I recently attended the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, and felt that I should revive this blog to report my observations. The book is still on hold. I am currently unemployed and in that place where I’m thinking wow, I’m probably going to have to take a terrible minimum wage job just to make ends meet.
Anyway, this isn’t about me and my life, save in a tangential manner — it’s about conventions, and going to them, and what they’re like.
So! The Small Press Expo.
First off, the good things:
This was BY FAR one of the most diverse conventions I’ve ever been to. There was a sizable population of people who were neither white nor male, both among the exhibitors and attendees. There was also the largest openly trans*/genderqueer presence I’ve seen at pretty much any convention. Obviously I cannot quote numbers because hey, it’s impossible to tell sometimes, but in many other cases there were people who were openly proclaiming their status as trans* persons, which I’ve… actually never seen at a geek convention before. Meaning: I have met trans* people at conventions, but they generally didn’t proclaim their identity loudly and in fact took great pains to be invisible (PAX was an especial case in which an individual I had met had to be constantly re-assured that everything was okay and we were here to help him).
On top of that, there was a great diversity in the materials being offered. The comics at SPX ran the gamut from goofy weirdness like the one about the boy who turns into a boat, to quite deeply serious autobiographical pieces, to hand-painted children’s comics, to straight up porn.
The Ignatz awards were what I feel the Hugo awards SHOULD be like. The Hugos used to be (as far as I can tell) a fan-run award, with the idea being that the fans of science fiction and fantasy would choose the awards. I feel quite strongly that this is no longer the case; the Hugos are chosen now by the few who can 1. afford to go to the convention in the first place (which locks out people under the age of 40, people who aren’t white, and many LGBTQ persons), 2. who actually remember to bloody vote and 3. have the time to read up on the nominees / watch the shows / whatever (which locks out people with day jobs). SPX, meanwhile, has a much lower barrier of entry, being cheap to attend and, as I said, already drawing a huge variety of different individuals.
Ballot gathering was a good deal more egalitarian as well. My own method was this:
I walked around the floor with that box on my head telling people to cast their ballots. It worked pretty darn well! It got people’s attention and got them excited about voting, even if they might not have otherwise voted. Efficient? No, not really. Fun? Heck yes!
The award ceremony itself was mercifully short and free of too much pomp and circumstance. ALL the presenters were women, which, again, in an industry that at times seems so very male focused was a breath of fresh air.
The not so good things:
There were a number of big problems with organization. I was volunteering, and first off, there was no real effort made to properly coordinate volunteers or make sure volunteers were fed to the appropriate areas. I was never really told what to do, and though I’d signed up for line management I ended up just kind of hovering around the front desk, waiting to be told what to do. I did get to collect ballots, but other than that it all felt much too ad-hoc, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I wish there’d at least been a small pamphlet explaining what to do, or more volunteer coordinators on the floor, as well as a more official meeting place for volunteers to go to get assigned than “I guess… over there? or something?”
While panel times were listed in the program, there was no hotel map indicating where those panels were located, so we had a lot of guests going “Where are the panels?” The show floor map was confusing and difficult to read. There was no schedule for official book signings, and we had a lot of questions about that too, but no schedule to give anyone to indicate when those signings were.
The main afterparty was MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH too crowded for the space it was being held in, and how / where people got drink tickets was entirely unclear. I managed to escape the party to go hang out with friends elsewhere, but the party was seriously less a party and more a mad mob descending upon chocolate fountains. I think a party suite system like what most SF cons I go to use might be a better way to spread people out, but that’d require people on the floor to figure things out rather than the con comm, which might go badly…
Overall, I think SPX is a wonderful small to mid-sized con, and a true celebration of comic arts and the people who make them. I hope it continues to be so even as it grows larger. I wish I could have bought everything in the exhibit hall, curse my lack of funds! And the best thing about that, though, is that I felt as though every dollar I spent was going to supporting a fellow creative artist who genuinely needed it, rather than some faceless megacorp, as is the case at some of the larger conventions.
A+ would attend again.