SPX 2007: Family, Redefined
My day began with a fruitless search for the charger for my camera’s battery, followed by an equally fruitless search for a store that might sell me a replacement, so I’m afraid I must begin with an apology for the lack of on-the-scene photos. I’m hopeful that some of my fellows at the Alliance will be able to pick up the slack in this regard.
But enough about that: It’s the first day of SPX, baby, so everybody get happy!
I’ve been attending SPX every year since its inception in 1994. I’m pretty sure it was ’94 (it’s possible it may have been ’95), but I’m certain that I’ve never missed one –and that includes 2001’s “SPXiles” show where the Baltimore Comic-Con heroically stepped into the breach in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, of which that year’s SPX was a casualty. My point is that this is a show that is very dear to me and, sure, some of the reason for that is that good friends Greg Bennett and Chris Oarr were involved in the show from the beginning (I remember how excited they were to tell me over dinner one night that they’d decided SPX needed an award, and that it would be a festival prize, and that they had come up with the perfect name and design of the award with the Ignatz brick. And it is indeed perfect…though they quickly learned that it is rather expensive to ship an actual brick to winners not in attendance), but the main reason for the affection I hold for this show was that it was those early years of SPX where I first experienced the true community that a common love of making and/or reading comics makes possible.
Those early years, when the show was much smaller than it is today, featured late-night –in some cases, all-night– sponsored after-parties with bathtubs full of beer (another fine memory: Eddie Campbell, bravely straddling a Jacuzzi tub full of beer while, like the gentleman he is, searching for a cider amidst the beers for a young lady). Those early years also featured the Sunday tradition of a pig roast / party at Chris Oarr’s house in nearby Takoma Park, and even though I’m not a meat eater, I’ve got to say that those pigs died for a good cause … and each of them lives on in legend and in the memories of the attendees to whom Chris Oarr’s parties meant so much. And to the SPX community that formed in large part as a result of those historic gatherings. As a result, SPX felt like a family to me from the start, and contrary to one exhibitor having referred to the show today as being like Christmas, to me, it’s more like Thanksgiving (only with, y’know, a pig standing in for the turkey) because it feels like coming home.
I first met Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions at SPX ten years ago, and he did me a very good turn involving a call to Eddie Campbell in Australia which resulted in me being able to purchase my all-time favorite piece of original Bacchus art. As it turns out, Top Shelf Productions was conceived at that very party in conversation between Chris Staros, Brett Warnock and Chris Oarr, who was originally to be the third in what would have been a three-way partnership in the company. Both of these facts were news to me, and they both came to light during the Top Shelf tenth anniversary panel this afternoon featuring Staros and Warnock in conversation with James Kochalka. Oarr ended up accepting the mantle of Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and had to bow out of the venture, which led to the Staros and Warnock helming Top Shelf that we all know and love today.
A true testament to the very special nature of the community that surrounds comics was also discussed in the panel, as Staros related the events surrounding the near-bankruptcy of the company in 2002. When distributor LPC went bankrupt owing Top Shelf upwards of $100,000, Top Shelf were themselves starting bankruptcy in the face. Staros called Warnock and told him he thought that it might be time for them to ask their supporters for help. Not asking for a handout, mind you, but what Staros suggested was that they draft an email and send it out to their mailing list, laying the cards on the table, and essentially saying “if there have been any Top Shelf books you wanted, but were holding off on buying, now’s the time. Without your help, we’re cooked.”
That email went out at 8 a.m. the next day. Recipients forwarded it to their friends, who forwarded it to their friends. Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis were among the recipients and they forwarded it to their friends. (As you might imagine, they have a lot of friends.) The outpouring of support within the comics community led to over a thousand orders pouring into the Web site within 12 hours, and Top Shelf was saved. They issued another press release announcing that, thanks to the everyone’s generous support, they were in the clear. And the orders continued to keep rolling in. Sometimes, the good guys win.
Staros had mentioned earlier in the panel that “Brett and I have always been about art before commerce,” and no one with even a passing familiarity with the Top Shelf line would doubt the veracity of that statement. But ain’t it great to be a part of a (sub)culture where those kinds of values are not only celebrated, but are heartily supported? To me, that’s something for which we should all be both thankful and proud.
So happy Thanksgiving, everybody. I hope to see you at the show tomorrow.