"Get your hands off me you damn dirty APE!"
OK, so maybe the title for this feature is a bit obvious, but so what. Deal.
I went to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco the weekend of February the 18th and 19th. APE, as it is lovingly referred to, is the convention I look most forward to each year. You might find that surprising, but it's easily my favorite of the annual comics conventions. Now, let me point out that I've only been to Comic-Con International, or the San Diego Comic-Con as everyone else calls it (8 years), WonderCon (1 year) and the Small Press Expo (1 year). So, I don't have a lot to compare it to, but from that group I'll say this, APE's the best of the lot.
What makes APE great? Having been to APE for the last three years I can say that it's the diverse collection of talent it attracts. From established names to true talent you may never have heard of, you will find in this group a wonderful collection of people eager to talk comics. Since APE moved to San Francisco from its previous home of San Jose the crowds have gotten bigger, but so has the collection of pros. Plus, from the four different cons I've been to it offers you the best chance to spend time and talk with your favorite comic pros. Yeah, you may have to wait a bit for certain creators, but generally you'll get a real chance to talk with any creator in attendance.
Now, on to this year's edition of APE. What you're about to read is NOT a news column covering every creator at the convention and what they've got coming out next. I'm not a news guy. CBR's Beau Yarbrough is a news guy. CBR's Rob Worley is a news guy. I'm just some guy sharing his experiences at the con.
APE's second year in San Francisco was greeted by Mother Nature in much the same way as the first year: rain. Lots of rain. This didn't seem to have much of an effect on the size of the crowd in attendance, nor did it squelch their enthusiasm. Regardless of the weather, I saw fans genuinely excited to be talking to a creator for the first time or finding an issue of that comic their comic store would never buy.
Let's see, where to begin? After registration I found myself at the Exhibit A Press table, the self-publishing label of Batton Lash's "Supernatural Law." Jackie Estrada, Batton's wife and co-publisher, was manning the table at the time. For those who don't know Jackie is also the Eisner Awards administrator and I got to know Jackie when she invited me to be a judge for the Eisner Awards two years back. We chatted for a while about comics, what they're up to and this year's group of Eisner judges. Note to this year's group of Eisner judges: Don't think you're getting any sleep the weekend you meet in San Diego. Trust me, you won't sleep.
I next worked my way to the AiT/PlanetLar booth, of course manned by CBR's very own Larry Young, author of CBR's latest editorial addition, Loose Cannon. Larry was there hawking AiT/PlanetLar swag and he got major bonus points in my book: He was wearing his black CBR T-Shirt! If you're ever at a con and Larry's in attendance, be sure to stop by his booth and say hi to him and his wife, Mimi Rosenheim. They're great people and love talking their line of books. PLUS, they've got the coolest attention getter at any con: official Astronauts in Trouble space suits! Excellent. He's even got them for sale! It's tempting.
Steve Lieber was my next stop. If you plan on attending just one convention this season you'll likely see Steve there. The man is a convention season workhorse! He told me he's hitting 13 conventions this year, one more than last. WOW! As I approached his table Steve was doing something I see him doing every time I approach his table: sketching for a fan. Not only is he a work horse, he's a sketching machine! He was there to show off his "Whiteout" work (only one of the most exciting couple of mini-series ever published) and to talk with anyone who asked about his next project, "Morning Dragons" with Warren Ellis.
I made my way through the convention hall and ran into an old CBR fried, Brian Joines, the writer of "7 Guys of Justice." Brian was there to push his book and show a preview of Issue #5 which debuts a new letterer for the book, frequent CBR contributor Michael Thomas. Let me just say that with Michael's lettering, the book really comes together. The only thing hurting previous issues of 7GoJ was some poor lettering. Lettering is the invisible art of comics, but when you get to see side by side the improvement in these books, it really hits home how important a good lettering job is. Take a look at the book when you get a chance.
Tom Beland was in attendance at APE this year, all the way up from that state that's not a state, Puerto Rico. (They've got representation in the US Congress but don't have a vote? WHAT? Make 'em a state already!) Tom writes the e-mail comic strip "True Stories Swear To God." There aren't many comic strips that I like, but I do very much like Tom's. It's a very personal strip basically about Tom's life. Howlingly funny one week and then beautifully poignant the next, it's a great read that he sends out in e-mail every Thursday. Tom was also hawking ashcans of his work and I picked up the whole run. Just excellent stuff.
As I turned the corner from Tom's booth I ran into Lea Hernandez of "Rumble Girls" fame. Lea's a great lady who has an incredible artistic style. Heavily manga influenced, the artwork is really expressive. We spoke for a good while and talked comics, the industry and more. By now you've likely heard the big news that she'll be collaborating on a comic with CBR's own Gail Simone! This is an exciting project and I'm so glad these two kids got together to do this! BTW, when the project is released in December of this year you all better pick it up. If you don't, well, let's just say I know people. People that help get other people lost in the desert. You know what I'm saying. Buy the book!
One of the two most exciting moments for me at APE this year was finding out from Jeff Nicholson that issue #6 of the incredible "Colonia" is FINALLY coming out this June! "Colonia" started I believe two years ago and after issue #5 Jeff's life just got busy. Real busy! It's been over a year since the last issue of "Colonia" came out so this is good news to me. "Colonia" is a wonderful adventure fantasy that's great for all ages. Yup, you don't find that often in comics these days. Adults and children can enjoy this engaging series for many of the same reason, most especially a story full of wonder. You'll be hearing more about "Colonia" on CBR in the coming months I'm sure.
The other most exciting moment for me at APE was meeting Jason Lutes. Jason Lutes is well known for his "Jar of Fools" and is currently working on "Berlin." I kid you not when I say "Berlin" is my favorite comic published today. Rich in detail and history, this story of late 1920s Germany is just fascinating. I spoke with Jason for a while about this book and discovered that he did over 2 years worth of research to begin this project. Why choose to write about 1920s Berlin? He told me to discover a bit more about the world he lives in. He's chosen a challenging subject. The first eight issues are now collected in a beautiful trade paperback and it comes highly recommended from this comic fan.
I also spent some time with Chris Starros, the publisher of Top Shelf Productions. They produce a wide variety of great books including two of my favorites, "Cave-In" and "Monkey vs. Robot." They had their first coffee table book on display at APE, "Speechless" showcasing the work of Peter Kuper. This is an extremely well designed book and if you're a fan of Peter's it's a must purchase.
I make it a point each year to pick up the work from the latest Xeric award winner. The Xeric Foundation gives grants to up and coming creators to help showcase their work. This time it went to Robyn Chapman, the writer/artist of "Theater of the Meek." I gave it a quick flip through at her table. She described it as a personal book in which she shares stories from her life as well as an assortment of original stories. Definitely looked interesting so I picked that one up.
Finally I spoke with Nat Gertler, writer of the really excellent "The Factor." Nat was there hawking the book, which he originally published over two years ago if memory serves me. It's a great book that looks at the super-hero from the perspective of the community he lives in and how his actions affect them. There's some really strong stuff in there.
Of course there were many other people at the convention, but like I said I'm sharing my experiences at the con. There were other well known names in attendance like Scott McCloud (who had a copy of the Zot! Online Poster on display available exclusively in the CBR Store!), Terry Moore, Judd Winnick, Shannon Wheeler and many others. The people above are those I spent some time with to find out what they're up to and what's next. Of course there are other stories I can't share for fear of being hunted down like a wild turkey on Thanksgiving, but I'm doing my best here. If you want to know more about the other people in attendance I highly recommend you do so yourself by attending next year's APE. It's a great place to discover new work you might never have a chance to see elsewhere.