Holy crap, I totally just had one of the best weekends of my entire life.
Unfortunately I totally forgot my camera on this trip, so I'm going to have to re-post a bunch of other peoples' photos. This shot here is about a quarter of the dozens and dozens of awesome minicomics that I scored this weekend at The Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD.
For the last three years, I have taken the Chinatown Bus to SPX. It is definitely the cheapest way to get there, but it can also be highly unreliable and has the potential to turn a four hour bus ride into a twelve-hour, nightmare debacle. This year I hit the internet to check the prices, only to find that the company I had previously used had been shut down for trafficking drugs between New York and D.C. and for "disposing of their waste improperly." (??!) I decided to travel via Amtrak.
It was a bit more expensive, but MAN was it pleasant! Everything was on time, I had plenty of leg room, the scenery was nice and it was a smooth enough ride that I was able to get a lot of work done (Basewood Chapter 4 scripting).
So Thursday afternoon I arrived at the hotel in Bethesda. I took a long (2 mile?) walk out to a Whole Foods and back to load up with some healthful snacks for the show. I also found a bank that was open to get 40 ones for making change all weekend behind the table. I was officially all set for the show!
During this walk through the suburban sprawl of Maryland, I found out (via cell phone) that Sarah Oleksyk would be arriving at the hotel soon. I went up to my room, dumped the food and ones, and then came back down to the hotel lobby to draw in my sketchbook and wait for her.
So I'm sitting there, doodling away when JEFF SMITH walks in!!! (???!?!?!?!) He was with his colorist, Steve Hamaker and they were checking in. Now, if you've read PHASE 7 #010 and #011, than you know that Jeff Smith is my ALL TIME, ABSOLUTE favorite Comics artist hero EVER. So I thought to myself, "Well, this is my chance to meet him. No one else is here yet and he's going to be swamped for the rest of the weekend." So I got up and crossed the lobby, straight for him.
"Hi Jeff, Steve, I just wanted to introduce myself" I said, shaking their hands, "I'm Alec Longstreth and I am a huge fan of your work." Then Jeff Smith says, "Alec! It's so nice to meet you, we're big fans of YOUR work too!" (???????????????????????!!!!)
I just about dropped dead.
I guess Jeff and Steve both listen to the Indie Spinner Rack podcast while they are working, so they had heard me on there a bunch of times (THANK YOU CHARLIE AND PHIL!) We made small talk for a few minutes and then I let them go up to their room. I sat back down, shaking, and then spent the rest of the night telling any one who would listen that I had ACTUALLY TALKED TO JEFF SMITH. I really can't think of another cartoonist I really NEED to meet at this point. I am ready to die!
Anyways, Sarah turned up and we went and got some dinner, which was a lot of fun. Afterwards we hung out in my room for a while with Tom Neely and Dylan Williams. Then they went off to party properly and I went downstairs to hang out with the One Percent Press guys. It was really great to see them all and we ended up making a little assembly line to finish off some of JP's awesome new Comics. Then I made my last stop for the night up in Julia's room where a bunch of people were hanging out. I had a long talk with Andy Hartzell which was really cool. Then I went to sleep early so I would have a lot of energy for the first real day of SPX!
Friday morning I went down to the convention hall early and sat in the sun, drawing, waiting for the doors to open. Then Jeff Smith walked in and sat down next to me and said, "Good morning Alec. What are you working on?" (!!!?!!???!!!!) We talked for HALF AN HOUR about comics and I finally started to calm down a little around him (A LITTLE). It helps that Jeff is probably one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you will ever meet. Especially for someone who is so talented and successful. That was one of the coolest half-hours of my comics career thus far, believe you me!
Anyways, the first day was really really great. Greg arrived, we set up and started selling and trading comics. I got a TON of great stuff and people seemed really excited about Papercutter #6 and Phase 7 #012. SPX is totally my favorite show of the year. It is so well organized, the volunteers are incredibly friendly and helpful, there are so many amazing artists there and the "civilian" attendance is great, chock-full of returning attendees.
After the show on Friday night I went to dinner with Greg, MK, Aaron and Robyn. The food was so-so, but the company was great! Then we hurried back to the hotel for The Nerdlinger Awards. I got to award the snarky "SECOND Best Beard in Comics" award to Aaron, because the actual recipient, Kazimir Strzepek was sadly not at SPX this year (WE MISSED YOU KAZ!) Then I snuck away and was asleep by 11pm. Being on your feet all day selling comics and talking to people is pretty exhausting!
Saturday was a long day (9 hours!) during which I sold a TON of comics (my best show ever, by FAR!) Afterwards Greg and I dashed next door to get some falafels and then we headed straight back to the hotel for the Ignatz Awards.
So, about a week ago Liz Prince text messaged me to say that she had been selected to announce the Outstanding Debut nominees at the Ignatz Awards this year. She wanted to know if I'd help her read the names because there were a lot of them and she was kind of nervous. I said okay. Then I found out that I was actually one of the people who had been nominated for the Outstanding Debut, as the editor of Papercutter #6!
I tried my best to back out, since it seemed like it would be awkward, especially if I won, but Liz wasn't having it. She basically spent the whole show harassing me, and FORCING me agree to present the award with her. The official Ignatz organizer said it was okay, as long as LIZ opened the final envelope.
So we got up in front of everybody to read the names (photo above by Colleen Venable). The Outstanding Debut award, is kind of weird... All the rest of the Ignatz Awards are nominated by a panel of judges, but with this one, ANYONE can nominate themselves, as long as they have a new book that is debuting at the show. So this year there were THIRTY-ONE nominees (compared to the FIVE nominees in the rest of the catagories).
Everyone said they wanted the awards ceremony to go quickly, but it seemed a shame to not read off everyone's name, so Liz and I decided to do a SPEED ROUND!!! We butchered a bunch of names, but got through the five pages of names in just a few minutes. Then Papercutter #6 won the award... !
I want it understood that PAPERCUTTER #6 won this award, NOT me. That means Greg Means, Nate Beaty, Julia Wertz, Laura Park, Ken Dahl AND I won this brick. I just happened to edit this one issue, so I'm the one who gets to take home the brick. But I sincerely doubt it would have been the "Outstanding Debut" if Greg had not put together the first FIVE amazing issues of Papercutter, or if Julia, Laura and Gabby hadn't drawn some seriously amazing comics to go along with mine.
Anyways, this is all to say that I felt extremely awkward and uncomfortable after the award ceremony. (photo by Sarah Glidden of me with Tom Neely who won for Promising New Talent) Basically I was one of ten people in this huge crowd holding a BRICK, so everyone is going, "Congratulations man!" and slapping me on the back and everything and I felt like saying, "This isn't just MINE!" Also, I felt weird about basically presenting the award to MYSELF. I was blushing to the tips of my beard and started feeling a little queasy so I took it upstairs and put it in my hotel room and tried to calm down a little.
When I came back downstairs Liz Baillie was organizing a BUNCH of people to go do some Karaoke. Aaron was trying to convince more and more people to come with them. He tried to get Jeff Smith to come and then moved on to some other people. Jeff turns to me and says, "Are YOU going?" to which I replied, "If YOU'RE going, I'M going." He rejoined "Well, I'M only going if YOU'RE going!" So it was settled! We headed up to the lobby of the hotel together.
There were some printed directions. People copied them down and we all piled into about seven cars(?) and then proceeded to get HORRENDOUSLY LOST in the middle of NOWHERE in Rockwell, Maryland! After quite a bit of confusion, we all met up in a parking lot to try and regroup. (pictures above and below stolen from the Daily Crosshatch Flickr Set) Someone asked a nearby cop how to find the Karaoke bar, got better directions and miraculously we all found the place. Then we totally and completely took it over.
We had a not-very-big room filled with QUITE a few people. It was so so so much fun. I bought Jeff Smith a beer and then HE bought ME a beer (which I will be bragging about for THE REST OF MY LIFE) and we stood in the back drinking and singing together, along with everyone else as people danced around and went nuts. Then Liz Baillie and I sang Buddy Holly, which was totally EPIC. We had sung "Say It Ain't So" together at Aaron's birthday party, so now Weezer duets are officially a "THING" that we do at Karaoke parties. :)
I was pretty drunk at that point (I am a total lightweight) but you can see some videos of Liz and I bringing the house down with some thrashing air guitar over at her YouTube page (warning, not great audio, but you'll get the idea of how crazy it was!)
Liz's husband Zane drove us home (Thank you Zane! You are the BEST!) and I drew some comics and went to sleep. The next morning I said good-bye to Greg and MK and Aaron and went into Washington DC proper, to meet up with my best friend from high school, Isaac.
I dropped my stuff at his place and we got to chat for a few minutes before Isaac had to head into work (on a Sunday--ugh! He is working on the Hillary Clinton campaign). On the way to work he dropped me off at the National Mall. I ate lunch under the Washington Monument and then walked over to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I spent FIVE HOURS in the Holocaust Museum, which was pretty incredible. It was horribly depressing and totally terrifying, but it was also one of the best museums I have ever visited. The layout of the building, the depth of the content and design of the displays were all just excellent. I didn't get to any of the other DC museums, but I'm glad I was able to see everything in that one.
I wandered down to the Lincoln memorial where I ran into Tom and Dylan again (HA!) then Isaac picked me up and we caught up on eachother's lives over dinner. We were both pretty pooped, so we called it an early night. My trip home was totally painless (hooray for Amtrak!) and now I am trying to sort through everything and get it all filed away so I can start tearing my room apart for The Big Move.
Thanks to everyone who made this SPX such an awesome one! Everything ran so smoothly and it was great to hang out with so many of my great comics friends. Consider me totally inspired and ready to pour that energy into Basewood Chapter Three!