend as the Comic Book Legal Defense 'Making Waves' cruise.
A consensus among exhibitors was that the show was well-organized in spite of the low attendence. Many suggested that, as the show acquires a track record, turnout will improve signifigantly. Said exhibitor Chris Yambar, 'A good first attempt. Every year will get better.' Corby confirmed that SPACE will indeed be back next year.
Exhibitor Bill Loebs may have summed it up best-- 'It's been slow, but everyone here is so much fun to talk to. It's like the conventions of our youth. I had a great time.'
Indeed, the hall was buzzing with conversation all day-- anthropologic dissections of the funny animal genre; new evidence in the Kennedy assasination; fanboy ravings about the upcoming Lord of the Rings movie; and, of course, trading the latest news about old friends.
Towards the end of the day, cartoonist and exhibitor Sean Bieri had a number of artists doing drawings for his sketch book. The subject was a gallery of photographs of elderly men from the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame, which is permanently installed in the back corridor of the Rhodes center. The remarkably faithful renderings were a testimony to the caliber of talents assembled here.
Exhibitor Suzanne Baumann opined about the independent comics movement, 'It's small enough to still be intimate, but big enough to reach anyone open-minded enough to seek it out.' Indeed, the same could be said about the SPACE show. It didn't have big crowds, or pro wrestlers signing autographs, or showgirls in slinky costumes.
But it had SOUL.
For information about next year's show, contact Corby at BackPorchC@aol.com.
Conducted by Joe Zabel
JZ: Why did you decide to organize this event?
BC: I've always loved comics, ever since I found out that somebody actually drew all the pictures and they weren't just produced by some machine. I was in awe. Hey, I was 5 at the time. I grew up with'em. I kind of grew out of superheroes quite a while ago so I'm always looking for interesting titles.
I thought about doing a show like this way back in '88 when 15 small pressers showed up at my Mid-Ohio Con table for the premier of Oh,Comics! It was a little crowded. I had bought a house a few years earlier and didn't have enough disposable income to pull it off at the time. Besides something like this back then just wouldn't have worked.
In 1995 Dave Sim opened the door here with the Spirits of Independents show. I thought it was great. People showed up to see Dave of course but they were also interested in different things. They all weren't there to pick up back issues of Spawn or the X-men or what ever the comic dejure was.
I did three Spirits Shows-Columbus, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Each one was better than the last. I wound up with a lot of great new titles to read and sold a lot of my own.
The following year I bugged Steve Snyder of the now defunct Central City Comics who was the official retailer at the Columbus Show if they were going to do it again. He said they were going to roll it into Mid-Ohio Con.
Now, Mid-Ohio is a great show. I've done it for years but it never had the same crowd as the Spirits shows. I'm hoping to recapture the magic of the Spirits shows.
JZ: What is the purpose of SPACE?
BC: To promote small press comics, increase the variety, and encourage growth in the comic buying public.
Like I said, I love comics and I'm constantly looking for new titles because of the high rate of attrition. The comics industry needs to push out it's boundaries appeal to a wider range of people. Bring more people in. That's the only way comics will be profitable enough for good titles to continue beyond a handful of issues. We need to show them that there are comics out there that are like nothing they've seen.
I guess I'm hoping that SPACE makes some small press titles accessible to people who wouldn't ordinarily read comics or frequent comic shops. Also we invited comic retailers to attend free giving them a chance to see some new things without having to guess at ordering.
JZ: Is this a 'for profit' event?
BC: Technically, I guess it is. If I break even I'll be happy. I paid taxes on the table money I collected last year. I pretty much set this thing up as inexpensively as possible to keep table costs down and attract the largest number of small press publishers. If I make any money I'll put it back into the show. I wish I could have spent more on advertising this year.
JZ: When did you begin working on SPACE? Can you tell us how the project developed?
BC: I decided to get the show together last summer. I was already planning on attending SPX (now The EXPO) so I rushed the arrangements in time to hand out info at SPX. I talked to a few hotels, some of which had no interest whatsoever in the show. At the suggestion of Gib Bickle of the Laughing Ogre I checked out the Ohio Expo Center and found a generous space at a reasonable price.
At SPX, I found a lot of support for the idea. The initial group of exhibitors all were at SPX.
The same week I went to SPX my link on Comicon.com was up. Once theinitial group of exhibitors was up on the website there was a regular flow of new exhibitors.
I enlisted the help of my fellow 'Invisible Artists' (our little local group of small press publishers who get together at irregular intervals) including Mike Carroll, Ray Tomczak and Max Ink. Also signed up Tyim Courts in Cincinnati, Ian Shires in the Cleveland area and Kel Crum in Dayton. Also received help from my brother Ron up in Cleveland.
I developed databases of small press companies and comic shops from the internet along with a lot of the info I had been picking up for years publishing Oh,Comics!. Then I needed to look into the insurance policy required by the Ohio Expo Center.
Next a table layout was developed to be submitted to the Fire Marshall. I actually submitted two layouts. I sent the second one in because I felt the first one was too cramped. Turns out the second layout was right on the money. I sold out every table except one.
I printed about 7000 flyers usually in increments of 1000 andstarted sending them off first to possible exhibitors and then to about 140 comic shops. Most of the shops were located in Ohio but a few were sent to the surrounding states. Keith Newsome of Broken Glass Studios also sent out flyers through the company he works for. I dropped off flyers at many local businesses.
Mike Carroll painstakingly had flyers put up in many of the buildings on the OSU campus. (Permission is required in each individual building to put up flyers.) Ray Tomczak and I hit the all the exterior bulletin boards on campus and theguys at the laughing Ogre went back for a second round.
Pam Bliss, Illusions Studios, Mike Carroll, Midguard Comics and I all passed out flyers at comic conventions. We hit a total of 6 different shows.
Then there was this Spam to small press publishers. Sorry about that. I only did it once.
In the last month or so ads were sent out to CBG, a few of the local entertainment newspapers and the OSU Lantern. To reduce costs we will be setting up and tearing down tables at the show. The Laughing Ogre also is throwing a get together the night before the show.
That's about it. I'm sure I forgot something.
JZ: I gather this is intended to be a kind of 'creators only' event. What are the restrictions on who can exhibit?
BC: The application says, 'Exhibitors are restricted to Small Press, Alternative, and Creator-Owned Comic Publishers, Artist, and Writers selling only comics and associated produces they have produced.' And I pretty much stuck to it.
I was afraid for awhile that I couldn't fill the room but with a week to go there is only one table left.
The Laughing Ogre is the only retailer involved and that's because of all the help they have given me plus their commitment tosmall press comics.
JZ: Are you planning to put on another such event next year?
BC: Yes, if I don't loose my shirt and the Ohio Expo Center lets us back. Ask anybody who knows me. Once I get into something I don't quit. I've published Oh,Comics! for 12 years.
JZ: Do you have any advice for anyone else who wants to organize a small-press convention?
BC: 1. You can never start planning early enough.
2. Make sure you can afford to lose some money.
3. Advertising is more expensive than you can ever imagine. Flyers are about the most cost effective. Look for college papers and small weeklies or monthlies. Most of the open minded people check them out.
4. Push, push, push. If I was a little more out going this show would be huge.
5. Be prepared to just work on it everyday. There is so much more I wish I had the time to do.
6. Cash in all the favors everybody owes you.
7. Don't even think of doing this without a computer and internet access.
8. Self-Stick! It's the only way to go!
9. Read # 4 again.
JZ: Thanks, Bob!