BETHESDA – The Bethesda Marriott Hotel hosted the Small Press Expo (SPX), the biggest indie comic event in the nation, where both small-time comic book artists and big-name novelists gathered together to meet fans.
“This is our first time [here] so I’m really excited,” said Linnea Kataja, a student at the School of Visual Arts. “It’s great for [our school] to have a table here so students can have a chance to sell their art and get exposure.”
“(SPX) wants people who have never tabled before or just starting out because some of those people will be big names in the future,” said Tony Breed, the author of the comic strip “Finn and Charlie are Hitched.”
Breed, who cited “Doonesbury” and “For Better or For Worse” as his main inspirations, considers his main characters being a gay couple as “more incidental” than central to the story.
“I write stories that everyone could read: my straight friends can identify with the characters because being in a couple is universal, but at the same time I give something for gay people to read and see themselves in,” said Breed.
Although many indie artists like Breed are self-published, small publishing companies helping new artists gain exposure occupied some booths.
Charles Zan Christensen, the founder of Northwest Press, did not plan on creating a publishing company from the beginning. “It kind of happened that way,” said Christensen, who started as an artist.
“I wanted to do something comics-related, and I started this publishing company as a way to get my friends’ works published,” said Christensen.
Comics were not the only thing being shown at SPX. Authors of graphic novels also had a large presence at the event.
Dutch writer Aimée De Jonh showcased her first graphic novel, “The Return of the Honey Buzzard,” which was translated into French, Spanish, Serbian, and English before arriving in the United States.
“I was a little scared at first because I thought the convention would be about superheroes but I fit right in,” said Jonh.
“The Return of the Honey Buzzard” is a psychological thriller about trauma and coping with memories from the past, a film adaptation of which is set to be released next year by Dutch company “Family Affair Films.”
Next to Jonh sat Lauren Hoffen, a new author promoting her own upcoming graphic novel, “The Pink Poodle”, which is set to be released this December.
A graphic designer by day, Hoffen saved up her own money to self-publish her book.
“I put out a lot of small stories at first but then someone asked for an anthology,” said Hoffen, who started publishing her stories online. “With the internet there’s a niche market for someone who say, likes poodles because not everything’s for everyone.”
Along with authors releasing books for the first time were booths of well-established graphic novelists like Carla Speed McNeil, who started writing her science fiction series “Finder” 20 years ago.
“I like to study the differences in human cultures, and I think it’s fascinating how different we all are,” said McNeil, whose comic explores the relationships of people from differing fictional cultures.
Some artists with semi-celebrity status also attended.
Jason Fischer, author of the new “Terra Flats,” works as a background artist for Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of the Scott Pilgrim series.
Fischer worked with O’Malley in creating his most recent graphic novel, “Seconds”, and Fischer released a short comic called “Seconds Helping” that shows what life was like working with O’Malley.
Unlike the booths of comic artists, Joe Procopio does not sell his own work. Instead, his company, “Lost Art Books” collects the art and illustrations of artists from the early 20th century who have fallen into obscurity.
“[The art] was material I would collect myself for years and people would say they never saw this art,” said Procopio. “80 to 90 percent of this stuff comes from my own collection,” he said about his books of artists like Heinrich Kley, Matt Baker, and Niso Ramponi.
However, artists still relatively unknown ran most of the booths.
Irish publisher Chris Baldie created his company, “Never Ever Press,” so that he could publish his friend’s series, “Space Captain.”
Baldie writes his own series called “Never Ever After”, which he described as a “slice-of-life with a little magical realism” about a group of friends who notice monsters appearing in the world that no one else sees.
“Never Ever Press” is selling its work at the Fantom Comics store in Dupont Circle.
Robert Ullman writes comics on a particularly unique genre: true stories about famous hockey players.
“I’ve been a hockey fan for a long time and I realized a lot of the history of the sport makes great stories,” said Ullman.
Ullman, whose comics are called “Old-Timey Hockey Tales”, came to the SPX in 1997, calling it a “life changer” when he met some of his favorite authors.
“(Comic artists) are usually normal guys who have the same interests as you,” said Ullman.