SPX 2011 :(

Mon 9/12/2011

On Friday, I spent thirteen hours traveling by bus, train and the Washington D.C. Metro to get from White River Junction to Bethesda, Maryland for the Small Press Expo.

As I was leaving the Metro I ran into Chris Pitzer of AdHouse and Leigh Walton of Top Shelf Comics. In the lobby of the hotel, I ran into some of my new CCS students who were SO excited, their enthusiasm was infectious. After chatting for a bit, I headed up to my hotel room and en route, shared an elevator ride with Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch. FIVE minutes into the show and I was already having a great time. This was my seventh SPX, and it continues to be my favorite comics show.

Saturday was crazy. There were SO many people at the show! I don't know what SPX did for their advertising this year, but whatever it was, it worked. The show was packed all day. Greg and I sold a lot of comics, did tons of trading, got to talk to a bunch of our friends and I bought WAY too many comics. I rationalized these purchases because it is going to be a long winter, and there are no bookstores in White River Junction. I'd much rather give my money directly to the publishers or artists, than to Amazon.com

Saturday night of SPX is the Ignatz awards and there is a two hour break between the end of the show and the beginning of the awards ceremony. In the past, Greg and I would try to dash off to a nearby restaurant with some of our comics friends. But EVERYONE from the show is trying to grab dinner too, so there are always long waits and you end up having to hurriedly gobble down your dinner. So a few years ago Greg came up with this "old man" plan that we now use. After the show on Saturday, we go up to the room and take a well earned NAP. Then we are well rested for Ignatz Awards and afterwards, they serve FREE FOOD, which we are definitely ready for at that point.

So this year Greg and I headed up to the room to kick it "old man" style. Greg fell asleep while I was flipping through the channels on the hotel TV, when my phone rang. It was Aaron, who was very upset, calling to tell us that Dylan Williams had died that morning. I woke Greg up and gave him the bad news.

(Andy Hartzell, Dylan and me at SPX in 2007. Photo by Sarah Oleksyk)

I first met Dylan in 2004 at the Portland Zine Symposium when I somehow lucked out and ended up at dinner with him and Jesse Reklaw. After that I saw him a handful of times each year at various cartooning events, and sometimes randomly when I was in Portland. We were friends and colleagues and I had an immense amount of respect for the work that he did. Dylan loved comics so much, and he published groundbreaking work by countless artists. He worked tirelessly to diversify the indie comics scene, and his loss will be a gaping hole in its landscape.

Dylan had been quietly battling cancer for years, but he was never the kind of guy to talk about it much. He was a very humble, private guy. So it didn't seem right to make some big announcement to everyone, especially at a celebratory event like the Ignatz Awards. So while everyone was milling around, getting excited for the ceremony, there was a small clump of some of Dylan's closest friends all standing together crying and trying to wordlessly comfort each other.

Needless to say, the rest of the show was kind of a downer.

It was just so strange that it happened WHILE we were all at SPX. It would have been horrible, horrible news on any other random day, but somehow it was even harder that it happened while the whole comics community was all gathered together. Tom Neely had been selling Dylan's Sparkplug Comics at the show, with all proceeds going to help for Dylan's latest round of treatments. Even on Saturday it was sad to think that Dylan SHOULD have been there. But showing up to the show Sunday was the worst, because we all knew that Dylan would never be at another show again.

Greg and I both found it hard to give positive answers to simple, standard convention questions such as "How are you doing today?" or "Did you have a good night last night?" By Sunday morning the news had spread all over the internet, so it didn't seem right to keep it quiet any more. We probably had to tell another ten people the bad news, which was really horrible.

ANYWAY, it sucks because we can't even say "Well, at least he had a nice long life" because Dylan only made it 40. But I'll tell you this: he did more good in those 40 years than a lot of people do in their whole lives. Really, I'm not the right person to tell you what an amazing guy Dylan was. I got home tonight and there were at least a dozen remembrances in my Google Reader list, all from people who knew him a lot better than I did. I think Austin's and Gabby's were especially heartfelt and are worth reading.

If any of you would like to help out with the medical bills that were left to Dylan's wife Emily, you can purchase some Sparkplug Comic Books. They are currently being flooded with orders, and obviously have a lot going on, so please be patient. It might take a month or more to get your orders, but it still helps.

GOOD things happened at SPX too, but I think I'm going to have to save those for another post. It was an emotionally exhausting weekend, and I have a lot of catching up to do now that I'm back in Vermont. More soon!

3 comments on this entry

so sorry, man. Unfortunately I'm familiar with this sort of early and terrible loss, so i know how hard it must be right now. Best wishes to his family, and to you and all his friends.

karl Sep13

Thanks Karl. I'm sorry to hear you've been through similar stuff.

Alec Sep14

I had a chance to be one of Dylan's students at the Independent Publishing Resource Center's comics self-publishing program. He was a fantastic teacher who always went the extra mile for his students. He will be greatly missed.

Joel H Sep26

Post your comment here:

SPX 2011 :)
Sure, SPX was a bummer this year, because of Dylan's passing, but some really GOOD stuff happened ..
Bethesda or BUST!
Well, my comics are printed and my bags are packed, so I guess I'm ready for SPX which is this ..