Small Press Expo 2009: Sammy's Take

The 15th Annual Small Press Expo was this past weekend in Bethesda, MD, and with Comics popularity in mainstream media at an all time high, it’s both refreshing and disappointing to see what the new generation of creators are bringing us. The show--usually dominated by autobiographical comics and other typically "indie" books--had more Sci-Fi and other genre based talent than ever, but there was still a lot of the same stuff i've seen every year.

People are starting to break away from the archetypes of what "indie" comics are and coming into their own, it's inspiring to talk to someone like Frank Santoro and hear his actually radical ideas about where comics are going, and where they should be.

I went to a panel called "The New Action" featuring Mr. Santoro along with Kazimir Strzepek, Benjamin Marra, and Shawn Cheng about "action" comics and their place in the independent comics world as well as where the genre is going in comics as a whole. At a place dominated by sad-ass comics about exes and your parents dying, it's shocking to see comics creators that want to have fun, hopefully "indie" will start to mean "independent" again and not simply "everything but super heroes".

Here's the best of my SPX '09 haul:

Although it was a freebie, Philly Comix Jam's What Makes a Man Dress Up Like a Bat? is definitely worth mention. The newspaper style comic has a bunch of stories about Batman, none of which are anything we've seen before, or anything DC would ever publish. With the recent disappointment of Wednesday Comics, it is awesome to read something that uses the format well. Watch out for Philly.

More of a funny-book than super hero comic, Remake stars Max Guy, an Astro Boy/Inspector Gadget hybrid who, while a hero, doesn't really give a shit as long as he's having fun. Irresponsible and headstrong, Max Guy will straight up kill you for calling him a "gay robot", but is also too immature to let his roommate have a girlfriend. It appears kid friendly but is really a mature work about things a young super hero would do, like not understanding their powers or blowing stuff up for the hell of it.

Ross Campbell is best known for the chubby chasing Wet Moon series and Water Baby. His sci-fi mini epic Mountain Girl tells the legend of Iha-Naga of the North Mountains journey across Pangea, where Gods fight spirit animals and Iha-Naga fights them both. On a quest to kill the beaver god Wishpoosh, she meets, and eats, a spirit bear, using one of his rib bones to impale the giant beaver. Each of her victims becomes a meal, gaining their power with it's flesh. It's comics like this that make you miss old fantasy comics and Corben Heavy Metal stories.

After seeing the "New Action" panel, I had to check out Benjamin Marra's comics. Inspired by Miami Vice, 70's sexploitation, Italian action movies and explosions, Marra's Night Business is a no bullshit comic about two dudes who own a company that protects strippers from pimps and murderers. A masked man is running around killing off the sexiest exotic dancers in "The City", forcing partners Johnny and Steve to take action, patrolling the streets looking for "The Slasher". Marra's story could be construed as ironic, but it's far too honest for irony. When action of this kind was being produced for the big screen and television, comics were in outer space and revisiting The Hobbit.

We've caught glances of this seedy underworld in comics like Cloak and Dagger and some other super hero titles that take place in the city, usually using the "streets" as a lesson in reality. I've never read an entire series that's been dedicated to this strange era in action. With drug lords, dark alleys, guns and fast cars, Night Business feels like something you'd watch when you were 9 years old when you were supposed to be in bed. Did I mention Marra has a tattoo of Charles Bronson with the words "revenge" under it? Yea, his comic is that good too.

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