On Business: SPACE & Such

By | Monday, April 11, 2016 Leave a Comment
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of getting to SPACE (Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo) for the first time. Bob Corby's been putting on the event in Columbus, Ohio for a little shy of two decades now. And, despite some difficulties with a venue last year (the hotel that had been hosting the show closed down rather unexpectedly) they've been continuing on with gusto.

The show, as the name implies, doesn't cater to the large pop culture market that like what you'd see with a Wizard World or ReedPop convention. I think the biggest 'name' creator at SPACE this year was Carol Tyler. Very talented and successful, of course, but definitely not part of what you might call mainstream comics (however you might define 'mainstream'). Most of the convention was filled with self-publishers doing whatever spoke to their particular passion. Lee Smith does comics about Ohio history, Leighton Connor does comics based on the adventures his daughter concocts with her action figures, J.R. Mounts does noir comics about a detective pickle... Plus, there are a number of students and recent graduates from the Columbus College of Art & Design and Ohio State University who are still finding their voice, and trying a variety of different ideas and directions.

Naturally, not all of it speaks to everybody. I'm sorry, but I'm just never going to be a big horror fan so it's a REALLY hard sell to get me on board with anything in that genre. And there's a wide range of talent, too -- some people have a very lush, illustrative style and others draw little more than stick figures. But that's the beauty of a convention like this: there are so many people with so many different styles and voices that something's bound to be interesting.

Saturday morning was a bit slow, thanks to a snowstorm that blew threw in the early hours before daybreak. But by Sunday, many of the exhibitors seemed happy with how their weekend went overall. I talked with Corby about half-way through the day, and he said that even the woman in the very last booth at the farthest end of the show said she was happy with how she was doing. As I said, it was my first time at SPACE so it's a little hard for me to put it in perspective, but it struck me as very successful show.

I say all this, in part, as a way to look at the convention landscape more generally. The larger shows with pop culture stars from TV shows and movies draw a lot more press generally, and the local shows you might be more familiar with frequently consist of mostly dealers selling comics out of old long boxes and action figures in plastic Ziplocks. But there's a noticeable and growing market for shows like SPACE. I think Corby was on the leading edge of that type of show, and we'll be seeing more of these in the near future. Shows where the focus is independent comics and creators. Not people selling prints of Spider-Man clinging on to a TARDIS, or Superman saving the Enterprise, or whatever. But people who want to tell a story through comics. People who have a passionate desire to relay their story in comics form.

I've wanted to go to SPACE for years. It really is a great show, I think, in part because Corby is a comics maker himself, and basically runs the type of show he'd like to attend. I get that a similar impression for CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo). Creators seem to talk about both in similar ways. Because of that attention to comics (as opposed to pop culture), regardless of genre, I think we'll be seeing more of these types of shows opening up. Can Ohio sustain more than one of these a year? Maybe. Columbus itself? I doubt it. But keep an eye out for these things across the US; I expect we'll be seeing more of these pop up and do very well for themselves in other notable-but-perhaps-not-top-of-mind areas.

Keep your eyes peeled. Both SPACE and CAKE are drawing creators from all over the country, and I expect more and more people will be taking notes on everything that they're doing right to bring back to their area.
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