Indie Comics pilgrimage hub Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, this weekend is debuting a grand total of 250 new works, and the work of 7 distinct creators or collectives have been selected here, so if these comics make you an addict, there will be no danger of running dry anytime soon. And if you can't make it to SPX, most of these books can also be purchased online following the show. Hope springs eternal for disappearing down the comics rabbit hole in the internet age.
First up there's Tales of the Night Watchman #2 and the single Tales of the Night Watchman: The Night Collector, both new for SPX this year from So What? Press. The former is by Dave Kelly and Lara Antal and the latter by Kelly and Molly Ostertag. The premise of the series is that blogger Nora and roommate Charlie follow the exploits of Charlie's possessing spirit, a "spectral detective" known as the Night Watchman. He lures them into paranormal adventures, often with a dash of horror thrown in. In lush black and white inking, issue #2 swerves between the everyday activities of the roommate baristas and their increasingly alarming encounters with the supernatural, including a trip for Nora into the "realm between realms" whence the Night Watchman proceeds. The single issue Night Collector, in black and white with nuanced greyscale jumps off into the realm of rising corpses, demon-spawn, and imaginative commentary on the relationship between the mortal and astral plane. It really won't be possible to choose between the two titles, so best to get both. Tales of the Night Watchman is a combination of pulp noir, modern fantasy, horror getting a little too close to daily life for comfort, and plenty of great indie art.
Andrea Tsurumi brings two new collections of short comics to SPX, Behold the Killbot and Other Stories, and Glam Thanksgiving. This is in addition to her recently published books Andrew Jackson Throws a Punch and But Suddenly, An Octopus. Tsurumi has made her name in comics and illustration through celebrating the humor of the macabre and the adorable, and her work is often metamorphic in nature. Behold the Killbot appears in full color, with a title story that's enough to give any indie comics fan pause: examining the lives of depressed "doomsday robots" under the documentary-style narration of Werner Herzog. Tsurumi desribes another story in the collection "The Peep of Day" as her adaptation of "the most sadistic children's story ever written". Let me warn you in advance that if you are going to read Tsurumi's books, your dream-life will probably never be quite the same again. They work their way into the subconscious like a power drill, but more insidiously. Her Glam Thanksgiving in black and white explores her other area of creative expertise, talking about strange food stories, and hypothetical or real origins for food that you may regret knowing afterward, but somehow can't regret seeing through Tsurumi's art. Her table at SPX will also be selling their recently published group comics poetry anthology Linen Ovens.
Creator of Top Shelf-published autobio graphic novel Underwire, Jennifer Hayden is breaking out a printed edition of her personal 2-year comic diary Rushes at SPX, which lands just ahead of another upcoming graphic novel from Top Shelf. Hayden's raucous humor, her often quite endearing family life, and best of all, observations about the foibles of herself and others make for a cracking good read. She composes in large page spreads that introduce flow between panels and keep you staring at a single page until you've gleaned all the subtle and overt humor fully. Rushes promises to keep raising the standard of biography through comics, and at 48 pages it's likely to keep you busy reading for some time. And then you read the pages again because you just can't help it.
Journey into the Valley of Whispers is Molly Ostertag's (mentioned above) first minicomic of what, hopefully, will continue into a series. Ostertag is known for her webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, and has a distinct inclination toward fantasy storytelling as well. I don't really know a lot about this comic yet, except that it looks to be a mythical adventure story, but with Ostertag, the art alone is enough to suck you in. She has a unique way of rendering characters solid, almost statuesque in quality, as well as make them emotionally believable that gives her a distinct voice in comics, and Valley of Whispers is unlikely to fall far from the tree.
You may well have followed Cartozia Tales in its ongoing Kickstarter collection. Written by Isaac Cates and drawn by a team of indie artists, it's an all ages adventure comic with stories set in the same mythical world that sports "strange creatures" and an even stranger cast of characters on their adventures. There's magic and mystery, but it's not a Dungeons and Dragons type approach. Think humor, surprise, and interlocking stories that help create an unusual universe by jumping between points in a shared geography. The 40 page second issue will appear at SPX in high production quality paper and the work of Sarah Becan, Lucy Bellwood, Isaac Cates & Mike Wenthe, Shawn Cheng, James Kochalka, Adam Koford, Lupi McGinty, Tom Motley, Jen Vaughn featured. The unpredictability of the comic is part of its appeal, and the ways in which its own mythology continues to unfold as new "guest artists" bring their voice to the mix.
Ellen Lindner's The Black Feather Falls has been serialized digitally on the creator-owned platform Activate Comix and garnered critical attention. At SPX she'll be debuting a print volume of the comic from Soaring Penguin Press. It's all-ages appropriate and follows the investigative pursuits of Tina Swift who, living in London, is drawn into a murder mystery that draws her into World War I intrigue, and matters of state. Her character, too, is a mystery, as you unravel just what Tina finds so hard to escape herself. Linder has a unique approach to historical settings, preserving an indie style with a flair for period fashion and an often vibrant pop color palette. This first print volume of the series promises to be quite a treat.
The webseries Vs. also appeared on Activate Comix originally, and was one of 2009's Best Digital Comic Eisner Award nominees, but hasn't seen a print collection, until now, and it was worth the wait since In the Oven Press is preserving its full-color format. Alexis Sottile and Joe Infurnari's work goes well beyond simply reproducing the digital comic, though, with all new material and commentary on the "real life stories" behind the comic. It's easy to see why Vs. was Eisner-nominated, from its rhyming verse narrative to its permeatingly psychedelic flavor capturing "cryptozoological rental history" in New York City. The creatures that disturb the narrator's rental apartment peace morph into hellbeasts and fantastic denizens of nether realms on a regular basis. It's a work of comic imagination unleashed. And it's deluxe at SPX. The mind boggles.
For these reasons especially and 243 or so more, SPX this year is like crack for the indie-inclined reader. Small Press Expo is turning into a no-holds-barred playground for the comics imagination, and these are only a few stunning examples of what some creators are unleashing on the world at the show. See you there?
Hannah Means-Shannon is senior New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org, and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.