The Alternative Press Expo, or APE, is an awesome little even that the people behind Comic-Con hold in San Francisco every year for independent comics. Where Comic-Con is too big for its own good in every way possible and choked with all kinds of media stuff that has nothing to do with comics, APE is all about comics, most of which you’re not likely to find in Borders or even comic book stores.
This year APE grew a bit, and added a second panel track, though there still wasn’t all that much that interested me on that front. They also had an event for matching writers and artists, but I’ve already got an awesome artist to work with, and apparently not unlike the male to female ratio at geeky dating events, the writers far outnumbered the artists. The rest of APE is basically one big dealers room for indie comics, so if you go you’d best bring some spending money. That’s also why I’ve only ever gone for one of the two days, and I typically only spend 3-5 hours there in all, including getting lunch (I took the opportunity to hit up Burger Joint) before heading back home. I didn’t really take any pictures, both because I’m not much of a picture-taker in the first place and because I only had my iPhone to take pictures with.
I’m not a great conversationalist at cons dealing with strangers (having stayed up late playing Fiasco the night before and gotten up early didn’t help either), though I did see Stephen Notley pimping Bob the Angry Flower as usual, got a pair of lolpup plushies from the Nemu*Nemu booth, bought all of Der-shing Helmer‘s new stuff like usual, and chatted with the Lovesick Robot gang.
Another fixture of APE is a booth called The World of Jack Chick. It’s not directly related to its namesake, but is sort of a tongue-in-cheek celebration of his work. Jack Chick makes evangelical Christian religious tracts in the form of little comics, usually about some unrighteous person finding out what hellfire awaits him for not embracing Jesus, and often showing people who don’t share his exact beliefs as rude, violent, and ugly (and in many cases fat and hairy), while displaying only a tenuous grasp on reality. A friend asked me to pick up a bunch of tracts (he’s planning to write a Jack Chick Tract RPG!) since they’re 20 cents each, and I wound up striking up a conversation with Robert Fowler, the gentleman who runs the booth (who has long white hair and wears a priest collar for the convention). I learned that although virtually unknown to most people, Jack Chick has more copies of more works published than anyone in the world–over 750 million copies of his various works. And also that in his tracts good women wear skirts and bad women wear pants, and if they change their character over the course the story their clothes change accordingly. And people really do use Chick tracts to try to spread their religious message. Even here in urban California (where proselytizing is mostly limited to Jehovah’s Witnesses and the occasional Mormon) I’ve actually run across a couple of them left at bus stops.
It’s hard to really sum up the character of APE concisely, because it’s basically one big tent for the entirety of non-mainstream comics. This is a scene where Slave Labor Graphics and Last Gasp are the big dogs, and the little dogs are the ones really having their time to shine, and I end up using weird mixed metaphors. I can’t say that, for example, superhero stuff is absent, because Unemployed Man was there (with a guy in costume no less), and it’s not that slice of life stuff dominates, because there’s plenty of comics with sci-fi, fantasy, and horror themes. Webcomics are a part of it, but they’re more of a strong minority. There are also professional illustrators like Bill Presing and Josh Cooley (who together did the awesome 54 Intercontinental Beauties playing card deck that I picked up) that are far more plentiful at Comic-Con. It’s one place where you can find hundreds of artists offering things you’d normally only be able to get by ordering from individual websites, and there’s a tremendous energy there that has me wanting to keep coming back.
We haven’t yet done a Neko Machi booth at a convention, both for not being ready and not having a really suitable con to go to, but I’m very seriously considering doing a booth at APE next year. It’s close, affordable, and doesn’t have a ridiculous waiting list to get in (another example of how Comic-Con is too big for its own good). We finally have enough strips done to put together a mini-comic, and I’m sure a year hence we’ll be able to put together some really awesome stuff besides.